Slamdunk! Excuse the pun but I just could not resist. I am, after all, writing about one of the city’s well known basketball players who also happens to be brilliant in the kitchen. If you were not fortunate to come across Wing King Olu Babalola then let me introduce you to his city centre kitchen.
It is based in the Dog and Partidge on Trippet Lane and we ventured in on a quiet Monday night to see what Olu’s kitchen had to offer. It is rather a strange setting - an incredibly traditional British pub - to host incredibly traditional American fare. It isn’t a posh pub but then it isn’t posh nosh.
That said, I am not a great fan of diners which claim to offer the all American experience and boast all the decor, but ultimately didn’t pull off the taste expectation.
Olu’s kitchen does the opposite. The dishes are everything you would imagine when you thing of US soul food, and more. They aren’t expensive, they aren’t flashy but, damn, they taste good.
A permanent base is an important next move for Olu and his kitchen after what clearly proved to be very successful pop-up kitchens at a range of foodie events. So dispel your first impressions and let the chef’s food do the talking.
The burger was quite simply the best I have eaten. It didn’t have particularly fancy trimmings, just a topping of cheese sauce, but it was amazing. Juicy, meaty, well seasoned and wrapped in a perfect roll. To quote the menu, “minced in-house so you know it’s 100 per cent ground beef, seasoned with our steak seasoning mix”. I defy you to find a good burger anywhere near that price elsewhere in Sheffield.
The burger was quite simply the best I have eaten
You pick your sauce to go with the wings and we opted for barbecue. These are not tiny sections of wing like we’re so used to in England. It is the whole wing with plenty of meat and generous helpings of sauce. You can feast on three wings and waffles for £5.50.
If that sounds like a winner, it is also worth bearing in mind that Wing King Wednesday is all you can eat of that deliciously messy treat for £10 per person. The advice is do not share - just ask for more.
Adding the word doom in front of any dish is an interesting touch, but when referring to the chilli level is always asking for trouble. You put off those who aren’t addicted to heat and disappoint those who want it hotter.
Not in this case. Take the warning and be put off!
My children think they are tough but the chilli level brought tears to their eyes. Delicious if you like that kind of thing, avoid if not.
The most unusual dish we tried was the chicken waffle sandwich with ‘slaw and cheese. It costs £6 and was pretty much as you’d imagine it. The waffles are baked to order, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside and temptingly moorish. They are brushed with garlic butter, then topped with a buttermilk fried chicken thigh, coleslaw and a crispy piece of chicken skin.
Mac and cheese, corn bread - all the dishes which are only offered as poor imitations by the big chains are really brought to life here. You can almost hear mama’s words of cooking advice ringing in the ears of Olu when he was little.
Olu was played for several basketball teams although most notably for us Sheffield Sharks. He measures in at 6ft 6ins and is unmistakably running every aspect of this his kitchen.
His personality is stamped all over the dishes he creates, serves and is keen for feedback on it.
For those who love a sporting star, he’ll even pose for photos. For those just interested in food, this is just what I imagine American food should be but have never found before in Sheffield.
The fact four of us were able to eat out for £26 was even better. To celebrate we treated the kids to pudding - more waffles but this time topped with ice cream and cream, plus an obligatory splash of caramel sauce. They cost £3.50 each. You can also add chopped mixed candy to any desert, of course you can - we’re exploring our guilty pleasures.
One drawback is you have to pay for food in cash, although you can use cards for drinks. This venture has only been up and running a few months but needing cash in our electronic world is something which can put off diners.
How one balances life on the court (Olu is hoping to sign for a local club before the coming basketball season starts) with the heat of the kitchen, I do not know.
I’m also not sure how on earth you keep up your fitness level while feasting on that type of food.
In terms of the waistline, it is almost a shame I have discovered this culinary delight just a few steps from my office. I guess daily training, a few evening lay-ups and one or two weekend slamdunks are the answer to that.
There are healthier options on the menu, including salad, but when in Rome (or an American kitchen) as they say...
Olu is a lovely guy who is clearly as driven to succeed in food as he is in basketball. You can’t beat a little start-up which is wrapped in enthusiasm, ambition and potential. It is exactly the kind of dining venture we need to support in Sheffield.
If we do, who knows what Olu’s kitchen might look like in a few years’ time.