A PLATE of canapés is placed before us: tiny curls of crisp melba toast topped with buttery squares of potted shrimp and slivers of smoked salmon. I’m impressed.
It’s good to find a suburban bistro that welcomes its customers with those little extras that promise to turn a good meal into a memorable one.
But it’s positively amazing to discover that such niceties are accomplished – alongside precise and skilfully-cooked three-course meals – with just one chef in the kitchen.
The chef in question is James Mellor, recently appointed top man at West 10 bar and bistro in Fulwood.
He now has a sous chef, but on the night of our visit he’s on his own, juggling main courses with canapés and desserts – and eventually making ten minutes to talk to us too.
James, 25, trained in Bournemouth then won a four-year apprenticeship at the legendary Langan’s in London; he later gained valuable experience in a seafood restaurant before casting around for something new – and netted exactly the challenge he was looking for while visiting friends in Sheffield: “I looked through the Yellow Pages, found Artisan and Richard Smith gave me a job on the spot,” he recalls.
That was nearly four years ago and since then he has also helped out at other BrewKitchen restaurants around the city.
One such occasion was wine merchant John Mitchell’s 60th birthday bash at Dada in Trippet Lane – where James was spotted by West 10 owner Jonnie Higginbottom.
“I turned the job down at first, but then I realised it was a good challenge for me. I want to try and make a name for myself in my own right,” he says.
James has now been at West 10 for eight weeks and has already put his stamp on the menus and created a new buzz about the place.
“My style is classic with a slightly Asian twist,” he says. “So far it’s going down well and we’ve got a lot busier.”
The place hasn’t changed much outwardly. The ground floor is bustling with early bar regulars as we arrive; upstairs it’s quieter, with a sophisticated air.
Dark-stained floorboards match bare furniture and slatted wooden blinds; cream walls are studded with framed wine bottle prints and mounted crate ends, while tables are set with flickering tealights and cutlery laid bistro-style on thick paper napkins.
The wine list is extensive – a mix of old and new world – with a good variety of both styles and prices. We order the house red: a fruity Santa Rosa Cabernet Sauvignon at £14.
Menus are equally diverse: a good mix of meat, fish and vegetarian, all packed into a compact five or six choices per course.
In addition to the à la carte, there’s an early bar selection available between 5.30 - 7.30pm, with two courses for £14 or three for £18.
We combine the two. My companion is seduced by gutsy, classic flavours on the set menu while I’m torn between some of the more innovative options.
Poached pear with parma ham, rocket and lemon vodka sounds good; or roast duck breast with potato fondant, red cabbage, French beans and juniper jus…
In the end the chicken livers win – a smart take on liver and onions – meltingly soft, with crisp endives, a quirky mushroom straw (a variation on the cheese type) with balsamic syrup and a shard of crisp streaky bacon.
My companion has also taken the salad route, but his features a perfectly soft-poached egg with meaty ham hock, black pudding, frisée leaves and a grain mustard sauce: intense flavours nicely balanced.
He follows that with Jonnie’s Spicy Goulash and Dumplings, presumably named because the owner likes to tuck in to the dish at teatime and not because he’s turned his hand to cooking.
It’s simple but fiery – a tad heavy on the cayenne pepper for me – but my companion likes it hot! The meat is beautifully tender, the dumplings suitably stodgy and there’s doughy bread to mop up sauce.
My seabass is a much lighter affair, but no less tasty. Two beautifully crisp-skinned fillets are presented with Asian vegetables (mainly bok choi), sweet potato wedges and laksa velouté: an interesting mix of delicate Oriental flavours including lemongrass, coconut, something sweet and a hint of chilli.
Presentation is good, but not at the expense of portion size and I’m beaten by this time. My obliging companion, however, ploughs on…
Desserts are all cold – variations on the gâteau, meringue, ice cream repertoire. – but there’s only so much one chef can be expected to do when he’s on his own. And they all look amazing.
Chocolate tart tastes amazing too, we discover – a crisp pastry case filled with moist, dark chocolate fondant, served with tangy passionfruit and mango coulis, quirky chilli popcorn and finished with a spun sugar flourish. Top marks.
Service has been good throughout, efficient but unobtrusive, and all the more impressive because dishes have flowed out seamlessly in spite of James’ solitude.
We finish our meal with good coffee. Dinner for two, excluding drinks and service, is £47.
lVerdict: A stylish out-of-town bistro with top notch food – and that little bit extra.
lOpen: Lunch 12-2.30pm Mon - Sat; Dinner 5.30-9.30pm Tues - Sat
lWest 10 Bar & Bistro, 376 Fulwood Road, Ranmoor, Sheffield (0114) 230 9190