It was rabbit food from wall to wall the moment you walked in: mountains of mizuna and ramparts of rocket on the counter together with bowls heaped high with potatoes, pea, mint and olive salad, lentils with brown rice, remoulades by the yard and mini Everests of tabbouleh.
You’d get your five a day just looking at it.
It was Jonty’s homage to London’s Yotam Ottolenghi, the high priest of veggiedom, into whose premises Jonty used to wander on his days off from flipping burgers for Thomas Conran just to admire the look of the food.
“I liked the way he displayed the food, the immediacy of it, almost being able to touch it,” Jonty told me once.
And that inspired him to open his place, the slightly tweely-named Made by Jonty.
But what happens when the weather turns parky? When there’s ice under foot and snow down your collar the last thing you want to eat is carrot and bulghar wheat salad. You want something to warm you from the inside out.
Well, how about this Moroccan tagine I’m eating (£7.50), warm, nourishing and so fragrant I could smell it coming up the stairs – the café is on two floors.
It’s so rich that I’ve eaten half of it before realising that there’s no meat in it. I had failed to notice the V for vegetarian on the blackboard menu. What gives it the edge are the figs which have dissolved leaving a rich sweetness and graininess behind. It comes with a fluffy couscous spiked with toasted almonds.
Jonty’s used to the snow. Usually he’s nowhere to be seen in Sheffield at this time of year as he disappears to Morzine on the French-Swiss border to run a high class chalet for the super-rich.
But now Jonty, previously head chef at West 10 and Silversmiths, has his own business to run.
“We’ve attracted a lot of the vegetarian crowd and always have at least three veggie dishes on the menu. But I did braised rabbit on toast with thyme and garlic the other day,” he tells me later.
Various meaty stews are always coming and going but there is always roast pork sandwich with crackling which I can testify, having eaten it at one of his previous locations, is pretty memorable.
Elsewhere on this menu in this former second hand bookshop is another of his old favourites, chargrilled chicken with crispy potato and caramelised onion salad – a dish I confess to copying at home.
You get a good view of Sharrowvale Road from the window upstairs. I noticed our waitress tottering across the icy road delivering food to the local shopkeepers. The café is ideally placed, hardly a toddler’s throw from Hunters Bar school and a pit stop for mums after they have delivered their kids in the morning.
My wife and I had started with a fine leek and potato soup (£4), a dish where the adjectives ‘silky’ and ‘lustrous’ really do apply, and a creamy smoked mackerel pate with celeriac remoulade (£5.50), although I still think the Loch Fyne version takes some beating.
While I was enthusing over my tagine she was doing the same with her butternut squash risotto (£7.50). Chunks of roasted orange flesh were mixed in with loose, creamy rice spiked with sage and chilli.
Of course, you do not have to splash out to eat at Made by Jonty. Few customers will have three courses but we were going through the card to test the place out.
If you want something lighter you have eggs any which way – eggs Benedict, Florentine, Royale, on toast, with smoked salmon or boiled with soldiers, as well as all day breakfasts and vegetarian sausages which are not made by Jonty but Linda McCartney.
We finished by sharing an ultra-light Bakewell tart (£1.80), which had been made by Jonty and his team, which includes sous chef Rob Yeomans, and a couple of coffees.
“January and February will be the testing time,” said Jonty when we called in just before Christmas.
With food like this – gastro café is no hyperbole here – he shouldn’t have a problem.
Our bill came to £29.40.