Sasha and Amy help us to forget Warne and Hughes’ hilarious dressing-room innuendo.
The last time I went out to eat with my old football team-mate Graham we sat with Merv Hughes and Shane Warne.
The two were compering a charity evening in Rotherham, and we had tickets for the top table.
They speculated loudly and publicly all evening on our perceived sexual orientation – much to the delight of the ‘Gentlemen’s Evening’ audience.
It was hilarious and they told some great cricketing stories which more than made up for the average grub and public humiliation.
The company wasn’t quite so august this time round but we reflected on that night and how much better the food was here.
This time we were in a place of architectural beauty, right in the heart of Sheffield where the opera house curve of the Winter Garden meets the Mercure Hotel’s metallic swoop.
The Yard restaurant is part of the hotel’s offering as what it describes as the ‘only 4-star deluxe hotel in the heart of Sheffield’.
I can’t speak for the hotel but the food was pretty good, the service excellent – though it is difficult for an eating area to generate much atmosphere of its own amid the high arches and Honey I Shrank The Kids-sized plant life of the Winter Garden next door.
The scale and variety of the greenery looks fantastic and is a great backdrop for food but if that attracts you here remember that the lights go out in the Winter Garden when it closes at 8pm – the early bird catches the view.
All this bold Heart Of The City architecture – stamped with the confidence of the new millennium’s Blairite boom – deserves similarly bold food, and it almost gets it.
For starter I had salted beef and pickled vegetable terrine, with truffle mayonnaise and seasonal leaves. It comes on an extravagantly proportioned plank of wood, so extravagant that some slightly awkward re-organising of glasses and plates is necessary to fit it on the table.
The terrine is delicious. Mercure chef Frederic Martin uses beef flank to create the terrine’s ‘pulled-beef’ type texture. Its slow-cooked, melt-in-the-mouth flavours go beautifully with the earthy richness of the truffle mayonnaise and sweet, tart, pickled cucumber.
A little more imagination and a dressing would have helped the largely rocket salad leaves, but a great start. Graham had the whipped goat cheese, with slow roasted golden and purple beetroot and crisp ginger bread with walnuts.
It’s a beautiful looking plate of food and he was impressed by the range and combination of the gutsy depth of the cheese, sweet earthiness of the beetroot and the contrast of crisp aromatic gingerbread and caramelised walnuts.
Our waitress Amy was doing a fine job, then she was assisted by front of house manager Sasha, a Macedonian in Sheffield who brought a James Bond-like style to the whole event.
For main course I had duck breast, with duck croquette, carrot puree, charred leeks and rhubarb ketchup.
Yes it’s rhubarb mash with ginger, vinegar, sugar and star anise, knocked up by chef Frederic and jolly fine stuff it is too, its savoury tartness combining beautifully with the delicate depth of the perfectly cooked duck breast.
The duck croquette is crunchy breadcrumbs on the outside with a mash and more duck meat inside. For me the charred leeks could have done with a bit more of something to help them along but they were what they said they would be.
Graham’s main course was a fillet of salmon served with crab crusted new potatoes with lemon and parsley dressing.
It looked lovely and he insisted it was exactly that with the sweet crab meat and earthy spuds combining well together.
With salmon as common as cod these days it’s not always first choice for me, but it does always come up with the goods. The perfectly-cooked texture and subtle flavour in this example are enhaced by the lemon and parsley.
Simple but very effective. Our desserts were likewise.
Graham went for three choices of ice cream/sorbet and I chose the baked Alaska.
The frozen desserts – Graham went for pear sorbet, blackcurrant sorbet and a rich Belgian chocolate ice cream.
Hotel operations manager Rama Arimilly said they get their ice creams etc from a supplier called Zuidam in Gloucestershire.
It’s not local, as is the rage these days, but when it’s this good who cares?
The pear sorbet is packed with that characteristic summer sweetness of the fruit, the blackcurrant is tart and brambly and the Belgian chocolate is, well, Belgian chocolate, enough said.
My made-on-the-premises baked Alaska – creamy vanilla ice cream baked in a meringue case – tasted great and the meringue was wonderfully soft inside.
The trouble was it was soft on the outside too and that’s supposed to be crisp.
Over all, much like the last time we ate together over a decade ago, a good experience.
Though the food was better this time and the service, thanks to Amy and Sasha, excellent.
And it came without the Aussie sledging.
Star ratings out of five:
The Yard at the Mercure Hotel, 119 Norfolk Street, Sheffield, S1 2JE
Open 6.30am to 8pm seven days a week. Tel: 0114 2782000 Accor Hotels