Heritage, fondue and American comfort food – the rebirth of the Saw Grinders Union

A key aspect in regenerating areas of former industrial cities such as Sheffield, places where history and civic identity are of particular importance to the populace, is being able to utilise the empty spaces left behind in former factories, workshops and mills.

The Grade II-listed Globe Works building in Kelham Island is a good example of this. Dating back to the early 19th century, it was once one of the city’s most famous cutlery works – arguably the first in the world built solely for that purpose – and for over a century the building was a hub of production for quality steel items.

The cafe offering at the venue

Today the building contains an array of modern office space, housing everything from design studios to a beauty salon. However, it’s outside in the quaint courtyard where the most significant recent addition has been made with the arrival of Saw Grinders Union – a stylish café, bar and restaurant situated in what was an abandoned warehouse unit.

The name itself harks back to the building’s intriguing (and at times rather dark) history. During the 1840s, a dispute between bosses and the Saw Grinders Union over pay turned nasty when members of the union, sometimes referred to as “The Ratteners”, planted a bomb in the building to make their feelings clear.

Sheffield saw grinders in the 1800s. Copyright Trades of Sheffield/London News.

It’s all intriguing stuff to dwell on while taking a pew on one of the outdoor benches, drinking in the history (and some of the delights on the menu – more on that later). The interior is refreshingly light and airy but also places an emphasis on comfort: fluffy, fully-feathered pillows can be found on one side of the café and bar areas, while the living, self-irrigating plant wall sets it all off with a nice kick of feng shui.

Sticking closely to the theme of comfort, the menu was also designed with unabashed guilty pleasures in mind. Burgers, steak, poutine, chilli (veggie), mac and cheese all feature alongside smaller ‘light bites’ perfect for sharing such as halloumi fries, cauliflower wings and pork belly slices. Everything from the meat to the bread and cakes are sourced locally and all else is made fresh on-site, with the café section providing brekkie and brunch options from smoothie bowls to a full English. A changeable monthly batch brew is supplied from Extract Coffee and other carefully selected independent coffee suppliers around the UK and pastries are catered for via 4eyes Patisserie.

The ‘pièce de résistance’!

However, the main event when it comes to food offerings, the pièce de résistance if you may, are the fondue pots – a mouthwatering blend of melted cheese served in a large cast iron pot. For dipping you’ll receive fresh bread, potatoes and pickles (don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried), but there’s also the option to add a meat or veg board so you can really make it a feast. For those who don’t have dairy products, there’s vegan fondue on offer so nobody gets left out.

Drink-wise, the focus on local lovin’ and independents is reflected on the taps – a carefully curated selection including Sheffield-based St Mars of the Desert and some of the best names in the craft beer game including Magic Rock, Northern Monk and Beavertown. For cocktails there’s a selection of almost 30 bespoke concoctions to choose from, helpfully divided into sections such as ‘After Work’ (lower strength) and ‘Strong and Intense’ (for a good kick following food).

A selection of craft beers can be found at the bar

“Everything has been planned with the experience in mind, from the aesthetics to the menu,” Saw Grinders owner James Rodgers told us. “We’re proud to be tied to this historic building and the reaction so far has been incredible. It’s a place where people can come to relax, enjoy themselves and basically get comfortable.”

Open 7 days a week // 8am-11.30pm //

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