The Old Vicarage lives up to its name and is in a pretty, country setting in the village of Ridgeway a few miles of Sheffield. It opened in 1987, and has held a Michelin star since 1999. Tessa Bramley is chef/owner, and uses many ingredients from the restaurant garden in her cooking. She did not have a conventional chef training, having been a lecturer in domestic science from 1963 to 1975, and having opened a previous restaurant in 1981.
The dining room seats up to 30 diners at one time, and there is a separate lounge for drinks and coffee. The menu was priced at £75 per person for three courses. The wine list was quite extensive, weighted heavily but not exclusively towards France, with around 600 labels in all. Sample wines included Chateau Fontereche Ville Vignes 2012 at £34 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £7 or so, Rolly-Gassmann Riesling 2009 at £50 for a wine that retails at £17, and Philippe Colin 2011 Chassagne Montrachet at £98 for a wine that will set you back £41 in a shop. There was plenty of choice at the high end too, such as Antinori Tignanello 1983 at £370 for a wine that you can find in a shop for £137.
A tray of nibbles comprised marinated olives, cheese straws, smoked salmon roulade, sun-dried tomato pastries and a beetroot and goat cheese macaron. The best of these were the delicate pastries and above all the excellent macaron, with well-balanced flavours (16/20 average). Bread was made from scratch in the kitchen, white rolls with soft texture and pleasingly bold salt content (16/20).
Scallops from the isle of Skye came with pancetta, bak choi, fennel, orange and tarragon salad and an orange dressing. The scallops could have been sweeter but were pleasant enough, cooked a touch longer than I would have chosen, but certainly not overcooked. The orange was a logical pairing to offset the scallops (15/20), Egg ravioli came with asparagus, Parmesan foam, girolles and oyster mushrooms, spinach, truffled mash with chives and gremolata. The pasta was delicate, the vegetables carefully cooked, the rich Parmesan nicely balanced by the asparagus (16/20).
Wild sea bass came with quail egg, asparagus, saffron braised fennel, spinach, cucumber, broad beans, grapes in fennel cream and red pepper on a bed of beurre blanc, with new potatoes on the side. There were an awful lot of elements to this dish, but the fish was fine if cooked a fraction long, the vegetables very good (15/20).
Fillet of Aberdeen Angus beef was supplied by a local farm, along with morels, Parmesan gnocchi, green cabbage, potato crisps and buttered carrots. The vegetables were very good, though the beef was some way beyond the medium rare requested. I noticed that the next table ordered their beef rare but it appeared medium, so this may be a recurring theme. However the meat had good flavour and the elements of the dish worked well together, the cabbage nicely balancing the meat (15/20).
For dessert, baked chocolate came with chocolate fudge sauce and creme anglaise. This was a good old fashioned-dish, the custard nicely made, the chocolate rich and enjoyable. This was not a dish at the cutting edge of restaurant fashion and all the better for that, rich and comforting (15/20). Pave of bitter chocolate came with hazelnut ganache, chocolate canneloni of chocolate mousse, praline ice cream and hazelnut sponge. This was excellent, the components carefully judged, the overall effect harmonious (16/20). Coffee was fine, a Sumatran brew made for the restaurant by a Sheffield coffee roaster. This came with nougat, a slice of nut loaf, chocolate truffle and a passion fruit macaron. These were fine except for the macaron, which was quite disappointing, the texture chewy and yet hard on the outside, the fruit flavour sadly lacking.
Service was well-meaning but inept. Dishes arrived at a leisurely pace, and our three-course meal took three and a half hours in all. Topping up of drinks was a distant dream, and our waiter could not remember the contents of any of our dishes to describe without referring back to the kitchen, let alone answer any questions about the dishes. I wondered whether it was his first night, but he had been working here for nine months - how hard is it to remember three dish descriptions?
This would all be mildly amusing until you consider the price point being charged. The bill came to £124 a head before tip, with pre dinner drinks and a far from expensive bottle of wine between us. A typical bill all in might be a little lower, but not much. These prices might raise eyebrows in central London, let alone for a place in the country near Sheffield. The food was good and the menu appealing, and I have no issues with this having a Michelin star on food quality alone, but it is certainly fully priced. My only other caveat is the service, which really needs a major upgrade; amateurish would be a kind description.