Bill’s brunch

August 16, 2015 at 3:37 pm | Posted in Restaurants | Leave a comment
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Who doesn’t love brunch? After a full working week where breakfast never gets more exciting than a bowl of cereal and a hastily-gulped cup of tea, it’s nice to finally dedicate some real time to the first meal of the day.

The only downside? You have to get up early(ish) on your day off, to make sure you don’t miss out on brunch completely. Last weekend, I made sure I was up and in town at a reasonable hour, just so I could sample the breakfast menu at the recently-opened Bill’s restaurant at St Paul’s Place.

When I first looked at their website, I’d been surprised by the sheer number of Bill’s restaurants there are in cities all over the country. Somehow, I’d managed to avoid Bill’s completely, to the point where the Sheffield restaurant was the first time I’d even heard of them, so I was interested to find out what makes Bill’s so popular!

Bill’s Sheffield restaurant is smart, shiny and clearly brand spanking new, with a few characterful flourishes in the form of exposed metal pipes and walls lined with assorted bottles and jars. This is a massive venue with a pristine finish, but these quirky touches prevent it from feeling sterile.

By the time I’d dragged myself out of bed and into town, Bill’s had already been open for a few hours. Despite this, it was still on the quiet side when we arrived. The fact that the staff outnumbered the customers (at least initially) had its benefits, and its downsides. While we did enjoy lightning-fast service, we also had at least three waitresses popping by our table to ask whether our food was okay, did we want to order anything else, how were we for drinks….and so on.

Although the staff were very polite and friendly, the service was on the verge of becoming overbearing. Thankfully, Bill’s did start to fill up shortly after we arrived, so the staff had more customers to keep them occupied and we could enjoy the last part of our brunch in peace.

Onto the food and drink, and breakfast just isn’t breakfast without caffeine, so we kicked things off with a round of tea and coffee.

I went for a pot of tea and was offered a choice of English Breakfast, Earl Grey or Rooibos (£2.10). My tea arrived very nicely presented in a quaint tin teapot that contained enough tea to refill my cup four times – bargain!

My brunch buddy opted for an Americano (£2.00) plus the mysterious-sounding Bill’s Green Smoothie (£3.35).

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Although green smoothies immediately make me think of health drinks made from things like raw kale and spinach, Bill’s green smoothie tastes fruitier than your typical health drink. Whatever’s in this stuff, it doesn’t taste as sugary as plain fruit juices such as orange or apple juice, but it still has a distinctly fruity tang. Bill’s green smoothie is the perfect light and refreshing fruit smoothie to have before breakfast.

Bill’s breakfast menu is pretty big and features the usual cooked breakfasts, things-on-toast, and healthier options like granola and porridge, or you can treat yourself to eggs Benedict, Royale or Florentine.

On this particular day there was only thing on my mind: Bill’s blueberry and buttermilk pancakes with banana, strawberries and maple syrup (£5.95).

These pancakes sound incredible on the menu, so I was expecting great things – but when they arrived they were even better than I’d been expecting. Just look at them!

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Bill’s pancakes are nice and thick, and the generous helping of strawberries, blueberries and sliced bananas add a burst of juicy freshness that prevents the pancakes from feeling stodgy and heavy going. The banana slices in particular were delicious, and had gained a sweet stickiness from the accompanying maple syrup.

My only complaint is that Bill’s were a bit tight with the maple syrup, and they didn’t provide a jug of additional syrup so I could rectify the situation. This was a shame as a few extra glugs of syrup and these pancakes would have been sweet, comfort food perfection. They were still good, but halfway through I did begin to really notice the dryness and doughiness of the pancakes – at this point I’d have normally added more syrup to break up the taste, and continued eating. Instead, the taste of plain pancakes got a bit too much and I decided to call it a day.

My brunch buddy had also been tempted by just how amazing Bill’s pancakes sound on the menu, but they’d chosen to add some bacon to their pancakes (an extra £1.50).

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They raved about how well the sweet pancakes and maple syrup went with the saltiness and smokiness of the bacon – although they agreed that Bill’s had been a bit mean with the maple syrup.

Impressively, they managed to polish off all their pancakes and bacon, whereas I was completely defeated by my third and final pancake. This is a lot of stodgy food, especially so early in the morning. In fact, by the time I’d walked home all I wanted to do was crawl back into bed and take a nap (I resisted, but it wasn’t easy!)

I also ended up skipping lunch because I was still too full to contemplate eating anything. I usually live by three meals a day, so skipping a meal isn’t something I do lightly – but Bill’s breakfast pancakes kept me full until tea time.

