Upon return to South Yorkshire, I was trying to find a fine-dine restaurant for a Saturday Evening. Unfortunately, trying to find a fine dine restaurant in Sheffield is about as easy as trying to crack an Ancient Greek Puzzle. In the end, the nearby county of Derbyshire came to the rescue.
The Old Vicarage couldn’t be more far removed from the journey through Sheffield which takes you there. You must traverse the “stony rubbish” of the steel city, passing by the Manor Estate, to find yourself in the peaceful Derbyshire village of Ridgeway. For anyone acquainted with the Northern country side, it would be a very ordinary setting, where you might expect a public house cooking home grub or a small homely cafe for passers-by, not a former Michelin star restaurant.
The fact AA Gill finds the restaurant “on the idiosyncratic edge of eccentricity”, seems strange. The exposed wooden flooring, the long windows looking out onto the garden and the floral canvasses on the walls all reinforce the charmingly quaint vibe, certainly not an eccentric or idiosyncratic one. The Old Vicarage seems to have deliberately eschewed any fads of modernity, and has a resolutely traditional, country house ambiance. On a Saturday evening the restaurant is full, yet there is almost eerie silence in the dining room which I’m sure for many might be disconcerting; however I find the solemnity a welcome change from the tumult of voices and music in most city restaurants.
The amuse-bouche to start left our table divided. I found the beetroot macaroon unpleasant (nearly as off-putting as the Waiter’s stale breath). The acidity of the beetroot made me grimace and was not adequately balanced out by the goat’s cheese. One of my dining partners however found it quite acceptable. The second amuse bouche of onions in filo pastry was a hum-drum and dry affair.
That introduction out of the way, the food started to shine. The Butternut Squash Veloute was rich and smooth and the burnt butter drizzle adding a nutty taste to the soup (4/5). The sauteed St George mushrooms with herb polenta and sage, was joyous. The quality of mushrooms commendable and the cream sauce well executed (4.5/5).
We were filled with trepidation looking at the hotch-potch main course of “spiced potato croquettes, Haloumi & lemon and pepper yoghurt”. Potato croquettes bring back the worst memories of school dinners, and haloumi with a yoghurt dressing puts you firmly in Pret A Manger office lunch territory. However, this was the surprise of the night (5/5). The potato croquette was light and crisp beyond comparison and the spices worked beautifully with the potatoes (we were told a mix of cumin and garam masala amongst others).
The transition course, a goats cheese cheesecake of sorts, with strawberry and black pepper meringue (4/5) was a novel concept and some neurological rewiring necessary to accept a half sweet/half savoury dish. The dessert was textbook. A classic combination of poached fruit (apricots), shortbread and sorbet (4/5)
The disappointment of the evening was the service. Whilst unquestionably friendly, from the warmth of the introduction or Tessa’s genuine attempts to engage at the counter, it is rather unpolished. For example, plates are stacked high at the table when cleared (carrying multiple plates in one hand is the first lesson of any waiter). Having to check with the kitchen regarding the Prestige Vegetarian menu seemed unnecessary after I specifically requested this upon booking. Finally, a live beetle running loose in the dining room was off-putting (I wonder if it’s a common event with the open wood fire?)
Overall, the food at the Old Vicarage is, by and large, flawless. However with the bill coming to around 80 pounds a head, with 2 glasses of wines, a more refined service would be appreciated.