Gourmet Society Featured Restaurant: The Prince of Wales – Sheffield
I’m not sure about you, but there are a few questions that transform my cognitive thinking into little more than a stalled train on the tracks when it comes to eating out. Something as simple as “where do you feel like going?” or “what do you fancy having?” can suddenly tinge any thought of eating out with indecision. Will everyone approve of my decision? Will someone come by at the last minute and choose some ol’ reliable yet underwhelming chain? And most importantly, does it cater to everyone’s wallet as well as it will to their palates?
Well, all these questions, especially the last one, can be easily brushed aside when I’m in Sheffield, as there is one place in particular that has never failed to disappoint. I’d heard that someone new had taken the reins of this location though, so my burning curiosity (and, frankly, my ravenous appetite) dictated I’d have to investigate it again. That place is The Prince of Wales, found along Ecclesall Road.
I decided to make the venture with my brother, a fellow foodie who’d been lucky enough to visit The Prince of Wales a few times more than I. This would, however, be his first time there with a new captain at the helm, so like me he was a blend of excitement and nervousness. The latter, negative feelings melted away as soon as we stepped through the doors though, as the warm and welcoming ambience was still intact.
Rich with a rustic, albeit contemporary and comfortable feel, The Prince of Wales has always offered ample space for diners arriving for any occasion, from a simple meal to an extravagant celebration. Somewhere between a restaurant and a pub, The Prince of Wales is much more reminiscent of a gastropub than your typical local, and yet its location invites all clientele to take a short trip to its doors for a relaxing lunchtime or evening meal. Upon entering, there was a small dining area to our left, which was ideal for small groups all happy to be near the kitchen, where the scents and sounds of the hard working chefs could be experienced. To our immediate right was the bar (which, honestly, we partook in the wonders found there heartily more and more as the night went on) that seemed complete with an adjacent, lounge style area adorned with plush chairs, small tables and enough space between each party to allow a sense of privacy whilst still reveling in a community spirit. Further to the right were the more intimate tables, tucked away besides the windows and the log fire, and it was here that we were taken to.
We were shown to our table by none other than the new head honcho himself, John Hobson, whose friendly demeanour, casual attire and general likeability betrayed any preconceived notions I had of someone entrusted with a restaurant of The Prince of Wales’s calibre. We chatted with John for a while, learning that he’d only been in his position for a short time, yet he’d clearly already gotten a good grasp of how things worked and described how he wanted to improve the place. More events, themed parties, all manners of enrichments beyond simply serving sumptuous food, these were his key goals to provide the city of Sheffield with somewhere unparalleled for a fine time. This was, of course, paired with his commitment to getting reacquainted with Sheffield as a whole, having moved back to the city from his time away gaining experience within the business elsewhere, and this meant familiarising himself with the rest of the hard working staff. From our experience there he wouldn’t have any issues with that, as everyone we spoke to was more than just courteous, they were downright pleasant to speak to, giving the very genuine impression that they cared about our experience.
When asked about what our pick of poison would be for the night, the caring staff members showed my brother and I an incredibly extensive drinks list. Along with far more wines than I could ever count there were a cornucopia of enticing cocktails. Classics delivered with opulent twists, each choice beckoned to be tried, while a separate section of the menu dedicated itself to that oh so quintessentially British concoction, the Gin and Tonic. There was a startling array of choice, ensuring that G&T aficionados will surely adore a number of the selections available, yet I opted with, what is in my eyes, a peerless classic. That’s right, it was time to cast pride aside and enjoy a Pornstar Martini, the likes of which was sweet beyond words. I could sense the potency veiled behind the overwhelming fruitiness of each sip, and the sparkling chaser that came with it gave that rich kick that makes me fall in love with the delightful drink each time I treat myself to it. My brother decided to give the ales a rest and savour a martini as well, although this one was stronger than mine in a few ways. It was the Espresso Martini, made with coffee and copious amounts of liquor, and it looked like it’d be the perfect way to start the day if society shrugged off its notions of daytime drinking.
With our whistles wetted, and getting more so by the minute, John left us to peruse the menu and like a pair of feral hyenas we lunged upon each item with a feverous enthusiasm. So much on the menu called out to be sampled, with a wealth of Modern English style dishes weaving in and out of internationally inspired delights, yet eventually we made our choices. My brother would be the lucky diner to begin the evening with Scallops of the Day, which upon our visit were matched with black pudding and caramelised red onion, while I’d tantalise my taste buds with the Crispy Duck wings, glazed with a plum, hoisin and sweet chilli glaze.
