Meet the couple putting a café on the menu at Park Hill in Sheffield

"We're a test case," says Tim Jenkins, drawing a nod of agreement from his wife Rachel Cornish as bright springtime sunlight pours in through the windows of South Street Kitchen - the first café to open at the redeveloped Park Hill estate in Sheffield.

Tuesday, 27th March 2018, 5:13 pm
Updated Tuesday, 27th March 2018, 5:16 pm
Rachel Cornish and Tim Jenkins at South Street Kitchen. Picture: Andrew Roe

The launch tomorrow has coincided with Rachel and Tim's 30th wedding anniversary; a stressful way of celebrating, perhaps, but it seems conditions are right for the independent venture to be a success.

"I had always wanted to open a café but wanted to do it somewhere challenging," says Rachel. "We'd looked in places like Sharrow Vale Road, and Rustlings Road, but none felt quite right. When this came up it was like 'Wow, that would be amazing'. We want to be part of the community."

Inside South Street Kitchen at Park Hill. Picture: Andrew Roe

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South Street Kitchen is, as the name suggests, on South Street in the first completed phase of the new-look Park Hill, which is being overhauled by developer Urban Splash. It sits in the row of commercial units below the residential flats, joining companies like Warp Films and creative agency Human that have offices there.

Subsequent stages of the redevelopment will bring student accommodation, an arts centre and more apartments, as well as leisure facilities, but Tim and Rachel are the first to take the plunge by operating a 50-cover venue that could open up Park Hill more widely to visitors.

Rachel, aged 55, saw the space more than two years ago when she went to an exhibition at S1 Artspace, which is based at the Grade II-listed estate and will eventually move in to the arts centre. "It took a while to convince Tim it was a good idea," she admits.

She studied in Sheffield in the 1980s and is trained as a lawyer - one of her first jobs was working for Howells Solicitors at a small office on the Park Hill site, and she can remember how steeply the place declined before the makeover began. "It was a shame. I did feel it was somewhere that had slightly lost its life."

Inside South Street Kitchen at Park Hill. Picture: Andrew Roe

Now she runs a family charity, while environmental campaigner Tim, 56, has worked for Friends of the Earth. The couple have four children in their teens and early 20s, who have been helping to manage the social media.

South Street Kitchen has a Middle Eastern inspired menu, devised alongside chef Michael Pledger. Chickpea tagine, a breakfast mezze, hummus plates and aubergine chermoula are all featured on a wholly vegetarian list - but Rachel and Tim are reluctant to make this specialism a key selling point.

"It's not the focus," she says. "We're trying to make it accessible to everybody."

Yotam Ottolenghi is a big influence, and Rachel once spent time on a kibbutz in Israel. "The fusion of these foods really appeals to us," she adds.

Northern craft beers from breweries such as Thornbridge, and hopefully Bradfield and Acorn soon, are on the bar, and the wine list comprises vegan drinks from Europe. Coffee is from Dark Woods in Huddersfield.

The interior design - described by the couple as 'stripped-back, Scandi, indie-style' - makes much of Park Hill's bare, Brutalist concrete walls; chairs and tables will be placed on the pavement outside and a grassed area will be used too on fine days. Opening hours are 8am to 5pm Tuesday to Thursday, extending to 10pm on Fridays. Brunch is served on Saturdays from 9am to 4pm.

Tim points out that, for people who haven't been inside one of the new flats, the café will effectively be a showcase for the development. A separate bar with seating has been installed upstairs, and will have the option of being closed off for bookings.

Residents were invited to an open day last weekend. Some met each other for the first time. "There was an eight-day-old baby on their first outing from above, which felt really sweet," says Rachel. Events are on the calendar and should put the spotlight on Park Hill, bringing in diners - the Urban CX bike race is back at the estate this summer, and Richard Hawley's new musical charting its history is at the Crucible early next year.

"There's a really good feeling around here," says Tim.