Tag Archive for: Sheffield

It has been an epic journey across time and space and I’m understandably nervous when I encounter a scribbled sign at the picket gate into the Brewery of St Mars of the Desert. Private function today? Shut by Covid scare?

Phew. ‘Please don’t let Grimbold the dog out’ with a silhouette of the jet black bundle of fun I get to pat once I step across the ‘Welcome To Mars’ threshold. Fun is a good word, indeed, for everything that greets me inside this colourful cottage of a taproom. My benchmate, who budges up for me, recommends the ‘SMODFEST’ Festbier for its soft maltiness, continental hop character and absence of excess carbonation that can bedevil a lager. 

OK, I’ve made him more eloquent than he was. Yet it is a great introduction to SMOD, who specialise in “hoppy koelship beers, foeder-soured stingos, rustic lagers, deep malty dark beers and Benelux-inspired creations”, according to their website. Koelship? Pronounced cool ship, it’s a long, slender, open top stainless steel vessel akin to those traditional Flemish/Dutch koelschips, originally made of wood, whose high surface-to-mass ratio allows for more efficient cooling of the wort in the brewing process. Won’t go into more detail – this is a nerd-free zone.

It’s the centrepiece of a modest scale brewing operation behind the taproom, where SMOD co-owners Dann Paquette and Martha Simpson-Holley, plus apprentice Scarlet, produce some splendidly niche and nuanced beers in the old industrial district of Attercliffe, surrounded by ranks of contemporary factories/depots.

Not the easiest place to get to, hence my ‘epic journey’ lead-off. On my last adventure in Sheffield my last port of call was meant to be here but my phone charge went dead and no local could guide me, even though I was within a couple of hundred metres. Even this this time, on a trek from a tram halt, I feel rudderless.

Once I arrive, then, I am in no hurry to leave, sampling in turn Clamp Koelship IPA, hazy and hoppy yet like all the beers very clean, Koel It! Jingly Bells, all my Christmases come early with oodles of hops married to a festive fruitiness and, finally, The Battle of Frogs and Mice, Dann and Martha’s ‘tribute to the original craft brewers of Belgium’. Artisan or what?

At 8 per cent, Frogs, a dark special brune, outmuscles the 6.3 per cent Mice, a Flanders golden bitter, but it is also smoother, fruitier and more complex. According to the SMOD beer menu it is “brewed with a recreation of the water profile of West Flanders”. Now that is an attention to detail.

Bizarrely, when the globally influential RateBeer site announced its 10 Best New Breweries in the World 2020, two of the three British breweries named had this Belgian resonance (SMOD and, understandably, Mount Saint Bernard Abbey in Leicestershire) and two had American founders/brewers (SMOD and Suffolk’s Duration, incidentally many of whose ales are farmhouse and saison, too).

Bostonian Dann met North Yorkshire lass Martha across the Pond and the pair ran the acclaimed Pretty Things brewery for eight years before embarking on peripatetic journeys across Asia and Europe. Along the way they fell in love with a smallholding near a village called Saint-Mars-du-Désert in France’s Pays de la Loire region, named after an eighth century hermit. 

Maybe but for the prospect of Brexit they might have set up there; after considering Leeds and Manchester they went for Sheffield and took the monastic moniker with them. After all it was monks who first consolidated the brewing industry.

The pair’s fascinating story is recounted in a Pellicle online magazine piece by Matt Curtis,  ‘Everything in its right place and SMOD is a featured brewery in his recently published Modern British Beer (CAMRA Books, £15.99). Read my review here.

It’s not just about the beer, though. The taproom faithful are a civilised lot, Dann and Martha host it all with real warmth and Grimbold is irrepressible.

St Mars had been on my radar since its inception in 2018. My yearning to visit has since become a catalyst for discovering a Sheffield beyond my Richard Hawley and Jarvis Cocker affiliations. This time around I was smitten by the diversity and raw vitality of The Moor Market and found Cutlery Works the most relaxing street food hall I’ve ever visited.


Chicken livers, gizzards and hearts are all the same price – 90p a pound. The adjacent pig’s feet are priceless (in a nose to tail photoshoot way). Across the aisle a specialist Persian food stall offers ingredients I’ve only ever read about in Sabrina Ghayour or Yasmin Khan. On one fish stall I encounter a sturdy carp, not seen on most slabs. There is tripe and various intestinal siblings, feathered, ungutted game birds and a whole, skinned rabbit still defrosting I enquire about, to be told “it’s French, farmed, you’ll have to wait a couple of weeks for the English, wild, fresh.” I loved all this from the moment I walked into find a fine bottle shop, Beer Central, to welcome me.