If you want to give breakfast the time and attention it deserves, then Bill’s is a great place to do so. It’s a lovely venue with a varied breakfast menu, and if you love pancakes then you need to sample Bill’s take on this breakfast treat.

In short, Bill’s serve a breakfast that’s worth getting out of bed early for – even on your day off!

Three and a half stars

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Spotlight: Foundry Coffee Roasters

December 12, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Posted in Features | Leave a comment
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foundry coffee

The great thing about Twitter is that it makes it easy to connect with local producers, cafes, restaurants and general foodie enthusiasts, which was how I came across Foundry Coffee Roasters a couple of months ago. After trying some of their locally-roasted beans, I’m happy to confirm that not only are they some of the friendliest people currently inhabiting the twittersphere, but their beans produce a cracking cup of coffee (you can read a short writeup here.)

To find out more about what makes the Foundry Coffee Roasters crew tick, I caught up with chief roaster Lee Newell to talk about the Third Wave, converting barbecues into coffee roasters and, of course, how to make the perfect cuppa.

Can you give us a quick intro to Foundry Coffee Roasters (FCR) How did FCR get started?

Lee: I’ve been engaged in a joyous search for great coffee for a good few years now. Sadly, there’s so little of the good stuff around that I have found myself spending a small fortune ordering beans from various artisan roasters on the web.

A couple of years ago, I decided to embark on a project to convert a barbecue into my own personal roaster (not quite as crazy as it sounds, loads of people in the US have done the same thing.) The idea was that I would source small quantities of green beans and roast them in my back garden, mainly for myself but also for a few friends. As I was designing the roaster, I started to read about the theory of coffee roasting and I got completely hooked. The combination of art, craft and science involved really appealed to me and it all became a bit of an obsession. I soon realised that if I was ever to move beyond the theoretical, I needed a real-life (and probably not hand-made) coffee roaster. A few conversations with a few like-minded friends and we decided to give it a go!

What do you feel makes FCR special?

Lee: It’s our absolute commitment to quality and the respect that we have for this wonderful ingredient. There is so much time, energy and care put into growing, processing, roasting and serving these very high quality beans, and we love being a part of that process. I also really love Sheffield. Growing up in a city with such a rich heritage of skilled and dedicated craftsmanship has definitely had a big impact on me and I’m driven by that same passion for transforming raw materials into something really special. That’s why we chose our name; we’re proud of our heritage and we want to bring the values associated with the steel and cutlery industry to our coffee roasting.

Your ‘Third Wave’ blog has a lot to say about how people’s attitudes towards coffee have evolved over the years. How do you see the coffee scene in 2012 – particularly the Sheffield coffee scene?

Lee: I think Sheffield is teetering on the brink of embracing the ‘third wave.’ It’s a pretentious sounding term but really it just means taking the next logical step, past the Starbucks/Costa thing and into a new coffee world where the beans are much higher quality, they’re only ever served fresh, and the drink is always delivered by someone who really understands how to get the very best out of the bean. Although there are one or two decent cafes in Sheffield, there are nowhere near enough and we are a bit behind other large cities in the UK in this respect.

This makes Sheffield a really exciting place to be right now. We are really looking forward to working with those local cafes who really want to focus on high quality drinks made with locally roasted beans. Coffee is often likened to wine in terms of the importance of varieties, the growing conditions and processing methods; but unfortunately it can, like the wine world, also feel intimidating for the newcomer. As a nation we are used to drinking over-roasted, poor quality beans in huge cups of badly heated milk and so what we offer is very different. It’s so rewarding when people taste good coffee for the first time, it’s a revelation but we also need to be mindful of the fact that it can feel risky for a cafe to move away from the traditional drinks that people have become accustomed to.

You opened in March this year, what has been the highlight of the past few months?

Lee: The last 9 months have been pretty full on for us. Our place in Nether Edge is fantastic but installing the roaster was really complicated. Getting everything working properly and dropping the first beans into the cooling tray was the first really exciting moment for me. A roasting course in London and an advanced barista course recently have also been highlights. Personally I love the fact that I learn something new every day. The coffee community is very warm and friendly for the most part and we’ve been lucky to get some really valuable help and advice along the way.

At your blog, you’ve written about how you enjoy introducing people to good coffee for the first time. What advice do you have, for people who are moving to beans from ground coffee, on how to make the perfect cuppa?

