All Bar One has been a cornerstone of the city social scene since it first opened in the mid-1990s.
Back then it was a leader in its field: Sheffield’s first real cafe-bar; a stylish haunt for young professionals and undisputed champion of the after-work bar scene.
A couple of decades on, the buzz is still there, though there’s a lot more competition these days… Which is, presumably, why the national chain has just spent a small fortune on a ‘dramatic refurbishment’.
Actually, it’s not that dramatic. In fact we weren’t sure what had changed until we asked.
The cavernous room, with its big windows, exposed brickwork, long wooden bar and reclaimed floorboards, looks pretty much the same as it always has.
But the old station clock has gone, along with the old school benches and much of the character.
The place has been brought up to date with banquette seating, softer lighting and a backlit bar that displays some of the many wines to artistic effect.
There’s also a new cocktail bar, taking centre stage at the far end of the room.
“We’re very proud of our cocktail masterclasses,” says general manager Matt Foyster, who has been with the company for two years.
The idea is that groups can book a session (£20 per person) and bartenders will show them how to mix and muddle three of their favourite cocktails.
It’s bound to be a hot favourite for hen parties but fortunately the seats are vacant at 6.30pm on a Tuesday evening.
We choose a nearby curved banquette and settle down to people watch: it’s a top spot for that.
Over by the bar, Sheffield’s bright young things are getting into their stride as a group of suited business types flirt with well-heeled colleagues and girly laughter adds to the general hubbub.
One good thing about All Bar One is that you don’t need to elbow your way to the bar for a drink: it’s table service.
In the spirit of the new cocktail era, I order a Virgin Southside Vine (£2.70), a pleasant, fruity, alcohol-free mix of fresh mint and grapes with agave nectar and soda.
My companion asks for a glass of Spanish red (Tempranillo – £4.10).
“Could I interest you in a bottle of Brazilian white?” responds our waiter, who has clearly been on a company training course.
The drinks list is comprehensive: a range of around 70 wines is split into ‘classics’, ‘must try’ and ‘discovery’ recommendations.
There’s a choice of wine flights, from £7.55 for three 50ml snifters; more than 20 cocktails; a good range of soft drinks and various light ales and lagers.
But beer drinkers are out of luck, with not a real ale in sight, much less any of the local brews.
And, on this occasion, coffee drinkers are out of luck too. There’s a whole range of them on the menu, but the machine’s broken, we’re told.
Can’t they offer us anything at all, we ask? “Tea?” they suggest.
If this had been an independent, I imagine they might have got out the kettle and coffee grounds.
That’s the thing: All Bar One is very much a corporate operation.
Head chef Lee Henderson has been with the company for 18 years, but he doesn’t get a say in any of the food that’s served up.
“All Bar One is a national brand, with 50 sites across the UK… Our menu development and sourcing policies are managed by Mitchells & Butlers,” says the company PR woman.
“We want to attract the explorer type, someone who loves to try new things and discover the unexpected.”
Hmm… I think Sir Ranulph Fiennes might be a tad disappointed with meatballs, kebabs and burgers.
These are among the menu’s breakfast dishes, main courses and tapas-style ‘sharing plates’ from £4.50.
There’s also a set menu at £10 for two courses, available Sunday to Thursday.
We start with sharing plates in lieu of starters.
My salmon ceviche is delicious (if not particularly adventurous). Slivers of fish are seared in a tangy marinade of lime, garlic, red onion, chili and coriander, and served on a long dish with a wedge of lemon.
My companion’s humous duo comes in a set of dinky saucepans, with hunks of ciabatta, on the ubiquitous slate.
The classic recipe humous is good, with plenty of flavour and texture, but the smoky paprika and red pepper version is too oily.
“Are you ready for your mains now, folks?” asks our over-enthusiastic waiter while we’re only half way through.
Main course of chargrilled half-chicken is disappointing, served with mixed salad, colourful-but-tasteless mango coleslaw and piri piri sauce that tastes of bottled preservative.
My companion’s burger is better: a ‘handmade’ beef patty which has been chargrilled and served in a sesame brioche bun with pieces of pulled pork, melted applewood-smoked cheese, gherkin, dressed salad and tomato sauce with a bowl of skinny chips.
Desserts range from churros with chocolate sauce to summer berry and meringue mess. We opt for coffee… but I’ve already told you that sorry tale.
Two-course dinner for two, excluding drinks and service, is £32.50.
* All Bar One, Leopold Street, Sheffield (0114) 275 3423 All Bar One