A bunch of Sunday lunches

IMG_0503 oysters kilpatrick at Peppercorn 19-11-2017 14-26-02 19-11-2017 14-26-02

hereOysters Kilpatrick at Peppercorn

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.

IMG_0507 roast beef at Peppercorn 19-11-2017 14-44-30

I always order the roast beef


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

Charlie’s on a roll at Peppercorn


The bread rolls look sexy at Peppercorn

Charlie and Kelly have sold their business to the Summer House next door and will close on Christmas Day. They’d taken bookings for this early in the year. They are keeping future plans close to their chests but have their eye on premises in Sheffield, although nothing has been signed yet. A recent ‘goodbye’ evening meal proved excellent, with main courses such as duck breast with hazelnuts, on a beef dripping potato cake, as well as an old favourite here, cod with Indian spices. Here’s a look back at a Sunday lunch a while ago.


I MAY have mentioned this before but head chef Charlie Curran makes the sexiest bread rolls in Sheffield: springy little spheres of warm dough with a dimple in the top, dusted with white flour. They just look nudge, nudge, wink, wink, food porn naughty.

 There are four of them on a slate at our table, two white, two wholemeal, with discs of butter, one yellow, one black, being flavoured with Henderson’s Relish. This does nothing for the butter but makes it Very Sheffield.

 The rolls regularly get an outing on his Twitter page which, as an amateur baker, makes me green with envy. I cannot get mine as temptingly curvy as Charlie’s. And they’re in the first picture which comes up for the restaurant on TripAdvisor. If  British Baker magazine ran a Page Three these little bread buns would be on it.

 We are at Peppercorn, the restaurant he runs with front of house soulmate Kelly Ware on Abbeydale Road South, Sheffield, for Sunday lunch. It is exactly three years to the day since my review of the place in the Sheffield Star, shortly after it opened. How spooky is that? Back then I raved about the cylindrical chicken (here ) and vowed that if all potato dishes were like his fondant spuds I’d give up chips for life. Sadly, it hasn’t happened.

 It was a five star meal then, even though it was early days, and it is a five star Sunday lunch which gets under way spectacularly with an exquisitely flavoured fish sausage of scallops and lobster, the shellfish in toothsome pieces within a finely minced filling on a bed of springy homemade squid ink linguine, bathed in a cheesy thermidor sauce. It’s a winner.


Fish boudin with squid ink linguine

 Apparently it’s the first one out the kitchen as a trial for the a la carte menu. The excellent pasta is made by sous chef Dan Kidd. Charlie ‘inherited’ Dan when he followed Brian Moran into the premises. Come to think about it, not the only catering Brian in his life. Years ago he worked for Brian Turner in London.

 My wife’s chicken liver pate with toasted brioche was also a little belter of a dish for richness and flavour.

 Now Sunday lunch is like fish and chips or a curry: you spend days looking forward to it and then, so often, the reality fails to live up to the anticipation. Not here.


Roast beef and Yorkshire Pudding

 There are three slices of tender beef, still pink and full of flavour, draped over four crunchy roast potatoes which taste as if they have just come out of the pan, not taken a turn in a deep fat fryer as I had recently. The gravy is made with the meat juices and there is a big, crispy Yorkshire Pudding. It is pretty close to Sunday lunch perfection.

 My wife, meanwhile, is enjoying the cod, a good piece accurately cooked on a bed of crushed potatoes with a simple, classic chive butter sauce. Vegetables come by the barrowload. Well almost. We count four dishes of cauliflower cheese, mashed swede and carrot, peas and beans and red cabbage. Surely people don’t get though all that?” They do,” says Charlie later.

We share a sweet, a properly wobbly pannacotta brave enough to be served out of the mould with berries and a strange green spongy sort of thing made to resemble woodland moss. “Wheatgrass,” says our waitress. It’s a novelty.

 It’s been a super meal with friendly, relaxed service. When Charlie comes out of the kitchen I compliment him on the rolls and the food. “I love baking,” he says and agrees that Sunday lunches have a different atmosphere in the kitchen. When everyone else has gone they’ll all sit down to their own Sunday lunch, chefs, servers and pot washer. I hope they enjoyed it as much as we did. Two courses cost £20, three for £25.

 We leave thinking that these premises, a low key building shaped like a shoebox, squeezed in between a Park & Ride car park and the Summer House, give little hint of the quality of cooking inside. But then he’s only keeping up with a tradition, following two fine chefs here, Cary Brown of Carriages and Brian Moran.

 Right now Charlie is on a roll in more ways than one.


Looking happy – Charlie Curran

 289 Abbeydale Road South, S17 3LB Sheffield. Web http://www.peppercorn-restaurant.co.uk





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.