Spotlight On: Rafters
“The best way I can describe it is informal fine-dining, but done with that special sense of Sheffield hospitality,” Rafters co-owner Alistair Myers tells Exposed, as we take a seat with Chef Patron and fellow owner Tom Lawson in the Rafters creative hub – a space beneath the renowned restaurant where new ideas are formed and staff training sessions take place away from the day-to-day bustle upstairs.
A wall adjacent is filled by thought diagrams on effective service, food inspiration and maintaining the all-important culture of the restaurant. It is attention to details like these that keeps Rafters as one of the best dining destinations in the city, still at the top of its game a full 25 years after first opening its doors. Al and Tom, who first met at Rowley’s in Baslow, where Al worked as a GM for six years, before moving on together to the Devonshire Arms, Middle Handley, took over the award-winning venue back in 2013 and have worked hard not only to maintain its good name, but to develop, modernise and excel in every department.
Today, Rafters holds 2 AA Rosettes and listings in the Michelin Guide, Waitrose Good Food Guide and Harden’s Guide – Highly Recommended. Tom, who works at providing a progressive menu of small dishes which includes two sets of unique tasting experiences for meat-eaters and vegetarians, has himself won honours at the Acorn Awards and Best Young Chef at the Craft Guild of Chefs Awards. He puts the restaurant’s continued success down to the passion staff have towards to working at Rafters (just two people have left in five years and are still on good terms with the owners) and the dedication in providing a special experience for clientele. “We bend over backwards for all our customers, and love every minute of it. The staff want to be here; they want to drive and be the best. It’s a real unit. A chef of ours, Tom Baker, wanted to see a bit of the world and learn about the industry elsewhere, so we sent him over to Chicago to a Michelin-starred restaurant, paid for his flights, and he returned to share everything he’d picked up; it’s brought everyone’s game up another step.”
But the duo are keen not to let such accolades deter people because, as shines through in their laid-back, friendly personas, they are proof that fine-dining doesn’t have to be the stuffy, formal arrangement many people may think of – in fact, at Rafters, it’s anything but. “I want people to feel so comfortable they can take their shoes off – and that’s actually happened before!” says Al, who is also Sheffield’s only certified sommelier, nicely tying up the links between quality food, drink and service. “Wear whatever you feel relaxed in, come in shorts if you want, because to have the full Rafters experience you could be here for three or four hours. It doesn’t matter if you’re not sure about what’s on the menu or the wine list, that’s what we’re here for – it’s what we love talking to people about!”