FATE has a knack of intervening at the most unexpected times, as acclaimed chef Charlie Curran discovered when the country inn he had lovingly nurtured was put up for sale by its owner.
But a devastating setback quickly turned into a golden opportunity – and Charlie is now embarking on the challenge of his career.
He and partner Kelly Ware had spent four years setting up the Samuel Fox Country Inn at Bradwell, earning it glowing reviews, two AA rosettes and a place in the Good Food Guide.
But the owner’s decision to sell up left them facing an uncertain future, until Sheffield-based BrewKitchen group stepped in.
The company, a joint venture between Richard Smith’s restaurant group and Thornbridge Brewery, had just taken over the landmark Beauchief hotel and was looking for suitable managers to run the restaurant, bar, hotel and function suite.
Charlie and Kelly were just the job – and they moved in at the start of this month.
It was a daunting prospect in many ways, with weddings and corporate events already booked, and problems with the previous owners leaving a lot of ground to make up. But Charlie and Kelly hit the ground running.
Decorators were called in to smarten up the restaurant and transform the basement into a stylish Cellar Door bar; work is now under way on the six letting rooms.
Kelly has recruited a new team of staff and begun training them in the standards of service expected in a boutique hotel.
Meanwhile Charlie has given full rein to his culinary flair, working with Richard Smith to create a menu that satisfies the imagination as well as the tastebuds.
It’s a clever blend of old and new, with a choice of five ‘classic’ and five ‘innovative’ dishes for each course. So the old favourites are there, along with some potential future paradigms.
Charlie knows his stuff. Trained in Leeds, he worked his way around the country, ending up at Brian Turner’s London restaurant where he was head chef for 18 months.
He headed back north 15 years ago, arriving in Sheffield where he helped to launch 543 in Ecclesall Road and the city-centre Leopold Hotel. When the chance arose to take on the Samuel Fox, he grabbed it.
“We put our life and soul into that place; we lived and breathed it,” says Kelly. “When we were told it was being put up for sale it was a real blow… but then this came along and it couldn’t have been more perfect.”
The Beauchief, originally Abbeydale Station Hotel, is an imposing Victorian building overlooking a busy crossroads. High ceilings and generous proportions remain but this latest lease of life has done away with the somewhat intimidating grandeur and introduced a contemporary chic.
The cellar bar is a cosy affair, all dark walls and old photos, while the restaurant has big windows, bold feature walls and crisp white napery. It’s vast, with room for 72 and another 16 in the private dining room, but the layout creates a series of more intimate spaces.
A black and white-clad waitress shows us to a window table. Service is willing, but lacks polish – a smile would be a good start.
The wine list is as well thought out as the menu, with bottles listed under descriptive headings. Prices start at £16, with more than 20 – including champagnes – available by the glass (from £3).
I’m happy with the house white, a zesty Italina Trebbiano Chardonnay, allowing my companion to indulge his penchant for Thornbridge Jaipur.
There are canapés – nuggets of aubergine, smoked pigeon and anchovy sticks – and then crusty rolls, hot from the oven, with classic oil and a deliciously innovative Henderson’s Relish butter.
My companion goes straight for the classic dishes: starting with silky chicken liver parfait, tangy pear chutney and brioche so soft that it cuts like cake.
I can’t resist something a bit different and tuna sashimi is certainly that. It’s cured rather than raw, with a flower-garnished Oriental salad and a long pillow of ginger and sesame marshmallow – fresh and faintly nutty, with a hot ginger after-kick.
Everything is beautifully presented: “A very wise chef once told me the first bite is always with the eye,” confides Charlie.
Main course of moist pork tenderloin is carved on to a bed of champ (mashed potato with spring onions) with a port-enriched gravy known as Reform Sauce.
My hake combines three dishes: a meaty crab ravioli and chilli-spiked saffron bourride topped with the fish fillet. It’s superb, let down only by the lack of a crisp skin.
It comes with bok choi, but the pork needs a side order of mixed veg.
Desserts sound too good to resist – this time both from the ‘innovative’ selection.
His liquorice iced parfait is rolled in frozen blackberries and served with iced crème frâiche and a helix of spun sugar – a dish inspired by old-fashioned Black Jacks, we’re told.
My chocolate mousse looks ordinary until our waitress appears to add the finishing flourish: a jug of hot caramel that sinks into the middle, turning it into a theatrical tour de force – rich, unctuous and gloriously sweet. Heaven on a plate!
We finish our meal with good coffee and petit fours. Dinner for two, excluding drinks and service, is £62.
lVerdict: A lucky twist of fate – both for The Beauchief and for restaurant enthusiasts.
lOpen: Daily 11am-5pm for snacks, à la carte 12-3pm and 5-10pm
The Beauchief, 161 Abbeydale Road South, Sheffield (0114) 235 5100 www.thebeauchief.com