THE key to a successful business is expertise, according to award-winning bartender James Hill and impresario James O’Hara – who were clearly well qualified to launch live music bar the Great Gatsby.
But when it came to laying on food as well they were out of their depth, so they called in the specialists.
Now Hill, a director of Menzel’s in Ecclesall Road, and business partner O’Hara, organiser of the Tramlines festival, have teamed up with The Milestone to ensure that Gatsby’s food is as slick as the rest of the operation.
The result is a partnership with the gastropub’s outside catering arm – which has put Danny Fletcher in place as head chef at the Division Street venue.
The idea of local businesses working together, instead of as rivals, wouldn’t work everywhere, but it’s the way things are in the ‘northern quarter’, according to Hill.
“We’re all friends in this area, especially the independents,” he says.
O’Hara agrees: “We all support each other. The better the street is, the more we’re attracting people from outside the area. We’re trying to bring as much business into the city as possible.”
The Great Gatsby has something of a chequered history: originally the Foresters pub, over the last decade it has been variously the York, the Yorick, the Hush bar and Olive.
Hill and O’Hara took over a few months ago, initially billing it as a ‘pop-up’ bar, open just for events and at weekends. But their belief in the venue’s potential paid off and at the end of April it officially became the Great Gatsby.
“It’s great now; it’s really working for us. I think we’re doing the right offer for the street,” says Hill.
“This is our opportunity to have something that we’re really proud of and we can put into practice what we’ve learned elsewhere.”
Both owners are immensely proud of their home town and are eager to showcase the city at its best.
“It frustrates me when people say Sheffield is somehow behind other cities: I think in many ways we’re ahead,” says O’Hara.
The look is vintage chic: mismatched furniture, a cosy fireplace, high bar tables, a chaise longue. Formerly a bar with a restaurant upstairs, the place has been turned upside down, with a first-floor live music venue and street-level bar – now serving food.
The monthly-changing menu is eclectic, a truly cosmopolitan selection that’s in complete contrast to the current vogue for good old English grub. This celebration of world flavours will whisk you off on a veritable round-the-world tour in your lunch hour.
It features a range of mezze and ‘small plates’, plus salads, flatbread wraps and four or five main courses, such as chicken curry, Chinese pork or vegetable paella.
Drinks include a mind-boggling array of cocktails alongside beers, spirits and a world-class wine list complete with tasting notes. House wines start at £11.50 a bottle (£2.90 a glass) for a French carignan or ugni blanc.
It’s tempting, but this is lunchtime and I’m combining my research with a business meeting, so we dutifully stick to lime and soda.
My companion is Niki Baker, head of Eat Sheffield, and we perch at a high table in one corner of the bar to discuss the forthcoming restaurant awards.
Our drinks are brought over by Chris, a local musician who doubles as barman and waiter.
We decide tapas is the best test of the menu.
“Grazing and sharing platters are the big trend at the moment,” says Niki, who knows about such things. “It’s all about small plates and big flavours.”
Right. So we pick a few dishes each; the deal is five for £9.
First up is a mixed herb salad, an Australian-inspired mix (says Niki) of peppery leaves, cucumber strips, pomegranate arils, little chunks of sweet roasted butternut squash and tangy goats cheese.
Then we head off to the Middle East with a white bean and roasted garlic dip, spiked with lemon and served with puffy flatbread.
I’m disappointed: the lemon is indiscernable and it’s altogether too bland for me, but Niki enthuses over the musky flavour.
Meanwhile, I’m off to Poland, courtesy of potato and goats cheese pierogi – a dumpling of unleavened dough, like a pasty-shaped pancake. The tart goats cheese stuffing contrasts nicely with sweet beetroot relish: a triumph, this one, though best eaten hot.