The building is less than a decade old, cost £18m and includes 200 market stalls and eight shops. Situated off a pedestrian precinct rammed with every high street name you can think of, what a relief to discover this haven of independent traders, offering an affordable, browsable, diverse alternative to control freak supermarkets. 

Its main northern rival, Leeds Market, benefits from its Victorian monumentality and better dining-in opportunities, but Sheffield’s really is hard to beat. Obviously not in comparison with the great markets of Spain, Barcelona’s Boqueria or Valencia’s Modernista-style Mercado Central. They reflect a whole different food culture. It has been interesting, though, to tick off across the Iberian peninsula the rise of markets morphing into food halls – in Bilbao, Madrid, Seville and notably Lisbon’s waterfront Time Out Market.


That Lisbon operation is a showcase for the city’s Michelin-starred chefs. Sheffield’s stand-out food hall is an altogether more modest affair despite its claims to be the North’s largest. Set in a converted cutlery factory, in the post-industrial corridor that stretches out from Kelham Island, Cutlery Works offers 13 different vendors across two floors, ranging from China Red’s Szechuan sizzlers to chocolate counter Bullion and coffee roasters Foundry, taking in Thai, pizza, fried chicken, burgers, sushi and Mexican along the way.

Foundry provide bottomless batch coffee for freelancers taking advantage between 9am and 5pm of designated co-working spaces with plug sockets and 10 per cent food discounts. All very cool and relaxing in my mid-afternoon slot, it lacked the buzz of Manchester’s Mackie Mayor, which I still love – despite my general weariness with the whole food hall experience. 

The Guardian restaurant critic Grace Dent summed it up nicely: “I need to ask a very honest question here: are food halls ever a truly satisfying dining experience? I’ve no doubt they seem so on paper and in the marketing meetings, they’re fantastic for filling old, unloved but historically important spaces and they’re good news for downward-spiralling city centres. Yet in reality they’re noisy, unrelaxing and the food is often patchy, with the occasional gem hidden among the colossal choice of menus.”

That was in last month’s review of the GPO in Liverpool, as the name suggests, a post office repurposed into a food hall. She was unimpressed by Nama, a Japanese small fish plates counter, created by Luke French and Stacey Sherwood-French of Sheffield big hitter Jöro (my restaurant review here), who have also transferred their other new venture Konjö.

The original of this Korean-influenced, fire-based “Robatayaki” Kitchen was my choice at Cutlery Works. It’s the first vendor on the left as you reach the first floor – preferable to the ground floor if only because it boasts the proper craft beer bar, Boozehound.

I spent £30 at Konjö, mainly because I over-ordered in my eagerness (and a desire for ballast ahead of my beer destination). Don’t expect a spin-off from Jöro down the road. There’s no comparable finesse. And yet my combo was hugely enjoyable. A duck bao was basically a take on the old Peking/hoisin sauce stalwart while chilli beef was sticky and punchy. Sides of subtle kimchi and refreshing sesame greens provided perfect balance ahead of my journey  to Mars.

Brewery of Saint Mars of the Desert, 90 Stevenson Rd, Sheffield S9 3XG. The taproom is normally open Fridays and Saturdays 2pm-8pm.

Cutlery Work, 73-101 Neepsend Lane, Neepsend, Sheffield S3 8AT. Open Sunday-Thursday, 10am-10pm; Friday-Saturday 10am-11pm.

Summer 2021 marks two milestones in the post-industrial bubble that is Kelham Island. Cutting edge restaurant Jöro has expanded beyond its upcycled shipping container base to open a four-room boutique hotel nearby, complete with chef’s table, while the homely pub at the heart of this buzzing urban community is celebrating 40 years of just being The Fat Cat.

A maverick umbilical cord links that almost bucolic cask beer mecca, whose in-house brewery spawned the iconic Pale Rider ale, to the sleek steel (well it is Sheffield) Krynkl complex where chef Luke French has transformed the city’s culinary expectations over the past four years. It reached No.34 in the Estrella Damm National Restaurant Awards (announced on August 16).

Post lockdown it seemed a good time to visit both pioneering venues. So a tram from the station (after a Thornbridge Jaipur refresher, naturally at the Sheffield Tap on Platform 1B), then across the busy Shalesmoor roundabout to a suddenly hushed warren of backstreets to establish the respective locations.

