TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has celebrated in Winchester the latest addition to his restaurant chain.
Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall, and his team from River Cottage, accepted the keys to Abbey Mill from the Mayor, Eileen Berry, at a small ceremony on Monday.
Raised glasses of elderflower sparkling wine marked the official handover from the council following months of renovation.
The chef’s plans to open a restaurant in the city were revealed in October 2012 and faced opposition from nearby residents.
Since permission was given, the council has spent £1 million on renovation. River Cottage has said a further £750,000 will be spent creating its fourth canteen.
Cllr Berry said: “We welcome you wholeheartedly to our city because lots of us have followed you through your career and we like your early dedication and you haven’t lost your vision. It’s a vision we want to stay here.”
Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall, renowned for his commitment to locally-sourced produce, said: “The council has risen to the challenge at every turn and gritted their teeth and got on with their job and to see this place now, with its vistas, we feel now today the building has taken shape. It’s a great moment to turn this place into a place for celebration of food at the heart of this community.
“We will do this to the very best of our abilities. You have challenged us to be here for a long time and we absolutely will try to do that. It feels like today we have arrived and we’re really looking forward to the job in hand.”
Cllr Steve Miller, portfolio holder for business services, thanked the hard work of the builders, architects and planning officers.
The partly open-plan former mill will have an open kitchen, bar, a private dining area and staff area as well as the main seating room when it is opened in time for the last week of September creating at least 35 jobs. It will also have an outdoor space facing the park near the sluice.
But the works have not been without their problems. In February the river, which runs directly under the lower seating area, rose into the building.
Kevin Warren, head of estates at the council, said: “We had a really difficult time when we were doing the works. Water was pouring through the wall and we were having to pump it out every 20 seconds. So we got Oxford Hydrotechnics in for some flood defences and from that point on, it was easy. I’m extremely pleased with the outcome.”
Despite objections from residents, River Cottage’s managing director Rob Love, said the team had worked hard to ensure concerns had been addressed.
“We’ve worked closely with the residents and they’ve been really friendly towards us,” he said. “Like a lot of people in Winchester they’re worried about car parking and traffic. We have to work hard to make sure any concerns they have will be addressed. I think they’ll recognise that and they have been very supportive.
“What has been difficult is, because of the amount of building works, we’ve not been able to speak to them as much as we’d like to but they’ll see more of us as the weeks roll on.”