The answer was a Limon


The Beauchief Hotel

It really is the end of an era. The auction recently of the contents of Sheffield’s Beauchief Hotel, the once fashionable city watering hole which had as many comebacks as Frank Sinatra, left no one in doubt that its days were finally over.

Already a planning application has gone into the city council from owners Sheafbank Investments to turn the building into apartments and build more homes on the car park. An ageing building and changing times have put paid to a once thriving business.

In the Eighties and Nineties the Beauchief on Abbeydale Road South was one of the places to eat, drink and be seen: either in the restaurant or the bar. This was a time when there really wasn’t as much choice in Sheffield as there is now. But part of the glamour came from the French family Limon who spent 17 years at the helm: general manager Michel and his wife Edwige.

These were what I like to call the Tournedos Rossini years. The classic dish was on the menu. The head chef was Adrian Machin, who inspired a number of lads who became head chefs in their own right. And in summer the Limons added a Gallic touch by installing a Petanque terrain in the grounds.

The family arrived in 1979 and left in 1997 when Michel was asked to become general manager of owners Whitbread’s London conference and banqueting centre, a prestigious job.

The Beauchief was originally the Abbeydale Station Hotel, serving the LMS station of the same name which opened in 1870, closing in 1961.

Whitbread never got anyone as charismatic as Michel in the following years. I recall visiting the place several times to report on a new boss promising great times ahead. The hotel’s fortunes waned and the place was sold on.

In 2010 Christian Kent, who had worked in the kitchens as a 16-year-old commis before going on Claridges, the Savoy and returning to Sheffield to open the Blue Room, took over, promising some London glitz. It was not to be. It folded.

Nothing daunted, Sheffield-based Brewkitchen, a joint enterprise by local restaurateur Richard Smith and Jim Harrison of Thornbridge Brewery, moved in on All Fools Day 2012. Charlie Curran was the first head chef (later to run Peppercorn, now sold, just down the road), followed by Jack Baker. The place was rebranded under his name but the axe fell last year.

With hindsight, the bid to restore the hotel’s fortunes may have always been a losing battle. Fashions and passions chop and change in the hospitality industry and so it was with the Beauchief. It was of its time and place and shone for a decade or two through a particular set of circumstances. And one of the answers was a Limon.

Faux Gras, or ways with walnuts

Mushrooms, lentils and walnuts make a great pate

YOU can hardly hear yourself think these days for the noise of trendy young beardies jumping on the vegan bandwagon and boasting about their “plant-based” lifestyles. Since when did that perfectly adequate word ‘vegetarian’ drop out of fashion?

Some of we carnivores have been cooking vegetarian and vegan dishes for years only we didn’t make a noise about it or even realise meat was absent.

So hang on, I’m jumping on that wagon, if only temporarily. Here’s an old post on how to make walnut, lentil and mushroom pate. And as the trendies tuck into their highly processed fake meats and sausages, this, too, is fake.

It’s supposed to be the veggie answer to foie grass!

Writing about the Foie Gras Liberation Front the other day reminded me of a pate I made recently. I had been lured by a website’s promise that it was a vegetarian foie gras. You could call it faux gras! That proved to be rather a lot of hyperbole and wishful thinking but it did make for a very good pate.

It’s made from lentils, mushrooms and walnuts, of which I get a plentiful supply from my brother’s tree in Norfolk, so I gave it another go. I am trying to come up with every possible recipe using them.

The recipe is from David Lebovitch, a protégé of Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in California and can be found at while he credits it to Rebecca Leffler in her book Tres Green, Tres Green, Tres Chic. I don’t know whether he has adapted it although I have with his version.

I have cut down on the amount of walnuts simply because I got fed up with shelling and toasting them and I have added a few little extras like paprika and balsamic vinegar for ultra richness. I also doubled the amount of mushrooms. Once you have cooked your lentils it can be made in 30 minutes. Lebovitch recommends green lentils not Puy but I used the latter because I had a very much out of date packet! Just don’t use red lentils which go quickly to mush.

Lebovitch promises a smooth texture but my cheap food processor couldn’t give me that and the slightly grainy finish is appealing.

200g mushrooms, sliced
Small onion or shallot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic
170g uncooked green, brown or Puy lentils
70g shelled walnuts, toasted
2tbsp butter
2tbsp olive oil
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon thick soy sauce (kekap manis)
Plenty of herbs: I used sage, thyme, rosemary, bay and celery leaves
2 teaspoons brandy (optional but advisable)
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
Pinch of cayenne
Big pinch of paprika, sweet or smoked

1 tsp ground mace

Cook your lentils without salt and drain. Toast the walnuts. Gently fry the onion and garlic in the oil and butter and after five minutes add the sliced mushrooms. I just trim the stalks and use them as well: no point in waste. Season. Cover the pan because the cooking juices add moisture when processing. I used half the herbs while frying.

