A PROPER pizza oven is a thing of joy and the one inside Rise @ the Hallamshire on West Street finally drew me in to find out if they knew what they were doing with it.
Landlady Denise Mckenna, who took the lease for the place over four-and-a-half years ago from Punch Taverns, is a stickler for a good dough. She did quite a lot of research into the subject, both online and with a friend who owns an Italian restaurant, when she took over. She said: “You want it so you can actually taste what you’ve got on top of the pizza, not just the dough.”
In designing the pizza menu, she has been able to indulge her passion for quirky toppings, admitting: “Some of the concoctions are a bit weird and wonderful.” The Santorini has feta cheese, black olives and cherry tomatoes finished with sour cream, the Crispy Duck features shredded duck on a hoisin sauce base with cucumber and spring onions and you’ll find sunflower seeds nestling among the Brie, parma ham, tomato and rocket on the Toscana.
There are plenty of more conventional offerings as well, though.
Denise says that the food side of the business is her passion and feels she has a good ally in head chef Hannah Stanton, who was trained at the pub. “She’s a complete perfectionist,” says her boss proudly.
She moved to the bar from the Pump Tavern at the bottom of The Moor as “unfortunately it’s a pile of bricks now. I had to find something else and it’s like nothing I’d done before,” adding “It’s been an amazing learning curve.”
At the Pump she provided traditional pub food and did a lot of baking in those days but Rise already had the pizza oven, something she felt made it stand out in a very competitive market on West Street.
As well as students, lecturers and office workers at lunchtime, she says the pub attracts a lot of foreign visitors: “They don’t like ‘pub grub’ when a lot of it’s microwaved. They come to us because they can see what’s happening.”
That’s because the pizza oven is on full view in the bar, so you can enjoy watching it being stone-baked.
The pub has a two for one offer on pizzas from Mondays to Thursdays and on Fridays until 3pm, when they may make 200 in one day.
Other offers include a mix and match two for one on pizza and pasta dishes or a deli sandwich with fruit juice or speciality tea or coffee for £4.95. These can be delivered at high speed for those on a lunch break.
Otherwise, prices range from £3.15 to £4.25 for a six-inch pizza and from £6.25 to £8.50 for a 12-inch one.
Outside, the pub retains its listed exterior with its row of arched windows and ornate brickwork, whereas inside the space is much more modern and open plan with big leather sofas and a lot of long tables.
A huge screen behind the bar flashes up various offers and information and there is a snooker table at the back, beyond which is a pleasant decked garden and patio area.
When I visited on Friday evening, only the Arctic Monkeys triumphed musically against a solid diet of R n B and later on at the weekends the flashing lights go on and DJs provide the sounds to a hard-partying crowd that Denise says are pretty mixed in age.
There’s no sign of real ale at the bar, only lagers and ciders, plus adult Slushy-style machines providing frozen cocktails.
I settled for Staropramen Czech lager (£1.65 for half a pint) and my workmate Rachael had a large glass of red wine (£2.65), which comes out of a little bottle so you can chose Merlot or Shiraz.
The menu also offers salads, Aberdeen Angus burgers with potato wedges and salad, warm baguettes and jacket potatoes, sharing plates and calorie-laden puddings but we were fixated on the pizzas.
Rachael had a large Americana (£7.95) and I ordered a Neapolitan (£8.20) and we shared a rocket salad (£4.25).
The wait wasn’t too long before the pizzas arrived and they lived up to my expectations.
The crust is thin and crispy but very fresh, so much so that a slice droops alarmingly if you pick it up to eat it.
The toppings were generous and held the interest. Mine was tuna, anchovies, capers and both sun-dried and fresh tomotaoes with plenty of melting, stringy mozzarella.
The anchovies packed a good pungent, salty punch to the flavour and the capers added a little pungency, both cutting through the sweet tomatoes and cheese.
Rachael’s choice was topped by spicy pepperoni, tomato and mozzarella and she said the taste was just what she wanted.
Our massive rocket salad came on a huge bistro plate and the leaves were mixed with red pepper and parmesan shavings, which was another successful combination.
Our bill came to £24.70 with drinks. Maybe I’ll trust Denise’s tastebuds and try a more exotic pizza next time.
lVerdict: You can’t go wrong with an excellent pizza, especially if you go when the deals are on.
lFood serving times: Monday to Thursday nooon to 8pm, Friday and Saturday noon to 9pm.
lRise @ the Hallamshire, 182 West Street, Sheffield. 0114 270 6264. Check out the website, www.riseatthehallamshire.com, for offers.