Only disappointment of a dazzling day, the Kelham Island Tavern had been forced to shut

A detour might have been in order, too, to the Kelham Island Tavern, arguably the city’s best craft beer pub venue but – sign of the times – there was a Covid-closure note on the door. Still the pre-amble ramble did allow me to soak in the atmosphere of a district that defines industrial heritage and cool renewal…

Renewal, of course, means creatives clustering in shiny new build apartments or brick-heavy warehouse conversions with a casual bar/dining scene springing up to service the influx. And occasionally big hitters show up such as Mana in Ancoats, Brat in Shoreditch or Casamia on the Bristol waterfront. Sheffield has its own contender…


One slight tremor as I entered the penumbral interior, the normal 50 covers reduced as a Covd-safe measure. Would the widening horizons of Luke French and his wife and business director, Stacey Sherwood-French impact on the core operation? Not jut th hotel project but also street food spin-offs. Fear not this was an outstanding £65 eight course lunch that ate up three joyful hours. I’m not sure I’m a fan of the building, shaped from 29 shipping containers but I am of a serving staff that included one who had a sake qualification (thanks for the New Mountain Junmai recommendation) and another who knew his way round the new Spanish wine frontiers of Ribeira Sacra and Sierra de Gredos.

Chef Luke has previously expressed his desire to “find something similar to L’Enclume or The Black Swan at Oldstead, somewhere rural we can forage in and with a smallholding to grow our own ingredients.” For the moment he’s as urban as it gets, albeit with some amazing rural suppliers. Just a Michelin Bib for the moment but the food I encountered across my tasting menu surely deserve a star. Manchester’s own Mana deserves a second, but that’s a whole other matter.

Jöro Highlights? Virtually everything, from an early introduction to Chawanmushi, a savoury Japanese custard here flavoured with smoked eel, a tiny tranche of which also featured alongside salmon roe and pancetta. Wortley wagyu rump in a tartare with celeriac and mustard was less groundbreaking but equally wonderful. I should have asked about the Wortley provenance (it’s the fabled beef of Japan but reared in South Yorkshire’s grasslands); I didn’t make the same mistake with Doncaster peas. “You’ll taste them and know why,” was the enigmatic response. Their yoking with mint and lamb fat yielded more detailed exegesis. The key to the dish was ‘lamb garum’ where lamb mince and koji had been given 10 weeks in a water bath to create a fermented base for this incredible dish. For more on garum read my recent article.

What I really loved about the whole experience was a straightforward punch of flavours, whether a pure tranche of Cornish cod on a bed of smoked haddock and creme fraiche sauce or among the desserts the stand-out strawberries with lemon verbena and organic yoghurt. You get the dedication to our own raw materials filtered through an appropriated  Japanese and Norse (hence the name) sensibility.

Stays and JÖRO Packages can be booked online via this link.


Neither of my two destinations is on the island proper, man-made in the 13th by diverting water from the River Don to power medieval mills. So a distant seed sown for the Industrial Revolution proper, the catalyst for which in Sheffield was the opening of John Crowley’s Iron Foundry in 1829, tapping into river power abundant coal and iron ore. 

If you want to get the full story visit the Kelham Island Museum, which was created 40 years ago. You can see it prize exhibition for free because the only Bessemer steel converter still in existence stands in front. This egg-shaped black hulk quickly revolutionised 19th century steel production.

Thirsty work, the industry in its heyday and pubs like The Alma just down the street of that name existed to slake those forge-driven thirsts. Then came the long slow decline of the Steel City. From the Seventies onwards recession and dereliction battered Kelham.

It took a brave man to acquire the Alma, change its name to the ironic Fat Cat and start brewing his own exceptional beer in the yard. 

That was the grand plan of Dave Wickett, the new co-owner. The pub introduced Sheffield to a cavalcade of guest beers and by 1990 when Dave took sole control he created his own Kelha Island Brewery in the beer garden. The pub survived flooding in 2007; the level is charted on the exterior alongside that of the The Great Sheffield Flood of 1864. It survived Dave’s early death and is still brewing in premises across the street.

In 2004 their flagship beer Pale Rider was voted Supreme Champion Beer of Britain at The Great British Beer Festival. It has hardly been off the hand pull ever since, though a recent month’s hiatus perturbed devotees.

Matthew Curtis, in his highly recommended new survey, Modern British Beer (CAMRA Books, £15.99) descrIbes Pale Rider thus: “There was some malt character in the flavour, soft and candy-floss sweet, but only fleetingly. This allowed a crescendo of hop to build with notes of candied orange peel to the fore, but they were restrained throughout with a balanced bittersweet finish forming at the end of this orchestral flourish. 

A touch flowery but a good summary of my ‘aperitif’ experience before lunch over at Jöro. Old meets new in one memorable Kelham Island afternoon.