Everyone loves a bargain – and never was that more obvious than when we walked into Ego.
At 6.30pm on a dreary, rain-soaked Tuesday it was packed to the rafters, our table the last to be filled.
That’s in part because the place is directly across from the theatres’ quarter, but also because it was £10 steak night.
It’s always some kind of night at Ego – marketed as a Mediterranean venue.
There’s Wednesday tapas evening, kebab night on Thursday and Monday also has a two-course offer in place.
And by signing up to their emails, you are reminded of it. Every, single, week.
As annoying and inbox-clogging as this can be, it’s a technique that seems to work.
It got us there, anyway, and the place was heaving.
Diners might not realise that Ego is a chain, a so-called ‘independent chain’ with just a handful of sites mainly in the north, but a chain nonetheless.
That’s because the interior is tasteful – it’s intimately lit with lots of natural light, and close enough to the Winter Garden for diners to feel like they are eating among the exotic shrubbery.
There’s a good welcome from the staff too – our charming waitress had expertly talked us into desserts.
Only the slightly too-polished appearance, logo, super central location and perhaps the prices of our steaks gives the game away.
Manager Jodi Fould, who has been in charge since the site opened six years ago as the only one in a city centre, said staff work hard to give the personal touch instead of the soulless chain approach.
“I don’t believe that everyone should be treated the same,” she said.
“If a member of staff is getting on really well with the customers, sit down and have a chat with them.
“We try to make it like a family, not just a chain.
“People come in here with different expectations, they might be celebrating a birthday, so we have to think about how we can make that special.”
It’s not our birthday, which is a shame, because you get a three-course meal for free on the big day.
But it is a night for feasting on meat. A crisp tenner will buy you one of three classic steaks, with porterhouse, T-bone and fillet costing extra.
Helpfully, the menu also explains each cut, a good touch for non-regular steak eaters struggling to make a decision.
The night is unsuprisingly the restaurant’s most popular, and they have actual proof after asked customers for feedback about why they come in.
During the MADE entrepreneurship festival, tapas was the best choice, with business folk striking deals while sharing meatballs.
Summer stag parties however, loved a good kebab.
Jodi said: “We like to get feedback from our customers asking why they come and it was so interesting.
“People were asked over the last nine months, steak night is our most popular.
“We have the offers because we want to make sure we offer the customers who do come here often something different.”
The restaurant doesn’t source its meat in Sheffield – which is what you would expect from any self-respecting independent venue.
But staff do know where it comes from: Althams butchers near Manchester, which is a definite plus compared to many chains.
They also get a say on any new menu.
We decide to splash out and add £4 starters to the bill.
Pan-fried chorizo was thin strips of sausage, some with black edges, others softer, all bursting with spicy oil.
There was too much of the red wine in its black bowl to soak up, even with the squares of springy ciabatta.
My fellow diner was like an angler without a rod when the calamari arrived, as she didn’t have a fork. Eating implements restored, she struggled to find much of the paprika flavour promised in the flour.
However, the fish itself was well cooked with crisp batter and a generous portion for the cost – there was even aioli dip left afterwards.
I’d gone for a classic ribeye because of its description.
Highly marbled with ripples of fat it said, and that it certainly was. It was cooked exactly as required – medium rare with a graduating pink in the middle, brown on the very outside – and just dissolved, piece by tender piece, in the mouth. I’ve had better steaks, but only at three times the price. It didn’t need the completely melted garlic butter either. Accompanying onion rings were huge, crispy wheels of yumminess: freshly cooked rather than frozen. The solitary tomato and mushroom were a little lonely, but I’m nitpicking for faults there. She loved her ’juicy and soft’ sirloin, peppercorn sauce with a good kick and plenty of it to boot. Desserts were not on the agenda, but I can’t resist a crème brûlée and the waitress’ ‘no calories’ joking was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The caramelised sugar cracked under a spoon and the creamy inside was rich with speckles of vanilla, warm on the very bottom and cool in the middle.
A sticky toffee pudding was also lighter than it looked, with a sauce so sickly only sweet-toothed diners would enjoy it. She did. We paid £58.25 – in total including wine and soft drinks – not a bad return on a £10 offer. * Ego restaurant, 88 Surrey Street, Sheffield (0114) 278 2004.