Dinner at The Sheene Mill, Melbourn
PUBLISHED: 13:02 18 November 2014 | UPDATED: 13:02 18 November 2014
A relaxed meal in a tranquil lakeside setting works its magic on food and drink editor Richard Cawthorne
If you are one of those people for whom location is an important part of eating out, Sheene Mill is for you. Its location on the River Mel on the Herts/Cambs border sets the scene for an enjoyable foray into the newly-refurbished restaurant overlooking gardens bedecked with lights among the trees and bushes. It’s all very relaxing.
The historic building has been a fixture in the village of Melbourn, near Royston, for more than 400 years. It stopped operating as a mill in about 1930 and after a few upheavals is now emerging again as a restaurant, boutique hotel and wedding venue.
Despite its age, the mill is still a work in progress in its present manifestation after being taken over almost exactly two years ago by Serena Saunders and her partner Adam Jordan. Serena is the daughter of celebrity chef Steven Saunders, who himself took over the building with his then-wife Sally in 1998 and gave it a reputation as a fine-dining venue. However, a divorce in 2006 forced its sale and the mill eventually went into administration, from which it has now been rescued by the new generation of the family.
Saunders fille, who was serving bread rolls to customers at another restaurant at three and wrote to the government at the age of 12 asking if she was allowed to work as a waitress (she was, for four hours on Sundays), is first to admit there is work to be done in upgrading the mill but also in what she calls ‘rebuilding trust’ with guests who might have been disappointed in the past. But, she adds, ‘we are getting to where we want to be’ – an opinion with which the AA, which has just awarded the place two rosettes for the quality of the restaurant, obviously agrees.
Others clearly share the view – my attempts to book a table on a Saturday evening and then Sunday lunchtime were thwarted by a ‘fully-booked’ message. With deadlines looming, I had to settle for a Monday evening, not necessarily the best time to review a restaurant although the welcome was warm enough.
Despite its new rosettes, Sheene Mill under head chef Ivor Morgan offers a surprisingly simple menu, at least in the main-course section, though Saunders says this is part of the plan. ‘We are interested in fresh, honest and simple food,’ she says. ‘We’re not trying to do anything too complicated. We want people to know they can just pop in for a drink or a salad as well as enjoying a full meal. People who knew the mill before think we might be posh and expensive, but we’re not.’
Posh maybe not but it’s still a quality production, as might be expected of Saunders, whose early experience was later enhanced by jobs as restaurant manager at a noted gastro-pub in Cambridge and at Brocket Hall near Welwyn. Complimentary rolls and butter appeared at speed on the table as we checked the menu, and the list of starters was promising.:
We chose Cornish crab cakes (£6.50) with pickled baby gem lettuce and dill mayonnaise, and Jerusalem artichoke velouté (£6.95) with wild mushroom stack and white truffle oil. The cakes were slightly more than adequate, perhaps needing more of a lift to develop the fishiness, but the velouté was a real star turn, exotic, thick and creamy and full of flavour.
Main courses (or ‘big plates’) featured seven dishes and there are also two pasta and rice choices and four salads. Being in a big plate mood, our first choice was slow-cooked Gloucestershire belly of pork (£16.95) with braised puy lentils, sautéed wild mushrooms, black pudding bon bon, wilted spinach and vanilla jus. The accompaniments were good but we were not given the option of having the fat layer on the pork removed between cooking and serving, which was a shame. We all know you need fat for flavour but finding it still on the plate is off-putting. However, the meat was good and the crackling the usual treat.
Our second dish, fillet of gilt-head sea bream with chorizo cassoulet, wilted spinach, air-dried cherry tomatoes and tomato oil (£17.95) took the prize on this occasion, with the robust chorizo adding a tangy sparkle to a generous and well-flavoured fish.
Among the desserts, a butternut squash mousse with goats’ cheese ice cream and pancetta croquant looked inviting among the usual brownies and tiramisus but lost out to the intriguing-sounding fig and baklava tart with brown-bread ice cream and port and cinnamon syrup (£7.50), an inventive and pleasant way to finish.
We liked Sheene Mill and look forward to visiting again as it develops under its new regime. Our enjoyment was enhanced by the fact we qualified for the special offer of two courses from the a la carte menu for £18 or three for £22, available between Mondays and Thursdays. It sent us on our way with an unexpected discount and smiles on our faces.
The cost of this meal for two with one glass of wine and a small bottle of sparkling water was £61.43 including 10 percent service.
This is an independent review featuring a restaurant selected and experienced by our food and drink editor. The restaurant was not told it was being reviewed.
BOOK A TABLE
The Sheene Mill
37-39 Station Road
Melbourn, near Royston SG8 6DX