Tucked away in the heart of an old industrial area, the Harland Café has yet to be discovered by many. But this hidden gem has attracted some surprising customers.
“On a recent busy Monday lunchtime, we had a party of 10 booked in and when I went to take an order from them I discovered that Michel Roux Jr was one of the group!” says chef Steve Bradley, who runs the place with wife Sara.
“He was involved in filming a programme about cutlery and food in the area and our café had been recommended.
“He had one of our pannini with hand-carved ham, mature cheddar and tomato chutney and declared it ‘lovely’ which felt like a Michelin star to us.”
Steve trained at Castle College and started out as junior manager of Henry’s and Hanrahans, then broadened his experience working for the Limon family at the Beauchief Hotel.
His next move was aboard cruise ships for P&O – where diners included Audrey Hepburn, who had just launched one of the liners he worked on.
But Steve had always dreamed of running his own business and that chance came in 2011 when he and Sara launched the Harland Café on the ground floor of the old Harland Works in John Street.
Their plan was to create the kind of place where everyone feels welcome, inspired by good old-fashioned hospitality, value for money and simple, hearty food.
Their latest innovation is the Harland Supper Club, launched in July.
“For a year or two we had monthly music evenings called Harland Nights, which were mostly just drinks and some food,” says Steve.
“We thought about having a monthly bistro evening, then decided it would be good to combine the two and have a bistro night with live music.”
This has varied from jazz and local singer-songwriters to a Beatles tribute band. Tickets are £18 including a two-course meal.
Homemade soup has been a regular feature of the café menu since day one and is so popular that Steve now offers three flavours every day.
This is one of their favourites: “Everyone loves the spicy sweet potato soup and I’m regularly asked for the recipe – so I thought I’d share it,” he says.
“The addition of the peanut butter adds a lovely warmth and depth of flavour which is quite unusual.
“All soups at the café are vegan and gluten-free, but when I make this at home, I like to add chorizo for a spicier flavour.”
* The Harland Supper Club takes place on the third Friday of the month, or weekly throughout December.
Recipe by: Steve Bradley - Spicy sweet potato soup
1 tblsp vegetable oil
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tsp fresh ginger,minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 red pepper, cored and diced
1 tin (400g) chopped tomatoes
200g chorizo, chopped (optional)
Cayenne pepper (optional)
1 litre vegetable stock
200g peanut butter
1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and sauté the onion until soft.
2. Mix in the garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander and cinnamon.
3. Add the sweet potatoes, red pepper (and chorizo if required) and continue to cook for 5 minutes
4. Add the tomatoes and half of the vegetable stock. Mix well.
5. Bring to the boil then simmer for 30 minutes – adding further stock if needed.
6. Once the sweet potato is soft, remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly.
7. Add the peanut butter and seasoning, then blend until smooth.
8. Add more peanut butter to your required taste and, if you like an extra kick, add a sprinkling of cayenne pepper.
9. Top with freshly chopped coriander and serve hot with lots of crusty bread.