Wining and Dining: The growth of Sheffield as a foodie city

The Sheffield food and drink scene is as diverse as it is burgeoning; the last decade has seen the culinary community flourish, and it’s the independent businesses that have been at the heart of this upsurge. A close-knit city where restaurateurs and chefs support each other as much as they support Yorkshire suppliers, producers and artisan makers; the outlook in Sheffield is to keep things as local as possible. To find out more about the city’s gastronomic gains, we’ve rounded up a few key players on the scene who have given us everything from our first gastropub and shipping container fine-dining restaurant, to an award-winning boutique hotel and eatery that even gained Gordon Ramsay’s stamp of approval. Here’s what they think of the past, present and future of dining out in the Steel City.

Justin Rowntree
Founder of Silversmiths Restaurant

When I began in 2005 I saw so much opportunity in Sheffield and I wanted to be a part of putting the city on the UK’s foodie map. I started with my live music venue and restaurant The Runaway Girl, which was a tough business to run, especially leading up to the 2008 recession. Featuring on Kitchen Nightmares in 2009, Gordon Ramsay came and gave me some BIG lessons, after which Silversmiths was born. The key for my success with Silversmiths has been closely tied to strong relationships with my suppliers, customers and staff. Loyalty from all of these is critical and I see the best parts of the city’s independent scene growing strong through good relationships, co-promotion and collaboration.

Excitingly, I am exiting Silversmiths this spring to advise and consult with the solid wave of start-up restaurants and cafes across the city. As our city’s increasingly confident food scene grows, I see it is the smaller businesses that can create real loyalty and react quickly to market conditions. These are the ones set to be the backbone of our dining economy’s future.

Matt Bigland
Owner of The Milestone Group: Milestone, Craft & Dough, Jöro, INC

In the 10 years I’ve been operating as a restauranteur in Sheffield, the city’s foodie community has developed leaps and bounds – today the scene is alive with entrepreneurial foodies all adding to the collective feel of a progressive city. Kelham Island has evolved into a foodie hotspot and I can’t see it slowing. The likes of Peddler Market merge food, drink and music into a social night out which has changed how a Saturday evening operates. No longer is it a bender or a restaurant choice; it’s about experiencing food and drink from quality producers with friends and like-minded people.

The single item menu has also evolved – we do one thing and we do it good! Whether it be pizza (Craft & Dough) or burgers (Urban Social), doughnuts or pho; it’s a showcase of the purity and detail. We don’t do 40 item menus as this is impossible to cook fresh and ensure the quality is world class. The issue of waste within the industry has also become a real focus over the past decade and is backed up by using local and seasonal produce. At The Milestone we compost our kitchen waste and ensure our dishes use each and every part of the animal or plant.

The Real Junk Food project is helping to spread the wider word on this topic with ‘pay as you feel’ cafes fuelled by food that would have otherwise been thrown away. The truth is, Sheffield has lots of opportunity and growth areas for entrepreneurs who are willing to take the gamble. We have gone from a city dominated by chains to a city that supports independents. Long may it continue!

Tiina Carr
Owner of Brocco on the Park

I think the food scene in Sheffield is growing and set to grow further as consumers demand a wider, better quality choice away from the ubiquitous chain restaurant. It has developed over the years to reflect the changing demographic of population coming into Sheffield, bringing with it a more diverse style of cooking. This will be set to progress further with the new Chinese quarter development, New Era Square on St Mary’s Gate. For the food and drink scene to continue to thrive I believe we need to support the local independent restauranteur and encourage the diversity of food on offer.

Brocco On The Park is all about the fresh, feel-good food that is homemade and seasonal. We know the provenance of the food we serve and the nutritional benefits of eating fresh. We hope consumers begin to appreciate the quality of what is being offered to them and support this type of eating.

Richard Smith
Owner of Brew Kitchen: The Graze Inn, Cricket Inn, Thyme Café

For me, the development of the Sheffield food scene has been steady and progressive over the last twenty years. In the early days I think people were slightly averse to taking a leap into this industry, and it was slow to kick off as people were cautious of the risks. However, as the years have gone by the marketplace has become more casual in its requirements and opportunities have certainly been maximised.

The future for Sheffield is bright, but relies on brilliant individuals, vision and a can-do attitude. I’m fortunate that in the last twenty years I’ve gone from a stand-alone restaurant cooking on my own, to at one stage owning ten places and employing nearly 300 staff! While I may have preferred the early days of simply just cooking (and not dealing with all of the daily admin that comes with running a business of this size), one thing I have learnt is you simply have to love what you do, every day, every week, every year.

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