Now we had already visited The Milestone's sister restaurant The Wig & Pen last year and we were absolutely blown away. Food, environment and service were pretty much flawless and it was up there with my favourite meals of all time but before then I had seen the food produced under Ramsay's watchful eye on the small screen. The food put together by The Milestone's chefs looked brilliant and it sounded like a proper Sheffield restaurant using the best of local produce to produce distinctly northern dishes. At the same time I was just happy to hear that Sheffield had a good restaurant but sadly as I had just moved away from Sheffield to sunny Manchester I failed to give it a go until this last Easter Sunday. Expectations were high.
Location wise it's just outside of the city centre in the old red light district. This isn't as bad as it sounds as the area has certainly gone up market in recent years and actually the best boozers are to be found not on the friendly streets of West Street or even the almost trendy paving slabs of Division Street. No they are found off the beat and path and just round the corner from The Milestone is The Fat Cat, widely regarded as one of Sheffield's finest ale houses mainly as it sits in the shadow of Kelham Island Brewery. Both should be combined with a visit to the Milestone if you have time.
Easter Sunday was always going to be busy but even I was a little taken aback by the low level of rowdiness on the afternoon we visited. It seemed not only were the people of Sheffield using The Milestone as a venue for a lovely Easter tea but also as a launching pad for a pub crawl, a wise choice in both scenarios really and this was not to say it was unpleasant, it gave it a real buzz. The inside of the restaurant is really nice with plenty of natural light, a simple collection of wooden furniture (with not too many tables crammed in for once!) and a well stocked bar in the corner. A really nice versatile place that suits having a sit down dinner, a light lunch or even a beer and some nuts.
Menus were promptly delivered to our table and like The Wig & Pen I really like the fact that their menu is printed on rough recycled paper, as they use locally sourced produce their menu does change quite a lot on a regular basis. A good thing in my book. Again like The Wig & Pen they have a great deal on the menu which is two courses for £14 and three courses for £16.50, I don't think there are many decent restaurants that can offer this kind of value in Manchester, if there are please let me know!
For starters I went for Yorkshire field mushroom macaroni cheese with truffle, chives and rocket leaves. Macaroni cheese is my weakness, there are very few more satisfying dishes than mac n cheese and when done as a starter you can pack some real flavour in to it to get the mouth going. On this occasion the dish should have been called Yorkshire field mushroom macaroni with truffle, chives and rocket leaves. There was very little cheese to be found or cheese flavour. Now that should be a killer for me right there, I should have pushed it off the edge of the table, kicked my chair over and walked out but I did not. I stayed and I ate my pasta starter. It was lovely. Really nice. The mushrooms were the real stand out flavour and they tasted as if they had only left the comfort of the earth just moments before being cast in the pan with the pasta, so very very fresh. Chives and rocket are normally non events for me but again they were stand out flavours in this dish, adding to the freshness of the plate. The pasta was also nicely cooked. Probably a misleading name for a dish which could lead to some people being disappointed BUT ultimately it was bloody lovely and light .
Jules went for the salad of pickled Northumbrian heritage beats, goats cheese and truffle with pickled walnuts. It was a winner. Fresh and light were the key words again, the beets that you may have presumed would be at the centre of the dish were more subtle than that. The only criticism would be that the pickled walnuts didn't really have the whizz bang flavour of something that had been through the pickling process, they just tasted like walnuts. Aida chose to go with the Milestone black pudding fritter, pickled Northumbrian heritage beetroots, chorizo, lemon mayonnaise, confit garlic and breakfast radish. In hindsight this is the starter I should have been going with if I wanted a hefty starter, the slab of black pudding it arrived with could not have been mistaken for anything but the main event of that dish and I was lucky enough to get a taste, it packed a punch of flavour with a lovely texture inside and out. All of the starters were a real treat to look at it, lovely presentation but not overly organised. Natural.
Being a Sunday meant that the menu was dominated by three roast meat dishes. Of course I don't mind a menu being dominated by something I love, in fact I am absolutely for domination when this is the case but some people may feel it leaves little room for some of the more interesting dishes you might expect. In this case the other two options were fish of the day and the main portion of the almost cheeseless macaroni cheese.
I went for the braised shin of beef with the standard roast veg and obligatory Yorkshire pud. When I order a Sunday roast what I want is a lovely bit of meat with a bang on Yorkshire pudding, great roast vegetables and a gravy that can be drunk by the pint. I also want all of these elements in decent portions. If I feel like any of them are not up to scratch or I've been short changed on portions then I will quickly slip in to a coma of sadness as my hopes of a good roast are dashed. I was in luck here. All elements of the roast were bang on and in decent portions. The beef shin was particularly good and not something I normally go for. It managed to be delicate and rich and satisfying all at the same time. Like any good hunk of meat I was sad to see it go.
