Top class food and service at suburban restaurant put star quality on the menu.
Sometimes it’s good to be bold.
Commit to buying a restaurant before you actually have the money, have your own cutlery made in Sheffield, tell the world you’re going all-out to get a Michelin star.
Rafters owners Alistair Myers and Tom Lawson - the loan came through in time - are that bold. Why wouldn’t they be?
They now have a successful high-end restaurant in the most affluent area of their home city and they are being noticed on a wider stage.
So how often do they think about that Michelin star? “All the time,” says 35-year-old Alistair without hesitation. “It’s what we are working towards every day.
“We would love a Michelin star - so would everyone else - but it’s about getting the details right. All this investment is with that in mind and hopefully it will pay off. We want to be the jewel in Sheffield and Yorkshire’s crown.
“Sheffield should have big aspirations. We want to compete with the best restaurants in Yorkshire and then London. Someone needs to do that for Sheffield. We think we can.”
Rafters’ cool and comfortable furniture, stylish lighting, table linen, décor and general atmosphere whisper relaxed quality. And then there’s the food.
Food that’s creative and beautifully presented but in small portions.
The kind of food that when it arrives part of you asks: “Is this good or just poncey and overpriced?”
But this is good, very good.
My mate Rob and I are welcomed and shown to our seats and brought a ‘palate-livener’ of a marshmallow cube of Sir Robin Of Locksley Sheffield Gin with pink grapefruit, gin and tonic, served on a box of the gin’s dried botanicals. The gelatin based G and T cube melts delightfully in the mouth.
Next up, a pair of crisp-coated, soft-boiled quails eggs in a tiny ceramic pot of truffle mayonnaise served on a bed of straw. Rich, smooth and earthy in a one-bite moment. Lovely.
That’s followed by a triangular Gruyere cheese and tapioca cracker, a light and crisp wafer topped with whipped goats curd, smoked eel and pickled shallot and finished with a chive and burnt leek powder - I kid you not. Rich and fleeting combinations, crispy, smoky, salty and creamy. Stunning.
Around us are the gentle murmurings of contented diners and the ting of good glass. Couples, friends and families, dads in chinos and pink shirts, mums in cooling chiffon, wine and water bottles on every table.
Next up, bread. Sourdough - it took Tom three months to perfect the recipe - and a Granary and Black Treacle that has a dark, crusty, sweet and malty exterior. The sourdough has obviously been a labour of love. We lap it up and more is brought to us immediately – nice touch.
We’re now officially at the starter course. Rob has smoked wild sea trout with heritage tomatoes, fennel and herb purée. It’s a light, tender, delicately flavoured, beautiful combination with a tomato granita and dressed like a bride’s bouquet.
My mosaic of chicken Caesar ‘salad’ with Parma ham is equally gorgeous. The chicken, breast and leg, is cooked in a water bath, wrapped in Parma ham and decorated with gem lettuce, crispy bacon, croutons, Caesar dressing and a baked cheese wafer.
For main I have Monkfish tails with haricot beans, leeks, samphire and lemon. Rob has duo of Derbyshire Lamb, pearl barley, kohlrabi, turnip and carrot.
The lamb is from Andrews’ butchers in Rotherham, the fish from the delightfully named Mick The Fish Man from Grimsby.
The lamb - a cutlet and a piece of slow-cooked shoulder - with pearl barley is cooked in vegetable and lamb stock and slow braised. The meat is amazing and the depth of flavour in the pearl barley a revelation.
The monkfish, cooked on the bone in a beurre noisette - burnt butter - is perfectly tender and tasty. The white beans have acidity from capers and lemon puree - with squid ink - and creaminess from crème fraise that goes beautifully with the fish. It’s all delightful.
As a pre-dessert sweetener we had refreshing watermelon with a creamy granita and for dessert proper I had iced white chocolate mousse with raspberry, lemon, and toasted meringue. A light mousse topped with lemon curd puree, raspberry sorbet, a lemonade foam and raspberry granite sprinkled about the plate.
Rob’s vanilla cheesecake was served with an apple and sorrel granita and a hazelnut and almond crumb.
These are things of deep, deep joy.
Will they get their Michelin star?
Frankly I wouldn’t know.
Judging the dining experience at that level is a highly specialist area full of nuance, subtlety and not a little politicking.
But you know when you’ve eaten something a bit special. The quality of the food is first class, the ambience five star, service immaculate.
If you just want to feel full and satisfied go for a pizza or a roast and save yourself £100.
But if you want to experience something exceptional, steel yourself and cough up the cash. Be bold, you won’t regret it.
We had the evening menu at £45 per person. With wine and bottled water our bill came to £121.50.
Star rating out of five:
* Food: 5
* Atmosphere: 5
* Service: 5
* Value: 5
* Rafters Restaurant, 220 Oakbrook Road, Sheffield, S11 7ED
* Tel: 0114 2304819
* Weds and Thurs: 7pm –8.30pm, Fri and Sat: 7pm – 9pm, Sun: noon – 2pm, 6pm – 8pm