WOW! It’s not often words escape me, but walking through the doors of Sheffield’s newest restaurant is like entering another world.
A cloud of birdcages, slouchy sofas, sparkling chandeliers and shabby chic; quirky design features and reclaimed furniture, all in 50 shades of grey (a topical pun)… Welcome to Graze Inn, latest addition to the BrewKitchen group.
The place, once Champs, is cavernous but cleverly broken up into a series of different areas, each with its own distinctive character, yet all somehow part of the common theme. And the result is brilliant.
“It’s not like Sheffield,” says head chef Mark James – and he should know. He’s spent the last five years in London, Ascot and other top kitchens around the country.
This is the place that has consumed master chef Richard Smith, Thornbridge supremo Simon Webster and their team for much of the year.
Opening was twice put back while they worked on menu and decor. But it was worth waiting for – and we’re not the only ones to be impressed.
The place has 140 covers, but arriving at 6.30pm on a Tuesday evening, we find it’s booked solid. Thankfully, with a restaurant this size we don’t have to wait long for a table.
Besides, there’s plenty to look at, as well as a decent selection of drinks to keep us occupied while we sink into those sofas.
The wine list has more than 30 bottles, from £14.50 for a fruity merlot. There’s a good selection of beers – draught and bottled – as well as around 20 whiskies, plus cocktails and mocktails: Bloody Yorkshire Mary or Bloody Yorkshire Shame.
The menu is a bit of a hotch-potch but it answers most demands. James has been working on it since January, along with his bosses, award-winning chefs Richard Smith and Les Rennie.
“We wanted something quirky: good food, but different; big flavours – and British,” he says.
So there are nibbles and sharing boards, salads and sandwiches, as well as starters, mains and the house specialities: chicken from the rotisserie and ‘Great British flats’.
The latter is Graze’s take on the ubiquitous pizza and very good they are too, as we discover later. But I’m jumping ahead.
We’re shown to a table in what I’ll call the Music Room: an area papered with classical sheet music, illuminated by fat church candles and seated on old church pews.
It adjoins a white-tiled area decked out like an old-fashioned provisions merchant, complete with laden shelves, a magnificent chandelier and pendant lights with quirky split bamboo shades – a design feature knocked up by the electrician, we’re told!
Service is very good. Restaurant manager Sarah Jeffery brings a complimentary fliptop bottle of chilled water, a wooden box of fresh bread and stays to answer our questions about the menu.
Bread and ice cream are the only things bought in, everything else is freshly made on the premises.
My companion goes for the fixed price menu – £12 for two courses, £15 for three – kicking off with a mini tureen of soup, an unusual blend of sweet potato and lime with a hint of coconut. He’s won over immediately and I have to admit it works beautifully: thick and velvety with a citrus tang to cut through the sweetness.
I’m even happier with my arancinis (risotto balls to you). The rice is mixed into a smooth paste with pea, mint and ricotta cheese, then breaded and deep fried to create crisp-coated creamy balls, served with a little bowl of whipped goat’s cheese and salad.
Mains are pretty traditional but with the Smithy touch – like the Graze take on liver and onions.
Calves liver is chargrilled to soft perfection that misses out on top marks only because of a few chewy sinews. Caramelised red onions, thyme-scented portabella mushrooms, buttery mash and a balsamic reduction complete the dish, with a sprinkling of micro herbs to garnish.
My companion puts the Graze speciality to the test and is thrilled with the gigantic, puffy flatbread that arrives on a board, with pizza wheel to manhandle it into edible portions.
There’s no coating of tomato sauce on these ‘flats’, they’re topped with good, melted Yorkshire cheese and – in this case – a combination of leeks, peas and spicy chicken from the rotisserie.
It’s a great alternative to the Italian pizza but be warned: starters are unnecessary for anyone intending to polish it off.
We compromise with a slice of key lime pie to complete our meal: surprisingly light, with a biscuit crumb base, a filling that’s creamy yet good and sharp, and a dusting of grated lime zest.
And, in a departure from our customary americanos, we finish with pots of speciality tea. Mine’s a refreshing mojito mint with a lemongrass tang, while he goes for smoky Russian caravan – served in dinky cast-iron pots with a colour-coded sand timer to judge when it’s perfectly brewed.
The bill for dinner – which arrives with a paper bag of sweets – is £37.25. And, incidentally, under-8s eat free (with an adult) Monday to Friday before 7pm.
Verdict: Quirky and fun, a restaurant with a ‘wow’ factor and good food too. And there’s a hint that this could be the first in a whole chain of Graze Inns.
Open: Daily, 11.30am - 10.30pm
Graze Inn, 315-319 Ecclesall Road, Sheffield (0114) 267 6666 www.grazeinn.co.uk