Jules and Aida both went for fish of the day (coley) with carrot puree sauteed new potatoes and spinach. It was a very simple dish but a real winner. The fish cooked really nicely and the carrot was full of flavour. Looked really good to me!
Probably a good place to mention that they've got a couple of good beers behind the bar including one from the soon to be world dominating BrewDog Brewery so if you don't have chance to visit any of the other local pubs you won't be hard done by. On top of that the staff knew what they were talking about when it came to choosing a beer, a rare and welcome bit of service in a restaurant. One gent who delivered some food went out of his way to ask about the Chimay I was sipping, lovely stuff.
I skipped dessert myself but Jules and Aida shared the tasting of new season forced Yorkshire rhubarb. Now then this was a really impressive dish that didn't give anything away with its description. It looked absolutely stunning as you can see from the picture below. Made up of a rhubarb mousse topped with a rhubarb jelly accompanied by a rhubarb ice cream sat on top of an oaty collection of biscuit crumbs. It was one of those desserts where you needed to get every bit of it on a fork and when you did it was sublime, this plate of food was a flash of brilliance in a meal of very good dishes. In a way this was the big butch brother of the rhubarb dessert we had at L'Enclume just a few months ago, it used almost the same flavour combinations just in a different guise and obviously leant more to The Milestone's clientele. It was brilliant apart from the very obvious issue that the jelly was way too firm, I laughed out loud as Jules attempted to take her first fork of the jelly/mousse stack and the jelly refused to break. The mousse was smushed in half. Smushed is a very technical word if you were wondering. Once the jelly was defeated it was absolutely fantastic.
I really really enjoyed my meal at The Milestone but I couldn't help feeling just a little bit disappointed. The food had been great, the service was super friendly and professional and I really liked the feel of the place so why did I feel disappointed when I compared it to the what should be its fledgling sister restaurant The Wig & Pen?
First of all there were some basic problems with the restaurant environment that might sound petty but actually show a lack of attention to detail that stops The Milestone from being as near as perfect like The Wig & Pen. For starters in my eye line from my seat I could see two things that weren't particularly great, both associated with the bar. One was the fact that straight in front of me somebody had left out a whacking great pile of paperwork and folders on the table opposite the bar. Not many people would be able to see this but I just thought why on earth would you leave those out? How long would it have taken to just grab those papers before service started and stick them in a back room or behind the bar. At the other end of the bar was the dumping ground for dirty glasses, of which there were many. They just never seemed to be dealt with and again this was at my eye level so I didn't have much else to look at apart from the perilously stacked dirty glasses, the bar and an extensive amount of paperwork. I am glad I was not the gent sat at the table just inches from these dirty glasses as I have no doubt I would have had to ask to move or left the restaurant very unhappy. Again it makes me think why wasn't another person stuck on the bar on what was always going to be a fully booked Easter Sunday?
Not normally something worth mentioning but the toilets were in a real state. In my humble opinion they hadn't been cleaned in some time, there was a build of dirt and hair and basically it wasn't a nice experience to have to use them. I am not a man who is easily put off by a mucky toilet having used toilets in less developed countries than our own and living in student houses which again are less developed than your average household. The rest of the restaurant was absolutely gleaming including the ladies toilet and the kitchen which is fully visible when you walk upstairs so it just looked like somebody had missed it. Like I said all of that might sound petty but think of it this way if you were having guests over to your house for dinner would you leave all your tax returns out on the sideboard next to the dining table? Would you pick their glass up from the table and just shove it on the windowsill in front of them without cleaning it for the rest of the meal? Would you go to the effort of giving the loo a once over?
That said they are just niggles which took the shine off what was a great meal, they were frustrations more than anything. They won't be stopping me going back I can tell you that much. I am very happy that The Milestone have not rested on their laurels since their big TV win of 2010, I know quite a few Sheffield people who regularly visit and so I already know that they are consistently good. If the buzz on the day we visited was anything to go by The Milestone is a perfect counterpart to the more relaxed feeling of the Wig & Pen and because of that I know it's going to be a stopping point the next time I'm out and about in Sheffield visiting the ale houses.
Incidentally it was Gordon Ramsay that said Jamie Oliver is 'just a cook', 'a one pot wonder' and needs to 'lose a few pounds'.