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Review: The Milestone, Sheffield

Battered cockles

Battered cockles

Sheffield. Medium-big industrial city on the edge of the Peak District. I can report that the middle of Sheffield is really quite handsome, worthy of a few hours wandering. And that a twenty minute drive will have you among some of the most beautiful hills in England. Where it seems to fall a tad short is with good dining options, or certainly those that anyone has written about. We ended up at The Milestone, self-identifying as “Sheffield’s premier gastropub”.

It seems to be the linchpin of an industrial area around the old cutlery factories that is currently being regenerated and stocked with bars and more dining options. It’s a friendly place, with a stripped-back pub feel, although it’s certainly dedicated fully to dining these days. The atmosphere is buzzy, tables tucked in close together, but we didn’t feel squished. And they love gutsy flavours here.

Maureen started with battered cockles, marrowfat peas and tartare sauce. Battered cockles are exactly the crunchy/salty flavour bombs you expect them to be. My starter was a sticky chunk of treacle-glazed beef shin with burnt onion puree. Satisfying combo, though the bone marrow bonbon with it wasn’t a great idea; the deep-fried crunch overwhelmed the subtle goo within.

I went all out on soft & sticky with glazed pork jowl for mains. Meltingly soft cheek, good celeriac mash, and the bitter bite of braised chicory to cut through the gooey meat. Nice dish. Maureen’s beef brisket in a soy and peanut sauce was an oddity, served on noodles with a mixture of shredded veg and sesame dressing. But I am here to tell you that it ate very well, the sauce powerful but balanced, the toasted nutty taste working well with the soft beef. The beef perhaps a tad dry, to be fair.

Peanut beef

Peanut beef

Pud was claimed as Yorkshire Parkin but this was a throughly deconstructed affair. The parkin came in the form of shards of gingery biscuit, went very well with chocolate crumb and mocha gel, and the really brave – and delicious – black mushroom ice cream. A thoroughly funky and unashamedly mushroomy taste. I’m not sure the whole dessert was more than the sum of its parts, but I did like all the parts.

I can recommend The Milestone for dinner in Sheffield, though be ready for some thoroughly OTT flavours. At £29 for 3 courses it feels about right to me.

Parkin

Parkin

Review: Etch, Brighton

Etch

Etch

Etch is not in Brighton, it’s in the neighbouring town of Hove Actually. This is an old joke. Apparently if you made the mistake of asking a resident of Hove “Are you from Brighton?” then the reply would always come back “Hove, actually” and so the town adopted that name. The impression being that Hove is the posh part. Given the sky-rocketing house prices and mass immigration of London commuters over the past couple of decades, I don’t think the joke really works any more. And certainly Brighton central is where many of the recent exciting dining options have appeared. So, nice to find Etch at the very back-end of Hove.

It’s a really handsome dining room in an inky blue colour with burnt orange leather chairs and an open kitchen. The window booths look especially inviting. Service is also friendly and modern, with chef Steven Edwards clearing plates and checking in with diners while other chefs and waiters share the work in bringing dishes forth. The wine list is short and fairly decent.

We plumped for the 7 course tasting, and kicked off after the nibbles with a very splendid bread course (and good for them, they don’t count it towards the 7 even though it was awesome!). A glossy brown marmite brioche served with a spiky green seaweed butter and crispy seaweed. The salty/ozone of the seaweed just amped up the gently yeasty marmite perfectly. No idea what kind of late night fridge raid inspired this combination, but it’s magic.

Marmite bread

Marmite bread

After this, seven courses of pretty nifty cooking, with some great ideas, good combinations, pretty plating and satisfying flavours. There’s probably a tad of finesse still lacking in places but it’s all there. Among other things…

A neat piece of hake with crispy skin, scorched leek topped with fish roe, potato cream and a bonbon of the hake offcuts. The hake just a little more cooked through than it needed, the potato cream too creamy.

Quail breast rolled in parma ham and poached to a pretty pink with quail liver tucked in the middle – and it was that intense liver that brought it all to life, along with the earthy disk of roasted celeriac underneath. Nice. Nice quail samosa alongside, too.

Textures of onion and cauliflower were good, except for the two blobs of mayonnaise that overwhelmed the great vegetal flavours of the dish. The onion and cauli also didn’t make much attempt to come together.

Doesn’t matter, the main course was the star. Nicely pink roasted rump, punky jerusalem artichoke puree, a nice pongy lift from a wild garlic pesto, and a truly splendid jerusalem artichoke dauphinoise in the middle. Good, sticky gravy. Nice heap of wilted wild garlic for balance. The cigar of braised and shredded shin was a bit overpowered and on the dry side, but I’m picking holes in an excellent plate of food.

Beef and j-choke

Beef and j-choke

Nice set of textures in the main pud, too; a crumbly honey cake, gentle honey cheesecake in an admittedly under-flavoured orange gel, neat touches of burned honey and best of all a stunningly good burnt orange ice cream. I can’t really describe the flavour beyond “wow”.

Reading back, I feel like I’ve been critical. But we had a splendid lunch, and at £60 each before drinks I reckon we’re in the right ballpark. It was splendid because everything looked great, there’s a lovely atmosphere at work, and all the dishes worked well even if I could spot some room for improvement. So that’s basically a thumbs up.

Hake

Hake

Review: Yuzu, Manchester

Tempura

Tempura

Yuzu is a nice reminder of eating out in Japan. It’s small, three or four tables and a counter. Plainly furnished, bare wood. The menu is small too. And the food is all excellent, right down to the perfect rice with just a hint of vinegar.

There’s one tiny oddity that annoys me. If you’re sat at the counter, which most couples will be, then you eat with your face one foot from a wooden wall. You can’t see into the kitchen, the barrier is simply too high.

