I can tell precisely when my meatballs with rigatoni are ready at Remo’s café because I am watching head chef Richard ‘Ritchie’ Russell, as seen on TV, finish the dish at the serving hatch.
He flicks a switch and there’s a glare of light as overhead lamps keep it warm.
As ever, he is looking mournful. “That chef does have a lugubrious look,” I say.
My wife cranes her head round. “He looks like Sir Bradley Wiggins after a few pies,” she quips and, indeed, there is a resemblance to Wiggo.
According to one TV blog Ritchie was “possibly the most likeable head chef to be featured on Kitchen Nightmares.”
You may remember him swapping expletive deleteds with Gordon Ramsay as they turned Sheffield’s Runaway Girl into Silversmiths.
All that swearing might have obscured the fact that Ritchie is actually a pretty nifty chef, as first the soup, then the meatballs and finally a carrot cake bear witness.
Since Kitchen Nightmares – “I don’t like to think about it,” he says – Ritchie has moved on. He is now in the kitchen of his old mate Remo Simeone’s newly revamped café, Remo’s, in Broomhill.
Now Remo, whose family comes from Italy via Rotherham, is possibly the most likeable café owner and barrista in Sheffield.
His eponymous café has long been a reference point for all those who appreciate a good cup of coffee – and Remo makes a stonkingly good one – with perhaps a salad or a panini.
There was the odd hot dish of the day cooked by veteran Italian restaurateur Marco Giove Senior but Remo has long dreamed of something more full blown in the food department.
“Ever since I opened 13 years ago,” he says. So earlier this year the café decamped to temporary premises slightly off the main drag round the corner while the builders were in.
Basements were dug, staircases built and eight months later the new Remo’s is now on two floors with exposed brickwork walls, Italian posters and a sun deck which as yet hasn’t had enough sun to be christened.
Broomhill has welcomed back Remo’s with open arms. It was packed on our Tuesday lunchtime and it can seat well over 50 but we find a table downstairs.
Besides the usual salads and Italian sarnies Ritchie does a good range of hot dishes. I’d seen the menu and was still weighing up whether to have the spatchcocked chicken with polenta chips or the pasta with four hour oxtail sauce when the waitress said they were both off.
Which left us with the meatballs and smoked salmon and spring onion risotto.
We were making a three course meal of it to get some idea of the strength of the cooking, whereas most people would probably have one course and a coffee at lunchtime. But first the soup. Celeriac and sage (£3.50) was a little smasher in its own quiet way, mellow, silky, with a touch of sweetness and that ‘iron’ tang from the sage.
My wife had a salad from the deli (£3.95), a pleasant mix of chicken, goats cheese, peppers, grains and beetroot.
I’ve had a lot of meatballs (£8.95) in my time and these were up there with the best: three man-sized golf balls of pork and beef with a firm texture, tasty and meaty, in other words not packed out with vegetable material.
I could have done with a little more tomato sauce, mainly because it had such intensity of flavour. If the rigatoni was a little too al dente for my own taste, hey, we’re in an Italian eaterie and that’s how they have it over there.
My wife’s smoked salmon and spring onion risotto (£7.95) is fishy, salty and sprightly. There’s plenty of fish and the rice grains are moist but not soupy.
Nice. Ritchie in the kitchen is pedalling as fast as his alter ego Wiggo on his bike. He also makes the jams, curds and sauces on sale in the deli upstairs, as well as the cakes.
The carrot cake, incredibly moist and delicately spiced with ginger, would win prizes. The secret is it’s made with oil. We’re not that impressed with a sort of mascarpone and raspberry ‘cheesecake’ on a biscuit base, chiefly because it comes enveloped in slightly underdone filo.
Coffee and cake is £4.50 each. A stranger to Remo’s on the next table wonders if the coffee is Cona. Leave that to Indian restaurants! She is gently put right.
The coffee here – we have an Americano and an espresso – tastes deep, rich and smooth and both cups come with an excellent crema.
The new premises are a bright, lively place to spend a half hour or lunchtime. With such good coffee and food on offer you don’t need to be anywhere else.
Bistro nights are planned. Lucky Broomhill.
Remo’s, 259 Fulwood Road, Broomhill, Sheffield S10 3BD. No telephone number. Open Mon-Sat 8.30am-6pm. Vegetarian dishes. Credit cards. Disabled access and toilets. Street parking.