While we waited were given a charming surprise; a basket of pan fried tortilla chips, smashed into shards and delicately seasoned. They were tantalisingly alluring and they got the stomach howling for more. When the opening delicacies arrived, and they did swiftly if I may add, we were almost speechless. My duck wings looked like they’d been ripped straight out of one of my wildest carnivorous dreams, while my brother’s scallops had been presented to seem more akin to art than food. We immediately tore into our appetisers and within the first bite we were both stopped in our tracks. The crisp skin gave way to succulent meat that made each mouthful a divine experience. Coupled with the sweet, sesame seed enhanced sauce my starter began the meal in a phenomenal style, so much so that I’d eaten one of the accompanying roasted plums before realising it wasn’t meat. I wanted more, much more, and thankfully my brother was happy to indulge me with a taste of his scallops. They were cooked to perfection, with the balance of the sweet red onion, the savoury black pudding and the juicy scallops all in one bite creating a harmony of flavour. Everything was spot on, with no room for improvement in my eyes. The reluctance to share anymore of his portion suggested my brother felt the same, and honestly I couldn’t blame him.
We were sad to see our plates taken from us, yet this feeling was short lived as we were quickly treated to our main courses. I had decided to go off my usual beaten path (which, when it comes to eating out, is honestly more like a stabilised road with trade routes established for steaks and seafood) and try the King Prawn, Crab and Chorizo Linguine, mixed with garlic, chilli and white wine, while my brother couldn’t resist the carnivorous calling of the 7oz Fillet Steak, partnered with a Cropwell Bishop custard, Stilton and walnut crumb topped ale glazed shallot tart and peppercorn sauce. The linguine was a surprising treat, with a subtle spice riding each and every mouthful. The chorizo really kicked things up a notch as well, yet the juicy prawns calmed everything down and brought upon a medley of delicious tastes. The crab meat rested among the tomato segments, occasionally appearing on each forkful, yet I never found myself missing anything with each bite. Each ingredient had been prepared brilliantly, and the portions of each part managed to culminate into a dish that provided me with much more enjoyment that I had expected from a seemingly simple pasta based meal.
The star of the show though was, hands down, the fillet steak. Divinely tender, the steak was as close to perfect as possible. Although ‘perfection’ is a paradox that is unobtainable through the spectrum of opinion I would challenge anyone to taste the perfectly chargrilled exterior and the sublimely succulent rare meat and not fall in love with it. Also joined by twice cooked chunky chips, which were wonderfully crispy on the outside and light-as-a-feather fluffy within, the paired tart acted as a complementary contrast to the steak, and along with the creamy peppercorn sauce the whole meal was something superior to anything I’d tasted in quite some time. Mind you, I only managed to taste it, as once again, I could not play the tyrant and rend my brother from his incredible meal.
Thoroughly satisfied, we wondered whether we could handle anymore. Any doubts we harboured over the remaining space in our stomachs were quickly eliminated however as soon as we were handed the desserts menu. Plenty caught our eyes, with many options already making me question when I could return, yet it was the elegant ensemble that was the House Sharer that sealed the deal. Why enjoy one when you can indulge on them all? That was the mentality that placed the order, and when it arrived we did not regret it at all.
Let me just begin with this. Just, seriously, take my advice and order the House Sharer. This eclectic collection of heavenly tastes left no sweet tooth in my head wanting. The creamy cheesecake, the rich, perfectly textured brownie, the subtle zest of the lemon tart, the ideal bodied Bourbon vanilla ice cream and those strawberries, drenched with an angelic sauce, tasted and felt just as strawberries should be. It was utterly enchanting, and we powered through each bite despite the sensation of becoming more food than man.
When all was said and devoured John found us again and asked us how it was. If smiles could talk he would have got the message, but for clarifications sake we thanked him and his incredible staff for the rich dining experience we had just enjoyed. He seemed genuinely relieved that we’d had a good time, and before leaving we shared another word or two with him. He said that he’d wanted to bridge the divide between ‘pub food’ and ‘fine dining’ at The Prince of Wales, and I can honestly say that that was exactly the type of meal I’d just enjoyed. It didn’t just extend to the food either, as the staff had portrayed a professional front rarely found in most restaurants. They had struck that hard balance between seeming cold and scarily attentive. They had quickly taken our orders with a smile, swiftly brought them to us, left us with our space to enjoy our meals and came back just as the next course was on our minds. Partnered with the cosy atmosphere, and, frankly, the awesome drinks selection I doubted he had anything to worry about, since he was already on his way to establishing The Prince of Wales in his image.
The price for the night was modest as well, particularly since we’d drank our fair share of various martinis, which suggested to me that if any diner were to come simply for a nice meal and a drink or two they’d be more than happy with their final bill, and that’s not even taking into account the Gourmet Society discount. With that in mind I can confidently say that The Price of Wales is somewhere truly special in Sheffield, offering a delightful dining experience for every gourmet from every walk of life.
Have you been to The Prince of Wales lately? How did you like it? Let us know via Facebook or twitter! And of course, be sure to check out the rest of the gourmet goodness on the Gourmet Society blog!
By Tom Simpkins