Food Guide: Safari suits city chefs

Andy Gabbitas and sous chef Gary Mangham at Kelham Island.
Andy Gabbitas and sous chef Gary Mangham at Kelham Island.

KELHAM Island Museum earned a new claim to fame last week; originally an iron foundry and later a power station, its latest boast is pop-up restaurant…

Transformed with circular tables, pristine napery and uniformed attendants, the museum played host to some of the UK’s top chefs – and nearly 200 other catering industry specialists too.

The occasion was the now-annual Skills for Chefs Safari Dinner, a masterpiece of planning, preparation and creative flair that aims to showcase the best of the city’s culinary talent. This year delegates were treated to a slice of Sheffield culture too, with a pre-prandial tour of the galleries and little mesters’ workshops.

This explains how we find ourselves relaxing over a glass of zippy Spanish Albarino, admiring the finer points of two steel cannons and a 10-ton bomb, while Master Chef Andy Gabbitas and his team prepare a gourmet meal in a tent in the backyard.

But I’m getting ahead of myself…

This adventure began as delegates boarded coaches for a magical mystery tour of the city’s best restaurants. Passengers included big names such as Gordon Cartwright, Andrew Baird and Steve Smith – no pressure then!

First stop for our party is The Milestone – still glowing from its ego-polishing by notorious food critic AA Gill.

In charge of operations is Matt Hodkin, head chef at sister restaurant the Wig & Pen, ably assisted by a team including former colleague James Wallis who was recently appointed head chef of Manchester’s Room.

The Milestone is renowned for innovation and doesn’t let us down. Starters have to include charcuterie and our ‘pork and melon’ features spiced black pudding, pancetta ice cream and chorizo powder.

It’s a brave opening gambit, but they pull it off in spite of uber-critical diners muttering homage to Heston Blumenthal.

The black pudding has a good, musky flavour and an absence of fat gives it a pleasingly crumbly texture, contrasting with pieces of watermelon and tiny cubes of fruit jelly.

The controversial ice cream is delicate in flavour and I think it works well – especially with melt-on-the-tongue chorizo powder to boost the flavour.

Accompanying this course are bottles of Wentworth Gold, another example of local produce.

Leaving the team to prepare for their next coachload of guests, we head for the museum: cultural highlight of the night.

The venue is a clear hit from the outset, with original little mester Stan Shaw in attendance to bring the city’s cutlery heritage to life. But the food is by no means an also-ran.

This was a case of bringing the mountain to Mohammed. Organiser David McKown wanted delegates to experience the Wortley Arms but it was too far away to be a practical stop on the tour, so he moved the restaurant instead.

Gabbitas is unfazed by the challenge of cooking in a tent with wind and rain howling beyond the canvas walls: “We do a lot of outside catering,” he says.

Tonight his team has conjured up an impressive main course featuring a trio of the requisite British rose veal, ethical answer to this Continental favourite, with whole baby carrots and turnips.

The meat is shown to best advantage as a braised short rib: sweet, surprisingly robust in flavour and deliciously tender. There’s also a ‘hotpot’ (I’d have said more a dauphinois) of potato slices layered with rich confit shoulder. And a superb veal and mushroom pie with just a hint of tarragon.

But maybe the best part is the wonderful jus – a real pot-scraping deglaze – that adds a rich intensity to every part of the dish.

Plates cleared, chefs applauded, we head back to the coach and on to our final destination: Artisan at Crosspool.

Key chefs from Richard Smith’s BrewKitchen team have joined forces to create their take on a Bakewell pudding, served with a beer cocktail of Thornbridge Versa, Amaretto, raspberry purée and fresh raspberries.

Not being a beer drinker, the cocktail isn’t my thing – though my chef companion polishes off three glasses with enthusiasm.

Pudding, however, is a universal triumph. The deconstructed Bakewell is a collection of mini-desserts on the traditional theme: a glass of creamy pannacotta topped with exquisite raspberry sorbet; a quenelle of simple ice cream; a tiny cherry doughnut, still warm on the tongue; and a wonderful almond tart with crunchy base, gooey macaroon topping and jammy raspberry coulis. Clever, tasty and deliciously good.

We finish with coffee before boarding the coach for the final time, the welcome sound of enthusiastic acclaim for Sheffield’s chefs ringing in our ears.

lThe Milestone, 84 Green Lane, Sheffield (0114) 272 8327

lThe Wortley Arms, Halifax Road, Wortley, Sheffield (0114) 288 8749

lArtisan, Sandygate Road, Crosspool, Sheffield (0114) 266 6096