Food for thought over restaurant quarter

Cosmo Restaurant, St Paul's Parade, Sheffield City Centre.

Cosmo Restaurant, St Paul's Parade, Sheffield City Centre.

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The launch of £1m buffet restaurant COSMO marks a further addition to the city centre’s smartest new location.

But as even well-established food operations struggle to thrive, sceptics are questioning whether Sheffield can sustain yet another food and drink quarter.

St Paul’s Place, at the back of the Winter Garden, is part of the Heart of the City programme that was a catalyst for the regeneration of the area around the Peace Gardens.

The council hopes it will boost Sheffield’s reputation for commerce and leisure in competition with other big cities. Neighbours include the ‘cheesegrater’ car park Sheffield’s tallest building, St Paul’s Tower of apartments, and two office blocks, with work due to start soon on a third, at the corner of Charles Street and Norfolk Street.

In addition to COSMO, the quarter has a range of bars, restaurants and cafes including Smoke, a new independent Texan-style barbecue diner, the Genting Club casino with Fahrenheit and Hou Mei, Pizza Express, Piccolino, Café Rouge, Caffe Nero and the Mercure Hotel and the Novotel, both with restaurants.

But Leopold Square is only a stone’s throw away, and Division Street, West Street and West One Plaza are also established in the city centre.

And, despite its proximity to the Winter Garden, there is little to attract people to the new square apart from the venues themselves.

With a question mark hanging over the future of several well-known names, it is hardly surprising that some doubt the city’s ability to support this growing tide of new food businesses.

“I have wondered about that area,” admits Coun Neale Gibson, who once featured on TV’s Come Dine With Me.

“But it does seem that people use it as a through route, and the cafés already there seem to have customers. It’s key to the city that this square works, so if another catering outlet is opening, that’s good.

“I don’t think we have enough restaurants in the city centre yet. If you look at comparative cities they are all better served in the central areas than Sheffield is.”

Dave Egan, a hospitality expert at Sheffield Business School, has carried out a considerable amount of research in the field.

He says the UK’s most successful cities all have a number of urban quarters with a strong focus on restaurants, cafés and bars – and a dynamic city centre is increasingly dependent on this critical mass.

“Although in competition with each other, these outlets also complement each other,” he says. “In our opinion the development at St Paul’s Place is now achieving such a critical mass and should become a major attraction to visitors.”

Mr Egan adds: “There is a general trend for people to eat out more and it is a growing market. Latest forecasts for the UK economy are more positive and should benefit the ehospitality industry.”

The council also remains confident that the growing number of dining options will bring even more visitors into the city.

Leader Coun Julie Dore said: “It has been really exciting to see the area come to life… Feedback from existing businesses has been positive and we look to build on this in future.

“As a council we are doing all we can to improve the city centre offer to increase the number of people visiting the city centre and the length of time they spend there.”