To start with I should tell you that two of us were given a free meal in return for this review but these are still my real and honest opinions.
The dining scene in Sheffield is coming on in leaps and bounds at the moment, not just in terms of the quantity and quality of new places to eat, but also in the number of different kinds of cuisines on offer. In the last few months I’ve eaten excellent Korean, Ethiopian and Portuguese food, all of which were quite hard to find in our city just a short while ago. And now we can add Romanian cuisine to the list of exciting new arrivals…
The Vlad (formerly The Sfinx) (Intermediate A), 539 Attercliffe Road, Sheffield S9 3RA, +44 114 244 3123, www.sfinxrestaurant.co.uk
Tucked away in deepest darkest Attercliffe, this hidden gem is virtually unknown to most people outside of the local Romanian community. It’s on the main strip, opposite La Chambre, but you can easily park round the back on Kimberley Street.
The Vlad is owned and run by Adrian and his wife Camelia, both of whom are from Transylvania, the central region of Romania. The restaurant takes its (former_ name from a famous rock formation in a national park in the nearby Bucegi Mountains that bears a resemblance to the famous Egyptian Sfinx.
The dishes on their menu are taken from all over Romania but Adrian and Camelia give them their own personal touches. In turn Romanian food has been greatly influenced by a number of neighbouring cuisines but has interpreted each of them its own way. From the north-west, influences have come from Germany, Austria and Hungary, and to the north-east, from Poland, Ukraine, and Russia, while to the south you have Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. While Romanians share many common foods with these countries they have also developed their own distinctive cuisine.
Although I’ve never been to Romania, I have been to Moldova which was once a part of its larger neighbour so I have some knowledge of its food and wine as they are very similar (my Moldova posts are here).
On arrival I slaked my thirst with a bottle of Ciucaş Export (4.6%). It’s a slightly sweet beer, with hints of roasted malt and flavoured hops, made with spring water from the Ciucaş Mountains between Transylvania and Bucharest. It was a little too sweet for me but it’s still a nice beer.
We began with the delicious Sharing Platter. Starting clockwise from top left this included Salată Muraturi, a traditional pickled salad with green tomatoes, gherkins, sweet pepper, carrots and cabbage. You either love pickles or you don’t, personally I’m a big fan. Continuing to the right; Ouă Umplute (devilled eggs filled with chicken liver pate, served with lambs lettuce), some black olives, ‘winter salad’ (roasted aubergines and peppers, onions, mushrooms and beans), Salată de Vinete (roasted aubergines blended with chopped onions and mayonnaise, served with sliced tomatoes and Pâine, fresh bread). Finally, bottom left are some Sarmale; cabbage rolls stuffed with seasoned ground pork, bacon and pickled cabbage, and some cubes of fried cornbread served with sour cream and chilli pepper.
Sarmale are my most favourite Romanian dish. They are probably a take on Greek stuffed vine leaves but personally I prefer the Romanian version. At the Vlad they can be served as a starter (two rolls) or as a main (four rolls). I strongly advise you to get at least two per person.
I added on the bowl of Ciorbă de Burtă as an extra starter. Adrian was a bit surprised that I finished it so quickly, given that it’s a soup made with cow stomach parts. It’s true that it’s not a dish most Brits would usually go for but personally I adore tripe when it’s cooked as well as it is here. The soup is a deep and flavourful stock with small strips of tripe settling at the bottom. I agree with Adrian’s observation that the tripe has a very similar texture to squid. The soup is served with separate pots of garlic and chilli sauces on the side both of which I emptied into the bowl. I can totally understand why it’s one of the most popular dishes with Romanian customers.
Moving on to the mains, we got to try a selection of meat stews. We really enjoyed the Gulaş Unguresc, which is of course the Hungarian national dish but is also very traditional in Romania. Also good was the Tachitura Românescă, a Romanian stew which is a mixture of chopped pork, chicken breast, Romanian sausages, mushooms and tomato sauce, served with a topping of polenta, fried egg and Brinza cheese.
Our favourite though was the Ficătei de Pui Prăjiti in Ceapă; chicken livers fried with sliced onions. This went well with the Cartofi Piure Cremosi; creamy mashed potatoes.
After the Sarmale, my second favourite dish was the Ceafă de Porc la Grătar, a chargrilled pork collar steak, (the juiciest cut according to Adrian) which had spent some time in the restaurant’s secret marinade. It’s pretty much unmissable I’d say.
Also nice were the Mici la Grătarl they came with; minced meat rolls reminiscent of koftas, made from a mixture of beef, lamb and pork with spices and served with a dipping sauce of Romanian mustard and mayonnaise.
At this point I feel I need to say that although our selections were very meat heavy, there are two or three vegetarian options for both starters and mains on the menu. Romania has a surprising number of vegan and vegetarian dishes due to their long tradition of fasting for Lent. The menu features many dishes with beans, wild mushrooms and other kinds of veg and for dessert there are vegan pancakes with jam.
Happily Romania also has a long wine making tradition and we really enjoyed all the ones we tasted. Adrian started us off with a glass of Fetească Neagră, a Merlot blend de Ceptura, demise DOC Dealu Mare, Crama Ceptura. Jokingly Adrian said that he had inherited a love of this table wine from his father, much as you would a football team!
After this we moved up a notch to a really nice Moldovan wine; Rara Neagră, a 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon from Bostavan www.bostavan.md.
The best though was a Reserve Sec by Budureasca called ‘Origini’ from the DOC Dealu Mare, which was a blend of Shiraz (50%), Cabernet Sauvigno (34%) and Merlot (16%) www.budureasca.ro.
To finish we had the classic dessert of Papanasi, also known as papanash, which are sweet doughnuts made with cream. Here they are served with yet more whipped cream and drizzled with a loose, homemade, wild berry jam. They weren’t as sweet as I expected them to be (a good thing) and in fact one mouthful tasted slightly savoury to me, but that changed when I slathered a bit more cream and jam on it. A perfect ending to a great meal.
In Moldova I would have finished with one of their excellent brandies but I didn’t want to take the mickey as I wasn’t paying! They have a likely looking bottle on the shelf though.
So for me the Vlad is a great new addition to the Sheffield dining scene. I have no hesitation in recommending the food there to anyone, carnivore or vegan, adventurous or not, and there are also plenty of new experiences for wine lovers. And if one of your party isn’t in the mood for trying something new, they do pizza as well. What’s not to like?