SOME men go weak at the knees at the sight of a beautiful blonde. A pie does it for me.
The one on my plate is a dinky little thing with a top of pastry swirls which say ‘come hither’ to my knife and fork.
It’s worth the effort. Inside the thick, crumbly pastry is a vivid-tasting filling of chicken and mushroom in good, meaty chunks. And I’ve got a little heap of mashed potato and a jug of decent gravy.
The good news is that it costs £4 as one of the ‘tapas’ on offer at the Wick At Both Ends, on West Street – progressively less the more you order.
The bad news is I’ve got to share it with my wife.
Unless I’d been tipped off I’d have probably walked straight past the bar, once the Mail Coach Inn, reportedly haunted by a highwayman who lurks in the shadows.
“The whole of the upstairs is a bit creepy,” says Georgie West of owners S01 Leisure, which also runs the nearby Harley and the Tramlines Festival.
The Mail Coach had suffered a period of enforced Oirishness as Scruffy Murphy’s, then was called Muse, then Dogma, before being leased from Mitchells & Butlers two years ago.
It’s on the Student Run but with its accent on cocktails appeals mostly to the 25-40 age group so we slipped in undercover at lunchtime.
I’m just about to grumble that it can’t offer a decent real ale as the Tramlines has run out when the barman persuades me to invest in a bottle of Humming Bird (£4) from the Anchor Brewery, Los Angeles. He knows what he’s talking about because this is a lovely, hoppy, crisp beer with a peppery aftertaste.
The Wick is a big, roomy place with lots of wood – floor, bar and walls – the obligatory boxes of games (Rummikub, anyone?) and a mix of tables and chairs, window seats, old school desks, pouffes and squidgy leather seats if you want to cuddle up with someone nice.
I’m cuddling up with this pie.
It’s on the impishly-named Wick & Mix menu of tapas. We order eight for £22, although it is nowhere near going through the card as there are 20 of them.
We order in batches of four, because too many tapas tease the tastebuds – and go cold.
The barman doesn’t take a note, relying on his memory, which is as good as his beer recommendation.
Despite it being a Friday lunchtime the place is very quiet with few eaters or drinkers. It gets busier in both departments from 5 to 9pm.
My wife and I score each of the dishes and the pie is the clear winner of round one, despite its little swirls being a trifle scorched.
Our meatballs, spiked with rosemary and swimming in a spicy tomato sauce, are nearly as good while the crispy pigs ear salad looks a picture.
Once upon a time only dogs ate them but head chef Alex Malins has braised the ears in cider and star anise. They have been cut into strips and fried and if not exactly that crispy are pleasantly chewy, with a definite aftertaste of apple. They are served on a salad with quarters of lightly boiled egg.
Much too good for Rover.
We didn’t care much for the squid stew, the cephlapod overwhelmed by its spicy broth, but three out of four wasn’t bad.
If I’ve raved about the pie my wife does the same in round two about the mushroom and egg Florentine in the ‘second half,’ an egg baked in a gloriously garlicky nest of mushroom and spinach.
This is one of those dishes which is much more than the sum of its parts.
We are divided by the duck hash, confit of duck made into little potato cakes and fried. I like its subtlety but there’s not enough duckiness for the missus, although the apple and chilli chutney is a hit.
There’s cauliflower cheese, crisp florets in a runny but very cheesy sauce.
They also do a cauliflower cheese tart here which sounds worth investigating.
Perhaps the Wick is not that good on fish, for our last dish of prawns fails to register flavours of chilli, lime and coriander.
It has been an enjoyable lunch and chatting to chef Alex afterwards it seems he likes cooking it. “This menu allows us to do something a bit experimental,” he says.
He cooks with sous chef Freddie Bates.
Alex, now 25, moved into the kitchen as a jobless software engineer and found he liked it. He obviously learns fast as he has only been cooking for two years.
Food accounts for a quarter of the Wick’s turnover and one mark of a good menu is that there are always several other dishes you’d wished you’d tried.
Now that braised beef with a Manchego cheese crust sounds interesting...
We paid £27.50 for a lunch that certainly won’t get on your wick.
The Wick At Both ends
149 West Street, Sheffield S1 4EW.
Tel: 0114 278 8288.
Open for food Mon-Fri noon-9pm (Sat-Sun until 8pm). Disabled access and toilets.Vegetarian dishes. Music. Credit cards. Street parking.
My star ratings (out of five):