I’ve always been a little nervous of eating in Hillsborough ever since my near death experience with an unstringed runner bean.
Early on in my reviewing career I visited the upstairs Four Lanes bistro on Leppings Lane, overlooking the Wednesday ground, where the vicious vegetable tangled itself around my tonsils and I started to choke.
My wife called for water and the waiter slowly padded his way downstairs to the kitchen for a glass and – so it seemed – equally slowly returned.
With one gulp I was free but it was a close run thing, and very possibly a matter of regret to a generation of South Yorkshire restaurateurs in the following 25 years.
I seem to remember I gave the Four Lanes a decent report but it has been hard to find culinary gems in this suburb since.
There was the place which specialised in towers of onion rings and the little French bistro, much loved by the local Labour Party, where the proprietor wore a beret and striped jersey.
At 10pm he would throw open the door and gaze upon post-industrial Sheffield to remark: “Ee, it’s not the Cote d’Azur is it?”
It was not.
But the food was good and if you wanted posh there was the short-lived Arcadia, listed in the guides but not always appreciated by Hillsborough customers. After one complained to me that he had been served up three kinds of mashed potato I checked and wrote back that he might not have been aware that the other two were purees of celeriac and turnip.
Now we have Chris French’s Riverside on Catchbar Lane, with an upmarket chef in the shape of youthful Adam Tollerfield who trained at the Old Vicarage, Ridgeway, and worked with Marcus Lane at Rafters so he should be worth a punt on his CV alone.
The thing people most say about the Riverside is “I didn’t know you were here” because it hasn’t always been; it’s been built out of an old police lock-up.
Downstairs is a café and above a bar with terraces so you can look out over the River Don and see the football ground to your right. It’s upstairs that Adam runs a bistro from Thursday to Saturdays and brunch and lunch on Sundays.
To say it’s a cafe, they serve up the worst cups of coffee in Sheffield – but the food is another matter.
Adam has a set menu – fish and chips, a pie and burger – but most customers go for the specials on the blackboards in the bar.
It was the World Cup when we ate and the boards were soon taken down to reveal a flat screen TV behind.
We were on the terrace where there is another screen, showing Holby City with the sound off.
Well, this is Hilsborough.
We got appetisers of decent slices of ham hock terrine with candied red onion then after a week of vegetarianism I released my inner S6 Man by opting for meat in starter and main.
My wife had grilled asparagus with a poached egg and a nifty hollandaise (£5.45) from the specials board while I had a lovely starter of roast pork belly, unaccountably cheaper at £4.95.
The meat was sweet, the skin crisp, a red wine reduction rich and there was a black pudding roll to mop things up.
Sometimes you pick your dish for one star ingredient, as I did with my lamb, at £15.45 a bit pricy for a bar with a telly.
The star should have been the confit of garlic which I love for its rich, melting texture.
Sadly this was half cooked or semi raw and should not have been let out the kitchen.
The rest of the dish was fine: the meat was pinkish, tender and full of flavour.
This came, the menu said, with ‘foyet’ potatoes but this was just one of several misspellings.
Presumably Adam meant Foyot, named after an ancient French chef who gave ingredients a final glaze. Think confit chips and you’re there.
Much the same could be said for my wife’s cod loin (£14), accurately cooked with a crisp slice of pancetta and sweet heritage tomatoes.
In my view you can’t grill samphire successfully and the few wisps on the plate proved me right.
Adam started his career as a pastry chef at the Old Vic and the lad’s got talent in the pudding department: a dark chocolate tarte with honeycomb was superb for texture, taste and chocolatiness.
He’s brought the recipe from his time at Rafters.
This, with an able Cointreau crème brulee, cost £4.25 each.
All in all a pretty fine meal but don’t expect to gaze at the river over a good cup of coffee.
The bar doesn’t like making it so gives the job to the kitchen, which has other things to do.
An Americano arrived weak and milky, an espresso wasn’t.
Since the footie was on I washed my meal down with a glass of England’s Dreaming, ordered in a post-ironic mode since our nation’s finest were already on the plane home.
We paid £48.35 for food, at the top end for Hillsborough, and £9.70 for drinks.
Worth a visit.
Star ratings out of five