It’s a Monday lunchtime but it feels like a Friday. Fusion Café is bustling and a happy queue is developing at the counter.
Here you’ll find artists, university lecturers and the types that dwell in Sheffield’s Cultural Industries Quarter, gazing indecisively at the venue’s imaginative and ever-changing menu. It’s hard to call a place a hidden gem when it’s so self-evidently popular, but the café seems to be ticking over quite well indeed without any fashionable online presence, and is close to its tenth anniversary in 2018.
It’s a venture with a purpose. The café – housed in the Butcher Works complex, a refurbished Grade II listed former cutlery factory on Arundel Street – is run by Freeman College, part of the Ruskin Mill Trust, a national educational charity for young people with learning difficulties and disabilities.
Students get the chance to help by preparing and serving food as well as assisting on the charity’s garden at High Riggs, Stannington, where fruit and vegetables for Fusion are grown, guaranteeing its organic credentials.
Inside the café, exposed brickwork, bare floorboards and simple wooden furniture is the order of the day. Opening hours are 9.30am to 3pm, and the menu stretches from light breakfasts and brunches to more ambitious lunchtime fare, listed on several blackboards near the till.
There are soups, pizzas, salads and no less than five different types of quiche on offer, as well as specials and, lined up for selection, an array of freshly-baked cakes.
We chose from the specials. Baked salmon wellington was served as a thick, satisfying wedge of tender fish, encased in flaky pastry with layers of creamy leeks, feta cheese and bitter kale. The accompaniment was a choice of salad, in this case a zesty tabbouleh packed with herbs, jewel fruits and lots of pistachios - kitchen manager Chris Harrison doesn’t run a stingy operation.
Meanwhile the Moss Valley sausage pork lasagne was a meatier proposition, but still a lighter departure from the usual beef ragu, paired with a crisp cherry tomato salad and buttery garlic and herb toast.
We drank water - customers can help themselves to free glasses - and good lattes. Cakes were taken away to try later: a sharply citrussy lemon drizzle boasting a wonderfully sweet, glazed, crunchy crust and a slab of tangy orange marmalade polenta cake with a moist yet gritty texture.
Fusion does get busy - anyone visiting now can expect many tables to be reserved for the admittedly excellent-sounding festive menus - but it’s an unhurried destination and surely one of our best city centre lunch spots. The bill came to £21.20. Here’s to another ten years.