Brewing up a winner

Jo Hardiman at the Honey Pie Tea Room on Chesterfield Road, Sheffield
Jo Hardiman at the Honey Pie Tea Room on Chesterfield Road, Sheffield

SOME clever marketing is starting to overcome the reputation of one property in Sheffield as a bit of a white elephant when it comes to establishing it as a successful eating place.

The Honey Pie Tearoom in Chesterfield Road, Meersbrook is based in former restaurant premises opposite Heeley Retail Park that always struggled to get a following as a it was a bit out on a limb in an area that’s pretty quiet at night. The restaurant has had several incarnations, mainly as Indian and Italian restaurants, but nothing seemed to stick for long in recent years.

It’s very early days for Jo Hardiman at the Honey Pie Tearoom but she may still have the last word on the naysayers like those on Sheffield Forum who dismissed the idea out of hand when they spotted that she was opening.

Jo had already built up a following by opening up a pop-up tearoom at Meersbrook Park pavilion a few times last summer, to see if locals would support a move to permanent premises before she gave up her job at Sheffield City Council and took the plunge.

She’s also made good use of the cafe’s Facebook page and Twitter and has a lot of fans who comment enthusiastically on the cakes they like. Their favourites include lemon polenta and chocolate cola cake, neither of which were available on the Sunday afternoon I visited because it had been a busy weekend.

The tearoom still has some evidence of its Italian incarnation with big pillars outside and the painted ceiling remains in its cherubic glory. The bright blue and pink walls are hung with bunting.

There’s lots of fantastic retro styling, from ‘keep calm and eat cake’ type posters to old-style games and books for children and a gloriously mismatched collection of old china, some of which has been donated by customers. One cup and saucer we had wished you a happy 40th wedding anniversary.

Jo is pleased at how things are going so far in her fourth month and joked that she was ‘living the dream’ by fulfilling a long-held ambition to run a tearoom. She said: “We seem to have built up quite a lot of regulars. I didn’t know what kind of people would come in. We get lots of mums and kids and a lot of local elderly people.”

It was incredibly popular with young families when we visited as it is so friendly to children. This includes organising half-term activities but there are also Friday craft sessions for adults. Check Facebook or Twitter for details.

Just selling tea and cakes is not a viable proposition and Jo is now working on building up the lunch menu, which will be mainly vegetarian. The cafe is also open for (meat-free) breakfast and Jo says she may well start bistro nights.

At present, lunchtime choices are soup of the day, welsh rarebit or blushing bunny (with tomatoes), all for £3.50, and various toasties starting at £3.50. There is also a daily specials board with prices around £5.

When my friend Linda and I visited, we had our hearts set on afternoon tea with sandwiches, scones and cakes but you had to book in advance, although Jo is changing that. You’ll still have to pre-order champers to go with it, however.

When one of the young, keen staff pointed this out, we had a swift look at the specials board and Linda had a sweet potato chilli burrito (£5) and I went for the blushing bunny.

The excellent teas come from Teabox (they hold regular tasting events) and include entertaining choices like rhubarb and custard and a special Sheffield mix.

I went for my favourite Earl Grey – they do tea bags or loose tea – and Linda had a latte, which was decorated with a cocoa powder star. You get a custard cream with tea and a bourbon with coffee.

Linda’s burrito was excellent with a generous amount of soft and nicely spiced filling and it came with a good crunchy side salad.

My blushing bunny, which was made with mustard, ale and Henderson’s Relish on granary toast, was pleasant enough comfort food but I would have liked a bit more of a kick to it.

Clearly, we had to do justice to the cakes as well, so after a bit we ordered more teas and coffees and looked at the goodies on offer at the counter.

The range wasn’t as wide as usual because of the aforementioned rush but there was still courgette cake, carrot cake, rocky road, scones and fat rascals.

We decided that the courgette cake was a must and I also ordered a fat rascal. Jo asked if I wanted butter with that and I did.

The courgette cake was a real winner, a huge slice and extremely moist with a great cream cheese filling. Delicious.

We weren’t so thrilled with the fat rascal, which is a staple of the famous Betty’s Tea Rooms in Harrogate. It looks like a cross between a big scone and a rock bun and is studded with mixed dried fruit and topped with slivers of toasted almond and glace cherries.

The butter came in a little egg cup.

The rascal was a bit on the bland side and I wondered if the pinch of salt that you’d add to bring out the flavour had been missed out. All the cakes are made by Jo and family helpers, by the way.

On a second visit, I shared an excellent, high-rise scone with a crunchy sugary topping, so it may just have been a bit of an off day.

We also also had an excellent, moist dark chocolate cake on the return visit.

On the first visit, our bill came to a bargain £19.40.

lVerdict: enjoy a taste of honey pie in a lovely welcoming place.

lOpening times: Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 5pm, Sunday noon to 5pm.

lHoney Pie Tearoom, 115-117 Chesterfield Road. 0114 255 1187.