FOOD REVIEW: The Schoolrooms, Low Bradfield

Schoolrooms, Low Bradfield
Schoolrooms, Low Bradfield
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It’s becoming a destination village, is Low Bradfield.

This pretty little farming community is a great place to head for a weekend walk

It’s got an interesting history, too. It was the first populated place to be hit by the Great Sheffield Flood when the Dale Dyke Dam broke in 1864. The original dam wall stood almost one mile west of the village but there was only one fatality, a one day-old baby. Thankfully word had spread of a leak in the dam’s earth embankment and villagers had prepared themselves.

It’s a good job; two stone bridges were swept away, as was the corn mill, blacksmith’s shop, schoolroom, schoolmaster’s house and a farmhouse.

Today it’s a pretty as a picture again. Old stone cottages, winding lanes, beautiful countryside... And for the last two years, the village’s old school house has been drawing visitors all on its own.

The Schoolrooms boasts a classy farm shop and deli. It’s co-owned by Rachel Hague, her family and her partner.

Rachel’s parents bought the building some years ago as an investment and she and her farmer partner John Woodhouse restored it two years ago.

You go in through the farm shop, which has a fabulous butcher’s counter stocked mostly with from meat from John’s own herds, plus his hand-made burgers and sausages.

It also sells an adventurous range of quality cheeses and condiments, wines plus breads from the artisan bakery at Welbeck Abbey.

Upstairs is the cafe, a light and airy space in the eaves, with ceiling beams and sloping cream walls dotted with animal paintings by local artist Lynne Wilkinson. The tables and chairs are modern and Ikea-simple; nice, but the metal legs do make a bit of a din on the polished pine floorboards. In good weather you can sit outside, overlooking the lively village green.

Fittingly, there are blackboards everywhere - though bearing food and drink specials, rather than times-tables.

Shortly after the place opened it began earning a name for itself as a foodie destination; this isn’t plain old tearoom fare. The Schoolrooms started a Saturday night bistro and Friday supper club.

Initially the chef was Thomas Samworth, an award-winner and former junior sous chef for Michelin-starred Gary Rhodes at London’s W1.

But as from April 1, things have been simplified - pared down. The gastro nights have now ended, due to falling numbers. Instead, the cafe is staying open until 8pm on Friday and Saturday nights, with the same menu running from lunchtime.

“We found people want to spend less money on eating out at the moment,” says Rachel. “We were doing three courses of fine food for £25 on Saturdays and £18 on Fridays, great value - but people are tightening their belts financially and physically. They are happier having one course at around the £9 mark and maybe a dessert, so that’s what we’re offering.”

New chef is Lee Shortt, previously of Vittles Bistrot in Broomhill. Before that he worked in Italians - at Mama & Leonie’s in Norfolk Street and Meadowhall’s Mama Amalfi.

The Café is open for breakfast - from warm pastries to the Full English- then the day to evening menu switches to hearty hot dishes, unusual starters and comfort-food puddings, plus salads, soups, hand-made cakes and sandwiches (I fancied the sausage, mustard and onion marmalade at £6.50 - a bit pricy for a banger butty, but then they are hand-made from local pork). At The Schoolrooms the menu is seasonal, with a strong emphasis on own-reared and locally-sourced produce. There’s a children’s menu from £2.95 too.

On the table menu the mixed olive, sun dried tomato, stuffed chillies and pesto salad sounded tempting for £6.50. So did the Schoolrooms Deli Board, a £6.95 selection of meats, artisan cheeses, pork pie, pickles and chutneys.

But with snow still on the fields outside we were more taken with the comforting, rib-sticking mains; a choice of Bradfield beer-battered fish and chips, £8.50, sausages, mash and onion gravy, £7.95, and hand-made burger, £8.50.

Husband went for the burger, which came inside two hunky slices of artisan bread instead of a bun, with a dollop of spicy tomato, pepper and chilli jam from the condiments shelf downstairs, a lovely, leafy side salad and hand-cut chips like your grandma used to make - long, fat, deep golden brown and piping-hot. Cheese was 50p extra.

The burger, tender, juicy and flavoursome, was made from well-seasoned, quality beef from the Schoolroom’s farm in Loxley. It made a man-sized meal and the cafe being licensed, was well-accompanied by a pint from neighbouring High Bradfield’s brewery, very reasonably priced at £2.50.

I’d gone for daintier options from a the specials blackboard. Chicken, cashew and chorizo pasta and wild mushroom risotto were tempting, but I didn’t fancy all the carbs, choosing instead red pepper, cherry tomato and chilli soup, £3.95, followed by cod and pancetta fishcake, £5.95.

Heck, the soup (which did actually come with carbs - two thick slices of freshly-baked bread) was divine. Intense in colour, it was crammed with flavour. There was the sweetness of the tomatoes, the density of the pimentos and a tongue-tingling thwack of chilli. I suspect the chef had added a dollop of that spicy condiment -more of which accompanied the fishcake.

Note I said fishcake. At that price, I’d expected two - and dish bordering on a main course-sized (even though the menu clearly stated fishcake singular).

It was a spectacular thing, nevertheless. Plump and rounded, crisply fried to gold, its interior wasn’t chunky flakes, but a soft, smoky puree of cod and pancetta - a much posher version of what I’d expected. I loved it, but could have eaten another.

During a glass of fair to middling medium-sized merlot at a reasonable £3.90 I decided we needed to share a pudding.

There were only two to choose from - sticky chocolate or sticky toffee. We chose the latter because it’s a long time since we’ve had one (it’s stuck on virtually every pub menu these days and seems pretty unimaginative to me). But we should have expected good pud in a schoolroom, shouldn’t we?

This one tasted of bonfire toffee and had that dark, rich, treacle colour.

We gave it top marks.