Bright, modern and friendly, this Howard Street cafe offers tasty, freshly-made food.
46 Howard Street, Sheffield, S1, home to Roast café. Today it’s bright, light and modern with a hint of wholefood and a whiff of espresso.
It wasn’t always like that at this address.
Around a decade ago this place was the site of the Harlequin fish and chip shop, one of the finest the city ever had.
But times change.
The place is now a remodelled, lively and welcoming café offering home-made pizzas, ciabatta sandwiches, soup, warm salads and freshly baked bread, brownies and cakes.
Apparently people still talk about the Harlequin at Roast, bang opposite Hallam University’s Owen building. Lecturers are heard to tell students of its erstwhile salt-and-vinegared splendour. Students roll their eyes and order pizza, as they tend to.
Downstairs is unrecognisable from the Harlequin days, all trace of chippy gone and it is the better for that. The Roast menu is on a blackboard above a row of seating as you walk in.
Unfortunately one of the aforesaid students – tall, with big hair – stands in front of the board making it difficult for my mate Tim and I to read.
Our bobbing heads and craning necks make no impression on him and he stands there until his friend comes in, they smile, he moves and we are enlightened.
First we follow the board’s advice to ‘ask about the hotpot’.
We do. There isn’t any.
Then we ask for pulled pork but there’s none of that either.
So Tim and I go for the warm smoked paprika chicken with pesto potatoes, peppers, rocket and ‘glaze’ which turns out to be balsamic vinegar glaze.
We order spiced butternut squash and sweet potato soup and a warm beef pastrami salad with potato salad, onion, green leaves and horseradish mayo. We also take a slice of sausage and goat’s cheese pizza.
After ordering we make our way upstairs analysing every creak, panel and floorboard until the old layout of the Harlequin dining rooms come back to us. Recalling for me fond memories of dad, lad and grandad lunch breaks from the snooker at the Crucible. Perfect food, precious moments.
Our warm salads arrive first.
The chicken breast is nicely moist and tender with a hit of paprika and a drizzle of balsamic glaze. The new potatoes are earthy and dense but with not much pesto, all accompanied by roast red peppers and some great home-made granary bread and butter. All good.
Tim’s pastrami –cured, cooked and spiced beef – looks rare and lean he assures me it’s very good. Though he does confirm there was very little horseradish kick with the mayo.
The food arrives in instalments - the soup being one of the biggest instalments you’ll ever see.
A huge bowl filled with bright orange soup. The thick texture is great and its warming spice is welcome but it lacks depth of flavour, which is partially remedied by adding salt and lots of pepper but perhaps subtlety and being left to season one’s own soup are good ideas.
According to manager Chris Wilkes Roast gets most of its business from Hallam students and city office workers.
“We have some very loyal customers, some of whom we see three or four times a day for coffee, breakfast and lunch and then maybe again on their way home,” said 29-year-old Chris, originally from the Cotswolds who moved to Sheffield eight years ago when his partner came as a student.
Is Roast always this busy?
“We do get very busy, especially at lunch times. We usually have people queueing out of the door from 11am to 2pm,”adds former chef Chris who has previously worked at what used to be Cream in Broomhill and Grind at Kelham Island
“We like to give people the type of food they want at a reasonable price that they are happy to come back for. The seats outside are popular too in the warmer months.
“We bake our own bread to go with soups and salads and owner Stuart Baker’s wife, Nikki, bakes our cakes. We get our brownies from Hash Brownies at Killamarsh.”
We try two types of brownie, salted caramel and the Rocky Road. Both are very good. You can taste the salt in the caramel and the Rocky Road is equally more-ish. We also try the Toffee Apple Flapjack made by Nikki Baker, which is a delight with caramelised apple flavours and lots of crumble and crunch.
And what about those water jugs filled with exotic leaves and fruit?
“They create interest and look good,” says Chris. Sometimes we use mint and lime or lemon and lime, rosemary and orange, cucumber.”
Roast is a very pleasant café with attractive food and a good atmosphere, that all but banishes the ghost of Harlequin’s past, but not entirely.
“We have lecturers come in who talk fondly about the Harlequin they went to as students. We offer something different but we respect the tradition of the place.”
Do English Heritage do those blue plaques for old chippies?
For two salads, soup, pizza, three brownies an orange juice and two americanos our bill came to £29.89.
Star rating out of five:
* Roast, 46 Howard Street, Sheffield S1 2LX
* Tel: 0114 2700101
* Open Monday - Friday from 8am to 4pm