Juke and Loe, 617 Ecclesall Road, Sheffield S11 8PT (0114 268 0271, jukeandloe.com). Lunch – two courses £25, three courses £30. Dinner – starters £14-£16, mains £24-£30, desserts £10. Wines from £24
It’s time to address the most pressing question of age: when to go out to eat on weekdays, which is better, lunch or dinner? The arguments for dinner are cheerfully robust. The workday is over, so we’re not dodging important tasks like pretending to study a vital spreadsheet while watching hilarious Instagram reels of dogs shocked by their own farts. Most of the time, we don’t dodge our own Puritan guilt. We’re free to show the wine list some truly grown-up, grown-up love.
There are, however, drawbacks. Restaurants make their real money in the evening, so that’s when the highest prices are charged. We don’t blame them. In exchange for the extra money, you get the most developed and filigree expression of the art of cooking. There will be more things on the plate. It’s either a plus or a minus, depending on taste. If the restaurant is particularly popular, tables will be harder to find and you’ll have to furiously smash through the online reservation form in hopes of finding a civilized slot. Finally, there is the matter of restful sleep. It’s just harder to eat with a stomach full of overloaded sharing plates and a barrel full of the second-cheapest lousy merlot on the list. The struggle is real.
And lunch? You have more time to digest, of course. Sleep is easier. In addition, the real bargains are at lunchtime: that’s when the big places offer their inexpensive but extremely cheerful menus. One of the darkest moments of the pandemic, for those who care too much about their bellies, was Le Gavroche’s decision to close at lunchtime due to lack of staff. The three course lunch menu, including half a bottle of very good wine, petit fours and the service, was legendary. At the time it was discontinued it was £76, which is a slice of anyone’s money. Then again, the full range of evening high kicks can easily be double that or more, way more.
Of course, that deal can quickly be undone by having to take the day off to ease the decadence of a cheaper weekday lunch. Although there’s the sweet groin twinge of the illicit that accompanies shouting, “Damn, I’m going to have another bottle of that delicious Chablis.” What do you mean, it’s 2 p.m. on a Wednesday? God, but it’s complicated. How I must acknowledge, as always, the silly privilege of my job which not only allows me to visit Sheffield to experience the joys of Juke & Loe at lunchtime, but actually forces me to do it. There, two courses are £25 and three are £30 compared to around £50 in the evening. It’s a small bistro, a few kilometers from the city center, run by two brothers, Luke and Joseph Grayson. I guess the name is a sweet counterpart to their first names.
This lunch menu, currently only served on Fridays and Saturdays, offers three choices for each course: meat, fish, vegetarian. Initially, I thought I had traveled some distance to feed on something simply solid but unobtrusive. To start, there was a perfectly competent plate of salt and chilli squid with mayonnaise enriched by the briny touch of the oysters. There was a crispy duck salad with cucumber and orange, reminiscent of the version created by Gary Lee at the Ivy when it was still good.
Then mains came along and it went way beyond solid to something delicious and awesome. It’s the kind of cooking that makes you pause, mid-conversation and study the plate. A milky white fillet of precisely cooked plaice has been rolled up on itself. It sits on a thick, shiny beurre blanc, perky with lemon and sprinkled with capers. Butter and reduced white wine were beaten together until they surrendered and became solid friends. There is a good sprinkle of chives. On the side is a bowl of buttered new potatoes. Happiness.
The other main course is a braised beef cheek which miraculously held its shape despite being cooked until, like a very nervous entertainer, it waited to completely fall apart. It comes with one of those lip-smacking meat sauces that was supposed to go out of fashion around 1984, but never got the memo. It is a pleasure to pour into the plate. With her is a heavy canoe of powerfully dressed cos lettuce leaves. It is described as a Caesar salad with beef tongue. It does not dishonor the name. With it, well-made fries under a truffled mayonnaise.
There’s nothing shy or understated about any of this. It is a bold kitchen designed to satisfy rather than impress with its own skill. It all reminds me of the fine but luxurious food at Gary Usher’s Elite Bistros further west: places like Kala in Manchester and Burnt Truffle in Heswall. The essence of each dish has been understood and then constructed. But they know exactly when to stop. The desserts are equally delicious. A dome of honey parfait is drizzled with more honey and surrounded by pieces of honeycomb and moist honey cake cubes; a shiny oblong of chocolate delight is stabbed by slices of caramelized white chocolate and comes with a scoop of white chocolate ice cream.
Although we wrote a bawdy anthem praising lunchtime drinking, none of us do it today. He has a car to drive; I have a train to catch and I hate dribbling out of windows so much. That said, the shortlist — a little old world, a little new — is priced to make it seem like a really good idea. There’s nothing but a £39 Paxton Shiraz from Australia.
And the evening menu then? Well yes, it is a little longer and more expensive, although there is also more ambition. In the current version, the squid starter is accompanied by a sweet and sour squid consommé, the main course of braised beef cheek is joined on the plate by a beef tongue pudding. I’m sure the single room with its bare wooden floor and floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the street will do the trick at night. I’m sure it’s lovely. But I can tell you that on a Friday lunchtime, if you can relax from work and tell yourself all the good self-righteous stories and seriously investigate your inner sleazy, it’s also a very nice place. Today, I win at lunch.
Cardiff-based Matsudai Ramen, which supplies ramen kits nationwide, has teamed up with noodle master Tim Anderson to create a kit with proceeds going to charity. Together they developed a kit version of Anderson’s Lazy Goat Ragu-Men, named London’s best dish by Free time in 2018 when it was served at Anderson’s Nanban Restaurant. It includes curried goat, handmade noodles and scotch bonnet infused bamboo shoots. The kits will be available from February 18 for two weeks and will cost £13.99 each, with money raised going to Cardiff Mind and Mosaic Brixton (matsudai.co.uk).
Meanwhile in London, Claude Bosi, chef-patron of the multi-Michelin-starred Bibendum, is also growing. He announced his intention to open the Socca Bistro on South Audley Street in Mayfair. It will draw inspiration from the culinary traditions of the French Riviera and is a collaboration with restaurateur Samyukta Nair, who is behind Bombay Bustle and MiMi Mei Fair. The socca should open in the summer.
Well-known publican and restaurateur Piers Baker of the Sun Inn in Dedham, has acquired the White Hart Inn on Mersea Island, Essex, a renowned pilgrimage area for oyster lovers the world over. The pub, which has been closed since 2013, is being refurbished and, according to Baker, will cater “for everything from a casual pint to a special dinner”.