MY wife had stirred disconsolately through her bowl of modgy fish chowder, so thick and full of overcooked potato you could stand a spoon up in it. “I feel like Jacques Cousteau: I’ve just found a piece of fish at last.”
Oh, I remember it well: One of our many Sunday Lunches That Went Wrong.
We are speeding towards one now and have high hopes but to pass the time reflect on some of the others we have had in the 25 years or so when I wrote about restaurants for a living instead of for fun, as here.
Sunday lunches were our special treat and usually chosen carefully. We regarded it as a perk for filing a review on time and never missing a single week. It was also compensation for giving up our day of rest (Wednesday or Friday night reviews didn’t seem so onerous) and it kept down the housekeeping bills.
So we would make sure we did the Peacock at Rowsley (country house hotel with famous guests, super food and Sunday newspapers by the fire) at least once every three years and preferably on a rainy winter Sunday. There were a few others like that, on a rota, but every now and again you had to take pot luck.
Wherever I went I almost inevitably had roast beef. My reasoning was that this was the dish most people would order, certainly the men, and Sunday isn’t a day to go experimental. My wife could explore the menu’s more exotic slopes.
That modge of a chowder was in an hotel dining room on the edge of Sheffield where the chef had unwisely bunked off in the middle of service to leave a trainee in charge. My roast beef wasn’t any better but the gravy was surprisingly good. I shan’t name the place because it’s still there but I will the Middlewood Hall Hotel, long deceased, like the chipolata served up with my daughter’s roast. It had been baked so hard she couldn’t get her knife through it so gave it to her mum. Mum couldn’t either so it was Pass the Sausage and my turn. It was Man versus Chipolata and I lost.
At another place, where customers piled their plates so high they looked like relief models of Mount Kilimanjaro with clouds around the top – oh no, they were cauliflower florets – the kitchen had burned an apple pie badly. The chef had tried to conceal the error, submerged under a sea of custard.
Sometimes we got it right but customers got it wrong. I trilled a hymn of praise to the rosy red beef and brown bread ice cream (in the days before it was retro) and the following week it was so inundated with customers they couldn’t cope. Diners hadn’t been reading my review closely. “My beef was undercooked,” one reader rang in, who liked his meat grey.
I went back some years later and the highlight of our visit was not the food but a diner who strode to the table in flat cap and Wellington boots. Well, it was in the countryside.
No one is wearing flat caps or Wellington boots at Peppercorn on Abbeydale Road South. We had meant to be a four but friends cried off so we kept the booking just for us. Now I have reviewed Sunday lunch on the blog here just over a year ago so I’ll keep it short. Chef-patron Charlie Curran and his wife Kelly had disappeared to Filey to relax before the Christmas rush leaving the kitchen in the capable hands of sous Dan Kidd.
It was notable for a starter I’d not seen before, oysters Kilpatrick. This comprised three rock oysters toped with cheddar cheese and bacon lardons, baked on hay. I think it’s Australian in origin and the cheese can be optional in most recipes I’ve seen. I liked it. Flavours were subtler than I expected, I didn’t get the briny blast you have with a raw oyster, so it’s not so much Margate, more Frinton. With light as a feather batter on my wife’s squid rings (“If my cheese soufflé is as light I’ll be pleased,” she said and she was) and up to the mark roast beef, we enjoyed ourselves.
#Peppercorn, 289 Abbeydale Road South, Sheffield S17 3LB. 0114 235 0101. Web: www.peppercorn-restaurant.co.uk