NO-ONE does American style quite like the Americans – which explains why Marco Mori wrote to every one of the 50 states, requesting exhibits for his new restaurant.
The result was an avalanche of mail, containing everything from posters and stickers to Indian beads, car registration plates and a Texan flag. The stars of this collection now adorn the walls of Swanky Frank’s, Woodseats’ first all-American diner.
Based in a former bridal showroom, there’s no doubt that this place has the ‘wow’ factor – and it’s not just down to the bric-a-brac.
While the ground floor bar is the epitomy of monochrome sophistication, the first floor is a riot of urban art: a tribute to the creative genius of designer Paul Brady, another of the directors.
“It was quite a challenge; I haven’t done anything like this for a long time,” says the man behind projects from the Forum in Devonshire Street to Milano in Archer Road.
But he’s thrilled to bits with his latest venture, particularly the graffiti masterpiece that covers the walls and ceiling of the main restaurant.
Completing the team are Adrian Bagnoli, of city-centre Cubana, and head chef Stuart Berry (formerly of Nonna’s and Kito’s). The four friends joined forces to fill what they saw as a gap in the Woodseats market.
“There’s nothing else like this in the area. The great thing is that it appeals to everybody,” says Adrian. “Yesterday we had a 65th birthday party in one room and a dad with his new-born baby in another.”
Seating options include a first-floor conservatory with a bird’s-eye view of the local buzz. This is where we settle, bypassing the psychedelic graffiti and over-size TV screens in favour of an almost al fresco experience.
A glass wall framed with fairy lights encloses leather chairs and stained wood tables bearing steel buckets of cutlery and flickering tea-lights.
An efficient waitress welcomes us and brings a menu. Sadly her less efficient colleague arrives to take our drinks order and neglects to mention there’s a wine list (around 20 bottles, in fact; house wines start at £11.95, or £2.95 per glass).
She reels off a list of beers so we order a pint of draught Coors and a glass of mineral water.
The menu is Stu’s department and he’s combined the best of American diner fare – burgers, salads, grills and a smattering of Tex Mex – with his own speciality: 12-inch pizzas, handmade to order.
Prices range from £5.95 for a classic burger up to £15.95 for grills. There’s a children’s menu, too, with a meal and a soft drink for £4.95.
Efficient waitress delivers our starters – meatballs for him, prawns for me: “Enjoy your meal,” she says.
Nice. Infinitely preferable to ‘have a nice day’ or whatever it is they say in real American diners.
The meatballs are great: firm and meaty with a hint of coriander and onion, in freshly-made tomato sauce.
Tiger prawns are pretty good, too: tails on, wrapped in filo pastry and served with sweet chilli sauce and salad garnish.
At this point we discover the drawback of the conservatory. We’re tucked away in a corner and out of sight is apparently out of mind so far as the staff are concerned.
Eventually our plates are removed and main courses appear.
I’ve gone for the gourmet burger: a juicy patty of local beef, piled with lettuce, tomato, melted blue cheese and crisp, salty bacon, skewered to an artisan bread bun made to Swanky’s own recipe by the local baker.
So far so good. It comes with a little dish of home-made coleslaw, a tray of relishes and a whacking great jacket spud (in lieu of chips, it being January) – way too hefty for me.
My companion is pleased with his chicken breast but disappointed by the lack of spice that he normally associates with Cajun cuisine.
It’s topped with smoked bacon and melted American cheese and comes with salad and chips but they’re not home-made even though Stu claims that most dishes are made entirely on site.
Our plates are removed but 25 minutes later we’re still waiting for dessert. I finally seek out a waitress to order torte au citron.
It’s worth waiting for: thick sweetcrust pastry with a beautifully sharp lemon filling, artfully topped with thick cream, a spun sugar wafer and a pile of mini marshmallows.
We finish our meal with coffee – Americano, naturally. Dinner for two excluding drinks is £34.
lVerdict: a great new addition to the Woodseats scene. Swanky it certainly is but frankly the service could be better.
lOpen: Tue-Thur 4-11pm, from noon Fri-Sun, closed Mon.
lSwanky Frank’s American Diner, 722A Chesterfield Road, Sheffield (0114) 258 8127.