For 20 years, Rafters has maintained its reputation as one of the best restaurants in Sheffield.
For the vast majority of those two decades, award-winning chef Marcus Lane was at the helm. But he sold up a year ago and two young upstarts are following in his footsteps.
And how. On Thursday night, the new kids on the Oakbrook Road block, Tom Lawson and Alistair Myers, just 25 and 30, lifted one of the most prestigious awards in the city - and it wasn’t for their food and hospitality.
They took Young Business Person of the Year at the hotly-contested Sheffield Business Awards. The win comes on top of a raft-er of accolades this year. The venue has yet again been awarded the two AA Rosettes Marcus gained, Tom has won Young Chef of the Year at the Craft Guild of Chefs and Rafters has been listed in 2015’s Michelin Guide, Good Food Guide and Hardens Restaurants Guide.
Tom, a former Eat Sheffield Young Chef of the Year, met skilled front of house man Alistair five years ago. They’ve worked in two leading gastro pubs together and since buying Rafters they have gone from six staff to 16 and expanded opening days. There’s now a Sunday lunch, and Thursday to Saturday in December there’s a lunch menu. We booked in on Day One, the Thursday of the Business Awards.
It was our first visit to Rafters and I have to say that on arrival, my heart sank. The tiny ground floor entrance is far from salubrious and the narrow staircase could be an ascension to a backstreet cafe. But it turns out to be Jacob’s Ladder; at the top lies gastronomic heaven - one elegant room with a spider’s web of old beams, a convivial atmosphere with Bing Crosby crooning Christmas classics - and a divine £34 three-course lunch.
It’s pricy, yes - but if you can’t spoil your spleen at Christmas, when can you?
We start with two glasses of Basa Telmo Rodriguez, a golden Spanish white which was the house wine at el Bulli, the world’s best restaurant until it closed in 2011 - £6.70 a glass and worth every penny. From a choice of three starters, I selected a VERY small but perfectly-formed hand-cured salmon, cooked to melting, sweet softness in a water bath and served with mild horseradish sauce and sharp little zings of apple. Husband’s soft, oozing roasted pumpkin risotto was laced with sharp Wensleydale, a crunch of roasted pumpkin seeds and a rich, throaty drizzle of aged balsamic.
My main, silky smooth cod loin crisped to fine gold in a brown shrimp butter, came with kale salted and buttered into something quite sublime, and a dinky potato cannelloni, its crisp shell filled with piped puree. Husband’s balloutine of succulent turkey in Alsace bacon atop finely-shredded red cabbage and the daintiest pommes Anna ever, seemed infused with the very essence of Christmas itself (actually, it was Alistair’s own festive punch in the cabbage). Of the two desserts, pear a
nd almond tart, a gorgeous, grainy and sticky frangipane with poached fruit beat hands down a slightly too sweet sticky date pudding with peanut butter ice cream.
Tom’s cooking is highly creative, yet beautifully controlled. The result? Reverently-cooked quality produce with tiny but punchy, perfectly-judged additions that make you say out loud: How did he DO that?