Chris Wilson reviews one of Sheffield's most historic cafés
What does the word café mean to you? A scotch egg and a pork pie, a slice washed down by a steaming cuppa? Or perhaps un petit café au lait, or a truck stop pukka pasty?
The Oxford English dictionary describes a café as “a small restaurant selling light meals and drinks”, and when I was told there was an independent café in the heart of Sheffield Cathedral – created by the cathedral, for the cathedral – I had half expected a homespun kind of set up with some wonky pastries and mismatched tea cups.
Instead, 1554 Coffee boasts what must be the grandest welcome to any café in Sheffield – with a jaw-dropping Victorian stained glass window, four stone panels from a tomb commissioned c.1584 by George VI Earl of Shrewsbury, and a name that harks back to the year when Queen Mary Tudor granted a Royal charter that gave back confiscated lands and property to the burgesses of Sheffield.
It’s right on the map for historians, retirees and parents with young kids, and is crammed from breakfast to supper with customers digging into deli savouries, homemade sandwiches and fresh from-the-oven scones with jam and butter.
But its grand interior is no mask for what we’re really there for; the food. The short menu lets vibrant produce do the talking, and the classics like pork pie and pickle and lemon drizzle cake are there – why fix something if it’s not broken. But other less calorific dishes are available too, such as organic fresh-as-a-daisy salads and soup of the day.
We started our afternoon with a plum and cherry Breckland Orchard posh pop (£2.20) and soy latte (£2.85), followed by a mushroom, goats cheese and spinach pizza bread (£3.95) and plum chutney, spinach and goats cheese quiche (£3.95). They both came piping hot and full of flavour, and we added a side of salad and coleslaw too, but you probably don’t need to – the portions are very generous.
I was delighted to see a ploughman’s platter on the menu, and when the plate arrived it was piled high with big slabs of golden-as-a-spring buttercup cheddar cheese, a Wateralls pork pie, coleslaw, green salad, pickle, pickled onions and lovely wholemeal bread. For £5.95, it was outstanding value.
The cakes – we couldn’t resist the counter display – are also worth noting. My companion tackled the delightfully syrupy and chewy carrot cake (£3.05) and took half of it home to see her through the rest of the day. And my scone – still warm and just plucked from the oven – pulled apart beautifully around the sweet and soft sultanas. A classic done well.
It wouldn’t be a true British café if the tea wasn’t something to shout about. Glass cups arrived teeming with mellow but bursting-with-flavour freshly brewed Tea Pigs mac feng green and chai tea, and Earl Grey (£2.30). And, if you want decaf, soya or almond milk, have been considerate in every detail.
It’s so difficult these days to simply stumble across “a small restaurant selling light meals and drinks” that doesn’t also loudly proclaim its utter fabulousness. But - a destination not just for hungry history buffs but for foodies first and foremost – 1554 appears to be having a renaissance of its very own.
In this case, it would be more apt if “café” stood for affordable, good-quality, no-nonsense fare with unpretentious expectations.
1554 Café, Sheffield Cathedral,