Food Review: Bench restaurant, Nether Edge, Sheffield - 'Classy Bench presses all the right buttons'

You would be forgiven for believing you had been transported to Paris’ 11e arrondissement rather than a leafy corner of Sheffield’s Nether Edge when you walk into Bench.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 12th February 2022, 12:01 am

Intimate, relaxing, and hip on the surface, this modern bistro ticks all the boxes you would expect of a ‘less formal’ mode of dining which is becoming ever more popular in the UK’s cities. They even call themselves a ‘neighbourhood hangout’. Do not be fooled, Bench’s dress-down approach and tattoo-clad staff shrouds a classical formality.

“How to decide between so many smaller dishes, all of which catch the eye for differing reasons? Well, we could just have them all.”

With space for barely more than 25 diners, the communal atmosphere created by the shared kitchen and dining room is a core principle of Bench, created by chefs Jack and Ron after the success of their pop-ups in Sheffield.

There exists that self-assured belief in what you are cooking that fills a waiter with confidence to flog any dish to any diner.

Here, much like Nook in Cardiff, is just such a place. You can sense these places soon after arriving and you are quite happy to remove all elements of choice and responsibility from your life for the next few hours. “You decide. Bring plates until we can eat no more”.

Starters soon arrived following a negroni and some smoked almond and olives. My blood has been 50 per cent negroni since December 22.

An airy sourdough, explosive burrata and fried gnocchi dough with mortadella ham lasted little to no time between the four of us. They were all good, but the kitchen was holding itself back and focusing its efforts on what was to come. There was no shame in this; it created suspense, like the start of a symphony before reaching its crescendo.

Main courses arrived. Earthy beetroot with a light whipped horseradish cream and grilled mackerel, confit duck and lentils with a sweet and sour twist, salad so perfectly lightly dressed that you crave the slight acidic kiss on your lips to bite just a touch harder with each forkful.

This well-timed conveyor belt of delivery, arriving as precisely as a Swiss train, was harmonised by two accompaniments: a litre of Italian red, and a playlist of American hip-hop.

The red was underwhelming and struggled to open up. Note: decant. The hip-hop was, much like the food, a veiled informality covering a wealth of talent and skill.

All was going well until the pork chop arrived, then all went from well to very well. This was an exceptional cut of meat, grilled so delicately that you would mistake its texture for one of those overpriced pieces of Japanese Wagyu. I am jealous of this pig; it clearly did not have a tough working life.

As we transitioned seamlessly to pudding, my only regret was that we were not brought any of the Carlingford oysters that the adjoining table were being treated to for starters.

Not to worry, we were soon distracted by a creamy rice pudding covering a deliciously crisp and tart rhubarb compote.

An uncomplicated piece of Lincolnshire Poacher drizzled in honey with some homemade crackers was the closing address from the chef. Humble to the core, the quality of ingredient did the speaking.