Was it Kris Kristofferson who wrote in Me and Bobby McGee – “I’d trade all my tomorrows for one single yesterday.” ?
Well, I wouldn’t go quite that far but a bit of healthy nostalgia is fine as far as I’m concerned.
So it was with a mix of anticipation and nostalgia that Lemmy and I (I’ve recently dubbed my wife Lemmy, after the much missed Motorhead frontman, as I love them both dearly but both are capable of inflicting severe aural pain) headed to lunch at Baldwins Omega just off Sheffield’s Psalter Lane.
I have to admit I haven’t been here for a good many years and that, like many people of a certain age in Sheffield, was for a works function. I suppose in foodie circles the place is considered to be a little old fashioned, a throwback to the days of silver service and Haute Cuisine. Well, we shall see.
Straight away on entering, there was a sight worth the price of the food alone, the owner David Baldwin welcoming us and all the other diners. In Sheffield, or indeed wider afield, not many people know more about the hospitality trade than Mr. B. A former chairman of the Restaurateurs’ Association, he’s known for his tales and somewhat fruity language.
First hit of nostalgia served here then. We were meeting Martin Dawes, former restaurant critic of the Sheffield Star, another man with more than a bit of knowledge about the trade, and his lovely wife but we were there a little early. “Journalists… always ******** late” David reminded us. We were soon seated and with drinks served we looked at the menu.
To be truthful, Martin had suggested coming here as, in his words, “They do a cracking Plat du Jour for £16.50 a head”. Appetisers, bread, starter, main and dessert? Convinced, I said yes. He booked. Here we were. He wasn’t wrong. As we perused the menu what would now be called amuse bouche but I like to call nibbles arrived. Tiny vol au vents with smoked salmon and prawn, the puff pastry crisp and buttery and the salmon flavour poking out over the crenellated parapets of the pastry. Not so much nostalgia now, just great flavours.
We adjourned to our table and found nothing nostalgic here either. Table laid out well and our bottle of crisp white chilling in a bucket.
I’m going to make a statement at this point, Baldwins is all about going the extra mile to look after its patrons. There didn’t have to be a board with a brown and white fresh baked warm loaf on it. Not ciabatta with pumpkin seeds nor focaccia with edamame, just bread. Good British bread, warm, well baked, crusty and flavoursome, and whole, with a bread knife and some good butter so you could carve a doorstep (me), a delicate ladylike slice (the Dawes) or fight over who has the crust (me and Lemmy. I lost).
We’d already ordered from the Plat menu but there’s also a full a la carte too ranging from Roast Sirloin of Beef carved at the table (pure nostalgia there) to Blue Cheese Arancini straight from Italy and nice and modern. I have to admit I actually drooled as a waiter walked past with the knighted side of meat (Sir Loin?? That’s where it comes from allegedly) on a board with Yorkies and roast potatoes in attendance.
But…we’d all ordered the same starters, a Wensleydale and Leek Flan, celebrating Yorkshire Day no doubt, with a Leek and Watercress Sauce.
Mrs. Dawes told me that ordering the same dish was a no no during the twenty odd years they ate out reviewing for The Sheffield Star so this was a rare treat. And it was a treat too. The tart case really short, the pastry surely with some lard in to give that flavour that butter alone won’t deliver. But the filling…more cheesy than actually eating the raw cheese itself and the leeks providing balance and a little bite, although Martin thought they were a little too firm, they were fine for me. Peppery watercress lifting the cheesyness even higher (almost as high as that last bit of text!).
Onto the mains and this time we had all, almost, ordered differently. Martin had Braised Beef Cheeks with a Yorkie and Onion Gravy, which I’d have bet my house he would, and me ordering a Smoked Haddock Rarebit with Roasted Baby Tomatoes and Dill Oil.
A felt smugly sorry for the ladies who’d both ordered a, frankly plain sounding, Honey Glazed York Ham with Potato Salad and Yorkshire Chutney. A Ham Salad, I chided Lemmy, not very adventurous is it? Oh My, how pride comes before a fall. This was far and away the best ham I’ve tasted in a very long time. The honey glaze a super thin crisp shell that cracked when you bit down on it. The ham succulent with just the right amount of saltiness. As anyone who reads my other posts will know I’m an Italophile and I can give no greater praise to that ham than to say it was as good as the best porchetta or prosciutto cotto I’ve eaten in Emilia Romagna. The pickle, in another nod to Yorkshire Day, had pear and, I suspect, a bit of rhubarb in it. It complemented the ham well.
I’d wanted the cheeks myself but made excuses about the weather being a bit warm and that we were drinking white wine etc. Truth is, the advantage of sharing lunch with an ex restaurant critic is that he’s genetically hard wired to want to share dishes so I knew I’d get to taste it. Crafty Eh? They didn’t disappoint. I’ve written elsewhere about John Parsons Pig Cheek Ragu we shared in The Beer Engine and this was up there with that. The cheeks melted in the mouth and the gravy was rich and full of onion flavour. If you let the onions cook down till they dissolve, they thicken the gravy naturally and give a beautiful texture.
Lastly, my haddock. It had some work to do to be on a par with my friends’ meats but it did it. Naturally coloured, not that disgusting tartrazine yellow coloured muck that someone decided years ago we wanted to see (I can imagine the thought pattern of the Neo Neanderthal now. “It’s smoked….pub tap rooms are full of smoke and the walls are all yellow….so let’s make it YELLOW!”), it was topped with a rarebit beloved of Gary Rhodes in his heyday in the 90’s but that’s not a criticism. It was flavoursome and the roast tomatoes and dill cut the rich rarebit perfectly.
It’d be rude to refuse dessert and Yorkshire won again with two Yorkshire Curd Tarts with Rhubarb coming in on the blindside from Dawes and Lemmy and a cheese board for me.
Another great, honorary Yorkshireman, James Herriot once wrote of a “poem” of a curd tart and I can’t find any better words here. Beautiful sweet short pastry and the lightest curd with just a hint of the curd flavour and the currents in a layer on the bottom. not mixed in the curd so avoiding “dead fly pie” territory. The rhubarb tart and tasty.
We finished off with good coffee and the rest of our loaf in a bag to take home (deftly snaffled by Mr Dawes albeit after he courteously offered it to Lemmy), which is standard at Baldwins. The main man wishing us a cheery farewell as he left slightly before us.
So, the verdict? Well, I’ve heard Baldwins’ lumped in with Tuckwoods’ and the like as beloved of the lunchtime rinse brigade. In my view that’s complete rot.
It’s a wonderful mix of what was good about dining in years gone by but with modern cooking in there too. Flavour and skill is what it’s all about and this food has it in bucket loads. No, there’s no cherry fluid gel or dehydrated strawberries but it’s all the better for that.
I’m sure many people will know that the Omega is closing next July so my advice would be get there and try it before it does. For the people who know it there’s good nostalgia. For the perhaps pretentious modern foodies who might poo poo it, you may just be surprised and what’s more learn a little something from the master….if you’re lucky!
Last word goes to Mr. Baldwin himself with some advice he got from the first chef he worked for:
“Pick it fresh, cook it today and serve it today. If you haven’t, then chuck it in the bin”
Says it all really.
Off Psalter Lane
Tel: 0114 2551818
Lunch: Tuesday to Friday 12:00 – 2:30pm