A couple of weeks ago I was invited down to try the Wig and Pen‘s new tasting menu on Campo Lane, just behind Sheffield Cathedral. The Wig and Pen closed in its previous incarnation last November and re-opened under the new management of the team at the Milestone – already well-known in Sheffield for its award winning and TV-famed gastropub and with a reputation for being one of the city’s best places to eat. Marc Sheldon and Matt Bigland, owners of the Milestone had previously worked in the city centre and Marc told me that when the chance came to get back to the bustle of the centre, they jumped at it. They’ve worked out a balance for the different markets they cater for at different times of day: a range of sandwiches and light lunches for those needing a snappy business lunch break; a pre-theatre menu including the option to return for your dessert after the performance and an evening menu to show their flair, as the Wig and Pen pitches itself as the more experimental sister venue to the original Milestone.
This wasn’t my first visit here – I chose the Wig and Pen for my birthday earlier this year, and wasn’t disappointed at all. Food, drinks, presentation and service were all immaculate. I had tartar of smoked salmon with creme fraiche and beetroot, followed by a fine piece of lamb rump steak. Dessert was a beautiful smoked rosemary chocolate mousse. Portion sizes weren’t immense – they weren’t small either – but just the right amount for three courses without leaving you feeling uncomfortably full.
Given how good my first experience was at the Wig and Pen, I was really excited about the tasting menu. I’d browsed the menu online before going to give me an idea of what to expect – but even so, I wasn’t totally able to predict how it would be presented and so each course still retained an element of surprise. Here are my pictures to talk you through the menu, course by course:
We started off with a warm pea veloute, with a lovely slightly sweet taste from the peas. The tortellini was nicely al dente with just the right hint of mint to flavour it.
The pork belly was deliciously soft and tender, really nice and juicy, as was the langoustine. I’m not generally a fan of star anise but the flavouring here was subtle, and a really good balance. I liked the pork with a dash of the sweet carrot puree – the red strips you can see in the photo were marinated carrots and they added a contrast of texture.
This was probably my favourite course – I loved this and was pleased to see that it’s available as a starter on their main menu so I can get an even bigger portion next time! The halibut was perfectly cooked and nicely soft without falling apart, accompanied by a lovely crispy piece of well seasoned chicken. I loved the combination of the raisin puree with the curry oil with both the chicken and the halibut as well as the crispy crunch of the light shallot rings. I could have merrily eaten this ten times over.
This was the ‘main’ course, although still a smaller portion than a traditional main. Up to this point we’d been slightly concerned that we might leave still hungry as taster portions are by definition small – however this course was much heartier. There were several good pieces of beef rump, which was really melt-in-the-mouth tender. They lay on a bed of intensely flavoursome slow cooked beef rib, which had a mushroomy taste to it to go with the ceps scattered around the plate. It was a rich dish, so some seasonal greens might have cut through the richness slightly – but at the same time, very luxurious and, er, meaty. Which is a good thing.
This course was a delicate palate cleanser – however, with really distinctive flavours. As well as the basil, there was a definite hit of mint; all very clean and fresh. The balsamic jelly was great, all the sweetness of balsamic but no sour vinegary taste – very smooth jelly.
It’s hard to describe the intense flavour of the passion fruit jelly – so you’ll just have to go and try it for yourself. It was truly gorgeous, wobbly just as jelly should be with a perfectly smooth texture and consistency. My husband thought that a chocolatey finish would be a better end to the meal and I would never turn that down – but this was really lovely and I wouldn’t have wanted it replaced.
There is an optional cheese board at the end of the meal for £5, but we felt that we’d had plenty and didn’t need it. We also decided not to have the suggested wines with the meal (£14.50 for 5 different 75ml glasses of wine, with every course except the basil granite), simply because it was a Tuesday night and I had an 8am start at work the next day! At a weekend, however, I’d be much more tempted to add these onto the £36 per person for the tasting menu for the whole experience.
Would I recommend it? Definitely – and I already have to several people. Why? It was a very different dining experience to most other things on offer in Sheffield – I’ve heard of very few places offering a tasting menu, with the exception of WasabiSabi‘s new menu. Aside from being different, the quality of the food and presentation ranks the whole experience up a few notches – I really couldn’t fault the ingredients or the cooking. It was a truly special evening, made even more so for us by Marc and the Wig and Pen team treating us to a meal on them – but I would have gladly paid for such excellent food and such an interesting meal. I felt it was worth the price they’ve set it at for a special occasion and really look forward to returning soon.
The tasting menu was launched a couple of weeks before the start of 2011’s Sheffield Food Festival, which is now underway. The Wig and Pen have an amazing range of events on for this week, which you can check out here – not to mention their pop-up restaurant and bar at the top of Fargate, serving BBQ and British classics, including lamb breast with mashed potato, peas and mint and seafood chowder with market fish. I ate there last night with Clare who writes the Love to Live to Eat blog as well as a foodie blog for Exposed Magazine and went for the lovely, tender and flavoursome slowcooked lamb.
As if the Milestone and Wig and Pen team weren’t busy enough, look out for courses at their cookery school, wine tasting events and exciting news about plans for their very own butchery near the Milestone in Kelham Island. The Milestone is also aiming to be voted Yorkshire’s favourite pub – click here if they get your vote and enjoy all they have to offer this week at the Food Festival, and at their two great venues in Sheffield.