If it’s not broke, don’t fix it, they say – and I have to admit I liked Relish just the way it was.
The BrewKitchen diner started life as Spice Market Café, floundered, then found its mark when it relaunched as Relish three years ago.
But the arrival of sister business Graze Inn, only a few hundred yards down Ecclesall Road, apparently left it victim to a touch of sibling rivalry. Cue another rebrand…
The new look is all American – “purveyors of meat & liquor” says the slogan, a “homage to the popular southern soul food diners”.
It’s a glorified burger bar, with the addition of ‘bones’ (that’s ribs to you and me), a few ‘mains’ and ‘hot diggity dog’. Oh dear.
The BrewKitchen team professes to have researched the new concept in New York. And, back in the UK, did a recce of London diners, where there’s currently a fad for barbecue, smoking and ‘gourmet fast food’.
This, then, is the new-look Relish. It’s a far cry from Artisan and Thyme Café that made chef/director Richard Smith’s name, in spite of the fact that everything is made in-house, from local ingredients, right down to the sauces on the table.
The first obvious change is a corrugated steel fascia, more appropriate in a scrapyard than a restaurant.
Inside, brown leather banquettes remain, along with the rough timbered ceiling. But blackboards that once lined the wall have given way to beer-themed posters and badges – and the prices have been cut to appeal to a younger, less affluent generation of restaurant-goers.
The place is certainly buzzing and service initially shows promise. We’re ushered to a table and given an enamel mug of salted popcorn – surprisingly tasty. But no-one mentions that two of the dishes are off, until we try to order them.
Starters (known here, irritatingly, as ‘food before food’) arrive. My corn on the cob is fine, enlivened by a pat of chilli butter.
Chowder is thick, creamy and really delicious, served in a mug with a handful of spring onions. A good start.
Meatballs are off, so my companion goes for The Rueben [sic] ‘our version not yours’, which apparently means that the corned beef, pastrami and sauerkraut are freshly made on site.
Very tasty it is too, though it’s not made clear that this is effectively a cold sandwich.
I’m putting the burgers to the test, reviving memories of a cookery session with former head chef Jack Baker… So I’m slightly disappointed to discover that this new version is more like a meat pancake than the chunky mouthful I remember; and if you want onion rings that’ll be £3 extra.
The sesame bun is fine and the burger has a decent chargrilled flavour, but it’s a shadow of its former self, in spite of the pickle, salad, relish and crinkle-cut chips.
And call me a fuddy-duddy, but I prefer to eat off a plate than a plastic tray.
My companion presses on obligingly to dessert – in his case a sundae of lemon sorbet, curd, cake, cream cheese and popping candy. All very sweet and lemony, buried beneath a mound of squirty cream.
We finish our meal with good americanos. Dinner for two, excluding drinks and service, is £28.50.
“We see Relish as our outlet for trying new things. We’re lucky to be in a position where we can be creative and give people what they want,” says director Simon Webster.
Well, personally, I liked it better before. But the new-look Relish is clearly aimed at a younger, hipper diner than me. Good job there’s Graze Inn just down the road!
* Relish, 371-373 Ecclesall Road, Sheffield S11 8PF Relish