New Sheffield restaurant co-owned by Arctic Monkeys star lives up to the highest expectations
It could so easily have been a story of style over substance.
Ambulo not only has star connections – Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders is co-owner with James O’Hara of cocktail bar Public and co – but it is also as sleek and chic as the Millennium Gallery, in which it is housed.
There’s no doubting this kind of mutually beneficial tie in is a very cool way to breathe new life into the city centre – and museum - after 5pm. Unlike some canteen-like museum cafes, this is a restaurant into the evening with an all day menu.
The question was if the food and drink could live up to the sky high expectations.
Without giving away too much, I’ve never seen my husband so frantically spoon up his dessert ( the most incredibly rich, indulgent sticky toffee pudding, melting into ice cream on the side) before.
The menu has been very, very carefully curated, the research fastidious.
Home-made crumpets hand created in the kitchen – the first one I’ve ever had that didn’t come in a packet – have their own section and come topped with everything from roast peaches, almond and yoghurt to our Korean fried chicken version (£7).
You may never imagine the British staple of a crumpet went together with Korean chicken but boy, does it. That thick, deeply salt and pepper, crust. That soft, juicy meat inside.
The home-made hot sauce on top, and underneath it all, a proper, plate-sized crumpet as the base. James said the inspiration behind the combination was to ground influences from around the world with something familiar, and quintessentially British. It works a treat, and the crumpet is as good a base as any taco or flatbread.
We’d go back for that dish alone (apparently the staff do, on their days off). Oh, and the cocktails on tap.
That’s right, there’s no need to stand in a 20-minute queue for an espresso martini after that hellish day, here they’ve made their own recipe to serve keg cocktails straight away. I’m told it was a real labour of love over many weeks.
It’s very clever, especially when the staff explain how the creamy top is made possible using part of a Guinness pump, and in house production ensures the same high quality as a drink at Public.
And we were impressed with our waitress Ola for her friendliness, diligence in checking ingredients and banter. She’d asked the chefs – led by Tom Aronica - about the knock-your-socks-off XO brown shrimp noisette that gelled together all the separate elements of the roast hake main (£17.50).
There were delicate morsels of fish under a crispy skin, miniscule shrimp swimming in the buttery, spicy, complex seafood sauce. Even the broccoli and sprouts tasted incredible in it.
He'd gone for the most expensive dish under the “plates” section, a pork chop at £18.
It was good to see the meat was from Moss Valley, and it was a large slab with a good balance of fat and lean pork, cooked beautifully. The preserved lemon hint to the sauce wasn’t his usual cup of tea , but it did compliment the cavolo nero and gorgeous crispy potatoes.
Desserts are limited, with four options, and on Ola’s recommendation I went for custard tart (£5.50)
It had been crafted with precision, the layers between crust, creamy filling and speckled top clearly defined. Yorkshire’s finest rhubarb was pressed into a sharp sorbet on the side. After the fantastic toffee pudding, we paid £86 with wine.
It’s fair to say that some restaurants with a celebrity connection do not live up to their name.
But Ambulo has star quality right the way through, and this is a (very Sheffield) success story. Tender care has been taken with every element, down to the local suppliers, including these photographs by India Hobson.
A second site will also open at Weston Park this year.
Ambulo, 48 Arundel Gate, S1 2PP
Tel: 0114 278 2634