Ladies on the town keep waiter on his toes as good food and service triumphs
It had to happen eventually.
Family members with other commitments, too late to phone a friend, it was to be my first solo food review, a quiet contemplation of cuisine...
But the girls from Interserve had other ideas.
Up from the south east for a business meeting the following day – Interserve is a huge construction and support services company – the girls made as much noise as the away end at a derby game.
The away end on this occasion was just a few feet away from where the half-dozen ladies were sitting in the modern and spacious 18Fifty5 restaurant at the Copthorne Hotel on Bramall Lane.
They were good-humoured and they made a fuss of their very good and at times embarrassed young waiter Charlie.
But boy they were loud.
Their whoops and guffaws echoed round the restaurant with unceasing regularity.
You can’t blame the restaurant for this – the pinot grigio perhaps – but not the restaurant.
They were guests at the hotel, they were discreetly asked to keep it down a couple of times by staff but they were having too much fun.
What chance a polite 19-year-old waiter against half a dozen rampant middle-aged females on the rip?
I tried to catch their mood with a good pint of Farmer’s Blonde but they were too far ahead.
So what about the food?
I had been meaning to try the place for a while – we came here once when the hotel first opened and it was pretty good but there have been several chefs since then.
The current top man is Mark Jones, a Londoner known in the kitchen as ‘Essex Boy’ who is looking to remodel the menu from this Friday.
I went for a smoked duck starter and learned from the hotel’s delightfully named Slovakian food and drink manager Katarina Csizmadiova, that they smoke their own meat in the kitchen.
Katarina also laughingly mentioned that she was the only manager in the Copthorne group who had business cards supplied by the company.
People ask for her email address but can never spell her name right so she’s allowed to give out a card to spare their embarrassment.
The duck was terrific, rich, lean and smoky and the couscous gave texture with intense and fruity sun-dried tomatoes and balsamic vinegar to finish, great stuff.
Warm bread and creamy, salty butter comes with it, the whole thing is a hit.
Apparently the only things staying on the new summer menu are the signature 18fifty5 Restaurant Meatball special and the chocolate bar dessert.
So I ordered them both, and neither is what you might expect.
The meatball is a splendid looking thing, as big as a cricket ball and comes on a bed of mustard mash, with onion gravy and green beans.
They tried to take the meatball off the menu once to freshen things up and had complaints – so they made it a constant classic.
Quite right too.
“The meatball is a big favourite,” says Katarina.
“The meat is encased in natural casing like a sausage skin which helps to keep in the juices when it is being cooked.”
By the time you cut in to the meatball the cheddar centre is melting into the riot of richness around it.
The meat – minced pork, chicken and beef – is tender and beautifully textured, the mash is highly seasoned, smooth and with a distinctly aromatic mustard hit.
The caramelised onion gravy is thick and glorious, the beans shiny and crunchy. It’s a great plate of comforting food which I washed down with a decent glass of Spanish tempranillo.
The new menu has a good dollop of culinary wit too.
Among the summer dishes will be a gammon, egg and chips starter and a fish fingers chips and beans main course.
The gammon is ham hock and is served with a soft poached egg, home-made new potato crisps, pineapple and fresh peas. The fish dish will consist of salmon goujons made from breaded fillet of salmon served with sweet potato fries and a bean and tomato cassoulet.
Clever stuff, but that’s next week and I’m sticking to the classics.
Bring on the 18fifty5 chocolate bar, a divinely indulgent dark chocolate orange truffle covered in white chocolate and garnished with peanuts in a toffee sauce and dusted with popping candy and gold leaf.
All the fun of the fair there, and while it may seem a little ostentatious the whole thing comes together beautifully. So good I had to take it home to finish it.
By the time I asked for a doggy bag the girls’ wine was still flowing.
A chance meeting in the bar revealed more: “We’re from Southampton and the south east area for a work meeting,” said one, adding in true away-end style: “We’re making the most of it. We’ll worry about the headaches tomorrow.”
The bill came to £40.45.
Star ratings out of five:
* Category: Middle market with aspirations.
* Restaurant 1855, Copthorne Hotel, Bramall Lane, Sheffield, S2 4SU. Copthorne Sheffield
* Lunch; Monday-Friday: noon – 4 pm. Saturday-Sunday: noon-3pm. Dinner 6.30-9.30 pm