It didn't bode well. Moran's shares an entrance with a bicycle shop and there's a sharp tang of bleach from the hybrids getting a hose-down as we pass. It's more of an assault-nez than amuse-bouche.
Inside the door, a heavily pregnant lady skitters past, her arms full of plates. Within seconds, she's back to show us to our table. Now that's what I call commitment. Turns out that she's Mrs Moran, the chef's wife no less, so has a vested interest in making this restaurant, tucked away in the suburban outskirts of Sheffield, noteworthy.
I always thought pregnant women had acutely sensitive noses, so quite why the door hasn't been shut on the disinfectant isn't clear. But our dark veneered table in the far corner is roomy, fragrance-free and gives us a perfect vantage point to see who comes out of the city on a Friday night. Moran's is full, and after a glance at the menu, it's easy to see why.
There are plenty of crowd-pleasers and substantial sounding dishes that present – if they work – good value for money. Well, several of the mains are around £18, a third of the cost of a night in Sheffield's Leopold, but I happen to think that's wildly under-priced for a boutique hotel.
Chef Bryan Moran has had four years here to hone his menu according to what his clientele want, and if tonight is anything to go by, the overwhelming favourite is meat and potatoes. Duck, steak, calves' liver, lamb and chicken make it on to the mains list, and there are only seven choices (veggies can make do with squash and asparagus – asparagus? – risotto). Everything save the risotto comes with mash or chips.
But first, starters. Venison, duck, rabbit or chicken livers. Eek, even the most carnivorous among us is shuffling in his seat. Mr M, though, goes for the double: chicken livers to start, followed by calves' liver. I'll have to make sure the Leopold has a defibrillator to hand. For me, monkfish "scampi" to start, then roast rump of lamb.
I can't abide the concept "classic with a twist" in anything: film, fashion or food. So scampi made of monkfish sets my teeth on edge before Mrs Moran even brings the plate – one of those nasty slate-style oblongs – but it's a crisp, meaty dish, if a little greasy. And if it doesn't really need both chilli jam and mango relish, then it's up to the diner not to double-dip. The livers are not smooth in the Italian style, but soft and subtle. Meanwhile, the serious, considered wine list has plenty of choice – we have a 2007 Fleurie at £20 that is a delight.
What to say about the main courses that doesn't sound patronising? I have rarely been given such a huge amount of food, and never south of Birmingham. Is it – dare I say – a northern thing? I find heaps of mash, a lake of jus and a tranche of meat that would feed four somewhat offputting. The meat is cooked with skill, the lamb as tender and fine-flavoured as you'd expect from the Derbyshire's fields and the calves' liver that wonderful combination of mineral tang and soft earthiness.
Our side orders of green beans with shallots, and carrots with pea shoots are, we realise too late, surplus to requirements, which is as well, as they have been prepared with a very heavy hand on the salt – in fact, when I consult my notes later I see I've written "Salt!" next to almost everything. It's lucky my mother taught me never to add seasoning until I've tasted my food.
Perhaps to offset the savoury onslaught – because I certainly have no real desire to eat more – I order "Snickers" parfait (frozen peanut parfait, caramel ice-cream and chocolate mousse). It might be witty, and looks pretty, but I end up eating just the parfait, which is coarsely textured and not too sweet. Mr M has a classic hot-chocolate fondant with pistachio ice-cream, which demonstrates that Bryan Moran has not made the mistake of countless Masterchef amateurs and overcooked it – the sticky lava flow is perfect.
If I were local and not just passing through, I'd go back to Moran's with a bigger appetite and a note to chef to go easy on the salt, because I like the convivial, haven't-we-done-well atmosphere, Sarah Moran's enthusiasm and her husband's way with a roasting pan. And if it hadn't closed for the night, I might have begged the shop next door for a bike to cycle back into the city, because I definitely had some calories to burn.
Scores: 1-3 stay home and cook, 4 needs help, 5 does the job, 6 flashes of promise, 7 good, 8 special, can't wait to go back, 9-10 as good as it gets
Moran's 289 Abbeydale Road South, Dore, Sheffield, tel: 0114 235 0101 Lunch, Weds-Sun; dinner, Tues-Sat. Around £75 for dinner for two including wine
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Beautiful dishes with complex flavours at this well-established suburban oasis, which boasts consistently high standards and excellent attention to detail
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A great night out draws many to this very French suburban bistro; the chef – who has been in situ for a quarter of a century – still achieves impressively consistent standards
Bistro La Barrique
225 Gloucester Road, Bristol, tel: 0117 944 5500
A genuine French place in the northern suburbs, where chef Michel Lemoine dishes up imaginative and seasonal petits-plats, with something of a Mediterranean twist
Reviews extracted from 'Harden's UK Restaurant Guide 2010'. www.hardens.comReuse content