BISTROS are the ‘in’ places to eat these days. Maybe it’s because we prefer more casual dining, or maybe it conjures up memories of that idyllic French holiday.
But in most cases our bistros bear little resemblance to the original neighbourhood eateries.
Not so Masterchef, a relatively recent addition to the Totley community.
It started out a couple of years ago as a deli and sandwich shop, with a few tables so customers could stay for coffee and cakes. Then it took over the office next door, doubling the space and expanding its repertoire.
These days it’s a popular neighbourhood meeting place – and the good news for locals is that it has just launched a series of regular bistro nights.
Owner Matt Holdsworth is in his element.
A talented musician, he had no intention of going into the family catering business. But he took a year out to travel after university and, when his money ran out, took a hotel job – ending up as head chef.
Since then he has worked alongside dad John, a trained chef, and spearheaded expansion of the Masterchef empire, with a number of new branches including the one at Totley.
In this, Matt has found his niche. He lives over the shop – and is happy to open up his home to the locals, just as the original bistro owners did.
“I love the excitement,” he says, happily surveying his bustling kitchen. “And the community support round here is unbelievable.
“I really feel like I’m part of it and I’m a bit overwhelmed to be honest.”
The former newsagent’s is simple and fresh, with white walls, slate tiled floor and an assortment of stripped wood tables and chairs.
Decoration is provided by plants and a series of modern canvases by local artist Roy Hutchinson.
Jazzy music plays in the background and a convivial buzz greets us as we join the throng.
Matt is busy in the garden – he’s planning to barbecue the first course and he’s happy for guests to step through the French doors and watch him at work as they sip their drinks in the early evening sunshine.
Masterchef is not licensed, so each table is provided with a carafe of water and diners are encouraged to bring their own wine, with no corkage to pay.
We settle at a table by the window and pour a glass each. A smiling waitress brings a plate of fresh bread, a bowl of garlicky humous and a pot of oil and balsamic.
It’s a pleasant way to while away a summer evening – which is just as well because there’s quite a lot of evening to while away before our starters arrive.
The menu offers a choice of two dishes for each course, so we opt for one of each.
My ‘Totley smoked’ salmon is delicious: a moist fillet smoked on the barbecue (and whisked upstairs to finish off in Matt’s kitchen because he only has a single oven in the café).
It’s accompanied by freshly-picked rocket and herbs, grown in the back garden, tossed in honey and soy dressing.
My companion draws the short straw on this occasion and is obliged to sample the vegetarian option, with cubes of tofu in place of the fish.
“It’s like smoked jelly,” he grimaces. And I’m forced to agree. It’s not unpleasant, but not very pleasant either. No fear of us turning veggie!
Main course is porchetta – stuffed and rolled loin of pork. Maybe it’s a tad overcooked, having had a long wait, but the meat is beautifully tender, with bags of flavour that’s further boosted by an intense jus.
The vegetarian option this time is filo parcels, like crisp spring rolls filled with feta and spinach. This I would recommend!
Both meals come with nicely caramelised roasted vegetables – carrots, butternut squash, onions and beetroot – and wilted spinach with a sprinkling of pine nuts.
It’s not fancy food, it’s good, rustic, home-cooked fare, just like the original bistros specialised in.
The same goes for dessert: the intriguingly named Deli 99.
Matt’s take on the popular ice cream comprises a sticky brandysnap cone, filled with a scoop of fluffy lemon mousse and topped with a rich chocolate truffle.
It’s a surprisingly good combination, finished off with a pot of home-made raspberry coulis.
My companion, meanwhile, has the cheeseboard – literally a board, piled high with slabs of four different cheeses, water biscuits and nutty rye bread.
There’s too much to eat, so our obliging waitress packs it up for us to take home.
We finish our meal with cups of good coffee, a jug of hot milk and cinnamon biscuits. Dinner for two is £50.
Verdict: A true neighbourhood bistro, with home-cooked food, modest surroundings and a welcoming buzz.
Open: Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, Sat until 4pm, Sun 10am-3pm; bistro nights every fortnight
Masterchef Delicatessen, 185 Baslow Road, Totley, Sheffield (0114) 2350 884 www.masterchefcatering.co.uk