It’s Sheffield’s secret pub.
Tucked away between West Street and Broad Lane – in the shadow of Sheffield University’s advance – the Red Deer is a proper city centre boozer.
Real ale, real history and from the evidence of this visit - real food.
CAMRA pub of the month for August, The Red Deer was 190 years old at the weekend with congratulations cards above the bar and staff still in post-party recovery to prove it.
Pre-starters I had had the beer course…compulsory as a mark of respect in the pub of the month.
Three one-third-of-a-pint glasses with three different beers carried in a three-hole piece of wood - sort of a paradise on a paddle.
The first was Stancil’s Barnsley Bitter. As a lover of Acorn Brewery’s version of the fabled beer I felt a hint of guilt trying the opposition’s brew but that melted away after the first sip.
Bold, malty and smooth was the verdict.
Second up was Stancil’s Ruby Ale: Deep, rich and fruity.
Thirdly Bay Summer Ale: Crisp, light and refreshing, so good I had another half to go with the main course.
For food starters I went for one of the most interesting dishes I’ve seen - especially in a pub.
Veggie Haggis Pakora - battered deep fried haggis balls served with chilli yoghurt dip.
With a light and crunchy batter, a good hit of spice and a filling that had all the texture of haggis without the worry of where the meat might have come from, it was a delight.
Apparently they buy in their veggie haggis locally – it’s made from pumpkin seeds, lentils, oats and spices, open it up and add mushrooms, onions and jalapeno peppers.
The chilli yogurt dip adds creaminess and more heat.
Joe had the salt and pepper chicken wings with spicy cajun sauce.
They were wonderfully crisp and gently spiced and came with a really gutsy Cajun sauce.
A blue-haired youth lopes into the back room and reminds me that the Red Deer has long attracted a radical clientele with union meetings held there regularly, and strong socialist connections over the years.
There was recently a meeting held in the upstairs function room - it’s booked most nights of the week according to manager Graham Reid - to discuss the plight of migrants stranded at Calais.
On to the mains and Joe had sticky lamb chops marinated in cumin and turmeric and smeared with honey and char grilled, served with sweet potato and quinoa salad.
Of all the lamb dishes I’ve tried this year – to be fair there haven’t been that many – this is the best.
The meat is sweet and juicy, melt in the mouth tender and although there wasn’t much evidence of stickiness the marinade and chargrilled treatment added a lovely smoky-sweet layer to excellent meat perfectly cooked. Top class.
All meats are locally sourced through John Crawshaw’s butchers and fish is from William Howe so they should be.
I was jealous from the moment the food arrived.
The quinoa – how come that’s everywhere all of a sudden? - looked lovely.
Smokey with a grainy texture and a hit of acidity that went well with the soft sweetness of the kumara - New Zealand for sweet potato.
The New Zealand influence on the menu is through owner Kiwi Jacob Nicholls – they’re everywhere in the city these days.
“Jacob took over the pub about five years ago. He’s from New Zealand and you can see the influence,” said manager Graham Reid.
The Red Deer does a great line in veggie and vegan food.
“A lot of our customers asked for some of our dishes but without the meat so we tried it, people liked it and we now do seven veggie dishes and four vegan ones.”
I tried the Cajun Falafel Wrap – homemade falafel with spiced sauce and tzatziki, served with salad and chips.
The salad is plain, old fashioned English style with a little vinaigrette and pleasant enough, the chips are crisp and good - though they are from frozen – and the falafel –made from chickpeas, onions, garlic and parsley - wrap has body and taste.
The tzatziki – usually yogurt, cucumber and mint adds freshness to the heat and depth of the Cajun sauce with its cumin hit.
All in all a decent wrap that went down wonderfully with half of Bays Summer Ale.
After that the desserts were slightly disappointing. The beetroot, banana and chocolate brownie was unavailable so we went for Eton Mess which was fine but sort of makes itself and the ginger, lemon and vanilla cheesecake was pleasant enough but a little soggy and the flavours got a bit lost.
Over all the food is unpretentious, adds up to the sum of its parts, doesn’t try too hard and works well.
Gastropub it ain’t, cracking pub grub it most definitely is, and at a great price.
For three courses each, two pints of beer, two lime and sodas and a cappuccino our bill came to £41.25 and on Monday nights they do decent wine at half price from £6.50 a bottle.
Cheers and forward with the people.