Gordon Effing Ramsay

There’s a downside to the Use It or Lose It philosophy.

I’m watching Channel 4’s Ramsay’s Best Restaurant, which has got to the semi-finals stage. Two places I really like, and recommend regularly, and get to when I can, have made it through.

One is The Milestone, Sheffield’s up-and-coming Michelin prospect. The other is Prashad’s, the Gujerati vegetarian restaurant/deli in Bradford. Although I’m proud and pleased for both of them, there have already been some unpleasant changes.

I’ve seen the results of Gordon’s handiwork around here before, when he rebranded the Runaway Girl into Silversmiths. I worked on that street,  and he didn’t tell you anywhere near the real story.

It’s a dead end, behind a student pub, and the car park next to it backs onto the Student’s Union and a Spearmint Rhino. Not exactly where you expect to find fine dining. The main thing he did to the menu was to take away the tapas and bring in that gourmet extravaganza – Pie Nights. And I can still hear the screams of laughter when Sheffielders found out that they could get a pie supper for JUST £8.50.

He talked about chain restaurants in the city centre as being the competition, and not about any other independent restaurants. The area he compared it to was Leopold Square, which is a new development surrounding a boutique hotel – not being rude, but it’s the sort of place secretaries go for lunch, or you get pissed in at happy hour before moving on. It’s already on the bogoff and email vouchers skids.

The real competition was Cubanas, which serves tapas with a Caribbean twist, loud, noisy, full of salsa music, clicking heels, smart wooden floors and loads of yellow glossy paint. Bright and vibrant, and Runaway Girl had already managed to get their chef. Ramsay re-branded Silversmiths to go up against our existing award-winning restaurants run by respected professionals serving locally-sourced, organic food – the Walnut Club, Rafters, Thyme, Milestone, up to The Vicarage which has a Michelin star. However, if you are in the city centre at night to eat, chances are you are out on the razz, or grabbing a bite before or after the theatre, and all the places you’re interested in are right in the city centre, not down a side-street on the way to the station.

Everyone went for a bit because Gordon had been there, and it perked up again for a few weeks when the tv show was on. But it doesn’t open regularly at lunchtime, and local views seem to be that the menu is unoriginal and not high quality. Lots of groups of staff going out for Christmas lunch choose places like Cafe Rouge or Ha-Has over Silversmiths. Their own website doesn’t feature any press reviews later than 2008, that’s not good. If he did such a good job, how come Milestone is in this competition, and Silversmiths isn’t?

We went to Milestone a few times back in the early summer, when it had a fine dining restaurant upstairs and a bistro menu downstairs. Now, post-Ramsay, the top end of the menu has gone, and it has settled into being a two-storey gastropub. Although the menu is still good, the progress towards a Michelin star has been set way back. Ramsay was critical on the first-stage show about the coaching / mentoring that they do in the kitchen, as being distracting, and it would be a real shame if that were to get sideswiped too.

I love Prashad’s food, but I don’t always have the time to stop for a meal when I’m in Bradford. I rely on the deli half of the business – it’s one of the few places I know that does patra, for a start. Or, rather, it was. Last time I popped in, it was to discover the deli vanished, and a poster on the door explaining that due to the Ramsay factor they had closed it to enlarge the restaurant. And expressing a hope that they might be able to open a separate deli nearby in the future.

So although I’m looking forward to seeing how everyone does on the show next week, I really hope they don’t fall for his bullshit. You know your local markets, guys, don’t let him faze you. One of the reasons I love your food is that you both have really strong ethics and ideals, thoughts about what a business should represent to family and community. You already win local and regional awards on a regular basis, and we’re looking forward to how you choose to develop yourselves. But I’d like to be sure that came from your heart, and not Ramsay’s little prejudices.

Red Cabbage

I usually make French-style red cabbage, with red wine and bay leaves. But tonight I wanted something a bit sweeter, thicker, warmer. More in keeping with a British November night.

In an oven-proof casserole, fry some lardons (or the fat end of a piece of ham, which is what I had), an onion and a leek until it’s all nicely sizzling and browning off. Add shredded red cabbage, and a Bramley apple chopped up (cored but not peeled). Stir around and add ground cloves, salty chicken stock, a couple of glugs of Starbuck’s Gingerbread syrup (or crumbled ginger biscuits, or gingerbread) and a glug of Apple Balsamic Vinegar.

Cook in a low oven, Gas Mark 3-ish. An hour will cook it, but you can keep it going for longer if you like it softer.

We had it with crispy pork belly. Taste before you serve, and balance the sweet/sour/salt. You could add chestnuts, but adjust the seasoning as they can leach the salt out of the sauce.