Waggon and Horses pub landlord Simon Milner took a chance on a pub format that he really hated in order to be in place when something better came along - and now his gamble looks to have paid off.
The pub that stands on the edge of Millhouses Park on Abbeydale Road has had several incarnations in recent years.
Its last one was as a Flaming Grill, a ‘pile it high and sell it cheap’ pub steak menu format dreamed up by Greene King.
It’s proved a popular enough idea, especially because diners could save money with voucher offers.
I went in one weekend for a meal with my partner and his boys.
The place was dominated by huge TV screens showing sport and it felt depressing, a waste of a lovely building.
If you use good ingredients, chefs love itSimon Milner, landlord
The atmosphere couldn’t have been more different when I visited last Friday morning with my friend Janet to try the brunch menu.
The whole atmosphere has been lifted by a warm, elegantly comfortable country chic makeover, music was playing and the staff gave us a warm welcome.
Simon is a happy man, now that Sheffielder Kane Yeardley’s True North Brew Co has taken over and realised the pub’s potential.
From Dronfield, he has worked in many pubs in the Midlands and is also well known as a musician.
He is currently playing bass in a band called Faerground Accidents.
He said: “I worked for Greene King Spirit for eight years, all round the country for Flaming Grill.
“I knew it wouldn’t work here but when the opportunity came up to come up to the pub I took it because I knew something had to happen with it.”
Locals have been quick to notice the change and the first two weeks were very busy.
Not everyone is pleased that the deals have gone and food is now only served in the dining area, rather than everywhere.
Simon had to turn away diners who were disgruntled that you can’t order the food to eat in the bar or outside at the moment.
Simon explained that chef Rob Limmer and his team cook from scratch and that’s different to mass catering.
They are looking at providing a more limited bar menu that could fill the gap.
Rob has worked at Santino’s, Lover’s Leap in Stoney Middleton and for the Dente brothers.
He was head chef at the Cricket Inn, Totley .for two years.
He said: “It’s the quality of meat and veg I’m focusing on.
“Over the next couple of months the food will just get better.
“I’m sending the chefs out to forage for wild garlic!”
Rob is keen on provenance of food and sustainability where possible.
He is currently designing a light seasonal menu that will feature witch sole, a new ingredient that he loves.
Bubbling away in the kitchen is a vat of sourdough pizza starter that is used alongside top quality Italian tomatoes and mozzarella.
Rob said: “If you use good ingredients, chefs love it. They are enjoying using good produce.”
There was certainly plenty of good produce in evidence on our plates when we tried the brunch menu.
The only disappointment was that we were too early for the breakfast cocktails.
If you want a Bloody Mary or a mimosa, you have to wait until 10am.
Brunch is served from 8.30am to 4pm daily and thre’s also an evening menu.
We settled for fresh orange and apple juice and perused the menu. I opted for the full English from the classics section but there are also lighter and healthier choices, as well as sandwiches.
My plate was fairly groaning when it arrived.
There were country sausages, smoked streaky bacon, baked beans, black pudding, slow roast tomato, field mushroom, eggs how you like them (I had scrambled) and a slice of white buttered toast.
It was the perfect plateful, everything beautifully cooked and fresh.
Rob later told me that the meat is supplied by Owen Taylor, including the gorgeous, award-winning black pudding.
Janet got her eye on the waffles and was tempted by the idea of Sheffield gin-cured salmon (True North distil their own) but opted for maple-cured bacon and smashed avocado with eggs how you like them. She decided on scrambled as well.
The plate looked lovely, with proper waffles topped with the avocado and bacon and surrounded by a gorgeous, buttery Hollandaise sauce.
She was well pleased by both food and service. Me too.
Our bill, including three pots of tea, came to £26.90.
While I was talking to Rob and Simon after paying the bill, Rob was kind enough to give me a blueberry muffin straight out of the oven. Delicious.
Other pastries and cakes are supplied by Perfectionery and you can call in for tea or coffee.
Incidentally, the pub stocks a serious amount of gin, more than 30 varieties that are served up with the proper accompaniments.
Surprisingly, it’s not a tied house, so you’ll see other, mainly local, beers as well as True North’s own. Just don’t order a pint before 10am.