IT OPENED nearly two years ago: a new landmark in the heart of the Kelham Island conservation area; dressed, polished and pointing in an exciting new direction for Sheffield pubs.
The Milestone bar and restaurant – once the old Ball Inn – is a monument to the city's industrial past, now enjoying a new lease of life as part of its cultural future. One of the city's first true gastro-pubs, it weathered the challenge of breaking new ground and emerged with a solid reputation and a distinctive character of its own.
That's not to say the business is unscathed. Matt Bigland, half of the founding partnership, is now on his own after his co-director returned to Canada earlier this year. Head chef Shaun Hopes too has gone his own way. But his place has been taken by sous chef Simon Ayres who is well versed in the Milestone's style.
Working closely with Matt, he has taken over the reins and kept the pub firmly on the road to success – they were shortlisted for both best pub and best restaurant in the recent Eat Sheffield awards.
Matt says: "The great thing about Simon is that he really enjoys food – taking a classic dish and giving it the famous Milestone twist. He has been with us since the beginning, so he understands the ethos of the Milestone and has played a key role, instilling these beliefs in the strong team he has built around him."
Overlooking an erstwhile cutlery works, now a smart city living complex, the pub oozes the kind of comfortable style that appeals both to young professionals and foodies of a certain age (no hints as to which category I come into).
Mellow woodwork, exposed brickwork and beams combine with clean, contemporary lines and subtle lighting to give a cool, urbane feel. The customers who gather here add a convivial buzz that's impossible to fake no matter how chic the decor.
Locally-sourced ingredients have taken on a new relevance in these determinedly eco-friendly times and the Milestone takes its responsibilities seriously. The chefs make their own pasta, ice cream, pickles and puddings; they bake bread fresh every day and even infuse their own spirits for unique Milestone cocktails.
Matt says: "We don't believe in buying products when we can make them ourselves, with full traceability."
And he promises that coming soon are the pub's own rare breed pigs, born and bred in Sheffield.
Two menus operate at the Milestone, both with a 'modern British' flavour. The ground-floor bar has its own extensive gastro menu, while upstairs the fine dining restaurant has a gourmet la carte. But fine dining need not mean budget busting. The management is currently offering a weekday Credit Crunch Special, with two courses for 18 or three for 22. And it's available in the bar as well as the restaurant.
The wine list is eclectic, including five house reds and five whites from 12.50 a bottle. There's also a good range of beers and an impressive cocktail menu for those who like the sweet stuff. But give me a glass or two of red any day; I can vouch for the Australian shiraz cabernet: rounded, fruity and eminently quaffable.
And so to dine… we cosy up at one of the scrubbed wood tables and peruse the brown paper menu by candle light. It makes for a pleasantly intimate atmosphere, but not for easy reading, necessitating a kind of tilt-and-squint maneouvre akin to a myopic librarian in a power cut.
The Credit Crunch Special offers a choice of five starters and six mains, ranging from lamb's liver barnaise or pumpkin and almond tortellini, to whole partridge, sea bream or deep-fried eggs in honey panks (I'm assuming this is a trendy alternative to 'pancakes' but it's a new one on me).
On the other hand, the gastro menu is so reasonably priced that we can take our pick from the extended selection and still spend less than 18 on two courses.
We start with eggs Benedict and roast pumpkin risotto. The eggs are a slight variation on the classic recipe, served on a crumpet rather than the traditional English muffin and topped with wilted spinach for good measure. But the grilled bacon, poached eggs and hollandaise sauce all demonstrate accuracy and skill and my drooling companion pronounces it 'perfect'.
Sadly, the same cannot be said of my risotto. It's a delicate sweet/savoury blend of pumpkin, sweet herbs, toasted seeds and arborio rice – and it's cooked al dente, as a good risotto should be. But the plate is cold, the food is lukewarm, and there's nothing less appetising than a dish of cold porridge when you've been anticipating the delights of a reputed gastro-pub.
Main courses arrive swiftly; service has improved since our last visit. We really want to try the bourguignon (cheek of beef, braised for 12 hours and served with garlic mash) but it's been a popular choice and Simon clearly doesn't have 12 hours to conjure up another batch.
Confit pork belly with honey roast root veg makes a worthy substitute. The meat is melt-in-the-mouth tender, with chunks of apple, pumpkin, new potatoes, carrots, rich home-made black pudding and a slick of apple and vanilla sauce. Redemption indeed!
Organic chicken stew is good too; not inspired, but tasty enough with its winter-warmer stock of onion, carrots, celery and potato. The crowning glory is a marvellously sticky herb dumpling that turns a pedestrian dish into a race winner.
We manage to find room for pudding – baked Alaska and a nice, gooey chocolate sponge - and finish our meal with coffee. Dinner for two, excluding wine and service, is 49.30.
Verdict: A Milestone well worth reaching. Gastro dishes at pub prices and surroundings that show off Sheffield at its atmospheric best.
Open: Monday-Saturday 11am-11pm, Sunday until 10.30pm.
The Milestone, 84 Green Lane at Ball Street, Sheffield 0114 2728327 www.the-milestone.co.uk
Food for Thought