Looking through my yellowing back pages I see that I said of one restaurant “you can come here, stuff yourself silly, enjoy good food and still have change from a tenner.”
It was, older readers may recall, in the days of this column’s Great Ten Pound Challenge, which was what it said on the tin.
Long before the days of two for a fiver (when they’ve taken it out of the freezer and popped it into the microwave) we set out to find three courses of good, honest cooking at bargain prices.
We took it seriously, furtling through menus for the cheapest dishes and bargaining over who would have the soup, inevitably the least expensive item.
So seriously, in fact, that we were once overheard by the next table. The woman whispered theatrically to her partner: “They must be really skint.”
Money isn’t what it was and three courses would be difficult to do today even at an Indian restaurant (but not impossible if you eat veggie at the Kashmiri Kitchen on Ecclesall Road). But what about two courses for a tenner? Well you can at Hestia in Crookes.
Hestia is the Greek goddess of hearth and home but it is also a little blue-fronted bistro type place on Northfield Road, Crookes.
It was previously the Jeera Indian restaurant and is still in Indian hands. But owner Khalid Tabani, who likes to chat with customers about his days at the old Taj Mahal on Ecclesall Road and Indus, underneath the Classic cinema on Fitzalan Square, doesn’t sell baltis or biryanis, although you might find the odd kofta appearing as a burger.
It opened almost two years ago as a Mediterranean restaurant where one dish might come from Italy and another from Turkey.
It had a big offer, an a la carte, fixed price menu and a specials board.
Wisely this has been slimmed down to an alternating deal of the day: two courses for £9.95, three for £11.95, while the carte has migrated to the specials where, say, beef stifado or lamb tagine will cost as much as a complete meal.
We’re feeling boracic so stick to the cheaper offer and since it’s BYO without corkage (neither fact our waitress tells me when I book) you can guarantee a cheap night out.
Hestia is an L-shaped room decorated with pictures of jazz musicians by local artist John Wilsher. It seats 34.
We order risotto fritters with pesto and spiced salt and pepper squid, followed by beef ragu with penne and catch of the day en papillote, fish cooked in a bag.
Khalid strolls out and I ask him how it’s done. In foil? No, greaseproof paper with a little olive oil and lemon. Ah, the proper way!
He’s the chef? I ask, seeing as he is wearing a pinny. “No, cook and bottle washer,” he corrects. He explains that he has two chefs employed part-time who prep dishes with instructions on how to cook. “If I don’t do it his way, he goes,” says Khalid.
I’m not sure if there is anyone else in the kitchen, for despite only two tables and five customers, service is slow. But we’re in no rush.
After complimentary focaccia and oil we enjoy the fritters, big hefty ones of risotto and ricotta with tomato and a dollop of pesto, crisp on the outside, warm and soft within.
Now as we’re not spending much I can be relaxed about my criticism but can’t find much positive to say about my squid, which comes battered, as rubbery as that you get out of a frozen packet and with no discernible salt and pepper flavouring although, oddly, I can see the flecks of pepper.
And if there’s chilli, lime and coriander in the sour cream as promised then my name’s Gordon Ramsay.
The penne has a sauce made with mince. It’s pleasant and there’s a decent amount but someone’s forgot to top it with the menu’s promised parmesan.
I’m looking forward to the fish – I’ve chosen cod but could have had haddock or salmon – because this is one of my favourites. I love it when you cut open the top and the fishy aromas burst out and waft up your nose.
Oh dear, it’s been opened in the kitchen so I’ve paid for a chef to have that pleasure. It’s been prodded to see if it’s cooked (overcooked if anything) and a little on the dry side. It comes with sliced potatoes which could have been cooked the same way.
It’s not great but then I haven’t paid a fortune. Khalid says it is opened to add a little butter and parsley at the last minute but it easily should generate enough cooking juices – I always add a splash of wine.
We finish by sharing a sticky toffee pudding.
Our bill, with coffees, comes to £25.30 so a meal here won’t risk hearth and home. A little more care in the kitchen would pay dividends.
THE DAWES VERDICT
(out of five)