Philippou family have been feeding South Yorkshire restaurant-goers for half a century.
It’s the most miserable weather on the most depressing day of the year - the Sunday before the end of the Christmas holidays...
Wet, windy and dark, the cold fingers of Monday morning dread are already tightening their grip, though it’s not yet 4pm.
We battled through driving rain to get to Venus in Dinnington with no idea what to expect.
Then we stepped inside.
Dickens’ Mr Pickwick himself couldn’t have created a more welcoming Christmas scene of ‘feasting and revelry, companionship and mutual goodwill’.
Nicely lit, cosy, warm and welcoming, it was the perfect antidote to the storm outside and festive enough to rekindle the last of the Christmas spirit.
No mean feat on January 3 and a great start to our late Sunday lunch - but this is a family-run restaurant with 50 years experience and restaurant know-how. They were booked solidly through December and are already fully booked for Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve 2016 - more of which later.
We were welcomed with a smile at the reception desk, offered seats in the bar and given menus to peruse over a drink, in my case a Sharp’s Wolf Rock ale – a Cornish brewery unheard of two years ago and now everywhere.
A waiter took our order in the bar and after a few minutes we were shown to our table among birthday and New Year parties and family outings.
We had come for the £17.95 three-course Sunday lunch and started with a seafood salad and a Greek salad.
Having pre-ordered, service is swift and friendly although there was a bit of a mix-up with water on the table - we asked but didn’t get until we asked again.
My seafood had smoked salmon on top of a rocket, tomato and cucumber salad with prawns, smoked mackerel and tuna with a spicy sweet chilli dressing. The fish is lovely, prawns tender, salmon full-flavoured, flakey tuna and though there wasn’t a lot of smoked mackerel it brought that big, smokey oiliness and all went well together.
My daughter Ellen’s salad had onions, rocket, cress and Feta cheese with a vinaigrette dressing. We also got a bread roll and butter each for a solid salad start.
For our main courses I chose the roast lamb Sunday lunch. Vegetarian Ellen had a choice of nut roast or mushroom stroganoff – she chose the nut roast.
My six thick slices of tender and tasty lamb came stacked and covered in good, rich gravy.
The silver service - each element of the meal served by hand from a serving dish by a waiter or waitress - seems quaint and old fashioned. I rather liked it but Ellen thought it a bit too much attention. Each to their own.
She wasn’t too keen on the nut roast either. I tasted it and agreed that the combination of savoury and sweet, that often works so well, was not really hitting the mark on this occasion.
I got some lovely roast potatoes but when I asked the waitress for an extra one she had to go back to the kitchen to ask if it was OK. Luckily it was.
The lamb and the nut roast also came with roast carrots and some gloriously caramelised roast parsnips, off-crunchy Brussels sprouts and I got a light and billowing Yorkshire pudding.
As Sunday lunches go there wasn’t a thing to question, doubt or improve with mine. Beautifully comforting stuff and very filling – though I obviously daren’t leave any roast potatoes...
Not that the Philippou family wouldn’t have seen someone with eyes bigger than their belly in half a century of running restaurants in South Yorkshire.
Venus is run by Costas Philippou, the son of Greek Cypriot Michael and his wife Sonia who ran the Venus Steakhouse on Pinstone Street in the city centre from 1964 to 1980. From there they took the Old Coach House on the Wicker before returning to Cyprus in 1988.
Costas grew up in Gleadless - with an immaculate Sheffield accent to prove it - and now he runs Venus in Dinnington and a fish restaurant, nightclub and bars in Mansfield.
“We went for the cosy, traditional pub feel in Dinnington,” explained 40-year-old Costas when I remarked on the friendly warmth of the restaurant.
“We have been in this area for a long time and we have had the place in Dinnington since we came back from Cyprus and took over the building from Dean’s in 1991.
“My dad came over here in 1964 at the age of 17 and ran his own restaurant. He has slowed down a bit now, though he still buys vegetables and things for the restaurant and he butchers the meat on the premises.
“We have a cold store and we hang it on the bone before butchering. It’s something Dean’s did and we carried it on. It has more flavour that way.”
I can vouch for that. We noticed, as we were eating, an extremely smart waiter with a mature and moustachioed air of authority as he patrolled the room.
“That would be my dad,” laughs Costas. “He likes to be around the place.”
And who could blame him for that – it’s a very nice place to be around. It brought warmth, cheer and good food on a day when none of those things come easy.
For three courses, half of beer, medium glass of wine and a diet coke our bill came to £43.60.
Star rating out of five:
* The Venus Restaurant, Falcon Square, Dinnington, S25 2PL, * Tel: 01909 562 455
* Booking advised.
* Category: Middle market