VERY probably the first things our ancestors cooked when they discovered fire was a pig on a stick, or possibly some less ambitious animal like a badger, and a cake of dough baked on a hot stone.
Or to put it another way, rotisserie and flatbreads.
Now let us fast forward several thousand millennia and what do we have as the core of the menu at Richard Smith’s new eaterie, Graze Inn, on Ecclesall Road?
Rotisserie chicken and flatbreads masquerading as British pizzas are flying out as if there is no tomorrow.
“I’ve got some lovely plaice in the kitchen but no one’s ordering it,” said head chef Mark James a little morosely but brightened up as he reported the kitchen was getting through 100 chickens a day.
No question about what is the number one order at the former premises of Champs, while flatbreads would be close behind if they hadn’t been nudged aside by burgers.
When Smithy and his mates at Thornbridge announced he was opening his umpteenth outlet I did wonder what he was going to do that was different. Because, to be honest, some of the venues have identikit menus.
I’m not blaming him: if the Sheffield public wants to eat fish and chips, burgers and meat and ‘tater pie until it comes out of their ears he’d be daft not to sell it.
But he’s picked a winner here. Rotisserie restaurants are already big in London. There’s even one in Harrods. Watching the chickens revolve and slowly roast to a golden brown appeals to your inner caveman.
Flatbreads are the height of foodie fashion. Everyone from Jamie Oliver to Gordon Ramsay is making them.
Putting the two on the same menu is the clever thing.
So is the design of the 148-seater Graze Inn, a restaurant with a slightly irritating name and an even more irritatingly written website.
There’s a bar at one side while the restaurant itself is a series of rooms with slightly different themes. At the front a party is at a table of eight in a room done out as a deli. It leads into another where the walls are papered with old music scores (including O Sole Mio), then a raised area with booths and, finally, ours with scrubbed down tables and white tiles stencilled with foodie words.
There’s a family party in full progress. “Tell Mummy what you did on the toilet this morning,” says one woman.
The place looks trendy, sleek and purposeful, and makes you want to tuck in with relish. And we do.
You can buy the chicken in quarters (£6), halves (£9) and whole (£18) including a number of side dishes.
But where is the rotisserie?
Then I spot it, set into a wall by the kitchen. And it’s empty (well it is late lunchtime). Waiting staff tell me they are cooked during the day and finished off in the kitchen when ordered.
Then, as if by magic, a chef brings out spits of bronzed chickens and they slowly revolve before my eyes.
It’s not an open rotisserie – that would probably be asking too much of health and safety – so you don’t get the restaurant theatre, smells and sizzle, that you would in an Asian grill or one of those continental rotisseries – but when the chicken arrives it tastes first class.
The skin is quite crispy, rubbed with a spice mix which includes celery salt and paprika, and the meat is succulent. In fact, it’s lipsmackingly good.
My half chicken entitles me to three side dishes, all excellent: garlic mash, spinach and Tuscan roast vegetables.
I’m surprised to learn that the chickens come in boxes marked halal. I’ll eat this meat if I have to, in Indian restaurants, but I believe with the RSPCA that Western methods of slaughter are more humane.
My wife goes for the flatbreads, offered with four toppings (£10 each) but not, as yet, chicken. The flatbread is thin and a pleasing irregular shape. It’s got a good springy texture, crisp while also managing to be pliable. She tears some off as a wrap for me to taste.
Those pallid white commercial wraps have nothing on this.
She loves the topping, very good salmon, spring onions, capers, lemon, shaved cucumber and dotted with dill sour cream: classy, light and not calorific.
We had begun with arancini, pea, mint and ricotta riceballs (£5.25), nicely done, the cheese helping to keep things moist and the mint really coming through. I have found once you apply heat to this herb the flavour fades.
The rest of the menu is given over to Smithy’s Greatest Hits, fish and chips, burgers, shepherd’s pie and, I notice, he’s not given up on the green Thai curry, a ‘leftover’ from his less successful Spice Market venture.
Soup of the day (£4) was sweet potato, coconut and lime, pleasantly thick in texture with good undertones of ginger.
Desserts were as adroit: pecan (£5.50) and key lime (£4.50) pies seemed spot on. I’d like to tell you more about them but head chef Mark decided to reveal he’d ‘outed’ us and sat down at the table while we were still eating, which rather spoiled our concentration.
You’ll have gathered we loved it here. I know there have been some grumbles but we really couldn’t fault it.
Food cost us £38.25, drinks and coffee £8.15.