We’re back at the Beauchief Hotel, Sheffield, for the third time in four years. This place has had more revivals than a West End musical.
My reviews go like this. I recall the heyday of the restaurant back in the Seventies and Eighties, what I like to call the Tournedos Rossini Years because that’s the kind of food posh then.
I praise the latest chef. I predict the return of former glories. And it doesn’t happen.
Getting things wrong never daunted a food critic so I confidently predict – fingers crossed – the latest incarnation under chef Jack Baker, who’s got his name on the restaurant, will be a hit.
It looked that way on our visit. The place was almost full on a Wednesday, putting the mockers on a fellow chef who hoped we wouldn’t be lonely.
Owners Thornbridge Brewery, in partnership with restaurateur Richard Smith, are trying again after Charlie Curran’s departure.
In Jack they’ve got the man who has opened or run more venues (Spice Market, Relish, Catch, Cricket Inn etc) than I’ve had hot dinners (almost). The restaurant, sub-titled the Great Northern Brasserie, has lots of thumping, diner-friendly classics (confit, calves liver, steaks, lamb shank) although it doesn’t stop Jack being tricksy here and there.
Because the Richard Smith Experience is so ubiquitous old favourites such as pies, fishcakes and fish and chips are confined to the set or bar menus. First impressions were excellent, staff giving a friendly welcome and being very informative about the menu. They’d not only been briefed on the ingredients, they’d eaten them.
The restaurant has two or three separate areas with picture windows. Although the River Sheaf runs just yards away you can’t see it. However, there was a puddle on the flat roof beneath.
The lack of tablecloths suggests a certain informality (although there are linen napkins) while the cutlery is Made in Sheffield, of course, Carr’s silver-plated.
All the starters are under £7 and probably the best way to sample them is by ordering one of the two sharing boards (£14) which give at least four selections and is extremely good value. Be warned, though, there is a lot to eat.
The stars of our house special were the cock-a-leekie terrine, a delightful confection of chicken, leeks and drunken prunes marinated in Armagnac, served with sage and onion toast, and a twist on Scotch egg.
Jack had rung the changes since its last appearance at Relish, when the soft boiled egg was wrapped in smoked haddock risotto. It is now covered in Finnan haddock without the rice. We weren’t sure that the accompanying curried leeks and naan bread really added to the dish although I get the culinary connection.
Also on the board were more soft boiled eggs, this time quails’ in a puff pastry case on a bed of spinach with mushroom duxelle. There were also good olives, a hazelnut salad and a slightly under-flavoured blue cheese soufflé.
A minor grumble: tables are too small for the number of dishes which come with a Jack Baker course and it’s not easy dividing a slice of terrine held together with a hope and a prayer (no gelatine).
That Wednesday was Jack’s night off. He was dining there with his family. He saw us and dived into the kitchen (under sous chef Greg Goodison) but probably would have done anyway as bosses Jim and Emma Harrison from Thornbridge were at another table.
You can still get a tournedos at the Beauchief although it’s made of aubergine with feta, on the vegetarian section. There’s also a short fish selection, roasts and grills and a slate of classics, from which we ate.
My dish of ox cheeks braised in Thornbridge ale (£13) was glorious, the meat rich, tender and melting, offset by a medley of button onions, new potatoes and very crispy bacon.
There was also an almost incinerated Yorkshire pudding and a little pan of stump, spiced-up mashed roots.
Flavours certainly weren’t muted. The kitchen can also do refined, as with the bouillabaisse. One might have hoped for something more exotic than cod and salmon along with the prawns and clams but the broth was heady and fragrant, helped along by a lively rouille. A friendly waiter advised we order fat chips (£2) to dunk in the stew.
Desserts are clever, a deconstructed Black Forest Gateau (chocolate kirsh fondant, interior gooey, cherries in chocolate, chocolate flakes and chocolate ice cream) and a lemon meringue pie in super-short crisp pastry.
There’s a lot going on at the Beauchief with private dining, bar food, afternoon teas and a Sunday carvery, justifying a brigade of 11 chefs. Jack says business is brisk and it’s cheaper than before.
He’s correct. Our bill for food, at £53, was a fiver cheaper than with Charlie. So that’s all right, Jack!