SO what, I ask boss Aaron Yahaya after a lunch in his Bloo.88 eaterie on Sheffield’s West Street, does the name actually mean?
“It came out of a brainstorming session. You say it once, get asked to repeat it and then the other person says it. So you hear the name three times and you never forget it.”
Well, that’s the theory. And the 88?
“Chinese lucky number,” he says.
It’s just a year since Aaron took over what was the Hallamshire Hotel, a hefty Victorian pub with its frontage listed because of the splendid shiny brown glazed tiles. It’s long been part of the Sheffield ‘Student Run’ and Pulp played here once (in autumn 1981).
It’s not Aaron’s only business. He also runs Sheffield Parties, an organisation dedicated to help the city’s students blow their loans and shake the dust from their textbooks after lectures.
He’s a young, personable chap, aged 31, and seemingly from his website is entranced by the letter ‘P.’
According to his Twitter account, he stands for “People, Parties, Property, Prosperity” and, we ought to add, Pizzas.
For Bloo.88 is in the pizza business or, to be absolutely accurate, pizza and cocktails. Its central feature is a gas-fired stone floored pizza oven and they do make the pizzas from scratch – you can watch them if you get a seat in the right place.
Aaron took over an existing business, pizza oven and all. We went once before and liked what we ate although the toilets must have been the smelliest in Sheffield. The new regime believes in cleaning.
That’s not the only thing which has had a makeover since our last visit. Or, as the website floridly puts it, “a stunning renovation, driven by passion and delivered with love.” Another P there, Aaron.
The cavernous building has had most of the internal walls removed so it’s a combination of bare brick and banquettes although one room is cleverly papered in magazine cartoon strips.
Upstairs is worth taking a peek at if you’re looking for a room for a private party or meeting: it’s done up like a private library/gentleman’s club.
I’d been vaguely aware of changes at the Hallamshire but it was not until I was enjoying a coffee at Remo’s in Broomhill where a young chap with a handful of flyers was chatting up the waitresses and he optimistically thrust a leaflet in my direction that I clicked what was happening.
Doubtless psychologically grateful he didn’t think me too crusty to go (although he didn’t bother about registering my email address for offers), I decided to pop along.
It’s a mostly young clientele but Aaron insists the profile depends on the time of day, with office workers, professionals and shoppers coming in for a bite and deciding on a drink, or wanting a drink and looking to eat.
The menu is pretty much what you’d expect, with classic or speciality pizzas and a build- your-own section with everything at least 5p and sometimes more shy of a tenner for a 12-inch pizza. They also do six-inch ones.
Now I don’t get sniffy when it comes to pizza toppings. Pineapple might make an Italian apoplectic but pizzas have gone global and if you want shredded duck on top that’s fine. Actually I did.
Last time I came here I surprised myself with crispy duck pizza so I had it again. These days it’s called the Shanghai surprise but it’s a dead ringer, down to the mozzarella cheese base.
That meant I couldn’t take advantage of the two for the price of one deal as that was for classics only. My wife had a Mediterranean.
The pleasant barman warned me there was a 25-minute wait. The oven needs to get up to 300C and every time they slap a pizza on the oven floor the temperature drops. That’s a law of physics.
No matter, I thought, I’ve already ordered starters so when they bring those that’ll fill time in nicely.
It’s a pity the kitchen didn’t suss that out. It’s not rocket science. We waited and waited and by the time we were half way through the starters the pizzas arrived. Not clever.
We’d chosen chicken bites in tortilla wraps and ham and tomato bruschetta, both £4.75 and pleasant enough.
The pizza bases were very agreeable. They were thin, crisp and pliable, a decent chew and well worth the effort of being home made. The oven adds a little bit of charring to the bottoms which develops the flavour.
As for the toppings, well I could have done with a little bit more shredded duck but everything was there – spring onions, hoisin, cucumber. It just needed a little bit more oomph. My wife’s topping, goats cheese, tomatoes, spinach, garlic mushrooms, tomato sauce and mozzarella, was equally decent but just too squidgy to risk picking up a slice by hand.
Bloo.88 does salads and desserts but we finished up with coffees. They took their time, too. “I’d forgotten how to make an Americano,” said our waitress. She had.
They do plenty of drinks – an elderflower Collins is currently the most popular cocktail – but this is not a place on the real ale trail. The little darlings on the Student Run haven’t yet discovered real beer so we made do with a half of Staropramen and a Coke.
The ratings are not remarkable but I rather liked Bloo.88, once they master the oven. A party next to us waited so long they had to take their pizzas out in boxes.
What Bloo.88 is very good at is style and atmosphere but I suggest Aaron adds another ‘P’ to his repertoire, for Promptness. We paid £29.40 for food and £8.60 for drinks and coffee.
The Dawes Verdict
182 West Street, Sheffield S1 4ET.
Tel: 0114 270 6264. n Open: All week for 11.30am. Food until 10pm Sun-Thurs, 9pm Fri-Sat.
Vegetarian dishes. Music. Credit cards. Disabled access and toilets. Street parking.