Leave that aside, and you’re in for a treat. We had lovely kara-age chicken with a tangy vinegary dipping sauce. Some splendid vegetable tempura, with a beautifully light and crisp batter, the veg cut expertly so that it was exactly the right level of al dente once fried. I haven’t had tempura this good since Japan. We have the black cod set for main course. The rice is good as mentioned, so is the miso soup. The black cod is a superb and slippery piece of fish, the teriyaki sauce to pour over it just deep in flavour and delicious. Top notch.

It works out under £20 for a starter and a set, basically excellent value. Just try getting a table instead of the counter.

The view at Yuzu

The view at Yuzu

Review: Where The Light Gets In, Stockport

WTLGI

WTLGI

This is a restaurant that seems to polarise reviewers. I’m going to cut to the chase: my experience of Where The Light Gets In was in the “meh” category.

Yes, it’s achingly hip. The chairs are plain wood, no cushion, Scandi minimalist. Beards are prominent. In all this I agree with other reviewers. But then other reviewers typically go on to say “…but this is still the most exciting meal I’ve had all year” and that makes it all alright. Whereas I’ve had a small handful of meals recently that I’ve enjoyed more than WTLGI. Mind you, the smoked eel amuse bouche was exceptional. And the dining room and service are both strikingly welcoming!

Don’t get me wrong, the quality of the cooking is absolutely superb. I could call out the wonderfully cloud soft piece of cod, as white as snow and soft as silk. No-one could better that. Or the buttery dollop of celeriac that they’d wisely resisted pureeing. It’s about 200% celeriac. I think they’ve probably just gone a bit far in stripping it all back.

Cod

Cod

The flavour profiling here is deeply of-the-earth organic. It’s not meant to fizz & zing, or theatrically wow, or lusciously indulge, or take you on any crazy culinary journey. It’s meant to elicit a quiet grunt of satisfaction. Buttermilk ice cream and blood orange granita. I’ve had buttermilk ice cream before, but never wearing its sour farmyard lacticity so proudly on its sleeve. Hrnn. See? That’s a quiet grunt of satisfaction.

I can see why it divides reviewers. The main course exemplifies it. A slice of lovingly cured pork with a pronounced tang of fennel, soft and chewy and everso honest. Served with accompaniments in three little shared bowls: the aforementioned celeriac, some red cabbage, and grain mustard. Small bowls for four diners, we all had to be super-careful not to take more than our share. Nice mustard but… well, nice mustard. The celeriac was wizard. The red cabbage? Was some red cabbage.

Pork

Pork

The wine pairing took up the same theme. Lovely local beer to start. Then two biodynamic white wines of the “cloudy farmyard” variety, neither of which were any good (it’s not often I actually leave half a glass of wine!). The final three wines were great though, including a lovely biodynamic red from the Loire.

My conclusion is going to be a collaboration. Because I know and trust some of the critics who have enjoyed their “best ever X” at WTLGI, and I don’t imagine for a moment they’re mistaken. And even the photos on their blogs look more appetising than the menu we had. So what I think is this: if you’re going to have a frequently changing menu and you’re determined to push boundaries and you’re still in your first year, well, then I guess you’re not going to hit the high notes every night. And we maybe got unlucky. £75 each before drinks is either going to be money well spent or a bit of a waste, depending what you get.

I’m going to end by calling out the excellent service, though! The young team here love what they’re doing, and look after their guests superbly. I hope WTLGI only gets better from here on out.

Welcome

Welcome

Review: Hambleton Hall, Oakham

Hambleton Hall

Hambleton Hall

Fine dining has evolved a lot. And so it’s lovely sometimes to rock up at a country house hotel in the middle of nowhere, be settled by the fire and brought champagne, then taken through to a high-ceilinged dining room, seated at a white linen clad table, and served superb food and good wine by a highly polished but very friendly team of pros.

There’s no punchline, that’s just what Hambleton Hall has been doing for years, and is still doing brilliantly by my reckoning. Of course, it helped that the temperature outside was -5, that there was snow blanketing the fields and the lane we had to pad down with torches from our nearby pub B&B was treacherous with giant lake-sized puddles. That just made the arrival more cosy. Shout out to the Finch’s Arms; comfy rooms and good breakfast, if you can’t afford to splurge on a room at the Hall!

Smoked eel terrine

Smoked eel terrine

Getting back to dinner. Maureen’s starter was a terrine of beetroot and smoked eel, with a scoop of delightfully creamy horseradish sorbet. The terrine was a triumph, two flavours that go incredibly well together given over in a generous quantity that was as light as it was moreish. My starter, a fricasse of morels with a poached egg set on a punky garlic sauce that had been foamed up, was as richly pleasing as you’d expect. Still, Maureen won the starters.

We both went for hare wellington next, which just goes to show how brilliantly discerning we are. Because this was a monstrously good plate of food. Seriously, I am beyond words. Perfect pastry, perfect hare, perfect gravy, and a perfect rich hare ragu on the side. The veg was good too. But that wellington! I hereby declare that I could eat hare wellington every day until I keel over and die happy.

Hare wellington

Hare wellington

Pud we also both went for quince and honey souffle with caramelised almond ice cream. I cannot resist quince, even though I’m so often disappointed when overzealous cooking destroys that delicate, ephemeral perfume. Needn’t have worried, this souffle was perfumed to the max and the funk of honey is a really smart flavour to pair with it. I also want a lot more caramelised almond ice cream in my life.

And then we retired to the lounge for coffee and petit fours, as you do.

They looked after us beautifully at Hambleton Hall, and at £73 for the 3 course menu that counts as great value for the whole experience. The puddles and the cold couldn’t faze us on the totter back to our B&B, we had hare wellington to sustain us!

Moresl

Morels

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