Napoleons Casino at Owlerton is gambling on a winner this weekend as it unveils a £2 million extension and refurbishment.
The new look – which includes the first al fresco gaming terrace outside London – also features a new lounge, bar and a 60-seater restaurant... All of which means it’s a fair bet that this weekend will be a busy one for Lee Swords, head chef at Napoleons for the last 18 years.
Lee, a Sheffielder through & through, spent three years at Granville College where he gained his Professional Chef’s Diploma.
During this time he had several work placements, including a spell at the legendary Claridges in London. He then worked in a number of kitchens around the capital before moving back to Sheffield 22 years ago to join the A&S Leisure Group.
Over the years he has worked at a number of their sites, including Josephine’s, Owlerton Stadium, Napoleons Leeds and Napoleons Hull.
But since 1996 he but has led the team at Owlerton, developing its reputation as a contemporary restaurant offering a ‘modern meets traditional’ dining experience.
Napoleons’ reputation has certainly stood the test of time. Unlike many newer restaurants that are launched in a blaze of publicity, only to be rebranded or closed down a few years later, Napoleons has been a popular haunt for decades.
Long-serving staff have played a part in maintaining standards and ensuring good service – restaurant manager Lisa Coy has also worked there for 18 years.
But that doesn’t mean the place is standing still. A monthly-changing menu ensures that there is always something new for diners to try.
Lee might work at a casino, but his favourite way of relaxing involves fish rather than chips... in his spare time he can often be found down at the riverbank.
In fact Lee’s expertise as an angler has earned him a reputation as a sought-after speaker at specialist seminars and conferences.
He also writes articles for a number of fishing publications, both local and national, has made two DVDs and appeared on the BBC’s Countryfile, talking to presenter Matt Baker about the River Don.
Lee has a number of signature dishes, but his chosen recipe focuses on another form of river life: duck, served as a confit, with glazed autumnal vegetables and cherry jus.
“It’s one of my favourite dishes because my wife and I spent a week in Paris watching the solar eclipse. Not only does it taste great, it brings back many happy memories,” he says.
Confit of duck with glazed autumnal vegetables & cherry jus
4 large duck legs
30g rock salt
1 tbsp black peppercorns
4 garlic cloves, finely sliced
2 bay leaves
2 large sprigs of thyme
800g goose fat
40 fresh cherries, stoned
100ml ruby port
100ml red wine
2 star anise
1⁄2 cinnamon stick
2 large carrots
1 fennel bulb
1 large beetroot
For the duck:
Place duck legs on a baking tray, flesh-side up, and sprinkle evenly with salt, crushed peppercorns and herbs. Cover with clingfilm and leave to marinate in fridge overnight. Next day, rinse off marinade, pat dry, place in large flameproof dish and cover with melted fat. On a gentle heat, bring fat to just below simmering point; transfer to a pre-heated oven (1400C) and cook, uncovered for approx 2hrs 15min, until tender.
Crisp the skin beneath a hot grill before serving.
Place port, cinnamon, star anise and red wine in a pan and reduce by half on a high heat. Add cherries and simmer for approximately 5 min or until cherries are tender.
Remove 20 cherries from the pan and retain. Remove cinnamon and star anise. Pour remaining cherries and wine reduction into a blender and blend until smooth, then pass through a fine sieve.
When sauce is required add remaining whole cherries and season to taste. Shake a little knob of butter into sauce.
Prepare vegetables except fennel and cut into barrel shapes.
Cook fennel whole in salted water; trim, cut into quarters and remove the root core. Pan fry quarters in butter until caramelised. Cook the carrots, turnip and celeriac in salted water with thyme. Cook the beetroot separately in salted water.
To serve the vegetables toss in butter and season to taste.