Blitz the nuts first to small grains and then add the lentils, blitz some more, then the mushrooms, rest of the herbs and the rest of the ingredients.

Taste and adjust to your liking: perhaps adding more herbs, salt or lemon juice or, if you’re feeling flush, more brandy. Scrape out into pots. It’s ready to eat immediately but will1. keep, covered, in the fridge for a week. It also freezes.

I made this for hardly much more than a quid as I had all the other ingredients. If walnuts are not your thing you could try pecan or cashews although I haven’t.

This recipe contains plenty of fibre so you’ll want to use it regularly!

The main ingredients

Foie gras, faux pas?


Foie gras from Fortnum & Mason

The news the other week that animal rights activists had targeted a Norfolk restaurant for including foie gras on its menu seemed all too familiar. They won the day. After menacing phone calls and fake bookings owner-chef Mark Dixon backed down.

I say all too familiar because we had a spate of that in the Sheffield area a few years back. In 2006 a group of vegan activists picketed Rafters on Oakbrook Road, then run by Marcus Lane. Unmoved, he was quite content to let them be: after all, everyone has a right to protest but he sent down a bar of soap so, he said, they could at least be clean and tidy outside his restaurant.

The following year I reported in the Sheffield Star that the Blue Room Brasserie, under Christian Kent, was in the line of fire. He felt discretion was the better part of valour.

In 2008 the Showroom’s restaurant was in the group’s sights but the explanation seemed to be that it had been a menu drawn up for a private party and left as an example on the website. This group was busy Googling ‘Sheffield’ and ‘foie gras’ because Moran’s, on Abbeydale Road South, also got a call. It had, said owner Bryan Moran, been on an old menu and wasn’t now and he refused to sign an undertaking not to serve it again.

As The Star’s food writer and restaurant critic I documented all this. My last story on the subject, before I retired, was about the now deceased Kitchen on Ecclesall Road which, in 2010, scored a double whammy as far as vegans were concerned: on the menu was a veal burger topped with foie gras. The owner worriedly took it off when the calls started coming.

What happened in some cases was that foie gras went ‘under the counter’ and did not appear on menus.

I have not heard of anything untoward since from the people I dubbed the Foie Gras Liberation Front but I do know of several restaurants in the area which serve it from time to time. In at least one case, it is ethically sourced. If you do buy it, don’t get it from Eastern Europe. This article is not the place for the pros and cons of enlarged goose or duck liver but it can be produced humanely. The livers don’t grow as big because the birds are left to eat naturally and greedily. And, of course, it’s much more expensive.

Of course, for vegans, all meat is murder. They are entitled to their view but they are not entitled to impose it on others. And their tactics are cowardly: threatening letters and phone calls, fake bookings and vague threats of worse to come. On one of their websites one contributor pointed out menacingly that the Nottinghamshire restaurant under threat was down an ill-lit county road. Restaurants are easy targets. Foie gras is served up in restaurants where ‘posh people’ go so, and posh people are fair game. In fact, they’re probably Tories.

I note they do not picket Indian restaurants for there are many of us uneasy about the production of halal meat. If they did they would almost certainly get beaten up.

Everyone must make their choice. I eat foie gras (when I get the chance). I try and eat halal meat as little as possible. I won’t eat frog’s legs because they might come from Indonesia where they are still alive when sliced in half then tossed on a pile, taking ages to die.

Selling and serving foie gras is legal in this country (and again in California). So is halal meat. And frog’s legs. Some people will eat it, others won’t. These activists can make their point but anything else is just plain nasty.

The chippy comes home


Bruce Payne busy at the Market Chippy

“Haddock!” bellows an assistant at the counter of the Market Chippy in Sheffield’s Moor Market. “Haddock!” she calls again across the sea of tables outside the row of takeaways which run in a right angle from the Sania Grill Bar to Sallie’s. An arm goes up, waves and she takes a tray across.

I’m on a piscatorial pilgrimage. My family have long been fans of Seafayre, the restaurant cum takeaway in Charles Street, Sheffield, and mourned when it closed just before last Christmas. But boss Bruce Payne and his wife Helen promised they would be frying again in the market from February. And so they have.

“For us it’s a bit like coming home,” says Bruce, reminding me that he started out as a market trader, running the Castle Chippy at the now demolished Castle Market and only opened Seafayre because he objected to the rents in the new market. Something must have changed.

“There’s a lot less stress and we’ve simplified the menu. I take my hat off to people who run restaurants,” beams Bruce, tipping another bucket of chips into the range. Some of his old customers from Charles Street, like the lady in red patiently waiting for her order with me at the counter, have followed him across, as well as others from Castle Chippy days.

