Dick and Dom were here, said Mick Caswell, and former snooker ace Steve Davis. “Was he interesting?” we asked. He was.
Not that he knew who Dick and Dom were. When you’re 49 you don’t get to watch a lot of children’s telly but there’s a photograph of them on the wall of the café-cum-bistro in Broomhill, Sheffield.
They’d been filming in the area (Richard ‘Dick’ McCourt comes from Sheffield) and reckoned Vittles was as good a place as any to have their lunchtime victuals.
As it says on the website, Vittles has been there on the corner of Glossop Road and Fulwood Road since 1991. Mick and his wife Paula have been there for less. They took over earlier this year.
He’d spent most of his life in IT (he was called in to Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament) and spent weeks on end in hotels and eating out in cafes and restaurants.
So when he was made redundant and came back home to Sheffield he knew just what he liked in the food department and decided to open a place of his own.
But you can only get so much fun out of serving up sandwiches, Scotch eggs and sausage rolls so the couple hit upon the idea of reviving the café’s bistro.
I can dimly remember going there some years ago and since the place is both licensed and BYO without corkage, we thought we’d give it another go.
It opens from Thursday to Saturday nights.
Paula had taken the night off and so, it seemed, had all the other potential customers so it was just us, chefs Lee Shortley and Dave Jones – and Mick in the little 30-seater eaterie.
We sat ourselves in the window in the hope that it would entice other diners in. No such luck but it meant we had Mick to ourselves and he’s good value front of house.
“We do all right on Fridays and Saturdays but Thursdays are quiet,” he said, telling us how he offers 10 per cent off on production of a leaflet which he has pushed through local doors.
At times like these I feel like the Restaurant Inspector but it might help if he put an A-board outside or chalked on the blackboard outside the door to say that there’s a bistro going on. Another inside the café would also be a good idea.
According to Mick, customers have suggested favourite dishes, which is why fish and chips, sausage and mash and crab cakes feature prominently.
“And I always ask them for their comments about the food,” Mick said.
“But don’t we British always say we like something even if we don’t?” countered my wife.
Mick drew himself up and replied: “I am 5ft 4in tall and approachable.” We loved him for that.
It seemed we could wrap up most of the starters with the main course sea food platter, which has salt and pepper squid, crab cakes, cod goujons, garlic prawns and haddock smokie for £13.50, so I ordered that and went for soup as a starter. Sweet potato and parsnip (£4) was gently pleasing, the two main ingredients providing most of the spicing necessary.
My wife’s mini fish and chips (£5.95) could easily have been a main course as it also came with mushy peas. Despite the fish being frozen we wouldn’t have known.
It had a lemonade batter (one of the chefs came into the café to grab a can of lemonade) which made it light and spongy.
Some of the chips, though, could have done with a minute longer.
The best thing about the seafood platter was the smokie.
You can’t go wrong with haddock in a cheese sauce with a breadcrumb topping and this didn’t.
“Was it cheesy enough?” Mick asked since customer feedback in one instance had asked for more cheesiness. It was for me.
The worst thing about it was the colour. This platter is brown, very brown, and a sprig of parsley and a slice of tomato for garnish would have brightened things up.
The fishcakes, Mick’s own recipe, contain plenty of crab and come with a powerful sweet chilli dip which Mick ‘nicked’ from one of his favourite watering holes, the Vinyard at Whitby.
I liked the prawns while the squid might have been better just dusted with cornflour rather than battered, because you got more of the same with the goujons.
My wife had pleasingly firm-textured meatballs with linguine (£8.55) with a gutsy, spicy sauce.
We could sample all of the desserts if we shared a plate got a fiver but they didn’t really shine.
The pan-fried apple with walnuts (a chef popped out to the supermarket for them) in brandy and maple syrup tasted pedestrian while chocolate pot and honey and wine syllabub registered as just different flavourings of cream.
Vittles bills itself as an “independent coffee shop” and it certainly does the bean justice: we had two very pleasant espressos (£2.30).
The bill came to £39.60 with £4 as we had a flyer.