Jon Hobson is just six weeks into a stint at The Prince of Wales, a country-style pub/restaurant on a corner of Sheffield’s bustling Ecclesall Road South, but the honeymoon period is well and truly over.
“It’s nowhere near where I want it to be just yet,” Joe, a Sheffielder who’d recently returned from an eight-year exile from his home city, admits.
“The atmosphere is casual and relaxed, which is great, but we just want to make it that bit quicker, service-wise.
“The staff are great, don’t get me wrong, but I have some plans in place that will make a big difference.”
Top of his to-do list, he tells us, is to overcome a staff reshuffle; two senior members of staff are leaving, freeing up funds – he hopes – for extra service staff.
It’s music to our ears. We visited on a typically damp, cold and miserable Tuesday evening in December, lured back by the cosy atmosphere experienced on previous visits.
Jon himself greets us at the door – we pre-booked online as a precaution, and it’s surprisingly busy for midweek – with a warmth almost as noticeable as his bushy, hipster beard.
The Prince of Wales is part of a chain – it’s owned by Mitchells & Butlers, who have a portfolio of 38 pubs and restaurants within 10 miles of Sheffield city centre – but seems to have some identity of its own; albeit one that you sense has been ‘dropped in’, rather than developed, at a place formerly known as the Woodstock Diner, The Real McCaw, Baltimore Diner and Woodstock Exchange in recent years.
Curiously, it’s officially owned by M&B’s ‘Premium Country Pub’ arm and although it’s a fair few miles from the region’s vast swathes of countryside, they’ve tried to bring elements of it to Ecclesall Road. A couple of roaring fires are nice, and welcome, touches – although we did have to ask to move after 10 minutes in front of one and our faces began to burn – and there’s a warm and rustic feeling to the decor throughout, with a central bar and soft, acoustic versions of well-known songs playing gently in the background.
After we’re re-seated with good grace by a polite waitress, it’s time to get down to business. The menu promises to offer ‘a superb selection of freshly prepared food using quality, seasonal ingredients’ and Martina takes our orders from memory and without a pen; a dicey strategy, especially with my other half’s picky requests, but a successful one all the same.
We pass up on the starter options – despite being intrigued by the salt and szechuan pepper squid and pan-fried tiger prawns – and settle on something a little more conventional. A couple of burgers.
Mine was a conventional cheeseburger in name only; it arrives with an excellent mustard mayonnaise and perfect smoked Irish Cheddar, with the added bonus of being home-made.
Natalie flirted with the buttermilk southern fried chicken before pre-empting the inevitable ‘burger’ envy and plumping for the Wagyu, again with the Irish Cheddar and relish, and crispy onions and aioli, the garlic and olive oil sauce from the Mediterranean.
Mine was excellent; the other missed the spot a little. That was more because of the origins of the beef – Wagyu cattle are bred deliberately to achieve an incredibly-high level of fat marbling – than the way it was cooked, but it’s an expensive gamble (£15.95) if you’re not accustomed to the taste.
No such issues with the dessert. The warm Belgian chocolate brownie (£6.50) was brilliantly rich, and my baked New York-style cheesecake got the seal of approval too when we polished it off between us.
With plenty of time to ponder in between ordering, arrival and removal, we take in our surroundings.
There’s a larger seating area nearer the kitchen for large parties – a family member on Natalie’s side had his wedding reception here – and a quieter side on the other side of the central bar, which stocks a decent selection of most liquid refreshments you could wish for.
The outside decking area looks obviously unappealing in the winter months but is superb in the summer and food is at restaurant, rather than pub, prices, without exactly breaking the bank.
We paid £53.95 for two courses and drinks, including excellent Coopers White wine.
The service time was a notable issue, though, and one that Jon addresses when we chat afterwards without even being prompted.
A cursory glance at the pub’s TripAdvisor page suggests our experience wasn’t an isolated one but Jon is determined to address the issues at an otherwise-charming eatery.
Attractive surroundings, great food, certainly worth the wait.
l Prince of Wales, 95 Ecclesall Road South, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, S11 9PH.
l @PrincePrincePub, 0114 2369176, www.theprinceofwalessheffield.co.uk.