As one of the ten biggest cities in the UK with a population of around 800,000, Sheffield ought to have an exciting dining scene. However, prior to a recent weekend in the city with old friends, it was somewhere I had only visited twice previously in my life. I went to Sheffield with an open mind and came back impressed. How typical the two venues were of the city’s dining scene it is hard to gauge, but our experiences on both nights represent a wonderful microcosm of much that is exciting across the UK’s overall dining scene. In summary, it is a story of both constants and reinvention.
Begin with the latter, and night-one saw us descend on Kelham Island for a pub crawl which culminated in a visit to Craft & Dough. For those unaware, Kelham Island has a long and distinguished history, being the heart of the city’s manufacturing prowess. With industry now gone, many of the old buildings have been repurposed as museums, galleries, micro-breweries (the city has over 400 in total) and restaurants. Craft & Dough, as the name suggests, serves… local craft beers and dough-based food – i.e. pizza. All the dough is homemade and what impressed about the venue was just how far it took the basic concept of pizza. Sure, a margherita is available for the less adventurous, but options such as ‘piggy smalls’, ‘tandoori chicken’, and ‘Henderson’s relish & goat’s cheese’ could really be considered as pushing pizza boundaries. The first of these saw the dough topped with pulled pork, streaky bacon and Frazzles (a British crisp I remember fondly from the 1980s). Next up, curry on a pizza, with the nice touch of Bombay Mix as a topping – see photo. And, finally, Henderson’s is a wonderful Yorkshire curiosity, a proud county’s take on Worcester Sauce. All unique and all delivered. Worth a visit.
Onto the constant and it is harder to beat the record of Ashoka – located on the city’s Eccleshall Road – which has been serving Indian food since 1967 and so holds the accolade of being Sheffield’s oldest Indian restaurant. The décor is basic but homely: wooden floor with tiling in the middle, wooden furniture and chairs, old-fashioned Indian food advert posters on the wall and a few mirrors, all fitted into a fairly cramped space. People obviously don’t come for this reason though and on our Saturday night visit, the venue was packed, with a steady stream of visitors collecting takeaways too. It’s the food that does the talking. The menu is extensive and comprises both classic fare as well as a host of more interesting options including dishes with the enticing names of ‘wedding day chicken curry’ and ‘taxi driver curry.’ I opted for the Kalcutta Korai, comprising chicken served in a classic ginger and garlic sauce topped with fresh green chillies. It was hard to fault and there were similar thumbs-up from the rest of our group. I am looking forward to the next trip already.