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Mill Street in Oakham is one of my favourite strolls. It is lined with some of the most interesting independent retailers in Rutland, but there was one threshold that I had never crossed: the imposing building that houses Mill Street Pub & Kitchen. So when I saw that they’d introduced a new autumn menu, that was all the excuse I needed to climb the steps* and poke my nose inside.

The front bar at Mill Street Pub & Kitchen

And I was well rewarded! Don’t let the forbidding exterior put you off, because Mill Street Pub & Kitchen is surely Oakham’s most contemporary bar and restaurant. My lunch companion was already at the bar and happy to finish his pint of Rutland Osprey from Oakham’s own Grainstore Brewery, while I introduced myself and prowled around with my camera.

Manager Jan Nova put me wise to the fact that the pub opened in mid-2016, so it can hardly be counted as ‘new’ now, but he admitted the building’s kerb appeal – or lack of it – might mean that I was not the only person who had failed to discover it since the independent Unique Hospitality pub group transformed it.

Mill Street Pub & Kitchen’s slightly forbidding front!

The major renovation added a glazed extension to double the size of the restaurant, while the stripped back, stylish interior is now a blitz of luscious boudoir meets industrial chic. Bare brick contrasts with velvet upholstery and dripping chandeliers shine on wooden floors.

The part-glazed restaurant

Private dining room for 12

The Snug

Every pub in the group is unique (I gather there are currently seven in England), but I am told there’s a signature style which creates a relaxed blend of old and new; comfy and smart.  On the day I had lunch, there were a couple of young professionals starting a Friday wind-down, a smattering of ladies who lunch, a couple planning their first visit to Rutland, plus a couple of mums with toddlers.

The long bar area has a good mix of seating, from high tables to squishy sofas. Across the wide hallway is the little Snug where I was hailed by one of the Rutland Red Hat sisterhood who, with her husband, had apparently enjoyed a “lovely bar snack” while the back room offers glamourous private dining for 12 (with no extra room hire).

Guided tour, and pint, finished, we headed to the main restaurant which feels half ‘inside’ and half ‘outside’ thanks to the glazed extension. Jan brought us two menus – a Bar Menu and the Main Menu – pointed out the Specials Board and brought us a jug of tap water. It took two more visits before we were ready to order thanks to our inability to choose from three lists of food!

It’s not that they’re long – in fact they are refreshingly short which underlines that food is prepared fresh each day in the kitchen by Chef Ollie Cairns-Baker and his team.

At first glance the dishes are mostly pub classics: for example beef and red wine pie on the Bar Menu and pan-fried sea bream on the Main Menu. But as we read the detail, we realised that every dish has a Mill Street twist. Our Fisherman’s Platter to share was generous with the smoked salmon but it was the almost creamy home-cured mackerel that stood out. My companion was sorry the salt and pepper squid had missed the morning’s delivery, but the whitebait was a good substitute, and with toasted rye bread, plump capers and horseradish cream this was a tasty starter.

When it came to a main course, we were seduced by the Bar Menu. My beef and red wine pie was stuffed with tender meat just about contained by rich flaky pastry, and came with parmesan polenta and creamed leeks which were particularly gorgeous, plus a jug of the same gravy. It was all well-seasoned, completely delicious and the perfect autumn dish.

   

My companion chose the beer-battered fish and chips. Both batter and haddock were spot on, and the chips were… well, we didn’t ask how many times they had been fried but however many it was, it was the right number! A tiny copper pan of ‘Yorkshire Caviar’ turned out to be minted mushy peas while home-made tartare sauce completed the perfect fish and chips.

The desert menu looked delicious with seasonal specials like bramley apple and blackberry crumble as well as a sticky dark chocolate torte, but after the hearty mains we’d enjoyed there was no way we were going to manage to even share one.

Since neither of us had to work in the afternoon, we did explore the wine menu, which was short and well-priced both for bottles and by the glass. A generous 175ml house red or white was just £4.65 and my well-balanced Pinot Noir from Chile’s Curico Valley a worthwhile £5.80.

Mill Street Pub & Kitchen is open all day, every day. Breakfast is from 7am (half an hour later at weekends); the Main menu is offered at lunch and in the evening. I didn’t look at the children’s menu, but there is one, and the small people in high chairs in the corner were enjoying something that looked healthy as well as tasty. Vegetarians have some imaginative dishes to choose from, with GF dishes clearly marked, and a sympathetic ear given to Vegans.

The excellent Bar Menu encompasses snacks, ciabattas, sharing platters and half a dozen pub classics. These are all offered from 12 noon right through to 9.45pm when Ollie shuts the kitchen, no doubt with a sigh of relief!  My acid value test is a ‘side’ of chips, currently £3.50: other pubs in Oakham and Stamford take note!

one of the bedrooms

Upstairs are seven un-fussy bedrooms, each decorated in on-trend greys with style and quality furnishings. I can see they’d be a great place to crash after a leisurely dinner, and a good choice for weekend visitors to Rutland.

TO SUM UP… the stony exterior of the building belies the warm welcome inside. The Mill Street team – from flamboyant Jan at the front of house, to creative Ollie in the I-can-see-what-you’re-doing kitchen – is young, friendly and laid back. Whether you drop in for a coffee while shopping, for lunch, for a post-work drink, for a light bite or a celebratory meal, I have the feeling you’ll be well looked-after!

Mill Street Pub & Kitchen, Mill Street, Oakham, Rutland. www.millstreetoakham.com

Jan Nova and the team

PS – open WiFi throughout, no need for a password

*Disabled/buggy access is around the right-hand side of the building and directly into the main restaurant area.

 
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