Many a chef, fresh from his yeasty exertions, has invited me to taste his bread. It’s a fair test of a restaurant kitchen’s skill and ambition. They haven’t got much if they buy it in.
Never, though, has one lured me in like Charlie Curran with a website promise of a “sexy homemade white roll”.
But he’s right. It’s lying there coquettishly in the basket on the table at his new Peppercorn restaurant, all soft curves with a floury crust and an impish dimple in the top.
It’s a soft, chewy roll with a pliant feel and if I want a bit of spice – which I do – there’s a pat of Henderson’s Relish butter.
The boss of a model railway company once told me, with a knowing wink, that men like playing with toy trains because tracks have curves. If it’s curves you want you should see Charlie’s chicken.
The breast meat is rolled into three cylinders, there’s another for the ‘coq au vin terrine’ with it and a fifth for the fondant potato, as good as you’ll ever eat. If all potato dishes were like this I’d give up chips for life.
Charlie and his partner Kelly Ware have taken over Brian Moran’s award-winning Portakabin of a restaurant (a shoebox would be a kinder description) but resisted the temptation to turn Moran’s into Curran’s.
“I don’t like my name on a restaurant and it’s a bit too similar,” he says after our meal.
It’s a tough act to follow but Charlie has his own foodie fans, gathered in a career which has taken him from heading up TV chef’s Brian Turner’s London restaurant to running the kitchens at Sheffield’s Leopold Hotel, 543 on Ecclesall Road, Samuel Fox at Bradwell and the Beauchief Hotel, further up Abbeydale Road South.
Oddly, this last is missing from his website CV so we must draw our own conclusions.
At 42, this is his first place where he is the boss but he has opted for continuity from the previous regime. He’s kept on Brian’s brigade, under sous chef Daniel Kidd, and the £5-10-5 midweek menu alongside the slightly cautious à la carte.
The décor has changed, of course, but the Abigail’s Party-style room dividers are still there.
I begin well with the scallops with leeks and bacon (£9). There are three of them, sweet and precisely cooked, with shards of bacon and roundels of leek, the flavours held together with a lustrous cheese sauce.
I’m so impressed I ask him how he does it. It starts out as a cheesy potato mash, then is thinned down with white wine, butter and cream. Scrumptious.
The other starter, three tortellini filled with ham hock (£7) is pleasing but a little solid. The warm pasta is contrasted by the cold pea mousse and mustard cream sauce.
For mains I avoid the lamb with the slow braised shoulder because I’ve eaten it twice before although I thoroughly recommend it.
My chicken is £18, tasty and cylindrical. “I have this slight obsession with rolling things. The cheffy side of me comes out,” Charlie admits later.
The coq au vin terrine works well – he’s got a thing about terrines on this first menu, there’s another with mushrooms for the vegetarian option – wrapped in bacon and pressed.
You can mix and match across the menus here and my wife does, liking the sound of the £10 medley of fish in a cream sauce. It’s good, featuring hake, bass and sea bream in a light cream sauce, although not the kale and the crab the waitress promised but with potatoes which she didn’t.
Things are going well with our meal and the room, which can seat 55, is pretty full for a Wednesday. Dore is obviously turning out to look at its new chef and Kelly is beaming as she controls the floor.
The menu is written staccato-style with the main ingredient in a one word line with the rest listed underneath, so “Liquorice/ Iced parfait/ Blackcurrants.”
One is particularly enigmatic: “Pudding/ Traditionally served/ with custard.” It could be anything
It turns out to be the lightest of sponges topped with sweet pears and a proper custard and makes a good ending to my meal.
My wife stays on the midweek table d’hôte menu selecting a chocolate and coffee mousse (£5) in a glass with lots of chocolate fretwork. Both chocolate and coffee flavours come through clearly.
It’s early days but it is very promising. Music is so low you can thankfully hardly hear it. This restaurant doesn’t go in for frills – no tablecloths (paper napkins), no foams, no amuses – but does believe in decent sized portions, although vegetables are extra. And I reckon before too long people will be calling it Curran’s. We paid £58.95 for food, £9.65 for two large glasses of John Hattersley’s wines, including a very decent Cape sauvignon blanc, and £5 for coffees.
Peppercorn, 289 Abbeydale Road South, Dore, Sheffield S17 3lb. Tel: 0114 2350101. Open Tues-Sat eve and Sun lunch (from £18 two courses). Credit cards. Vegetarian option. Music. Licensed. Disabled access and toilet. Car park (free parking at Park and Ride next door). Web: www.peppercorn-restaurant.co.uk