I DON’T remember being asked before by a chef why I haven’t cleared my plate but, such is the passion of Jules Evans that he wanted to know, so he came out of the kitchen to find out.
Jules, who took over the old Seashells café premises last September, is clearly very enthusiastic about what he does. Just about everything is made on the premises, down to the tomato ketchup – Spoon is open for breakfast and lunch as well.
He produces about six kilos a week and a batch takes six hours to cook. He also attempts to source ingredients from suppliers within Woodseats as far as possible.
Sheffielder Jules is basically self-taught but learned a lot from working front of house for Cafe Rouge when it was just a small concern. When he was a teenager 20 years ago he “ran away to the south of France” to work cleaning rich people’s super yachts and later did some bar-tending in London.
The urge to run his own place was strong but he only took over the kitchen when his chef decided to return to Spain. He said: “All the food on the menu is food that I like.
“The atmosphere I’m trying to create is that I want someone to come in wearing jeans and a T-shirt or a three-piece suit. I want them to feel comfortable.”
The surroundings are certainly conducive to that, with muted colours on the walls, pleasant music in the background and little tealights shimmering. Artwork on the walls has been contributed by talented friends and family.
Wife Jo is very much a partner in the business but she concentrates on the paperwork and website.
The day starts with cooked breakfasts with fish and vegetrarian options and moves on to sandwiches and light meals at lunchtime. The afternoon cakes (made on the premises, naturally) always include a gluten-free option.
A workmate’s wife is a daytime regular and says it is very family-friendly. Jules and Jo have two young daughters.
The bistro, open Thursday to Saturday, has a short, seasonally changing menu that offers three courses for £17. The new menu starters are soup of the day, mushroom pate, black pudding and corned beef fritters with a poached egg or home-made Thai fishcakes and main course choices are meat loaf with a red pepper sauce, aubergine parmigiana, slow-cooked belly pork and oven-baked hake. There is also a specials board.
Side dishes are £2 but at these prices I’ll let him off my usual objections.
However, Thursday night is ‘personal pie’ night, so that’s what we went for. This is another ridiculously cheap deal offering two pies and two glasses of wine (or soft drinks) for £20.
You choose one of four fillings and either a crumble or puff pastry topping. When friend Linda and I visited, our choices were beef and local ale, leek, spinach and potato in a cheese sauce, chicken, mushroom and tarragon or ham, turkey and leek.
Our pleasant, smiley waitress had brought a bottle of (free, tap) water unprompted, which was a nice touch, but what was even nicer was the arrival of an unexpected ‘amuse bouche’ of sage and onion-flavoured Yorkshire pudding with an oniony jus. Delicious.
We had opted for the beef and ale and chicken and tarragon pies with puff pastry topping and I had fresh peas, while Linda went for mushy ones. All pies come with rustic roasties.
Like many people, I’m a bit of a pie snob and a little oval dish with a puff pastry hat usually means a boring meal.
However, my chicken and mushroom (and carrot) filling was beautifully perfumed by the herb and the meat was tender, as was the feather-light crust.
I had a taste of Linda’s beef pie and it was equally good, with an interesting, herby, possibly rosemary tinge to the meat. She certainly didn’t need to use the bottle of Hendo’s that was on the table.
Her only beef (sorry) was that the mushy peas were slightly tough. My fresh peas were blameless and the roast potatoes were good and crunchy, so the only reason we didn’t clear our plates was that we were simply full up.
When Jules appeared to find out why, we said we were also considering sharing a pudding after a short rest and asked him whether we should go for butterscotch brownies or sticky toffee pudding. He said the latter, every time.
He quite often pops out to talk to customers, by the way.
Other pudding choices were tarte tatin or white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake. All are £4.50.
Instead of a bowl of something stodgy appearing, an elegant rectangular plate held a little dish of lovely vanilla ice cream at one end and a square of pudding at the other.
This was possibly the nicest sticky toffee pudding I’ve ever tasted. The pudding was light, moist, melted in the mouth and had a heavenly, lingering, deep toffee flavour, The toffee sauce was equally fantastic and not too sweet, with just a hint of saltiness.
When I introduced myself after paying the bill, I asked Jules if he had been going down the trendy salted caramel route but the answer was far simpler: he just uses slightly salted butter.
Including our glasses of pleasant dry white wine, our bill came to a ridiculous £24.50.
lVerdict: Such passion and insane value for money deserve a following. Enjoy.
lSpoon, 20 Abbey Lane, Woodseats. 0114 274 0014. www.spoon-cafebistro.co.uk
Opening times: Monday to Wednesday 9am to 6pm, Thursday to Saturday 9am to 10pm.