Lee: You can make good coffee in a cafetiere so you don’t need really expensive equipment. There are other inexpensive brewing methods, check out the Aeropress or the Hario V60, both of which can be had for less than £20. Anyone can dramatically improve the taste of their coffee by only ever grinding the beans immediately before brewing. Air is the enemy of freshness and ground coffee starts going stale within minutes so grinding regularly, especially for artisan roasted beans, is essential. If you’re going to invest any money, invest most of it in a grinder.

We’ve put a few brewing guides on our blog to help people get started but the real fun is in
tweaking things to get your coffee exactly as you like it. A couple of quick tips:

  • Use water that has boiled and then been stood for a minute or so.
  • A ratio of 30g of coffee to 500ml of water is a good place to start for most methods.
  • Store your beans in the bag with a rubber band around it and don’t put them in the fridge or freezer.

Finally, what are your plans for Foundry Coffee in 2013?

Lee: Other than the never ending search for really exciting coffee, we have a few things we’d like to focus on next year. We’re hoping to get into a few of the cafes that we really like and try to get our coffee out to a wider audience. We’ll go in and spend time with the barista, working together with them and their machine to ensure that they get the very best extraction from our beans. We are hoping to invite them down to the roastery so they get to see a bit more of the bean’s journey. I’d like to really focus on Sheffield and I’m completely confident that we will have a handful of cafes that can rival the best in the country, it’s a really exciting time.

I’m also keen to hook up with a competition barista or two; it’d be great to get our coffee in the barista championships. We’ve been using local markets to brew coffee for curious newcomers; I really love seeing people’s reaction and hope to do a lot more of that next year too.

You can find out more about Foundry Coffee Roasters at www.foundrycoffeeroasters.com

Foundry Coffee

September 29, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Posted in Made Locally | 1 Comment
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Sheffield seems to be in the grip of a real coffee revolution, with more independent coffee shops than ever before. However, if you’re after some high-quality, locally-roasted beans for your home-brewed morning cuppa, it’s not immediately obvious where to go. This is the niche Sheffield-based Foundry Coffee are looking to fill.

Formed fairly recently (March of this year, in fact) Foundry Coffee take ethically sourced beans, roast them to order and get them to you in double-quick time via first class post, in packaging that’s designed to fit through your letterbox. For anyone who doesn’t enjoy spending their Saturday mornings in the queue at the Royal Mail delivery office, the latter is an absolute blessing.

So far so good but, of course, it all hinges on the product. Are Foundry Coffee’s beans any cop?

First impressions are encouraging, as the finished product arrives in a packet that boasts a mouth-watering description worthy of a wine menu at a posh restaurant, and you can find out when your beans were roasted, and by whom, on the back of the packet.

It’s this attention to detail, not to mention clear pride and enthusiasm for the product, that puts Sheffield’s independents miles ahead of their big-chain competition.

Of course, Foundry Coffee is far more expensive than the jar of own brand stuff you can pick up at Tesco’s, with prices ranging from £12 to £16 for a bag of beans. However, upon opening the bag I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of beans this buys you.

A hefty price tag, but you do get enough beans to remain highly caffeinated for weeks on end. Foundry Coffee aren’t stingy when it comes to the quantity of beans.

Actually, the smell alone is likely to make you twitchy. Even before grinding, expect to be hit by that delicious aroma of roasted coffee. By the time you’ve ground up your first batch, the entire house will smell of fresh coffee. Caffeine fans will be desperate for a cuppa after just one whiff of the stuff!

After leaving to brew for a few minutes, it was finally time to enjoy the fruits of our labour – and it’s pretty potent stuff! Absolutely impossible to compare to instant coffee, our bag of Rwanda beans produced a strong, heady brew with some subtly fruity flavours, and a vaguely smoky aftertaste. If you’re not already a coffee bean regular, the distinctive taste (and sheer strength!) will take some getting used to but, once you have, it’ll ruin instant coffee for you forever.

If you’re feeling flush with cash then it’s well worth investing in a bumper bag of Foundry Coffee beans. For your cash, you get enough coffee to keep you buzzing for a good solid month, and the freshness, strength and complex taste of the coffee will take your morning cuppa to a whole new level.

Visit www.foundrycoffeeroasters.com to find out more.

Manhattan Coffee House

August 27, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Posted in Cafe | Leave a comment
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It’s encouraging to take stock of just how many independent coffee shops are in Sheffield city centre. If you’re off the booze (i.e hungover) but still have a hankering for something wet, you can plump for Starbucks or Costa Coffee, or you can take a gamble on one of Sheffield’s many independent coffee shops.

