FRESH local produce is the buzz phrase of the food industry but The Schoolrooms café and deli can go one better than that…
Not only is much of their meat produced by co-owner John Woodhouse and cakes home-baked by his mum, but even the chef comes from a local farm.
The Low Bradfield business opened last month on the site of the Victorian village schoolrooms.
John and his partner Rachel Hague had spent months restoring the building and sourcing local goods for sale. But the master stroke came when they recruited chef Tom Bartle, a farmer’s son from Brockholes,
Tom prepares pies and cook-chill meals for the farm shop and rustles up hot meals and snacks for the café. Now he has also launched a series of fortnightly bistro evenings, offering a three-course meal plus all the extras for £24.95 per head.
“This is my sort of place,” says Tom. “My dad is a pedigree beef farmer and I grew up on a farm, so it’s important to me where food comes from – and Rachel and John feel the same.”
Tom began his career as a kitchen porter at the Cragrats brasserie near Holmfirth. That convinced him he wanted to become a chef and he went on to study culinary arts at university.
During his training he spent eight months in Missouri, USA, helping to prepare banquets for up to 1,000 diners.
“My first night on the grill was the Fourth of July; it was a baptism of fire!” he recalls.
But it put him in good stead to run a kitchen on his return home and now to play a key role at The Schoolrooms.
Tom has helped to source the foods on sale in the deli and has created the café and bistro menus. He also had a say in setting up the kitchen equipment and hiring staff.
Sous chef Michael Cashmore is a former colleague from the award-winning Almanac in Kenilworth. He says: “Tom’s style is very classic, mine is new age, so we bounce ideas off each other.”
Tom agrees: “We see this as a chance to set up a new business and run with it. It’s fantastic!”
Bistro nights take place in the first-floor café – a classic-yet-contemporary room that reflects the chefs’ style.
Pine-topped tables are laid out beneath exposed beams and track lighting, while sloping walls are hung with canvases by local artist Lynne Wilkinson.
It’s a relaxed, airy space that’s complemented by the polished floorboards and single tea light on each table. Starched napkins, wielded with a flourish, provide a touch of class.
Driving through open countryside, lit by early-evening sunshine, is the perfect introduction to The Schoolrooms. Diners are greeted by John and Rachel, who take a very hands-on approach.
The farm shop itself is like a mini Chatsworth, with refrigerated cabinets, shelves of enticing bottles and jars and stairs leading up to the new first floor.
The Schoolrooms is licensed and our chilled bottle of Chilean sauvignon blanc (£14.95) is delicately fruity and perfect for a summer evening.
The menu offers a choice of three starters, three desserts and four main courses: meat, poultry, fish and vegetarian.
We place our order and tuck into a plate of doughy granary and tomato breads with butter, oil and balsamic.
I start with a roulade of smoked salmon wrapped swiss roll-style around a mousse of lemon, trout and dill. It comes with asparagus and dressed salad leaves.
My companion enthuses over his delicate butternut squash and sage risotto. It looks a bit like scrambled egg, but it’s nicely judged, with great texture and a creamy mascarpone finish.
On to the main course – duo of lamb is one of Tom’s specialities: “I like to showcase different cuts of meat.”
Confit, cooked overnight in the oven, is rich, meaty and still beautifully moist. It’s paired with a juicy cutlet, cooked medium rare, which perfectly demonstrates the quality of John’s lamb.
Pea and mint purée adds a splash of vivid green, with boulangère potatoes and a rich red wine reduction to give the finishing touch.
My grilled hake supreme is the light option. The quality of this under-used premium fish is unquestionable, even if it’s a tad overcooked.
It comes with celeriac purée, unusual fennel bhajis – another nod to Tom’s creative flair – and a wonderfully buttery sorrel sauce.
Dessert is a highlight that takes us back to our school days.
Rhubarb and custard parfait, topped with crisp ginger tuile and finished with strawberries and syrup, is a big hit: “It reminds me of a Cornish Mivvi – but I loved them!” reports my companion happily.
Soft, dark chocolate mousse with honeycomb and caramel is like a deconstructed Crunchie bar – my own childhood favourite – and does justice to the memory in a gooey, lip-licking way.
We finish our meal with big cups of good, hot coffee and discs of lemon shortbread.
lVerdict: Probably the best time that’s ever been had in this particular schoolroom. Quality food and quality cooking.
lOpen: Tues-Fri 9.30am-5pm, weekends from 9am; fortnightly bistro evenings.
lThe Schoolrooms, Mill Lea Road, Low Bradfield, Sheffield (0114) 285 1920 www.theschoolrooms.co.uk.