A steak in the future…

La Vaca South American Steak House
La Vaca South American Steak House

SOME family businesses mean little more than a name over the door but not in the case of Rodrigo Clarke and his wife Gloria…

Their new restaurant is very much a hands-on family affair. So while Rodrigo and his dad crafted a parrilla (South American charcoal grill) out of steel, Gloria’s mum went through her holiday albums and framed a selection of authentic Latin photos for the walls. Then everyone chipped in to sand and varnish slabs of Abbeydale sawmill timber for the unique bar top.

“It was a labour of love,” says Gloria. “We wanted a rustic, ranchy look and we’re really pleased with the finished effect.”

La Vaca (Spanish for cow) opened at the end of May in the former Buon Deli premises at Broomhill. And by the time you read this, it should be even more of a family business because Gloria and Rodrigo were expecting their first baby any day.

The steak house is the result of months of planning and a long-held dream for the couple, who met while Gloria was on a year’s work placement in Rodrigo’s native Chile.

They ran a small hotel near Santiago before returning to Sheffield three years ago and since then have juggled full-time jobs with running Chile Peppers, their Latin American ‘asado’ barbecue business.

But their ultimate ambition was always to open a restaurant and the former Broomhill shop unit gave them the chance they’d been looking for.

“There was a period when Broomhill was a bit dead but it’s really come to life again now. We’re hoping that, rather than competing, we’ll attract even more people to the area,” says Gloria.

It took longer than expected to secure the necessary licences and convert the building, so the baby’s arrival was perilously close when the doors finally opened.

By that time word had got out – and the planned ‘soft’ launch gave way to a hard-hitting baptism of fire.

“It’s started better than we could ever have hoped. And people seem to like it, so we’re really enjoying it,” says Gloria.

Glowing coals and sizzling steaks on the parrilla set the scene from the moment customers walk through the door. Rough timber panelling adds to the rustic feel, along with a couple of old cartwheels, unearthed in a local antiques shop, and the framed Chilean photos.

Chef Rodrigo is in charge of the open kitchen while Gloria runs front of house with manager Dan Thornton, formerly of Made by Jonty’s and the Great Gatsby. The family are rallying round too: waiting staff include Gloria’s younger sister Oonagh.

The menu is based on Chile Peppers’ asado fare: “We tried to keep it as simple as possible to keep the prices low. We want people to feel they can come out on a Tuesday or Wednesday night and not spend an arm and a leg.”

An early bird offer makes that even more reasonable, with a 6oz steak or sandwich plus chips and salad, a beer or wine, and coffee for £8.95, 5-6.30pm.

Wines are all from Chile, Spain or Argentina, priced from £9.50 a bottle (£2.50 per glass). There’s also a choice of spirits, liqueurs, bottled beers or Estrella Damm lager on draught at £4 a pint.

The menu is in Spanish but is roughly divided into appetisers, starters, grills, fish and accompaniments, plus some vegetarian specials and a range of sandwiches. We’re advised to pick a starter and main course, then add two or three side dishes to share.

We would have gone for ‘pan y pebre’, bread and salsa, but Oonagh has already brought these to whet our appetite.

The bread is bog-standard French loaf but the salsa lifts it to gourmet status. Made to Rodrigo’s mum’s authentic recipe, it’s a mouthwatering mix of tomato, coriander, garlic, chilli and red wine vinegar.

We start with spicy pork ribs – another fondly-remembered Chile Peppers treat – and a portion of mixed empanadas (like mini Cornish pasties). There are bottles of Tabasco on the table for those who like it really hot.

The ribs are wonderfully meaty, with an irresistible salty, chilli tang and they’re every bit as good as we recall. But be warned: there are six to a portion, enough to feed a small family, so sharing is a must.

I go for salmon as a main course: a perfectly grilled fillet, served with a salad of tomato, lettuce and red onion, a lemon wedge and a dinky jar of mayonnaise.

If I’d realised the fish came with salad I might have been less gung-ho about the accompaniments, but there’s no hint of it on the menu, so we end up with a Greek salad and a bowl of home-made coleslaw too.

My companion has ordered chips to go with his sirloin steak, which is salty, succulent and perfectly ‘medium’, as requested: “Spot on!”

I’m full by this time, so finish my meal with a flat white – the coffee is good here.

My companion obliges with dessert, eschewing home-made chocolate brownies and crème brûlée for a sharp lemon cheesecake.

Dinner for two, excluding drinks and service, is £43.

lVerdict: A sure-fire success – this indoor version of a South American asado is the perfect answer to the British climate.

lOpen: Tue-Sat 12-3pm & 5-10pm, Sunday 12-9pm

lLa Vaca, 477 - 479 Glossop Road, Broomhill, Sheffield (0114) 267 6215 www.lavaca-restaurant.co.uk