I’ve walked past Manhattan Coffee House countless times, and there’s always someone sat outside with a newspaper and a cup of the hot stuff (I’ve actually seen some determined sod sat outside with an umbrella in one hand and a steaming hot cuppa in the other). So, this weekend we decided to see what these coffee fans knew, that we didn’t.

Upon stepping inside, we were immediately impressed by the size of the place. The handful of metal tables squeezed onto the pavement suggests a rather pokey venue, but Manhattan is a roomy cafe that isn’t stingy when it comes to dishing out the space between its many comfy chairs and sofas. There is also a pleasant, laidback atmosphere that you rarely get in Eccy Road venues – this is the sort of place where people come to do crosswords and read their newspapers in peace. The staff are polite and efficient, and the prompt table service means there’s rarely more than one party at the till. Manhattan is also onto a winner with the decor, which includes beautiful displays of white flowers draped around the ceiling’s exposed pipes, and warm amber lighting. The hustle, bustle and noise of Ecclesall Road feels a million miles away inside this chilled establishment.

So, top marks for the setting, but what about the coffee? The menu is extensive with a few twists to boot: cafeterias-for-one; a scrummy-sounding “hot chocolate sundae,” and plenty of icy, summertime favourites like frappucinos. I opted for an old favourite, a regular mocha (£2.60) which came with a rich layer of foamed milk and lashings of cocoa powder. It was also served with an obligatory biscuit, a nice touch that’s often missing from the big coffee chains.

Also arriving at our table was a cafeteria for one (£2.50) which isn’t a common feature on coffee shop menus (presumably because of all the washing-up it creates!) Manhattan’s cafeteria is available for several types of coffee, but our reviewer opted for columbian.

Besides the novelty value of plunging your own cuppa, ground coffee trumps its filtered counterpart everytime, and it’s refreshing to have the option of a cafeteria even if the other members of your party aren’t big fresh coffee fans. Manhattan also gets top marks for serving the accompanying milk hot. It’s these thoughtful touches that make independent venues like Manhattan worth a punt, rather than playing it safe with household names.

But Manhattan doesn’t just serve coffee, there’s a selection of indulgent hot chocolates too. The Manhattan Luxury Hot Chocolate (£3.50) is piled high with cream, pink and white marshmallows and finished off with a Flake.

This should be a sugar-addict’s dream in a mug, but the temperature of the hot chocolate spoiled this delicious-looking drink. Mashing the whipped cream into the hot chocolate (and let’s face it, who DOESN’T do that with a whipped cream topping?) made the drink unpleasantly cool. If you’re craving something sweet, you’re better off sticking to the Plain Hot Chocolate (£2.60) which is a no-frills mug of good old fashioned hot choccie. Ours even came with a pretty chocolate swirl etched into the milk; what more could you want?

Manhattan is a pleasant and surprisingly swankily-decorated, coffee shop. While it could take a leaf out of Tamper Coffee’s book and serve Our Cow Molly’s super fresh milk, it still stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Starbucks and Costa in terms of taste – even if it gets pipped to the post by Tamper.

A decent cuppa at a sensible price, in welcoming surroundings. If it’s a choice between Manhattan and the Costa Coffee just around the corner, there really is no contest.

Nosh

August 19, 2012 at 9:20 am | Posted in Cafe | Leave a comment
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As someone who enjoys whiling away Sunday morning in a coffee shop, it’s currently one of my biggest bugbears that Tamper Coffee doesn’t open on a Sunday (waaaaah!) The upside is that we’re always trying out new places for our little Sunday morning coffee club, which is how we discovered Nosh this week.

Located as central-as-they-come on Division Street, Nosh is a bright, pleasant and cheap-as-chips purveyor of hot drinks and assorted snacks. We placed our order at the till, where we were served by a very pleasant waitress who, rather than rushing through our order, took the time to exchange a few pleasantries with us – a surefire way to make new customers feel positive about a place.

We slipped into one of several surprisingly private booths and awaited our food and drinks. We were caught out by the fact that there wasn’t table service for hot drinks, and quickly returned to the counter for the liquid part of our order. There was also something a bit budget-hotel about the plastic tubs of sugar sachets and other condiments on the table, but these niggles were soon forgotten when we tucked into our hot drinks and snacks.

First up, was a bargain £1.95 latte which came nicely presented in a tall glass. Although the Our Cow Molly milk is sorely missing (Tamper, you’ve spoiled us!) this is still a cut above most big chains.

