REVIEW: Simply the best place for burgers

Burger and chips at the Urban restaurant, Kelham Island, Sheffield.
Burger and chips at the Urban restaurant, Kelham Island, Sheffield.

Kelham Island was Sheffield’s industrial heartland; a focal point for generations of city dwellers. Now the area is enjoying a fresh lease of life – as the hub of an exciting new social scene…

This revival has been under way for a while, with the Fat Cat and Kelham Island Tavern putting their mark on the pub-goers’ map.

Things developed with the arrival of venues including the Milestone dining pub, the Grind and Little Mesters cafés.

And this month there are two new kids on the block – with the opening of artisan pizza and beer house Craft & Dough and, right next door, British burger specialist 
Urban Quarter.

Both these new additions, coincidentally, draw on the popularity of a growing London trend for small menus and quality ingredients.

So while others strive ever harder to be all things to all people, Stuart and Niki Baker and their Urban Quarter team are happy to serve up a range of food that’s small – but perfectly formed.

That means the menu offers a choice of just three key items: beef, chicken or vegetarian burger, each at £7.50.

But they’re all juicy and hand crafted, served in bespoke brioche buns, with a choice of toppings, side orders and chips redolent with freshly-chopped rosemary.

It’s not that Stuart doesn’t have a bigger repertoire. In fact his CV reads like a Who’s Who of big-name restaurants: he started working as a pot-washer at Michelin-starred Le Talbooth at the tender age of 14 and went on to become a chef at Harrods, the Dorchester, Wentworth Golf Club and Cliveden House Hotel.

After a spell as consultant in a development kitchen, he was keen to spend more time with Niki (a pastry chef) and their family, so the couple set up Clearly Food Kitchen in Howard Street, offering quality snacks and lunches.

It initially missed its target: “Because people thought we were selling kitchens! As soon as we changed the name to Roast, business picked up,” says Stuart.

Roast continues to do well, but he was keen to take on a new challenge – and recognised the growing trend for a simple concept.

“I thought there was some mileage in that here in Sheffield, because it’s easy for the consumer to see what you’re doing. And ultimately everybody enjoys a burger.”

They found the perfect location at Kelham Island: “It’s a good mix of old buildings and new culture and it’s becoming more of a community all the time, with the increasing residential development.

“There’s a real demand for something like this here and we can grow with the area.”

Stuart has a strong team behind him including general manager Adam Clark, winner of Eat Sheffield’s inaugural Bartender of the Year title.

He trained in London before arriving in Sheffield to study at Hallam University (where Stuart is an associate hospitality lecturer) and also spent a year running a café-bar and restaurant in the US.

“It was the potential that brought me to Sheffield. The food culture was starting to grow and there’s lots of exciting things happening,” says Adam.

Urban Quarter drinks include an exclusive range of both cocktails and mocktails, as well as Icelandic beers from the Einstok brewery and local ales too.

The burger restaurant has been months in the planning, so there was plenty of time to research the concept and source supplies.

Burgers are made to Stuart’s recipe, from chuck steak, rib and brisket: “Just seasoned with salt and pepper: we’re letting the beef talk.”

He also had a hand in developing the brioche buns, which are supplied by Rose’s in Attercliffe.

The recipe was tweaked to make the mix lighter, finished with a special egg glaze for a richer colour and cooked in muffin tins to give the exact size and shape.

It’s a simple concept, but the quality is in the detail.

The building is a lofty modern redbrick shell, in keeping with its industrial surroundings. It’s quirkily adorned with reclaimed chandeliers, red-painted fencing, exposed ducting and locally crafted wooden tables – set off with pots of fresh rosemary and flickering tealights.

A lounge area, tiled bar and open kitchen complete this symphony in urban chic.

The menu has been expanded this week with a brunch dish: pork and sage burger with cheese and smoked bacon, topped with an egg. From the new year it will also include specials such as pulled pork with chorizo burger, and fish fillets on Friday.

But we’re happy with the basics. Mine is a succulent seasoned chicken breast, topped with melting goat’s cheese and served with salad in a featherlight toasted brioche bun.

It comes with tasty slaw of red cabbage, onion and beetroot, and those wonderful chips: crisp and fragrant with rock salt and rosemary. I also have a side order of dressed leaf salad.

The veggie option, for the record, features two breaded portabello mushrooms filled with goat’s cheese and red pepper.

My companion goes for the classic British beef: lean, well seasoned and flat-top grilled to a perfect pink. (Chargrilling is so yesterday!)

He chooses smoked bacon and mature cheddar toppings (50p each) – and a side order of crisp, aromatic pickled veg.

It’s simple food, nicely done. And the portions are manageable enough to allow a doughnut for dessert: warm, soft, coated in crunchy sugar and oozing with vanilla custard and home-made jam.

Coffee is good too. And our bill, excluding drinks, is just £19.

* Urban Quarter, 1B Kelham Island, Sheffield (0114) 453 9239