A decade after launching their own business, Pansy and Jeremy Plester finally have the restaurant they always wanted – thanks to 14-year-old daughter Toni.
With mounting competition and dwindling profits, the couple were on the point of giving up Rushour café when Toni came up with the idea of a rebrand.
The result is Surf & Turf – a bistro-style grill serving home-cooked food. It has already earned the thumbs-up from existing customers and is now attracting new diners too.
“The atmosphere is much softer and the food we cook is more the kind of things we used to put on the specials board,” says Jeremy.
“We’re doing what we really wanted to do all along.”
The couple trained in some of the area’s top venues. Jeremy, a driving instructor by day, started at Baldwin’s Omega when he left school, working his way up from gofer to barman, and eventually manager.
Pansy studied catering and hospitality in Birmingham, then spent a year as a chef at the acclaimed Peacock in Rowsley before going on to manage a number of city venues.
But she and Jeremy had always wanted a place of their own and in 2004, when Toni started school, they launched Rushour in Campo Lane.
That did well and three years later they took on a second outlet, in London Road. But what they really wanted was an evening restaurant.
The new site offered that opportunity but people had got used to the idea that it was a café. Their monthly quiz nights drew in the crowds but did little more than cover costs. And with cheaper outlets around, some saw them as expensive – although their food was good quality, locally sourced and home cooked.
They hit a low point: “It wasn’t what we wanted to do,” admits Jeremy. “Our heart wasn’t in it and we thought about packing it in.”
Then Toni came up with the solution: if you want a quality restaurant, why not open one – on the existing site, she asked?
“As soon as we started coming up with ideas, it just got us fired up again,” says Jeremy.
They bought in round tables with freshly laundered cloths and napkins, real flowers and candles. Softer lighting and new glassware added the finishing touches: Surf & Turf opened last month.
“The feedback has been really positive,” says Pansy. “We’ve had a lot of new faces through the door, people are recommending us to friends and the takings have gone up.
“We did a big wedding party and a 50th anniversary last week, so it’s opening up new opportunities for us too.”
Toni works with them, waitressing when she’s not at school, making it a real family business. And the fresh start has taken the couple back to their roots.
“This is more like what Jeremy was trained for... and I’m loving the cooking,” says Pansy.
“We’re attracting more foodie types and young couples, especially at the weekend. I can’t imagine doing anything else now.”
The bistro address is London Road, but we find it at Heeley Bottom, just up from Ponsfords and the White Lion.
Warm lighting and soft music beckon as Jeremy shows us to a corner table.
There’s a bar lounge on one side of the room, while Pansy works in an open kitchen at the back. It adds a sense of drama, with a sizzling grill and occasional leap of flames; the aroma of hot fat is unavoidable.
The bar offers a choice of draft and bottled beers, spirits and a decent wine list. We order large glasses of Chilean merlot and delicious gooseberry-infused sauvignon blanc (£4.95 each).
Jeremy brings a carafe of water and is attentive in replenishing our glasses.
While we’re studying the menu he also brings warm bread with bowls of fragrant home-made basil mayonnaise and lemon and coriander humous – so good, I have to lick the spoon!
This is the kind of hospitality you usually expect in much grander places.
Starter of grilled black pudding is topped with crisp bacon lardons, a fried quail’s egg, sweet tomato chutney and a salad garnish.
Aromatic Thai fish soup is humming with fresh coriander, coconut and lemongrass. There are little nuggets of white fish, mussels and prawns and a lingering kick of chilli. Delicious.
The menu offers more choice for fish-lovers than carnivores, but there’s even a token vegetarian dish: sweet potato and leek pancakes.
I go for the surf, leaving my companion a clear run at the turf.
Firm-fleshed fillet of red snapper is sprinkled with thyme and served with spicy tomato salsa and a wedge of lemon. This fish demands simple, accurate cooking... and gets it.
From the specials board, rack of lamb is a succulent treat. Pink and tender, the ribs need nothing more than a scent of rosemary.
We share a bowl of mixed veg: broccoli, carrots, mangetout and sautéed potatoes.
And so to dessert. Plum crumble is sold out, so we share a nutmeg-topped bread and butter pudding. It’s a little on the dry side, but the flavour is good. We finish our meal with good americanos.
Dinner for two, excluding drinks and service, is £53.80. A set menu is £20 for three courses; Christmas menus are also available.
* Surf & Turf, 631-633 London Road , Sheffield (0114) 255 8517 Surf & Turf