It’s the chef who usually gets the credit for the success of a restaurant but it wasn’t always so. Until the rise of the celebrity chef it was the Maitre D, the man or woman front of house, who was the main attraction.
When one star rises another wanes. We seldom say Maitre D these days but we mustn’t underrate the importance of front of house. Being a ‘Meeter and Greeter’ doesn’t sound much but the tenor of the evening is very often established in the first few minutes.
A kitchen having a difficult time, or not quite up to scratch, can be saved from calamity by the right atmosphere in the dining room. Guests can be put in a friendly and forgiving frame of mind.
It works the other way, of course. Many a kitchen on the top of its form has been unwittingly sabotaged by actions out front. As the old saying goes, people might eat with their eyes first but it does no harm to get them in a good mood beforehand.
Get a good front of house and a good kitchen and things can sing, as they do at the Peacock, Cutthorpe (drive through Barlow and keep on going). I start my review by noting that the place is fronted by the genial Tim Treeby. Foodies will remember him from Thyme Café in Broomhill, the Inn at Troway and others in Richard Smith’s Sheffield restaurants group before he went off to the posh Cavendish Hotel in Baslow.
We are alerted to him by a man in a pub which didn’t do food that day. Our acquaintance recommended the Peacock’s ‘deconstructed fish pie’ and added, for good measure, the dining room was run “by that Scots bloke Tim from Thyme.”
That Scots bloke was on form. Head chef Andrew Clark was off that night so sous Jack Goodwin was in charge and the place, with its two dining rooms and around 70 covers, was busier than expected.
Tim slowed things down to the right pace, finding seats in the bar, bringing menus and drinks and promising a table in a while. Not just us, whom he knew. It was the same smooth operation with the next people in.
We’d never heard of the Peacock before the other night and nor had Tim until he was offered the job. He saw potential when he joined last August and I think he’s right. The place is pleasantly decorated, is in picturesque surroundings, has a nice class of customer, good beer (four real ales) aa menu which runs from traditional to inventive and friendly staff.
I’d got my eyes on the chicken with breast meat, confit leg, charred leek, mushroom ‘soil’ and rosti for £13 until Tim showed me the specials which included suet lamb pudding with chips, gravy and veg for a mere £9. When someone says pudding or pie I go weak at the knees.
But first an excellent pairing of escabeche mackerel, the flesh firm and meaty, coupled with mackerel parfait – think an extra smooth pate – in a stark black bowl. Great at £6 although I would have liked a little toast or bread. A pound more brought my wife a home cured citrous salmon with asparagus spears and parmesan.
I normally get grumpy when chefs ‘deconstruct’ dishes and my wife’s main was really a Not Fish Pie or Fish Not Pie but we knew what we were in for, Tim was all charm and it is a very popular choice. The ingredients were a perfect piece of seabass, some salmon, a scallop and a prawn with a deep-fried runny egg (well, Delia puts boiled egg in her fish pie) and a little pot of mash on the side, with a sauceboat full of creamy sauce. She loved it. It’s £15.
The suet pie was fine although the pastry was a tad dry but the filling substantial, with a rich, salty gravy on the side. Chips here are excellent and we had a portion of crisp, squeaky green vegetables on the side.
Dessert was shared: a vanilla panna cotta (£6) with the right amount of wobble and very crisp cubes of rhubarb.
Tim says Sunday lunches here are knock-out (well, he would, wouldn’t he?) so the Peacock caters for every day of the week. Well worth a visit.