Bill’s brunch

August 16, 2015 at 3:37 pm | Posted in Restaurants | Leave a comment
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Who doesn’t love brunch? After a full working week where breakfast never gets more exciting than a bowl of cereal and a hastily-gulped cup of tea, it’s nice to finally dedicate some real time to the first meal of the day.

The only downside? You have to get up early(ish) on your day off, to make sure you don’t miss out on brunch completely. Last weekend, I made sure I was up and in town at a reasonable hour, just so I could sample the breakfast menu at the recently-opened Bill’s restaurant at St Paul’s Place.

When I first looked at their website, I’d been surprised by the sheer number of Bill’s restaurants there are in cities all over the country. Somehow, I’d managed to avoid Bill’s completely, to the point where the Sheffield restaurant was the first time I’d even heard of them, so I was interested to find out what makes Bill’s so popular!

Bill’s Sheffield restaurant is smart, shiny and clearly brand spanking new, with a few characterful flourishes in the form of exposed metal pipes and walls lined with assorted bottles and jars. This is a massive venue with a pristine finish, but these quirky touches prevent it from feeling sterile.

By the time I’d dragged myself out of bed and into town, Bill’s had already been open for a few hours. Despite this, it was still on the quiet side when we arrived. The fact that the staff outnumbered the customers (at least initially) had its benefits, and its downsides. While we did enjoy lightning-fast service, we also had at least three waitresses popping by our table to ask whether our food was okay, did we want to order anything else, how were we for drinks….and so on.

Although the staff were very polite and friendly, the service was on the verge of becoming overbearing. Thankfully, Bill’s did start to fill up shortly after we arrived, so the staff had more customers to keep them occupied and we could enjoy the last part of our brunch in peace.

Onto the food and drink, and breakfast just isn’t breakfast without caffeine, so we kicked things off with a round of tea and coffee.

I went for a pot of tea and was offered a choice of English Breakfast, Earl Grey or Rooibos (£2.10). My tea arrived very nicely presented in a quaint tin teapot that contained enough tea to refill my cup four times – bargain!

My brunch buddy opted for an Americano (£2.00) plus the mysterious-sounding Bill’s Green Smoothie (£3.35).

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Although green smoothies immediately make me think of health drinks made from things like raw kale and spinach, Bill’s green smoothie tastes fruitier than your typical health drink. Whatever’s in this stuff, it doesn’t taste as sugary as plain fruit juices such as orange or apple juice, but it still has a distinctly fruity tang. Bill’s green smoothie is the perfect light and refreshing fruit smoothie to have before breakfast.

Bill’s breakfast menu is pretty big and features the usual cooked breakfasts, things-on-toast, and healthier options like granola and porridge, or you can treat yourself to eggs Benedict, Royale or Florentine.

On this particular day there was only thing on my mind: Bill’s blueberry and buttermilk pancakes with banana, strawberries and maple syrup (£5.95).

These pancakes sound incredible on the menu, so I was expecting great things – but when they arrived they were even better than I’d been expecting. Just look at them!

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Bill’s pancakes are nice and thick, and the generous helping of strawberries, blueberries and sliced bananas add a burst of juicy freshness that prevents the pancakes from feeling stodgy and heavy going. The banana slices in particular were delicious, and had gained a sweet stickiness from the accompanying maple syrup.

My only complaint is that Bill’s were a bit tight with the maple syrup, and they didn’t provide a jug of additional syrup so I could rectify the situation. This was a shame as a few extra glugs of syrup and these pancakes would have been sweet, comfort food perfection. They were still good, but halfway through I did begin to really notice the dryness and doughiness of the pancakes – at this point I’d have normally added more syrup to break up the taste, and continued eating. Instead, the taste of plain pancakes got a bit too much and I decided to call it a day.

My brunch buddy had also been tempted by just how amazing Bill’s pancakes sound on the menu, but they’d chosen to add some bacon to their pancakes (an extra £1.50).

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They raved about how well the sweet pancakes and maple syrup went with the saltiness and smokiness of the bacon – although they agreed that Bill’s had been a bit mean with the maple syrup.

Impressively, they managed to polish off all their pancakes and bacon, whereas I was completely defeated by my third and final pancake. This is a lot of stodgy food, especially so early in the morning. In fact, by the time I’d walked home all I wanted to do was crawl back into bed and take a nap (I resisted, but it wasn’t easy!)

I also ended up skipping lunch because I was still too full to contemplate eating anything. I usually live by three meals a day, so skipping a meal isn’t something I do lightly – but Bill’s breakfast pancakes kept me full until tea time.

If you want to give breakfast the time and attention it deserves, then Bill’s is a great place to do so. It’s a lovely venue with a varied breakfast menu, and if you love pancakes then you need to sample Bill’s take on this breakfast treat.

