REVIEW: Hidden café is a secret gem

Hidden Gem Cafe, Scott Philliskirk
Hidden Gem Cafe, Scott Philliskirk

You will have driven past the aptly named Hidden Gem café on numerous occasions.

It is curently a word-of-mouth secret, tucked away at the end of a residential cul-de-sac off Ringinglow Road and behind Bents Green school.

That’s a road few drive down, and if it hadn’t been for the combination of a sat-nav and a lonely sign on the main road, we would have struggled to find it.

Foodies may never have heard of the place, but they could know the man leading the kitchen.

Scott Philliskirk used to be the sous at The Cross Scythes pub in Totley where he was nominated for Young Chef of the Year in 2013’s Eat Sheffield awards.

Now the 22-year-old is running the Hidden Gem before branching out to his own place.

“I want to take café food up a notch”, he said of his current mission.

He’s a good son as well, stepping into the role to help mum Glynis, who is the area manager for Work Ltd where the café is based.

It provides life skills and occupational training for people with learning disabilities.

Scott, of Woodseats, added: “The café was going downhill so I wanted to help and I thought it was a good opportunity before I get my own place.

“It gives me a chance to be in charge, also I was working six days a week before and I have a lot more freedom here, I can do what I’ve always wanted to do.

“I really want to make a success of it – the best part of the job for me is seeing customers’ faces when they see a plate of food heading towards them.

“It has been a struggle to get people in just because they don’t know where we are, it is all due to word of mouth.

“It is increasing but not as much as we would like.”

Despite being out of the way, the Gem was fairly bustling when we arrived. The first in a series of upcoming bistro nights, the inaugral theme being French, had also almost sold out.

The entrance is halfway into a garden area, with chairs looking out over green fields and plants for sale.

Inside it is cosy in the extreme – with homeware gifts lining the shelves, cheery polka-dot tablecloths and another hidden surprise of a second dining room with couches.

We see one of those plates being carried towards us, heaped with a massive pile of bacon and are starving.

The lunch menu is the pared-back weekday version, and could do with an alternative to sandwiches as that is all that is on offer.

I’d also planned to order a special platter described online, with home-made Scotch eggs, honey-glazed ham, fish goujons and other trimmings, but it wasn’t available due to the school holidays.

No matter, we pressed ahead.

The first thing we noticed about those sandwiches was the bread.

It was firm, nutty and thick, served in long chunks, with just the right balance between crusty and soft.

It is not often that bread is a talking point, but there has been a focus on high quality materials here.

Scott, who admits he has ‘tonnes’ of ideas for the future of the café, said: “We want it to be simple, but so the combination of flavours all work together and it is a treat in itself.

“I think there is a market out there for a neighbourhood bistro like this.

“At the moment we don’t make the bread, it is brought in daily from the Bakewell Pudding Shop, but we hope to in future.

“I have searched high and low for the best ingredients and I think the finished product reflects that.”

My smoked salmon certainly did just what he said. It was served in thick, high quality slices, on cream cheese.

The dish presentation is a step ahead.

Rather than your bog-standard plate, the food came on a slate, with a tiny Kilner jar of balsamic vinegar and citrus dressed rocket to the side.

A friend went for the chicken and tarragon option, which she found succulent and with enough of the herb to give it a good kick.

Our highlight was the sweet potato fries, served in a mini deep fryer basket as a funky side.

As any dieter knows, these don’t count as carbohydrates so we tucked in with glee.

They were soft on the inside, crispy on the edge, and even better with a dab of salt.

Hidden Gem is very child-friendly, and our nine-year-old guest was a fan of the simple tuna and cucumber.

She had to be given a helping hand with the Jenga-size chips though.

The service is friendly and relaxed at Hidden Gem, yet that can go too far, and we had to request more drinks and desserts before the table was cleared by Scott himself.

A lot of the work is done by volunteers though as they keep costs down, so that has to be taken into account.

New desserts were planned when we visited.

The banana cake looked luscious, but when Malteser cake is on the menu there is only one option to go for really.

It was a dense slab of sticky goodness, with rich chocolate and the crunchy sweets buried inside - a decadent end to a simple lunch.

It’s worth noting the café serves food served until 2.30pm. We paid £30.25.

Hidden Gem café, off Folkwood Road, rear of Bents Green School, Ringinglow Road. 0114 262 0094