MR B WAS away. Now that was a bit of a bummer because one of the best reasons for lunching at Baldwin’s Omega is David Baldwin himself.
Forget your celebrity chefs with their ritzy recipes, he dates from a time when the focal point of a restaurant was not the kitchen but front of house, in the shape of the Maitre D.
To watch him working the Rib Room, advancing from table to table, dispersing a greeting here, a fruity comment there, is to watch how it used to be done and should be done still.
But even Mr B (everyone calls him that, or Big ’Un) needs a holiday. He’s got to 70 and in 30 years has made the Omega the Alpha of Sheffield banqueting so deserves a rest.
Everyone knows you don’t go to dinner at Baldwin’s, unless in a party for a private function or public event like a salmon and strawberries or Caribbean evening (limbo dancing optional). But you can go for lunch.
So what is Baldwin’s like without the main attraction, this restaurateur and bon viveur, former spud peeler risen from the ranks to former chairman of the Restaurant Association?
If you like your food with a solid classical base you’ll like it here. The plat du jour is £13.50 for three courses or you can go a la carte and spend that much on the roast pork fillet Normande.
I suggest the set-price menu because the food, under head chef Stephen Roebuck, also shines. Well-executed and honest, it does not leave you feeling short changed.
This menu is also an object lesson in how to produce good food with the minimum of expense and the maximum of skill.
But first, if you haven’t been, a few words about the setting. The Omega looks like a white Spanish hacienda plonked down in a car park large enough to parade a regiment.
The entrance hall is lined with ‘flaming torches,’ the effect created by fluttering strips of cloth with jets of air. They are, oddly quiescent. I have this private thought that they only flutter when Mr B and his wife Pauline are in residence.
It is a hot day but the Rib Room is cool and we sit at a comfortable table with tablecloth, linen napkin, Sheffield cutlery and gleaming glassware. Iced water is poured from a carafe, as if you have just ordered a bottle of Savigny Les Beaune 1999, Dom Patrick Javillier at £124.
In fact we’ve got a couple of glasses from an English vineyard, chosen because I once lived nearby, so uninspired it must be on the wine list as an act of charity.
Baldwin’s trademark loaf of bread stands on a board with a knife to cut it yourself. Junior chefs compete to make it daily.
The hors d’oeuvres are simple, four shiny red radishes on a white dish with a bowl of oil and sea salt in a large white spoon. The presentation is faultless.
My white onion soup, as classic in its way as its French onion rival, is creamy with a satisfying depth of flavour. It is an acme of allium. In it float peas and broad beans to give little mouthfuls of contrast.
A little pot of penne pasta with mushrooms in a champagne sauce is pleasing and just enough to be starting with for my wife who really wanted the melon on such a hot day.
She is more than rewarded by her main course poached salmon. It is excellent. I have only tasted its better in the boardroom of the Guinness brewery in Dublin. This is moist and juicy, as if it had just leapt out of the sea and thrown itself in the fish kettle. It is served with coleslaw, new potatoes, salad and minty peas.
I have three slices of baked spiced ham with chunks of roast pineapple and my favourite sauce, Madeira. The ham has just enough saltiness offset by the sweetness of the fruit.
My wife settles for a dish of homemade fruit sorbets. I go for the summer pudding – what else on such a glorious summer’s day? But it’s more a bread fruit sandwich than a little dome encasing the blueberries and raspberries.
“We found customers were leaving the bread and going for the fruit,” says operations manager Jamie Christian.
The service, from staff dressed smartly in black and white, is pitched just right, performed in that friendly ‘we’re all in this together’ Sheffield manner.
The bill is pitched just right, too. The food is £27, a steal for all that class.
Of course, we could have eaten a la carte, perhaps the grilled turbot special at £15 or the half lobster thermidor at £20, but we have chosen thrift.
Wine and coffee sees the total touching £40. Have we missed Mr B? Of course, which is why a star is missing in the marks for atmosphere.
Brincliffe Hill, off Psalter Lane, Sheffield. S11 9DF
Lunch starts at 12 noon, last orders 2pm. Bookings on 0114 2551818.
Private functions only in evenings.
My star ratings (out of five):