Sometimes you just have to try something different.
Even if all your instincts are screaming: ‘soup of the day and pie and chips’ as mine were at the Old House on Devonshire Street.
I ignored the screams and went double bold.
For starters: sautéed lamb sweetbreads, crispy pancetta and broad bean croûte.
For main course, fish stew.
Hardly bush tucker but certainly a challenge.
School dinners’ liver and onions still appear in my worst, fever-fuelled nightmares and the texture of kidney brings a shudder, and a reminder of James Joyce’s Ulysses where Leopold Bloom’s love of offal is described: “Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.”
Of course there’s no urine at the Old House, faintly scented or otherwise, and by now I was committed.
There’s a sense of the literary and arty at the Old House with its depiction of Hogarth’s Gin Lane showing the horrors of the 18th century gin craze, pictures from US prohibition days and the use of old and curious vinyl LP covers as decoration.
From Slim Whitman to Roxy Music is quite a journey and the eclectic, car-boot cacophony of musical tastes displayed along with a mix of seating from bar stools and banquettes to dining tables and sofas, gives the place a fun and quirky atmosphere.
The Old House, in defiance of its Gin Lane propaganda, runs monthly gin tasting courses and according to manager Mike Simcox – back at the Old House after spells at The York and the Common Room – boasts 70 different kinds of mothers’ ruin and hundreds of beers.
But never mind the gin, how have people taken to sweetbreads, new on the spring menu just a week old?
“Our chef Darren Roberts wanted to offer something different for people to share as a starter,” said Liverpudlian Mike.
“So far the sweetbreads have gone down well. We always have a fish dish and we could have done sea bass or salmon but we tried something different and that’s gone down very well too.”
As do the pies apparently.
They are famed far and wide as are the pies at The Old House’s sister pub the Broadfield. I can vouch for those.
“We try to make as much of our own food as we can and make pies fresh every day. We’re working on a roast dinner pie which is what you’d think and ticks all the boxes for me,” laughs Mike.
I’ll look out for that one.
The Old House is part of Kane Yeardley’s still growing portfolio of bars and eateries which now includes the Picture House in Huddersfield and the British Oak at Mosborough.
But back to the offal.
Sweetbreads are nothing to do with testicles, as many imagine, they are the thymus and pancreatic glands of a sheep and look like brains.
The pancetta was crisp and the broad bean croûte very fresh and green with a creamy sauce on decent toast but the sweetbreads were, frankly, not to my taste.
They had a light texture and a sweetness from which they get their name but I still don’t get offal.
Which is hardly the fault of The Old House.
I’m sure Mr Bloom would have approved with his love of ‘thick giblet soup and nutty gizzards’ but by now I was craving the comfort and safety of cream of tomato.
My son was less adventurous but more satisfied with his tempura battered squid, nicely cooked in a light, crisp batter with a warming red pepper and lime coulis, very good.
After the sweetbreads I was questioning the meaning of life itself, never mind the wisdom of tomato and saffron fish stew but I needn’t have worried.
It looked beautiful, smelled great and tasted delicious. With the glorious rusty gold of saffron the deep, rich bouillabaisse-like bowl of fishy parts looked sensational.
Mussels, cockles, clams and fillets of meaty red mullet, tender cod and salmon, the stew was a delight.
It came with some rather too well-done garlic brioche.
Joe’s rolled rump steak stuffed with mushroom and chicken liver served with boulangère potatoes and chantenay carrots is a meat eater’s delight. The steak tender and tasty, the filling rich and flavoursome and the layers of potato well seasoned, topped with parmesan and sage and very French. He loved it.
For dessert I chose buttermilk panna cotta with braised rhubarb, Joe tried banana and bitter chocolate tart with homemade marshmallows and almond ice cream.
The panna cotta is good, though perhaps a little too set but the rhubarb is gorgeous. I’m always surprised by how good rhubarb is and wonder why we don’t eat more of it.
Joe’s banana and chocolate tart is good without being stunning but the almond ice cream is excellent. The home-made marshmallow was gooey, sweet and chewy – which sounds a lot like the offal but let’s not start that again.
With a pint of Brooklyn Lager and a pint of Pride of Sheffield our bill came to £53.55.
The Old House: 113-117 Devonshire Street, Sheffield S3 7SB Phone: 0114 2766002 Category: city centre bar/restaurant