THERE are storm clouds over Mrs Food and Drink. She’s just heard I’ve relegated her to the ‘second division’ of the menu.
We’re due at the revamped Beauchief Hotel on Abbeydale Road South after the short, unhappy reign of Christian Kent.
This famous watering place has been taken over by Thornbridge Brewery and chef Richard Smith, a man involved in a dozen restaurants, pubs and bars.
How long before Sheffield is renamed Smithfield, as Padstow is Padstein after TV chef Rick Stein’s empire?
I’m waiting for cartoonist Pete McKee to do a Where’s Smithy? version of Where’s Wally?
We’ve downloaded the menu. There’s Smith’s trademark fish and chips but not, so far, his Sheffield fish cake.
At the hotel we’re ushered into the lounge. It was once part of the dining area where last time I was nearly brained by a chair passed over my head to a couple imprisoned in the corner.
“Ah, World of Leather,” observes my wife. It is stuffed with perhaps one too many armchairs and sofas.
Table d’hote and (higher priced) a la carte menus have been jazzed up as classic and innovative. The classic is priced £6-£12-£6 according to the course, and the innovative is higher.
Each dish is described in the modern tendency with the main ingredient in capitals with a list of supplementaries. So: “SALMON £16, roasted with lightly curried dauphinoise, cucumber and coriander raita and a cauliflower and cumin pakora.”
That’s the trouble. The missus has got her eyes on the salmon but she can’t have it as it’s on my side of the menu which, by coincidence, is the more expensive.
She resigns herself to fish pie.
The couple chosen to bring the Beauchief back to the Eighties heyday – when manager Michel Limon charmed Sheffield’s smart set while head chef Adrian Machin sent out the tournedos Rossinis – are chef Charlie Curran and his partner Kelly Ware as manager.
They’ve come from the Samuel Fox gastro pub at Bradwell and Charlie’s one of telly chef Brian Turner’s old lads.
The petit fours arrive with our pre-dinner drinks: anchovy sticks, black pudding bon bons and chicken liver parfait.
“Two out of three I don’t eat,” says the missus. I fancy I hear a rumble of thunder.
I’m looking forward to the meal. I enjoyed Charlie’s cooking at the Fox and was planning a return visit when I’d heard he’d moved.
He cooked a terrific lamb dish there. He does it at the Beauchief, with knobs on.
After some gorgeous, chewy treacle and stout rolls (with Henderson’s butter) the starters arrive. Mine is pigeon (£7), slivers of smoked breast, either side of a sinuous S-shaped piece of Melba toast, with confit red onion and a walnut mayonnaise, the nuts ground and blended into the mayo.
The classic starter is mildly flavoured goats cheese mousse with mulled figs and hazelnuts. It looks like an oversized liquorice allsort, the mousse the white bit, topped with a layer of jelly from the mulled fig wine.
My wife is looking for her nuts. She can’t find them and nor can I. Much later we ask Charlie. They were reduced to a powder, it seems. Easily missed, then.
Innovative dishes range from the salmon at £16 to fillet of beef with cannelloni of cheek for £25. I steer a middle course with the lamb at £20.
If a dish could bleat, this would. The central feature is a compressed disc of high flavoured shredded lamb shoulder on an intense thyme jus. Because it’s the Beauchief two small pieces of roast canon (loin) of lamb are added. It’s a close call but the shoulder beats the loin for flavour.
There is a goats cheese mash, nothing too in-your-face, and Savoy, the leaves wrapped to make it look like a miniature cabbage. Gorgeous.
I look up to see how she is coping with the fish pie. Prawns, salmon, hake and unsmoked haddock in cream beneath silky, cheesy mash. What’s it like?
“Probably the best I’ve ever had.” Phew! That’s all right, then.
What’s not right is that Kelly told her there were no vegetables with her dish so she ordered a side dish for £3. Fish pie does come with veg so that was a waste of money. How many mange tout can one woman eat?
Also off-putting are the open salt and pepper pots. You have to trust the cleanliness of the previous diners’ fingers.
I sportingly offer my wife a choice of innovative desserts. “That’s because you want the custard tart on the traditional menu,” she retorts. She’s right. I’m a tart for egg custard.
My yardstick is Chatsworth’s. It’s nearly there but the custard could wobble more. Its nutmeg ice cream, though, is pretty good.
My wife has the lemon meringue (£7) because “it’s not going to be that simple.” It isn’t.
Soft, light-as-air meringue encloses a lemony filling, accompanied by a raspberry sorbet.
It’s been a lovely meal and, despite the odd grumble, Charlie shows every sign of putting the Beauchief back on the map.
You always had to have the loot to eat at the Beauchief and at £61 for food I feel prices could be shaved just a little.
Mrs Food and Drink approves and so too, I feel, would Monsieur Limon.
With drinks (good range of wines by the glass) and coffees we paid another £20.
The Dawes Verdict
161 Abbeydale Road South, Sheffield S7 2QW.
Tel: 0114 235 5100.
Open daily lunch and dinner (Sun lunch £24).
Large car park.