Review: Surplus cafe junks waste but needed taste

Steeple Corner Cafe, a project turning junk food into pay as you feel meals has opened on Stafford Road. Pictured is director Jo Hercberg.

Steeple Corner Cafe, a project turning junk food into pay as you feel meals has opened on Stafford Road. Pictured is director Jo Hercberg.

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A project that turns the idea of junk food on its head to tackle waste has just opened a second cafe and bistro in Sheffield.

Steeple Corner Cafe in Norfolk Park is based at Victoria Centre, a community building in a refurbished Methodist church.

Steeple Corner Cafe, a project turning junk food into pay as you feel meals has opened on Stafford Road.

Steeple Corner Cafe, a project turning junk food into pay as you feel meals has opened on Stafford Road.

The Real Junk Food Project was brought to Sheffield 18 months ago by Jo Hercberg.

The project already runs a daytime cafe with a Friday bistro night in Regather Works, Sharrow, and has just begun Saturday bistro events at Steeple Corner, where it also runs a daytime cafe on Mondays, Wednesday and Saturdays.

It began with pop-up events in Sharrow to draw attention to the issue of the shocking amount of perfectly good food that supermarkets and other parts of the food industry just throw away or send off to be turned into animal feed.

Jo said: “The sole aim is to decrease food waste. I wanted to do this in a way that makes good food available to everybody.

‘The aim is to decrease food w aste. I wanted to do this in a way that makes good food 
available to everybody’

“How pay as you feel works is that everyone can sit in this room and eat some meals, regardless of their financial situation. We get donations other than money.

“People can offer to wash up for the night or help in other ways. One woman is doing graphic design for us.”

Jo had worked in the online travel business since leaving university. She said: ”I always really liked cooking and food and just wanted to do something with my life.

“Reading about the Leeds project, I thought it was something I could start in Sheffield but I assumed it would already exist but it didn’t.

Steeple Corner Cafe, a project turning junk food into pay as you feel meals has opened on Stafford Road.

Steeple Corner Cafe, a project turning junk food into pay as you feel meals has opened on Stafford Road.

“I didn’t really have a plan, I just thought ‘okay I’ll start this’.”

She works mainly with supermarkets, including Waitrose’s Ocado online delivery service, and takes surplus food off their hands. Other suppliers include Beanie’s wholefood store, a farm shop on Carterknowle Road and occasionally food banks, when the food can’t be distributed to their clients

They use food that is past its ‘best before’ date, although ‘sell by’ dates are strictly adhered to.

The project has a warehouse now and is looking to expand further if it can find premises. Jo has just been able to take on her first paid member of staff and works with a team of volunteers.

I went with my friend Linda to try out the new bistro night.

We got a bit lost, thanks to Google Maps constantly mislaying its GPS connection, but actually Steeple Corner Cafe is easy enough to find, it turns out. Just head up Duke Street running behind Park Hill flats towards the Trades Club and Stafford Road is off there on the right.

When we arrived we weren’t expected, although I had booked online, but a table was swiftly conjured up for us, no bother.

A jug of water and glasses quickly arrived and waiting staff explained where to put our coats and about serve-yourself drinks.

There was no mention of alcohol at all (and I didn’t spot anyone who’d brought their own) but different fruit drinks and cordials to choose from and hot drinks, including coffee and cafetieres, on a help-yourself basis.

Service was brisk, friendly and enthusiastic.

The food, though, was disappointingly plain, although the project has a good reputation that brings queues to Regather Works.

The set menu on the evening is based on what the chefs have to work with, and there’s a choice of a meat eater’s and a vegetarian menu chalked up on a board, with indications of what’s vegetarian, vegan and gluten free.

I went for the meat and my friend Linda went vegetarian. My starter was a ham and potato salad, with slices of each on top of slices of carrot, plus sweetcorn and peas and a wholegrain mustard-based dressing, which helped to enliven things.

Linda’s salad had haggis on it instead of ham and she said it tasted like stuffing. Hers was improved by roasted pumpkin seeds.

The seeds made a welcome reappearance on Linda’s main course, which was pumpkin and coconut curry and rice, with big chunks of pumpkin in a lovely-looking thin red soup consistency sauce. The rice was underneath.

Linda liked the dish and thought it had a good spicy kick to it. I had a taste and agreed, although it needed more seasoning.

Seasoning was a major problem on my main course, creamy chicken pasta. The portion size was generous, with skinless chicken breast mixed with sweetcorn, red onion and pasta, but it wasn’t noticeably creamy and didn’t really hold my attention.

Pudding was pineapple, coconut and ginger pudding, enjoyable enough with slices of brioche cooked with sliced fresh pineapple and ginger on top, so that the juices were soaked up by the bread.

It was have been great with some custard but the portions were tiny. Linda took only a few seconds to finish hers.

Jo Hercberg later apologised and explained the food wasn’t up to the standard they expect and they’re in the middle of recruiting a full-time chef. - inviting us back then. This is such a great project that I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.

We paid £30, fair for three courses plus drinks and coffee. Online reservation costs £2.50 per person.

To book, go to realjunkfoodprojectsheffield.com or call 07761 876690.