A little bird was singing in the early evening somewhere as we walked up to the Birdhouse Tea Bar and Kitchen which was a nice touch, whether a coincidence or a recording.
That set the tone for a very pleasant Sunday visit to this new venue that only opened a few weeks ago in an old cutlery machinery factory in Sidney Street on the edge of the Cultural Industries Quarter.
It’s the latest venture for the Nether Edge-based Birdhouse Tea Company, a tea merchant and artisan blending firm owned by mother and daughter Julie and Rebecca English and Rebecca’s uncle Philip Barnes.
The building, which has a lovely courtyard that will soon boast tables, features a small eating area inside, plus a shop and a takeaway counter. Upstairs are two airy dining rooms with the original brickwork left bare.
The decor is minimalist industrial chic with melamine tables and school canteen-style chairs and exposed lighting. The edges are softened by strings of lights sparkling outside, small flower arrangements and candles on tables.
Manager Faith Nicholson has worked for city independent businesses and new start-ups before, including the Summer House at Dore and the Devonshire Cat.
She said: “I sort of knew Rebecca and Julie, the owners. Rebecca had always wanted to open a restaurant based around the ethos of the tea company.”
Faith pitched for the job when she was 16 weeks pregnant and found to her joy that a company run by women had no problem taking her on.
She loves the idea of what they are trying to do: “There’s nowhere else you can go at 9pm and have a really good cup of tea.
“Not everyone wants alcohol or wine. If you go into a pub or bar for a tea or coffee, they look at you sideways.
“People can come in for whatever they like here.”
The venue, open seven days a week, is fully licensed and serves wine, bottled beers and tea-based cocktails, as well as the Birdhouse range of teas and coffees from Sheffield’s Foundry Coffee Roasters.
There are several food menus covering different times of day from 8am to 10pm.
Faith said the popular breakfast and brunch menu is available until 3pm, lunch is served until 5pm and there’s a smaller evening menu which we tried.
There’s also a children’s menu and a range of cakes made by Rebecca, plus brownies supplied by Leeds bakery Brown & Blond.
Head chef Joe Baxter and his team do try to source locally and their suppliers include Welbeck Bakehouse and Moss Valley Fine Meats.
The evening menu is short, with a choice of sharing platters, a range of pies or a whole baked cheese for a main course and a dessert platter.
A small pot of savoury flavoured popcorn arrived on the table while we were choosing from the menu and my fellow diner Matthew opted for a can of fruity Abbeydale Brewery Voyager IPA (£4.75). I was driving, so tried a delicious cucumber mule tea mocktail (£5), which had a great hit of gingery flavour.
We started by sharing a Mediterranean platter (£6) which came on a long serving board.
We enjoyed digging into some very light and fluffy but slightly too subtly flavoured houmous, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke, thin slices of roasted courgette, aubergine and red onion, a generous helping of olives and lovely artisan bread.
Matthew asked for butter, which duly arrived. We were kept entertained guessing which of two sets of stairs the waiting staff would arrive up next.
It has to be said that the service, while always charming and helpful, was too slow at times, but we weren’t in a hurry.
The new staff need a little nudge on the basics, such as promptly clearing plates away and offering to leave a menu so customers can choose more drinks or food.
My heart lifted as our main courses arrived. Proper pies! created by Pie Eyed Pies, nestling alongside a good helping of mushy peas, six roasted new potatoes with their skins on and a cute little jug of gravy.
My pie was beef brisket, Jaipur Ale and pancetta and Matthew had gone for pork, black pudding and cider.
The fillings were tasty and the shortcrust pastry crisp.The potatoes and peas were lovely and the onion gravy was a fruity-tasting joy exploding with flavour, made I would guess with a generous helping of Henderson’s Relish - a bottle of which was of course offered by our waitress to accompany our meals in correct Sheffield fashion.
We were pretty well stuffed after two courses but duty compelled us to try the dessert platter and I’m glad we did.
Another long board arrived, beautifully dressed with little squares of brownie and one blondie, plus tiny swirls of coconut cream and fresh strawberries and blueberries.
Little pots contained delicious strawberry lace and chai latte ice cream, made with Birdhouse teas.
They went perfectly with the raspberry and white chocolate and butter fudge-flavoured brownies and the white chocolate blondie.
Our bill came to £48.50 including drinks.