In short, Bill’s serve a breakfast that’s worth getting out of bed early for – even on your day off!

Three and a half stars

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The Wig and Pen

June 24, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Posted in Restaurants | 3 Comments
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Drinking in the afternoon is one of life’s greatest pleasures, so when we spied a ‘brunch and all you can drink prosecco’ voucher (£15.95) for The Wig and Pen, we wasted no time printing it out before the owners came to their senses and took the offer down. Needless to say, we were excited about this one, especially since we’d had such a fantastic meal at affiliated eatery The Milestone the previous week.

From the outside, The Wig and Pen looks nothing special: it’s a stumpy huddle of buildings in the heart of Estate Agent District (aka Campo Lane.) Inside, it’s far nicer than expected: the interior is all light wood, big windows and ‘swanky wine bar’ atmosphere.

A friendly waitress escorted our party to a table, where we promptly pulled out our voucher and she sped off to fetch the first (of many) rounds of bubbly. Fully expecting to be brought a bottle, we were disappointed when she returned with a tray of glasses. We couldn’t help grumbling, convinced that we’d struggle to attract the staff’s attention when it was time for glass number two (and three, and four) and the ‘all you can drink’ boast was just a conspiracy. If something is too good to be true, then it probably is. It turns out we were just being cynical – despite our waitress also ferrying plates of bulging Sunday lunch to a large party directly behind us, she always found the time to top our glasses up. Far from making us feel self-conscious about burning through the bottles, she was very friendly, and jokingly gave us a running total of how much we’d drank. The Wig and Pen’s staff really are second to none – polite, attentive and friendly. Even better, the prosecco they’ve earmarked for this offer is perfect for afternoon drinking, morish without being too sweet.

Eventually we got around to ordering some brunch dishes to mop up all that fizz. The menu is in the same vein as The Milestone’s, so if you’re partial to the grub at one of the venues, then you’re guaranteed to like the other. Picky eaters beware, The Wig and Pen’s menu is far from extensive, but each dish has been concocted with a keen eye for detail, with a heavy focus on unusual combos. That said, the brunch menu is particularly restrictive. There’s a posh cooked breakfast but beyond that, if you don’t like poached eggs and hollandaise sauce then you’re going to go hungry. Poached egg fans can choose from double eggs benedict, double eggs royal or double eggs florentine, all priced at a reasonable £5.95.

Thankfully, we’re all fans of the humble egg at Sheffield Eats, so we had no issues with the narrow menu. I plumped for Double Eggs Royal, which consisted of two stodgy English muffins layered with wilted spinach and slabs of the strongest, saltiest and most mouth-watering smoked salmon I’ve had the pleasure of crossing paths with. Topped off with two perfectly-cooked eggs and lashings of creamy hollandaise sauce, the portion size may have looked mean, but I’d learned my lesson about the richness of The Milestone/The Wig and Pen’s food, and took it slowly this time.

The eggs were perfectly cooked, with a little runny yolk still in the centre; the spinach was wilted but not falling apart, and the smoked salmon was so thick, it was more like a fillet. The Wig and Pen’s Double Eggs Royal is one of the richest meals I’ve ever eaten and, combined with the sheer strength of the smoked salmon, it was impossible for me to finish. I’d recommend treating this brunch dish as your lunch – it would take a stronger stomach than mine to polish off this plate of loud flavours and calorific sauce before noon.

Also arriving at the table, were a couple of portions of Double Eggs Benedict, which basically replaced the wedge of smoked salmon with a chunk of bacon. The bacon had more in common with gammon than the usual fatty supermarket stuff, and everyone at the table agreed The Wig and Pen’s bacon is in a league of its own.

The food may have been impossible to fault, but we did have an issue with the live acoustic jazz performer who is apparently a regular fixture on Sundays. For the first fifteen minutes or so, the speakers were turned up far too high. With the large party behind us all shouting to make themselves heard above the blaring music, it wasn’t the quiet, relaxed brunch we’d envisioned. Thankfully, The Wig and Pen twigged there was something wrong and had turned the volume down by the time the performer returned for his second set, and we could hear ourselves think again.

To round off the afternoon, we took our final glasses of prosecco outside and made the most of a sudden burst of sunshine in The Wig and Pen’s cobbled outdoor area. Set in a courtyard with no traffic and few passers-by, it’s an unexpectedly quiet haven in the centre of town, and the ideal place to escape the crowds and while away a sunny afternoon (if this rain ever stops….)

Full enough to pop and well into our third bottle of prosecco thanks to the attentive waitress, we raised our glasses to one of the best (certainly, the most tipsy!) brunches we’d had in Sheffield. The food, service and venue itself are flawless and, after they’d toned down the music, we could properly relax and enjoy our boozy brunch. Obviously cut from the same cloth as The Milestone, The Wig and Pen has all the same great qualities, and with a more convenient, city centre location to boot.

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