Obviously it’s a lot cheaper: cod is £2.80 and there’s haddock and plaice to order, chips are £1.20 and mushy peas 70p, and there are fishcakes, rissoles, roe and sausage.

But instead of the relative luxury of the restaurant with its friendly waitresses who brought dishes of ketchup, mayonnaise and tartare sauce and gave the kids a sweetie when you paid the bill, you have to find a table if you don’t plan to walk out with your dinner in a Styrofoam box. There are plates, paper, although the cutlery is real, not plastic.

No matter, it is just as good as I remember. The cod is generous and the batter is superb:  crispy with a touch of salt on the tongue, crunchy and rippling like waves over the fish. It’s an old family recipe – Bruce married into the Pearces, who have chippies across Sheffield – but is hardly a secret, just flour, water and salt. No beer, no carbonated fizz or baking soda. And no proprietory mix! Bruce looks hurt at the implication. The chips are firmish, just going on soft in that chip shop way. I eat it all down to the last mushy pea.

I present my compliments to Bruce. It’s been a lovely lunch. “We’re keeping it simple. It is what it is – a chippy in the market,” he says.

Strutty Rutty


Pil Pil Gambas or prawn cocktail, oriental style

I bring the post in from the mat as I walk into the Rutland Arms on Brown Street, Sheffield. The A-board advertising the pub’s excellent food and beers is still stacked inside the porch. It is 12.30pm and it seems I am the first in.

But already one of the seven dishes on the specials board has ‘sold out’ written across it. I won’t be having the braised lamb, then. Instead, after ordering a half pint of the excellent local Blue Bee Brewery’s Reet Pale Ale I go for the roast cod on squid ink risotto. After coming back from the kitchen the barmaid puts ‘sold out’ on that, too.

Now as I sit by the window I’m making a shrewd guess that head chef Richard Storer has taken Wednesday as his day off. Drat. It’s the second time I’ve missed him. On my first I learned from his tweet that he was away so changed my plans to discover the excellent Trippets Lounge Bar.

I’ve been following Richard, who tweets as Chef Rico, for some time. He chunters and grumbles away at life as he sees it both sides of the kitchen door. Apparently he’d like to kill people who say ‘I am a bit of a foodie,’ and sighs theatrically that he’s just ‘a sub-human stove monkey, a thicko pub chef.’


Roast cod, squid ink risotto

Not that you’d get that impression from his Twitter account, full of tempting and inventive dishes, hardly what you might expect from a thicko pub chef. But perhaps a whiff of aggression. His blog, Not Another Sodding Food Blog, has the web address

I’d spotted him in the photo with the review last year by Ellen Beardmore in the Sheffield Telegraph. There’s lots of hair. I got a mental image of a chef coming out of the cave in The Flintstones growling ‘Who complained about the mammoth?’ He tweeted (approvingly) about Ellen’s choice of food before realising who she was and told her he wanted to cook like a French housewife in the Fifties.

The pub soon busies up. I was last here in 2006 when the then head chef, Paul Hil, offered a nifty calves liver and ham hock fritters. On the fringe of the artistic quarter, it’s always been inventive.

I take in the studiedly slightly shabby surroundings. No wallspace has been left free of pictures, posters, blackboards, beer mats and notices. Where one piece of wall is worryingly clear someone has drawn a stick man with a speech bubble: ‘Chip butty please.’ The Rutland is famous for the Slutty Rutty Butty, bacon, chips and cheese.

I go first for a spin on gambas pil pil, prawns in chilli and garlic (£4.75), with an oriental twist. There are fat, meaty deveined prawns in, according to the blackboard, a combination of sauces, the Chinese XO seafood sauce and Japanese Ponzo, both of which are made from scallops. It’s been tricked up with smoked paprika.

The result is a little stunner of a dish, served on a bed of posh leaves with some classy olives. I like the smoky, sticky richness of the sauces coating the prawns. An oriental prawn cocktail perhaps but that sauce knocks spots off Marie Rose.

The best component of the cod dish (£9.50) is the risotto, quite gorgeous, inky black with mushrooms, soft and unctuous (I’m using the culinary, not perjorative, sense of the word): think soft and yielding, tender grains of rice. It’s circled by a slightly too acidic tomato sauce.

The fish? Hey ho, it was the last cod on the block, wasn’t it?, a little dry on the outside, decent enough but rather less than sparkling.

I should have stopped for dessert but had to get away. I hear they, too, are good. The Rutland struts its stuff.

68 Brown Street, Sheffield S1BS. Tel: 0114 272 9003. Web:


The Rutland Arms on Brown Street