It’s the artisan bakery inside an old car garage that has become one of the gems of the Steel City, but Seven Hills’ prescence in Sheffield could arguably be put down to a welcome stroke of fortune.
“Our owners, Laura and Matina, met each other at the Artisan School of Food and trained to be bakers together, before deciding they wanted to open a bakery,” smiles May Rowley, one of the bakery’s managers as she sits down with the Sheffield Telegraph to discuss the establishment’s seven-year journey.
“They had nowhere in the country in mind - just had a look around, to see where there wasn’t one and where one would fit in well. And somewhere that was a nice place to live. So they chose Sheffield.”
And the rest, they say, is history. Seven Hills began life as essentially a shelf of bread in a poky shop before taking over the old Sharrow Marrow premises on Sharrow Vale Road, sandwiched between two car garages, and trade has been steadily increasing year-on-year since.
A kind of hybrid between a bakery, greengrocer and cafe all under one roof, the aesthetics of Seven Hills hit you even before that toothsome smell of the bakery wafts over. Fold-out wooden chairs and mis-matched tables wouldn’t work everywhere, but here it very much does - and deliberately, too.
“It’s an old garage so it’s never going to be squeaky clean,” May smiles. “There’s a lot going on in this space, but I think it lends itself very well.”
We visit on a busy weekday afternoon, and the place is bustling. We perch on a rustic table by the window, on a baking hot day back in the summer, with the water on each table almost bubbling in the heat.
So far, I like it. I’ve seen so many - too many - artisan-type places try and be something they aren’t, and the pretentiousness sticks in the throat much longer than the taste of the overpriced and underwhelming fare.
Not here. Seven Hills knows exactly what it is, and sticks to its strengths - good food, fresh bread and cakes in an environment that seems authentic, even if it does double as a hipster’s dream.
The rarebit affeciado in the party unsurprisingly plumped for rarebit, and gave it a big thumbs up; a strong beer taste that nonetheless wasn’t in the least overpowering, with a subtle leek taste and mild cheese that complemented, rather than controlled, the whole dish.
Top marks, too, for a fried egg on top; an unusual touch, but a welcome one.
The mozzarella and pesto toasted sandwich fared particularly well, ‘delicious’ offered as the verdict in between keen mouthfuls. On reflection, the homemade pesto and fresh sourdough were highlights.
Keen to see how Seven Hills would cope with a staple classic, my weapon of choice on this visit was a humble bacon sandwich; so simple, but also so easy to get horrendously wrong.
No issues. Locally sourced from reputable butchers, the bacon was superb - the quality shone through - and the fresh buttermilk roll was perfect. No distracting extras, either; which, I later find out, is sort of their modus operandi.
“We try and keep things simple,” May tell us. “Everything we do uses quality ingredients, from bread to cakes to pastry to food. We know where every ingredient is from, and we try and be as local as possible. It’s not always easy with veg, for example, but wherever possible we stock stuff grown as close to Sheffield as possible.”
Sitting bang in the heart of Sheffield’s trendy Sharrow Vale area, it’s no surprise to see so many gluten free and vegan options - but only to a point.
“We do a lot of vegan cakes, and have done more in the last year or so, but we do struggle with gluten free,” May concedes.
“We’re not a factory where there’s no gluten at all, so we can’t make those promises to people. And at the end of the day, bread is nice because of the gluten. We’d only make anything if we were 100 per cent happy with it.
“It’s a hard one to get right. We can do the cakes really well, but the bread is more difficult. But we always offer a salad or soup or another alternative, because we understand people’s needs.
“We couldn’t ever compromise our quality, really. But we do try to be as diverse as we can.”
Onto desserts. The vegan chocolate and raspberry cake was moist and fresh, with only a subtle hint of raspberry and strong, rich cocoa cream, while the frangipane was very moist and not overpowered with almonds. “I could tell it was a homemade slice rather than mass-produced,” said the expert. There can be no finer praise.
Business is growing year on year for Seven Hills, and on our experience it’s easy to see why. They hope to capture even more Sharrow Vale trade with an outdoor seating area on the decking - “Hopefully we’ll have an Indian Summer!” smiles May - and although the place is limited to on-street parking, we paid a rather reasonable 90p to park 30 seconds away from this gem. Here’s to seven years of Seven Hills.
n Seven Hills Bakery, 232 Sharrow Vale Rd, Sheffield S11 8ZP. Tel: 0114 267 0133. Open Monday-Saturday. On-street parking.