The first time I was in Arundel Street was in the late 1980s as part of a film crew making a documentary for Yorkshire Television about the last of the Little Mesters. The self-employed craftspeople who for centuries had forged, ground, buffed and finished the silver of Sheffield’s famous cutlery.
Those workshops were straight out of Dickens. Dark foreboding buildings of mucky redbrick set around cobbled courtyards with rickety staircases, peeling paintwork and blackened windows – buffing is a filthy job.
They’ve all but gone now, swept away in the face of cheap imports, consigned to become exhibits at the Kelham Island Industrial Museum, but the buildings and old workshops, some of them grade II* listed, have been buffed up themselves – and beautifully – to form part of Sheffield’s cultural industries quarter.
At No. 111, the former George Ellis silversmith works, is Silversmiths a smart bistro-style restaurant rebranded after Gordon Ramsay got his hands on it in Kitchen Nightmares and told them to ditch the nightclub and get back to basics. They’ve done that and more and picked up a host of awards: Best Informal Dining at the recent Eat Sheffield awards, runner up in the Observer Food Monthly awards and a mention in the Good Food Guide 2013 all of which makes acquiring a table for dinner on a Saturday night harder than procuring tickets for Centre Court at Wimbledon – the only spot available was at 5.30pm, that’s tea time where I come from – but even then the place was buzzing and by 7pm a large room was full.
It looks good. Industrial lamps hang over distressed wooden tables. Rough wood panelling runs the length of one wall with the word Silversmiths spelt out in white assay marks. Proper Sheffield plate cutlery on the table? Of course. A menu of local and seasonal produce to go with the regeneration chic? Of course.
There are seven starters, 10 mains and an awful lot of meat: wood pigeon, brisket, venison liver, venison heart, pork belly, sausage, duck breast – gutsy, robust dishes with a sprinkling of fish and couple of vegetarian options. A tasty potted mackerel comes in a miniature Kilner jar served with homemade bread, which being kind is heavy duty. The cauliflower and Yorkshire rarebit tartlet is offered with or without bacon. When it comes, it’s more a deep filled pie than the delicate, crisp tartlet implied. But if the creamy cauliflower, topped with a cheesy sauce is not a thing of beauty, it passes muster, though the bacon never materialised.
Venison and pan haggerty, and hake with chorizo are our main course choices. Our plate will not be complete, our waiter explains, without one or two “side” orders – at £2.95 each. We are thrown for a minute. Re-checking the menu, the hake comes with veg and no spuds while the venison comes with spuds but no veg. I do find it tedious that a £14.90 main course needs a side order to make it complete.
The venison – from that Round Green Deer Farm you see near Barnsley from the M1 – is good: gamey, sprightly cooked to pink, with satisfying gravy and onions fried to a crisp. The hake too is perfect: crisp skin, milky white flesh and timed to the second. This begins to make sense of all those accolades. But what of the Silversmiths chorizo? Local sourcing does have its limits when a proper Spanish fermented, cured, sausage heavy with smoked paprika makes way for a South Yorkshire version comprising two flaccid discs without a whiff of paprika or even the colour of chorizo.
We chugged on to dessert. The cinnamon poached pear with gingerbread ice cream and crumbs would have been more interesting had vanilla not been substituted for the gingerbread ice cream and there were more crumbs to speak of. The chocolate Yorkshire pudding, partially redeemed by quality ganache and vanilla ice cream, was fatally holed by the pudding itself: brown, cold and leathery.
But beyond the highs and lows of the kitchen, and acknowledging a lively atmosphere and a clearly popular destination, there is one beef that is more local and seasonal than anything on the menu: their whole reservation system. It’s a real turn-off. I’d never have persisted as an ordinary punter. Every phone call was met by answerphone. Only the first call was returned. It took three or four ever more frantic calls when I needed to amend the booking while an attempt to contact them online was never acknowledged. I am not alone in this. A fellow Yorkshire Post restaurant reviewer had a similar cold shoulder recently. Then there’s their Christmas policy of taking a refundable £10 per head off your credit card in advance and a promise to refund it on the night. OK, it’s a deterrent to no-shows and cancellations that are the bane of restaurateurs but they need to make sure the system works. When they failed to credit our bill, it took a terse and tiresome exchange of phone calls afterwards to try and get the money back. A week on I was still waiting for the cheque.
Busy and popular Silversmith’s may be, but this honestly needs sorting, and preferably with more charm than Gordon Ramsay has sprinkled on some of them. Our nice waitress excepted.
Silversmith’s, 111 Arundel Street, Sheffield S1 2NT. 0114 270 6160, www.silversmiths-restaurant.com. Price: Approximately £30 per head plus wine and service.