My hot chocolate was rich and indulgent without being sickly, even the dregs at the bottom were delicious rather than silty with undissolved chocolate powder. The drink was finished off with (un)healthy lashings of yummy chocolate powder. At £2.19 this treat is an absolute steal.

But that wasn’t the biggest bargain of the morning: the bacon, egg and cheese muffin we ordered came in at a pocket-friendly £1.60. A little dubious about this cheapie breakfast, we were pleasantly surprised by what showed up: a freshly-cooked, no-frills treat of tasty bacon, perfectly-cooked egg and a large slice of cheese. Grease-free and obviously pulled straight off the grill, our reviewer raved about the taste, the freshness and, of course, the price.

A large americano (£2.10) to wash down the muffin equalled one very happy camper.

Nosh is a cheap and cheerful place, set in bright, clean surroundings – they may pedal bargain butties, but there’s nothing ‘greasy spoon’ about them. Nosh serve a decent, Fairtrade cuppa (at this point, it goes without saying you can get better coffee elsewhere in the city) but it’s the no-frills food where they really excel. Do yourself a favour, and treat yourself to a budget-friendly breakfast sarnie while you’re there. If you’re on a tight schedule and/or a tight budget, quick, pleasant and pocket-friendly Nosh is the way to go.

Patisserie Valerie

June 4, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Posted in Cafe | Leave a comment
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Coffee and cake brunch? It can only mean one thing: a bank holiday!

Located in the heart of Sheffield city centre (Barker’s Pool, to be precise) I’ve wandered past Patisserie Valerie a couple of times, and have always had my head turned by its calorie-ific window display of glazed fruit tarts; profiteroles topped with twists of chocolate and sculptured cream; and every variety of chocolate cake under the sun. Unable to fight it any longer, we were outside the shop waiting for it to open at 10am over the bank holiday weekend, like a right old bunch of cake-addicts.

Despite being slap bang in the city centre, Patisserie Valerie boasts a small outdoor seating area. As the morning hadn’t properly warmed up yet, we settled on a table indoors.

Beyond Patisserie Valerie’s work-of-art window display, the cafe has the same Parisian theme as Café Rouge. The seating is a trendy mix of dark wood and red leather, with plenty of Parisian artwork thrown in for good measure.

It’s a very chic setting for your morning cuppa and despite being the first through the door, Patisserie Valerie soon filled up. This is clearly a popular cafe, particularly for families with young children.

In addition to cakes and coffees, Patisserie Valerie serves a range of breakfast items, salads and sandwiches. Be warned though, the food is pricey – we spotted what was essentially a posh tuna club melt for £8.50, and a chicken caesar salad priced at £9.00. As it was still early, we decided to stick to coffee and cake, and ordered a selection of coffees: a latte (£2.80) cappuccino (£2.80) and americano (£2.70) which were all reasonably priced.

The coffees arrived in the no-frills white mugs you can find in any coffee chain, which was a bit of a disappointment considering our swanky surroundings, but we were all happy with the size of our coffees. Patisserie Valerie serves a decent tasting cup of coffee, similar to a Starbucks or a Caffe Nero cuppa, just in a nicer location.

But what we were really looking forward to was the cake. To offset our guilt, we ordered something that would provide us with one of our five a day (in addition to a wodge of calories and saturated fats) a round of Belgium Apple Tarts (£3.35). Heavily glazed and loaded with slices of apple arranged like flower petals, it certainly looked the part. More importantly, it tasted the part, too. The apple slices were sweet and had the tanginess of just-baked cooking apples, and the baker hadn’t skimped on the cinnamon. Spicy, juicy and sweet with a base of crumbly pastry, we were all in agreement that at just over £3, these posh apple tarts were well worth the money.

With a string of cafes all over the UK, Patisserie Valerie clearly work hard to maintain their ‘local cafe’ atmosphere. The boutique decor and lavish window displays create an independent vibe that makes this a far more pleasant venue than the coffee shops of other nationwide coffee chains. Although the coffee tastes similar to Starbucks and Caffe Nero’s, the decor, relaxed atmosphere and friendliness of the staff makes this a much more pleasant venue to while away a morning, and when it comes to cakes Patisserie Valerie excels – there isn’t a pre-packed muffin or cellophane-wrapped cookie in sight.

A decent cup of coffee, a fantastic range of fresh cakes and characterful surroundings – Patisserie Valerie is a nationwide coffee chain done right.

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