The Old House Sheffield – Lovely bar but is it a gastro-step too far?

So, the third review for the site and this time, on a recommendation from a friend, we decided to visit The Old House in Sheffield. Situated in Sheffield city centre, it boasts on it’s site that ‘Our laid-back bar is a more eclectic home-from-home, where you can eat delicious home-made Sheffield snap and listen to good music while chit-chatting to like minded spirits over quality booze well into the late hours’ – with a description like this how could one resist.

The Old House is situated on Division Street in the ultra-urbanised ‘Devonshire Quarter’ in the city centre, utilising what claims to be the Duke of Devonshire’s original house. Yes, it is a classic Georgian building but the modern buildings on either side means it’s pretty easy to walk past. The inside is quite a different story though. Upon entering, you cannot help but love the rustic but charming interiors. With it’s dim lighting and dark wood furniture, bric a brac and candlelit tables, you feel immediately drawn into the atmosphere The Old House has to offer.

As this is a bar/restaurant we went straight up to the bar where we were immediately acknowledged by one of the bar staff and handed a drinks menu and one of their ‘Beer Bibles’. These ‘Beer Bibles’ tell you literally everything you need to know about all beers, from how it’s brewed to what they stock, and what it tastes like. They also had a list of interesting cocktails – I could easily spend many nights in there working through the list just to try the new and exciting combinations as well as some old classics.

After much perusal we both settled on 3/4 of a pint of Brooklyn Beer; a US guest ale they had on draught, where we were advised to get 3/4 of a pint because a pint cost a fair bit. Drinks in hand, we found a little table near the bar where I was most impressed that the flowers in the kitsch little vase were actually real wild flowers, not those dust-gathering fake carnations so many places seem to opt for. Pretty swiftly, a waitress (incredibly polite and knowledgable!) approached us and asked if we were eating, then gave us the most adorable little specials board with a personal recommendation from the staff on the back (see my pictures!) They had an excellent selection of specials – the balsamic onion, feta and pepper pie really caught my eye and they had a special house-made Toulouse sausage too.

As we had already had a look at the menu online at home, it didn’t take us too long to order the chicken ballotine each for our starter and the pan fried sea trout with herb jersey royals, sea vegetables and a cider-butter sauce for me, whilst my partner opted for the beef burger cooked medium topped with stilton and bacon, hand cut chips and coleslaw. We were informed they didn’t have any of the chicken left so instead I chose the goat’s cheese and sorrel tart whilst after much deliberation, my partner chose the herring roe sauteed in caper and anchovy butter. I discreetly warned him that they would taste extremely fishy (this is the man who doesn’t like prawns) but he was adamant that he would try them. So, orders placed, he reclined in his chair looking rather pleased with himself for choosing the most exotic item on the menu. It was at this point he made the mistake of searching on his smartphone just what herring roes were. As his face fell and his mouth turned up in disgust, he told me that, according to the internet, herring roes were in fact the seminal fluid of herrings used to attract females – he was about to consume semen. As you can imagine, I found the whole thing highly amusing and was still grinning like an idiot five minutes later when the starters arrived. At first glance they looked like mushrooms sat on top of a crusty slice of toast, but the pungent fishy smell they were emitting indicated they were clearly not. You’ve got to give it to him, he gave them a try but one mouthful and some gagging later, he decided to give up. Unless you’re really into your seafood and can knock back oysters, caviar and raw scallop roe by the ton, I really would stay away from herring roe. It’s gelatinous texture and insanely fishy taste makes it a truly acquired taste. As for my goat’s cheese tart, it was absolutely beautiful; tangy with cheese and a slight lemon flavour coming off the sorrel. It was served with what looked like homemade piccalilli (I absolutely adore anything pickled!) and a generous helping of dressed mixed leaves – at £3.95 it’s an absolute bargain.

Again, after another short wait, our main courses arrived. At first glance, I was happy with the look of my meal; perhaps a little small but at only £10.50, you can’t really grumble. It was only tucking in that I rapidly started to feel disappointed. The trout was beautifully cooked but underneath the jersey royals were a bit on the small side and there was absolute overkill on the sea vegetables. Seaweed and samphire have an incredibly intense, salty flavour and, as there was so much of it, all I could really taste was salt with every mouthful of food.The seaweed retained a nice crunch but unfortunately the samphire was so woody at times I thought I’d got a fish bone. As for the cider-butter sauce, it was tasty enough but it lacked the acidity that the cider should give it. I ate all the fish and potatoes but left a heap of sea vegetables and a pool of the sauce – to eat all the veg would have just been impossible; absolute salt overkill. On the other hand, my partner burger came topped with generous amounts of bacon and stilton, and when he sliced into it, it was indeed medium as he’d requested. The homemade chips were chunky and tasty, however he said the coleslaw was pretty tasteless – I’d be curious to know if this was homemade. He polished the lot off and felt full, just a little sad he was driving and he couldn’t take advantage of the burger and a Stein for a tenner offer!

I really went into The Old House wanting to be blown away. Indeed the beer and atmosphere lived up to my expectations but, for me, the food on this visit didn’t. I won’t be too harsh and I will definitely be visiting again, I just wonder if they would be better doing simple food really well rather than venturing down the gastro-pub route of sea vegetables and herring roe. I don’t doubt the skills of the chefs, the skill was clear through the cooking of the burger and the trout, I just feel it might be better placed creating the simple food that they do so incredibly well. Is herring roe really a necessity on their menu? Of course, there are people out there who love the stuff but does it have a place in a bar where I presume a large percentage of their customers are students – judging by the prices I’m guessing I’m correct. I probably shouldn’t make this assumption on the basis of one below average meal but that’s the feeling I went away with. I urge you to go and try for yourself!

The final verdict? I will definitely be going back, if not for the food but their incredible selection of drinks and a wonderful, welcoming yet unique atmosphere. Just next time perhaps i’ll stick to the pie or sausage – something I have no doubt they deliver on 100%.

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