It felt like the hottest day in living memory and, as temperatures nudged the 30-degrees mark in the middle of a Steel City heatwave, Sheffield was melting.
What better occasion, we mused, to try out Fire Pit BBQ, a new start-up on West Street which replaced a chicken takeaway and completed a hat-trick of barbecue restaurants in Sheffield, joining Smoke in the city centre and Red’s on Ecclesall Road.
Fire Pit underwent a £100,000 refurbishment prior to opening, and comparisons with Smoke and Red’s are obvious; both in terms of food, and decoration.
There’s a very clean feel to the place, with wooden tables, chairs and dividing walls in the booths complementing flashes of exposed brick.
But the overriding first impression upon entering is the size; compared to its sprawling barbecue cousins across the city, Fire Pit feels visibly narrower.
A mixture, joint-manager Jamie Rawson tells us later, of accident and design.
“We’re embracing being a small independent,” he says.
“A lot of the best venues, we feel, are an average size; any bigger, and we fear we’d lose the ambiance and the atmosphere of the place.”
It’s hard to vouch for that, given the place was almost empty when we visited, but no doubt the majority of Sheffield had their own barbecues out rather than relying on others and Jamie assures us business is growing steadily since the grand opening earlier this month.
The reasons are obvious. West Street’s footfall guarantees that the place will be seen, and a surge in popularity for barbecue restaurants should make it a viable venture. Of course, the food has to be up to scratch too and Jamie and Co. certainly delivered on that front.
The menu is deliberately simple and, noticeably, wasn’t exclusively aimed at barbecued-meat-lovers; something that jumped out at me on a recent visit to Smoke.
Fire Pit offers the obvious and usual steaks, ribs and burgers, with a pizza, salad and hot-dog menu too as well as classic starters. Thumbs up so far.
Our party of three shared two portions of dough balls, which tasted like sourdough despite no mention on the menu, and nachos with extra fiery beef chilli for what seemed a slightly expensive £9.90. Until they came; an almighty portion of nachos that appeared to be homemade, albeit lacking the kick promised by the ‘fiery’ tag.
Jamie later told us that the head chef, Matt Eggo, spent three weeks in Canada before Fire Pit launched, observing the techniques that have seen barbecue food take off in the country.
Matt, previously of Smoke and the Summerhouse in Dore, insists food is his ‘passion and his life’ and thinks Fire Pit will “take the smoke BBQ concept to another level”.
The steak – an 8oz fillet, served with onion rings, fries, truffle butter and grill garnish – certainly was a level above.
Brisket with burnt ends, apparently “cooked low and slow overnight” and accompanied by fries, onion rings, pickle and a choice of side, was finished on the restaurant’s firepit – although we missed out on the spectacle of witnessing it, owing to the restaurant’s layout.
Nevertheless, they went down well with my fellow barbecue fans; described as flavoursome, with that distinctive smoky texture that helped them melt in the mouth.
The three of us paid just shy of £90 for starters, mains, drinks and one dessert, with the brisket proving too filling for the other two. Jamie, who’s been with the company for 10 weeks, isn’t surprised the place is proving popular.
“It’s been tiring,” he smiled, “but it’s going well. We’ve had a good reception so far. Competition on West Street is fierce for all aspects of food and drink, and there’s already a bit of barbecue competition, but we’re building slowly and doing well.
“The owner’s always had an eye on opening a barbecue place; he’s quite health conscious, quite a big guy and likes meat, basically!
“We’re not competing directly with Smoke, but we can’t not compete really. I can throw my shoe from here and hit Smoke! But there’s no malice in the competition.”
Then, of course, there’s the other side of West Street – and another advantage of location.
“We open at 11am every day and on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, we serve until 2am,” Jamie added.
“It’s a smaller bar menu but we serve all the way through, so whenever you want a drink you can get food and vice-versa.
“West Street is very offer-orientated and geared towards students, but people of all ages want something a bit more relaxed.
“The music goes slightly louder but it’s not booming and the lights dim slightly, but we offer nice cocktails, nachos and stuff like that. It’s not a takeaway and a vodka Red Bull style place, people tend to come quite late and stay all the way through.
“We’ve all been there and done it, and occasionally still do it; go out to drink and that’s it. But sometimes there’s a social aspect to it.
“We don’t have a smoke machine or a disco, but we can still offer some decent food. And that’s important to us.”