Food Review: Mr Bubbles, 1, St Mary's House, London Road, Sheffield S2 4LA
Never mind wash and go, wash and stay for a while at this different cafe-launderette.
Great tea is hard to find. Trips to Betty’s, Claridge’s, Fortnum and Mason, Andrews, a hundred greasy spoons and a dozen tea merchants’ tasting sessions all living proof that perfection is personal and elusive.
Some cheap char comes close, many posh brews are poor.
But who’d have thought tea heaven would be lurking in a Sheffield launderette?
Mr Bubbles Café and Launderettes at the St Mary’s Gate end of London Road opened just before Christmas. It is the idea of manager Samantha Lee and the owners – a couple of smart but shy plumbers who worked on student flats in the area and spotted a shortage of laundry provision.
Of course tea heaven is a subjective concept.
One man’s Darjeeling delight is another woman’s weak-as-water nightmare.
But we’re talking about proper tea here.
Brown, rich and punchy, bright, bold and malty with a hint of depth and class. Tea like the Full Monty, blended at Birdhouse Teas at Nether Edge and bagged and brewed in Mr Bubbles with three-minute tea-timers to get that mashing moment just right.
For me - and I like a fairly strong cuppa - three minutes would make creosote, but each to their own.
The timer is a nice touch and the tea is bliss.
“The owners had worked on student flats in the area and realised there were around 500 students in the immediate vicinity and only 10 washing machines between them,” said 38-year-old mother of two Sam who’s been a clothes maker and designer for much of her working life.
“The plan was to have a laundry with a coffee machine but I had the idea of making it into an independent café.
“There is a retro one, in London but we didn’t know that when we started. There are lots of them in the US.
“We get our meats and cheeses from Deli Italia, our bread from the Depot Bakery in Kelham Island and we had our baristas trained by Sam Binstead at Upshot Espresso on Glossop Road.
“We opened just before Christmas. January was pretty quiet but February picked up. We are really optimistic for the future.”
First impressions are good. The front looks smart in a modern Scandinavian way and it’s set well back from ring-road traffic mayhem and has car parking at the rear.
Inside it’s a pretty cool feel. The washing machines line one side and the cafe the other. Once you’re in there the combination seems perfectly normal.
I met former Star colleague Sarah Crabtree and her baby daughter Sydney for lunch and the first issue we had was that the high-chairs aren’t high enough and Sydney’s chin was at table level.
Motherly foresight meant Sarah had a portable high-chair in her car so we soon had smiling Syd up to her full 14-month-old height and scoffing fruit and sandwiches.
Manager Sam spotted our struggle with the too-low high-chair and said: “Oh dear, we hadn’t realised that was an issue, thanks for pointing it out.”
The food at Mr Bubbles is simple, made from good ingredients and tastes delicious - as does the coffee.
I started with a sausage roll. I did ask for the veggie version but I got meat. That wasn’t a problem for me but it might have been for someone else.
It was gorgeous.
Lots of lovely savoury, meaty sausage and a thin, crisp pastry shell. They are made by the Depot Bakery in Kelham Island as are the delightful bread rolls that we had our sandwiches on. Light and crisp with good flavour and texture, my roll had salami and roast mushroom with salad. The salami was rich with a hint of spice, the mushroom brought a woody depth of flavour and the salad added aromatic crunch.
Sarah had mozzarella, tomato and pesto roll which she loved - as did baby Sydney who temporarily deserted her fruit and finger food for mum’s grown-up sandwich.
I managed to nick a bite when Syd wasn’t looking.
The combination of flavours and the bright herby pesto takes you straight to Italy, or at least a decent deli…
For dessert Sarah had that stonking Full Monty tea with her cake and I had coffee which was dark-roast and delicious - none of your trendy green bean stuff here.
We had slices of lemon drizzle and carrot and walnut cake - both home-made.
The lemon drizzle sponge was light with that hit of sharp sweetness that makes it so compelling. The carrot and walnut was moist and rich with a thick layer of soft and creamy icing on top.
On the other side of the business a service wash is £9 and it’s all done for you.
If you wash it yourself it’s £4 and £1 for each tumble dry session - it usually takes three to get a load dry.
For a sausage roll, two sandwiches, two pieces of cake, two teas and a coffee we paid £13.50 – absolute bargain.
Wash, drink, enjoy as they say at Mr Bubbles.
Star rating out of five:
* Mr Bubbles, 1, St Mary’s House, London Road, Sheffield S2 4LA
* Tel: 0114 2722022
* Open Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm, Saturday and Sunday 9am to 5pm