Eating Out: New chef expands a class act

INOX dine head chef Lee Vintin
INOX dine head chef Lee Vintin

Chef Lee Vintin had a hand in some of the area's most highly-acclaimed restaurants before setting up city centre café Eten.

Now he has returned to high-end cooking, bringing a fresh approach to the menu at Inox Dine, the public restaurant at Sheffield University Students Union.

INOX dine head chef Lee Vintin

INOX dine head chef Lee Vintin

Lee has always been up for a challenge. After training at Sheffield College he honed his skills in London and France, cooking for big names including Sir Elton John and the Beckhams.

Then he returned home to head the kitchens at Bosworth's Bramall Lane, the Walnut Club in Hathersage and the Devonshire Arms, Middle Handley – winning Eat Sheffield's Restaurant of the Year 2011.

But Lee has always had a social conscience, so the opportunity to open a venture with a community focus was too good to miss – Eten was not just a café but a favourite meeting place for local clubs, and also nurtured trainees with special needs.

At this stage Lee discovered he had problems of his own, when he was diagnosed as coeliac: a challenge for anyone, but particularly a chef.

It’s open to everyone and we want it to be used by all kinds of people

It led to a special interest in food allergies and dietary needs, and was the catalyst behind his innovative range of gluten-free recipes.

This focus is something he has brought with him to his new role, working closely with master chef Joe Berry.

The monthly-changing restaurant menu is a blend of classic British and international flavours, reflecting the seasons and sustainability, showcasing local produce and now boasting a high percentage of dishes that are either vegetarian, vegan or GF.

Also new at Inox is a comfortable lounge, formerly part of the open plan restaurant, but now curtained off and furnished with plush sofas and a range of informal dining settings.

Lamb's liver - Inox Dine

Lamb's liver - Inox Dine

It has its own menu, for those wanting a pancake breakfast or light lunch. There's also a set afternoon tea, complete with gluten-free option.

The team is keen to encourage more local people to discover the place: "It's open to everyone and we want it to be used by all kinds of people," says Lee.

Inox is on level five of the Students Union building, but the new Durham Road car park makes it a lot more accessible for non-university diners. We walked a few metres down the road and took the lift without encountering anyone else at all.

The space is contemporary, with a glass wall offering rooftop views of the city and laid-back, contemporary music playing softly in the background.

Plaice - Inox Dine

Plaice - Inox Dine

A mix of academics, business types and city visitors is spread around the space, seated at polished wooden tables, talking earnestly over a bottle of wine, or sprawling over coffee in the lounge.

Service is excellent, with friendly, professional staff on hand to attend to our every whim.

We choose a table by the window, overlooking stately Firth Hall, and immediately a waiter arrives with a complimentary bottle of sparkling water and a slate of herby tomato foccacia with oil and balsamic.

The menu is astonishingly good value at two courses for £14 or three for £17; a flight of three wines to accompany it will set you back only £14.

It's lunchtime, so I'm on water, but there's a choice of fine or house wines from £19.75 a bottle (£4.70 per glass) and a range of beers from Welbeck Abbey – brewed by a former student.

I start with lamb's liver, spiced with ras el hanout, pan fried to moist pink perfection and served with a pot of jammy quince and mint jelly topped with creamy potato foam and a wonderfully fresh-tasting salad of cucumber shavings, watercress and pomegranate seeds.

Autumn trifle - Inox Dine

Autumn trifle - Inox Dine

My companion, who's allergic to seafood, is thrilled to be able to try the Sheffield 'fishcake' – a vegan version of this delicacy, made of aubergine, with seaweed, salt and lemon to give it a hint of the sea.

It lacks the fishiness of the original, of course, but is otherwise a good substitute, the soft, well-seasoned filling encased in a crisp, deep-fried shell. It comes with a little dish of mushy peas.

My main is the real thing: fish of the day, line-fished plaice. Again nicely seasoned, it comes with pine nuts, basil and oil – a deconstructed pesto, giving both flavour and bite – with a crunchy side salad of leaves, apple, red onion and balsamic dressing.

My companion is tucking into a sky-scraper of venison burger: sandwiched in a tower of crisp-fried onion rings, tomato, lettuce and brioche bun, with kale and kohlrabi slaw and a bowl of skinny fries.

Three courses for £17 is too good a bargain to miss, so we both succumb to dessert: autumn trifle for me, rich with blackberry, plum and treacly parkin, and buttery pear tarte tatin for him. Superb!

Inox is open Monday to Friday, 8.30am-6.30pm. See website for special events including a free monthly Breakfast Networking Club and monthly Fish & Chip Friday.

Also coming up is a dinner with TV chef Joe Hurd, Nov 18; and 12 Wines of Christmas with Rafters' sommelier Alistair Myers, Dec 15.

* Inox Dine, level 5, Students Union Building, Durham Road, Sheffield S10 2TG; Inox Dine

Inox Dine

Inox Dine