EATING OUT: Park your judgements at the door
I haven't been here for more than twenty years', said my born-and-bred Sheffield pal as we strolled up to Park Hill flats.
As someone who moved to the city for college 12 years ago, Park Hill has always been a symbol of potential regeneration, a beacon of architectural prowess, referenced in iconic music, art and literature.
But for some lifelong city residents it is still the neglected eyesore they grew up catching a glimpse of on their family trips to Castle Market.
And that’s where South Street Kitchen, the first cafe to open as part of the completed phase of the redevelopment just two months ago, can close the divide.
Co-owner and former lawyer Rachel Cornish said: “There’s been a bit of digging people out of Hunters Bar and Sharrow Vale and saying ‘it’s nice in Park Hill’ when they might be thinking it’s still not so nice.
“It’s very exciting because we’ve even had people in who were the original residents of Park Hill, we had a lady in here the other day who moved into one of the flats next to the cafe in 1961.
“She said she had such a lot of memories and it was good to see the place coming back into use.
“Our later Friday nights have been really successful, we’re just trying to get more people up there in the day. It’s one of those things, like when Tamper first opened, it feels a long way from the city centre but its really just four minutes further.
“We do want to get more people over the train tracks.”
Rachel and her husband Tim have spent two years working on the cafe, which has a menu of fully vegetarian and vegan food, but doesn’t force the issue or label itself as plant based.
The opening timed well with the boom in meat-free eating, but wasn’t deliberate.
Rachel added: “Both of us have been vegetarian since we were 18. We let our children choose and now have two vegetarians and two vegans.
“It took us two years to open this and it is what we were planning from the start - it’s funny how much things have really moved on in the vegan and vegetarian world in the last two years.
“If you put a label on it (vegetarian and vegan food) then some people will say ‘it’s not for me’ and they won’t try it but we’ve had people say they didn’t know it could be so tasty without meat.”
The kitchen is led by head chef Michael Pledger, who moved from a vegan restaurant in Cambridge to take the job.
And the aim, through regularly changing menus, guest chefs, music evenings and mums’ groups, is to be part of the community.
Intrigued by the idea of sipping beer while the sun sets over the city centre - no matter your thoughts on Park Hill, it has an astonishing view of the skyline - we headed up after work on a Friday night.
The menu usually has a Middle Eastern theme, but we happened to visit when there was a special Mexican themed night in honour of a member of staff.
Now I never imagined one day I’d be drinking margaritas from a revamped council flat turned trendy food hotspot (and I grew up in a council semi) but it was a truly excellent cocktail. There’s quite a few to choose from, too.
We shared a plate of nachos (£6.50) to start, with proper crispy corn tortillas and a real build up of spice from smokey tempeh to piquant jalapeno hot sauce, all topped with cashew cheese.
Would we have known, or cared, it was vegan? Not a sausage.
For mains, we ordered all but one of the four remaining dishes on the brief menu that night, and none cost more than £8.
Smooth, creamy avocado in a light crunchy batter was the star of the beer battered avocado tacos, served in soft taco shells and livened up with lots of zingy lime and fresh salsa.
The frijoles con feta was a thick, almost purple black bean dip, earthy in flavour and topped with tangy cubes of the cheese, plus more corn tortillas to dip in.
There was a real underbelly of Mexican heat to the rich chilli, too, which had more black beans and smokey tempeh. Layers of cumin and spices brought the bowl alive bit by bit.
It came with cauliflower rice - which can be flaccid and unpleasantly pongy - but here it was roasted golden, both looking and tasting far more appetising.
The solo dessert, chocolate and chile silk pie at an astonishingly cheap £2.50 price tag, carried on the heat theme.
A mousse like chocolate cream was smooth, intense and decadent, with the odd spike of spice coming through, while the cashew and date base kept things interesting.
For three people we paid just £62,70, also including two wines and soft drinks, which took longer to arrive than the food despite very attentive service at the table on a busy night. That’s excellent value for the food alone, never mind the uber cool interior (all concrete and open space, naturally).
And as for the friend who hadn’t been in 20 years?
He wanted to know when we could go back.
South Street Kitchen, 19-20 South Street.
Bookings only taken for groups of six or more. Email email@example.com