“Interesting opportunity,” said the auctioneers’ auction brochure of lot 23 which went under the hammer on April 23, 2013. And what an opportunity Tiina Carr has seized.
The old DHSS Peace Guest House, left derelict and an eyesore on Brocco Bank, Sheffield, for several years, has been transformed. It still takes paying guests but they now fork out quite a bit more as the premises have become Brocco on the Park, a chic boutique hotel.
When the hammer went down marketing consultant Tiina, making her first venture into the hospitality industry, had paid £294,000, slightly under the guide price, for the Edwardian villa where, it is rumoured, Picasso spent a night in 1950. He’d come to a Communist-organised international peace conference at the City Hall and drew his ubiquitous doves of peace.
Commentators have called the décor Scandinavian and the adjective which normally goes with this is ‘stark.’ Yet white walls, lots of glass and grey Lloyd Loom chairs don’t make for a cold or clinical look: it feels warm. Tiina has a sure touch with design. And judging by our two visits it’s very popular with ladies who lunch.
From my table I couldn’t see a single picture and thought this was deliberate but there were two around the corner. Tiina – there are two ‘i’s in her name – is still choosing them. Thankfully she hasn’t called the restaurant the Picasso (although you will spot bird motifs throughout the hotel).
It’s a bustling 44 cover restaurant in two rooms plus a terrace. We had booked for lunch for a second time and it proved to be highly enjoyable. There’s a partly open kitchen which adds to the theatre because you can watch head chef Leslie Buddington (last seen at the Curator’s House and Platillos) on pass.
Service runs smoothly but then the restaurant manager is Jenni MacKenzie, previously at the helm at the upmarket Peacock at Rowsley.
The slightly cautious menu changes four times a year, with daily specials, running lunch and evening. Lighter options include nibbly platters, flatbreads with fancy toppings and a goat’s cheese, kale and pumpkin tart. As for heavier dishes, Leslie must have a couple of deer in the freezer as there was venison cottage pie on my first visit, venison meatballs on my second.
There are a number of gluten-free dishes as Leslie is gluten intolerant. So that’s chickpea flour binding my excellent cauliflower and pistachio fritters spiked with cumin and chilli (£6), garnished with tiny pickled florets and soused sultanas. My wife has delicate beetroot-cured salmon on dill-flecked blinis (£7).
There’s more spice in my duck confit (£15) set against a smooth celeriac mash and sturdy red cabbage. Her fish pie special (£15) looks enormous but gets eaten. The mash is mixed with smoked cheese and the fish itself is tasty although it could have done with some salmon and the odd prawn to improve looks and texture. Sweet potato chips (£3) are more-ish.
Desserts at £6 are elegant from pastry chef Hugh: a ‘burnt custard’ or crème brulee with a whisper-thin crisp top and the shortest of shortbreads plus a dark, rich, intense chocolaty cheesecake.
Grumbles? Both our house wines, red and white, were a tad warm and perhaps breads should be offered with a meal that nears £30 a head for three courses. The cooking is adroit but dishes could be a little more adventurous to match the surroundings.
It’s a stylish venue with Sheffield charm. The place bills itself a neighbourhood restaurant and I’m glad it’s in mine.
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