There are some places which are just so delightfully Sheffield it makes your heart fit to burst with joy.
Public is 110 per cent one of these. An absolute gem hidden, quite literally, in the very centre of town.
It makes you proud to live in a city where innovation is standard, imagination knows no bounds and it all comes with a generous dose of humour.
Oh, and the food is superb. But let’s rewind a bit.
Who remembers the public toilets underneath the Town Hall, on Surrey Street?
That is the unusual location of Public, the cleverest cocktail bar in the city.
It is hard to imagine how you can transform a small space for stinky urinals into a swish venue for fine dining and wining, but the team has somehow pulled it off.
Of course, it is still rather tiny. The most it can ever host is 36 at one time and that is if every booth is full to capacity.
The perfection comes from the eye for detail. It is the ice cubes with Public written on them, it is the retro cutlery formerly the pride of the Town Hall and it is the cocktail menu which is a book as entertaining as many you’ll read.
The entire place is a tribute to Sheffield from local ingredients to cocktail names. Fancy a Knockbox City Limits?
It is hard to forget about the former life of this space and the transformation is nothing short of incredible.
Some of the original wall tiles are still in place but such reminders are stylishly deliberate. You could walk past without noticing, and it feels like that is half the point.
You can tell a lot about a restaurant by the standards of the toilets. And when that is your whole raison d’etre the crunch question has to be what you do to make the loos a success.
They didn’t disappoint. These are possibly the shiniest, most glamorous toilets cubicles you’ll ever see. Wall-to-wall mirrors which have to been seen to be believed and might sound more intimidating than the reality.
Presentation is everything at Public, particular when it comes to the food and drink.
There were seven choices of ‘snacks’ ranging from £2 to £4.50, or you could have a little bit of everything for £12. Well, it would have been rude not to so try it all we did. That included Depot sourbread with fennel butter; noccelera olives; friend almonds and sumac; salame zia ferrarese; anchovies in lemon and chilli; focaccia with wild garlic pesto; Colston blue stilton with Sheffield honey.
Tangy stilton with a drizzle of sweetness is amazing. I’ve no idea why I hadn’t thought of it before.
The focaccia was served warm and melted in our mouths underneath the sumptuous topping.
For mains I opted for charred broccoli, smoked egg yolk, sorrel and parmesan (£7). A fairly complex dish created around a very simple ingredient. The combinations were well thought through and complimented each other well.
The special of raw sea bass, fermented rubarb, blood orange and pickled samphire sounded interestingly tempting but we went for risotto al nero with chilli dressing (£6).
The squid ink created a strong seafood taste which was offset nicely by the dressing. Unusual but delicious.
There was only one desert option - grapefruit, honey yoghurt and pistachio and cava granita (£5).
Once again, the ingredients sat well with each other and caused quite some talking points.
It is nothing less than a miracle that any chef can create such delights in a truly tiny kitchen.
Public is the fourth venue from James O’ Hara and James Hill, who already run Picture House Social on Abbeydale Road, plus The Great Gatsby and Daisy’s on Division Street. They have high standards and have stuck to their dream for this scheme to the letter.
This is something different to all the other offerings in Sheffield. You can’t help but fall in love with the place.
We spent a lot of time pondering and laughing at the tone of the cocktail menu but were rather sad to be unable to sample some because we were driving. Fortunately the non-alcoholic creations were phenomenal. Rhubarb and custard was my top tipple, but I’ll be back on the same theme without the car for a sherbet fountain.
It is described thus: “In cocktail creation an unbelievable amount of citrus peel is wasted. Thankfully, we are going to right this wrong but utilizing every last bit to make the citrus sherbet for this homage to the old-school playground confectionary.”
Who could resist? While sitting in an old-school block of public toilets? I’ll leave it to you to guess which section of the cocktail menu it was listed in - public holiday, public footpath, public awareness, public liability or public health.
If there is a drawback to the location it is that there is no internet. The good is you have to take a break from your mobile. The bad is you have to pay by cash as they can’t operate a card machine.
Public also doesn’t take bookings, so you have to take your chance and hope your aren’t caught short with a big queue. Anything sounding familiar now?
n Public, 23-55 Surrey Street, S1 2LG