They say less is more. The Milestone at Kelham Island should take heed, says Amanda Wragg.
It’s won any number of gongs. My fellow reviewers have raved. Gordon Ramsay chose it as one of his Best Restaurants in 2012. I really REALLY want to like it; after all, it’s in my home town, in a great location and looks brilliant outside and in. So why have I come away underwhelmed?
Kelham, once one of the industrial heartlands of the city has been re-invented as a cool quarter; chic apartments, named after famous bridges (Clifton, Rialto, Brooklyn, as steel from here contributed to the making of them) have been colonised by well-heeled urban types. The much-lauded Fat Cat pub is a magnet for real ale aficionados and the Kelham Island Brewery goes from strength to strength.
The Milestone (formerly The Ball Inn) was the watering hole for steel workers from the mid-1800s (and, according to Ramsay, once known as “pimp corner” for reasons I probably don’t need to go into). It’s a handsome pub close to the monumental, but sadly disused Grade II* listed Green Lane Works, once known world-wide for the manufacture of bronze fenders. Kelham is Sheffield at its atmospheric best, and the Milestone draws you in.
Inside, it’s all muted tones and a smattering of exposed brickwork. The vibe is predominantly urbane, the lines clean and contemporary. It’s elegant in a post-industrial sort of way. Much like the menu, printed on brown wrapping paper, which has us warbling “rain drops on roses and whiskers on kittens ...” (You have to be over a certain age to make any sense of that).
We forgo a forced Yorkshire rhubarb Bellini, epic as it sounds, for the more mundane bread and dripping, which I was brought up on, my grandmother slathering great doorstops of bread with thrombosis-inducing salty fat. Didn’t do me any harm etc. The plate put before us is a pretty decent second best, evidenced by the narrowing of arteries as we wolf it down. Chefs Luke French and Dan Carreras do a good job of traceability, and chuck in a spot of foraging, resulting in the likes of potato, wild garlic and nettle veloute, and Wye Valley asparagus, goats cheese, broad beans, ramsons and slow cooked egg. Slow cooked egg?
There are three of us, so we’re going to get a good idea what’s on offer. Annie starts with lamb breast, wild garlic panna cotta, asparagus and anchovies and says it’s a winner, though the anchovy’s got lost somewhere. It certainly looks nicely brought together, despite the panna cotta’s colour; institution green.
Alison’s hen egg, leeks, mushrooms, celeriac, truffle and tarragon tastes way better than it looks (it’s basically a brown sludge in the bottom of a huge white bowl) but my “Milestone Ploughman’s” is a whimsical folly. There’s a bit of a soggy sausage roll, a little heap of ham hock, some crumbs and a pile of powder. On a slate. I ask one of our hirsute hipster waiters what’s occurring and he talked me through it. Some of the crumbs are mature cheddar, some are dried chorizo and I think he said the powdered stuff was pork. It’s faffing for the sake of it. More importantly, it all tasted a bit so-whatish.
“Gastro Main Course Dishes” included pan-fried market fish (coley, an unfashionable, some would say bold ingredient, it being “poor man’s cod”) but it’s sustainable and here, beautifully cooked, spot on. It arrives with more wild garlic, butter beans, spuds and a dreamy broth. Slow-cooked beef shin and lentils is more dark gloop in acreage of porcelain but my, the depth of flavour can be measured in fathoms. Sticky, black, sweet, roasted carrots the perfect foil, along with a slick of creamy horseradish puree.
Service is brisk, bouncy, knowledgeable and friendly. There’s a “but” coming. The first time one of the waiters chirrups “ah, good choice,” it’s rather flattering. The second time it happens (different waiter, different course) I realise we’re the victims of policy. Note to whoever makes the policy; drop it. Particularly since I clearly didn’t make a good choice as my belly of pork was inedible.
This is particularly ironic as they make such a song and dance about pork. They’ve got their own pigs for heaven’s sake. The cut is tough and dry, the skin flaccid, the accompanying fondant potato a desiccated mound (more crumbs!) and a clumsy fat disc of chorizo thrown on like an afterthought. The waiter has one look at it, takes it back to the kitchen and off the bill without missing a beat.
The first time I ate at the Milestone, several years ago, dessert was crumble served in a toy copper pan. It was irritatingly twee but delicious. This time it’s just irritating. We order “A Tasting of Puddings”.
Some things arrive on another flaming slate and much of it is left, including the asparagus ice cream; there’s something on there called carrots and coffee. Guys, you’re trying too hard. There are clearly some seriously good skills in the kitchen but indulging in pyrotechnics has taken your eye off the ball. The prissy dishes don’t match the perfectly judged more rustic ones. Keep it simple. And ditch the “good choice” policy – you’ve been busted!
• The Milestone, 84 Green Lane at Ball Street, Kelham Island, Sheffield, S3 8SE. Food served Monday to Saturday, 11am–11 pm; Sunday, 11am to 4pm and 5pm to to 9.30pm. 0114 272 8327, www.the-milestone.co.uk
Food served Mon to Sat, 11am–11 pm; Sun, 11am to 4pm and 5pm to to 9.30pm.