Breathing some new life into a Christmas menu is an unenviable task. The traditional safari through turkey and stuffing doesn’t lend itself to much experimentation.
It’s cheering, then, that the Cricket Inn at Totley has put together a winter feast worth booking a table for.
Next year the Penny Lane venue will have been run for 10 years by Brewkitchen, chef Richard Smith and his wife Victoria’s link-up with Thornbridge. It was the company’s first gastropub foray, and it’s still held in high esteem by regulars. Location plays a big part - the Peak District is on the doorstep.
Available all this month for lunch and dinner, the Cricket Festive Menu attracts with its value - £25 per person, a fraction of the cost of the inn’s Christmas Day offering (£75, plus optional £25 drinks package).
To begin we’re presented with mulled wine Bellinis - more sprightly and zesty as an aperitif than it sounds - as well as a simple pre-starter of mixed olives with sun-baked tomatoes, baby mozzarella balls, and basil oil, alongside breads boasting a wonderfully treacly, nutty flavour.
A baked crab gratin was served straight from the oven in its pan, with chargrilled sourdough bread. Warming and rich, ginger, saffron and sherry were all in the mix, and the crab meat was topped with Parmesan cheese. Grilled Capricorn goats cheese was a less decadent starter, its accompaniments of pumpkin seed pesto, honey-pickled vegetables and blow-torched little gem lettuce bringing sweetness and crunch.
Our main course, a generous wedge of salmon fillet capped with Welsh rarebit, would rival roast turkey any day - although pan-frying the salmon might have wrung out more flavour. Caramelised parsnips added sharpness, and full marks should be given for smuggling further fish onto the plate in the smoked haddock mash.
Dessert, a pair of crème brûlées, was assumed to be a daintier affair, but this was a hefty creation with a satisfyingly crisp, gleaming sugar topping.
There was room on the plate for a taste of vanilla ice cream, cappuccino and two brown sugar shortbreads.
Good coffees came with extra treats in a wooden box - two bite-sized iced Christmas puddings, hiding a chocolate truffle centre.
Yes, there was a lot of cheese and cream on the menu, and turkey with all the trimmings is among the options if desired - but this must be one of Sheffield’s seasonal stand-outs. We paid £57.90, including drinks.
Star ratings out of five:
Three more to choose from:
The Samuel Fox Country Inn, Bradwell
The Milestone, Kelham Island