FIRST a message to David Scott, who on February 16 at the Old Post Office in Haigh near Barnsley ordered – and ate – a sirloin steak weighing 37.3 ounces.
That’s the equivalent of wolfing down your average fully grown chichuahua. And that’s before tackling the chips, mushrooms, tomatoes and onion rings.
I’m not going to try and beat you.
Others are, though, and the leader board at this restaurant in the middle of nowhere shows there is all to play for, not least because the winner gets to come back and eat it all again for free.
Steak restaurants in Sheffield have chewed on life’s gristle in recent years with the London Club and Bar and Grill both ending up in the abattoir.
Yet out in Barnsley the Old Post Office can be fully booked at weekends and serve up to 900 covers a week, half of them steaks. So how do they do it?
You couldn’t call the location pretty, hard by junction 38 of the M1 with hardly another building in sight but it’s very handy for customers from Barnsley and Huddersfield.
Nor would you give many marks for the dated Seventies look of the dining room, through the windows of which you can see and hear the roar of traffic.
So it must be the food, on a menu which offers something for everyone, from the £10.50 two-course Postman’s Lunch to top quality steaks where you buy fillet at £2.45 an ounce. Yet they treat vegetarians with respect and don’t simply try to fob them off with veggie pasta bake.
And I reckon it’s the head chef, Gareth Nutter. Sheffield foodies will know ex-Claridges chef Gareth from Cary Brown’s fish restaurant Slammers, its successor Bluefin and as the man who steadied the helm at Christian Kemp’s Beauchief Hotel.
The restaurant’s gimmick is to bring your meat out on a wooden board for you to indicate how much you want. Prices are marked up per ounce.
So it’s a case of ‘right a bit, just a bit more,’ while the waiter, or Gareth himself at weekends, nicks the meat with a butcher’s knife and takes it back to the kitchen.
That Chihuahua of a sirloin, incidentally, cost £72.74 at £1.95 an ounce so fame comes expensive. The menu is pretty much what you’d expect – steaks, mixed grills, garlic mushrooms, pasta, meatballs and cheesy garlic bread, obviously a Barnsley favourite – as well as a specials board.
From that I ordered the Cajun-spiced crab cakes (£6.50), worth it for the judicious spicing. It was partnered with sweet, sticky home made chilli jam and crème fraiche.
My wife’s ‘classic’ prawn cocktail (£4.75) wasn’t, in that it didn’t come in a wine glass but splodged on the plate.
“It’s good, it tastes the same but it’s lacking something,” she said. She was right. It’s called presentation.
We conveyed our thoughts to the waiter. Gareth who sent back the message that that was how Gordon Ramsay does it (yes, he’s worked for him as well). Sometimes there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
My sirloin steak weighed in at 6.80z and cost £13.26. I’d asked for it medium rare and it was. The meat had been griddled and arrived relaxed, tender and succulent.
It was garnished with a properly cooked tomato, mushrooms and the best onion rings I’ve had. The onion was blanched to remove the acidity then fried inside a light, springy batter. The thick-cut chips were just as good, crispy with fluffy interiors.
You can also order a sauce for extra but I’m a purist, content with the cooking juices and blood to anoint the meat. However I did see gravy listed at £1.50 and couldn’t quite work out why so had that as well.
It’s not really needed unless like me you like to dunk your leftover chips in gravy (with a splash of vinegar) when no-one’s looking. But please don’t tell.
My wife was intrigued by the Moroccan vegetable and chick pea tagine (£10.95), served with boiled rice, pitta bread and yoghurt raita. It smelled enticing (cinnamon and cumin) and tasted as good as in most North African restaurants.
Gareth, who cooks with Jon Mahoney, who came with him from the Beauchief, provides a very chocolatey dessert menu. We had a good chocolate brownie, made in the kitchen, and excellent rhubarb frangipane, which wasn’t.
Gareth says he enjoys cooking in Barnsley because the clientele is easier going than in Sheffield. If it’s a good summer he’ll be making more use of the Old Post Office’s capacious garden.
I do seem to be getting an attack of five-itis when it comes to food ratings recently but it is really good here.