A recent feature in The Guardian bemoaned the loss of stores in Sheffield city centre, so we thought Valentine’s Day was a good day to write a love story to the area.
The Moor has become the new focus for city centre shopping and it’s certainly looking better than for a long time.
The area was fairly busy on Monday afternoon and some shoppers were taking advantage of the afternoon sunshine to grab a drink in the chain coffee shops.
The main centre for independent food outlets is, of course The Moor Market.
Like a lot of big changes to the city centre – Meadowhall comes to mind - the idea of replacing the once-loved Castle Market with a new building at the opposite end of the city centre really divided opinion.
Consequently, it’s taken a while to catch on but it’s now clearly drawing a wider cross-section of shoppers.
Visit on a Saturday and the fish stalls are busy with customers of Chinese or south-east Asian origin.
There’s good beer and coffee sellers and exotic food stalls, including Chinese cakes and crepes, a Greek delicatessen, Afro-Caribbean groceries and a Thai supermarket.
Markets all over the world are famed for their little cafes where shoppers can stop off for great, cheap food and you can eat among the locals.
The central market in Florence or Sant Josep’s in Barcelona spring to mind and The Observer’s Jay Rayner recently sang the praises of the Clam & Cork seafood cafe in Doncaster fish market.
I think The Moor Market has missed a trick with its central food court.
One of the joys of Castle Market was the little cafes run by motherly women who’d knock you up a great bacon butty or full dinner, chatting to customers who’d been stopping by for years.
Eleven food stalls are ranged around a central seating area that has been extended. The choice is wide but it feels a bit soulless.
On Monday customers ranged from Asian students to multi-cultural families, groups of older friends and a table of women market stall workers exchanging loud banter on a break.
The kiosks are divided between traditional Sheffield cafes such as Sallie’s, Sharon’s Cafe and the Market Chippy, and world food including La Sania kebabs, two Chinese places and Hungry Buddha, which has a great reputation for Nepalese food.
The Hungry Buddha was closed when I visited, so my eye was drawn to the brightest-looking stall, Lemongrass Thai Street Food, adorned with red waxed paper umbrellas and traffic light-coloured lampshades.
There’s a longish menu, so I asked the cheerful woman taking orders what was popular. “Pad thai” came the predictable reply but she also mentioned khao pad kraprao (mhoo kroob), a crispy pork belly dish with Thai holy basil, so I opted for that.
“It’s hot,” I was smilingly warned and she wasn’t wrong. I was offered fried egg on top but declined.
I paid £8.18, including a bottle of sparkling water, and sat down. Within minutes a red metal plate arrived.
The chunks of pork were crunchy on the outside and tender inside with crispy fat to enjoy, stir fried with lots of thinly-sliced red chillis and green beans.
It was eye-wateringly hot but delicious, with a sauce with a slightly sweet edge to it. The lovely sticky jasmine rice on the side tasted great and cooled my taste buds.
My server asked if it had been too hot for me and I said it was just on the edge, but I did leave quite a few chillis.
The stall also serves traditional Thai breakfasts.
For pudding I went to Bitz and Bitez, grabbing the last slice of Victoria sponge with a cup of tea for £2.10. It was a hefty slice and delicious, filled with strawberry jam and buttercream.
Stallholder Lisa Parker from Wybourn said she’d sold two sponges that day, so she was going to be up at 5.30am the next day replenishing her stock.
Lisa has run her stall for two-and-a-half years and before that was manageress at Carter’s Kitchen. She said the retirement of the stall’s original owner prompted her to run her own business.
She offers traditional breakfasts and comfort food roasts and hot lunches such as several types of pie or cottage pie, made from scratch.
Some of the dishes, such as frittata or chilli, are aimed at those watching their weight and she also has gluten-free dishes, claiming to be the only stall-holder to offer that option.
Lisa sources as much as possible from the market.
I asked if she thought the market was growing in popularity.
“The footfall could be better,” she said, “It’s okay, it’s getting there at breakfast time certainly, then you tend to have a little bit of a lull, then the lunchtime trade.
“It’s dribs and drabsafter that, people getting ready to go home and picking their children up, and students come at this time of day.”
She added: “The Moor outside has plans for regeneration. I’m really positive from that regeneration that the markets will be at the centre, once everything’s come down here. I’m hoping anyway.
“It’s had some really bad publicity, this market, it really is not all that bad.”
The Moor Market is open from Monday to Saturday, 8am to 5.30pm.