There’s a lot to be said for keeping things simple...
When Urban Quarter opened eight months ago at Kelham Island, its back-to-basics formula made it stand out from the crowd. And Sheffield loved it.
But anyone who thought the airy room with its three-item menu was as basic as it gets, is in for a surprise at Urban Quarter mark two.
The new place, which opened last week in Sharrow Vale Road, has been pared down even further.
The formula is the same: small menu and quality ingredients. But don’t look for fancy cocktails, it’s beer or gin here.
And don’t expect to make a night of it: this place is a fraction the size of its older sibling. If the original is a quirky restaurant then this is very much a burger bar – albeit a good one.
Keep things simple… let the ingredients speak for themselvesStuart Baker, owner
Urban Quarter is the project of experienced chefs Stuart and Niki Baker, who also run Roast in Howard Street.
“We wanted to keep things simple, let the ingredients speak for themselves,” says Stuart.
Local sourcing is key, so Roses bakery makes all the brioche rolls to Stuart’s recipe and LSA Meats creates the beef burgers to his spec.
As a former chef at places including Harrods, the Dorchester and Cliveden House, Stuart knows exactly what’s needed.
But it’s not all about the food and drink, he insists; service is just as important. And since he and Niki both teach at Hallam University, they’re well placed to snap up talented young professionals – like Amy Lonsdale, manager at the new Urban Quarter.
She began as a part-timer at Roast while she was studying and a year’s experience at Michelin-starred Hambleton Hall failed to win her over: “I came here to uni and I fell in love with the city. I wasn’t keen on being in the middle of nowhere,” she says.
She returned to Hallam for her final year and was happy to resume her role at Roast – where Stuart confided their plans for Urban Quarter and promised her a role if she wanted it.
When the Kelham Island restaurant opened at the end of November, Amy was appointed manager.
And when the opportunity came to open a second branch in the former Seven Hills Bakery premises at Sharrow Vale, she was happy to repeat the challenge.
“Kelham Island is so vast, but this is more like street food and it really works; this place has a real buzz about it.”
The small menu is perfect, she says: “It’s about quality. If you have a menu of 50 things, how do you do all those elements well? If you keep it small, you can rely on quality and consistency.”
The other thing she loves about her new role is the diversity: “With a venue this size everyone has to work as a team and muck in.”
Which means that Amy made the slaw that morning… and came up with the recipe for the day’s vegeburger (sweet potato, carrot and red onion with cajun seasoning).
We call on a Friday evening, in the hope of finding a table. You can’t book and the place is packed, but staff take our number and send us off to the nearby Lescar. We get the call half way through a pint and hurry back to claim our table.
The simple menu does away with any dithering – there’s a choice of beef, chicken or vegeburgurgers plus a couple of specials. It’s beef for him, chicken for me and drinks.
North Union pale ale, brewed in Dinington, gets the thumbs-up from my companion, while I’m happy to find Sheffield’s own True North gin-and-slim. (Not so much the slice of orange though, give me lime any day.)
The bar is bright and clean, with strips of red fencing and the distinctive hen/cow/fungi logo marking it out as part of the Urban Quarter brand.
Something rocky is playing in the background but it’s drowned out by the buzz. There’s not long to wait.
My chicken is a succulent, chargrilled breast on a brioche bun topped with my chosen extras: juicy roast mushroom and tangy onion chutney. I’ve asked for salad instead of chips and I’m impressed with the mix of fresh leaves, chopped tomatoes and cucumber drizzled with balsamic dressing.
It’s served in a red china bowl, accompanied by a red enamel mug of peppery red cabbage slaw which adds crunch as well as flavour.
My companion’s Urban Quarter special burger is a towering affair of beef patty, spicy smoked brisket, salad, pickle and bun.
It comes on a metal tray with a mug of crisp, rosemary-infused chips and a pile of slaw... all very well except the lining paper becomes soggy and gets stuck to the burger when you try to eat it.
But the flavours are immense – meaty, smoky, aromatic and sharp in equal measure – the cordon bleu of the genre that takes burger and chips to a whole new level.
There are no starters, no desserts as such, but those who are still peckish can indulge in a sweet treat. There’s a selection of milkbottle shakes and a choice of three doughnuts: today’s are banoffee, lime cheesecake or just jam.
My companion obliges with the cheesecake version, a sweet, doughy confection filled with lime-infused cream cheese (I prefer my lime with gin!).
We finish with filter coffee and relinquish our table to the next lot of eager diners.
A meal for two, excluding drinks and service, is £26.
lUrban Quarter, 376 Sharrow Vale Road, Sheffield S11 8ZP (0114) 453 7719 Urban Quarter