AT Sheffield University in the Eighties urban geographers detected an invisible line which ran through the then Hole in the Road. Below it, past C&A down to The Wicker, taking in the Castle, Sheaf and Rag and Tag markets – and the courts – was territory occupied by what sociologists called rough working class.
Above it, from Rackham’s to High Street, Fargate and the Moor was the domain of the respectable working class and the city’s relatively small middle class.
Modern sensibilities being what they are, we no longer use these terms but some may raise a wry smile that there is now a bridgehead of gastro-gentrification in what was the old Brightside & Carbook Co-Op in Castle House, now the Kommune Food Hall. Here they sell lobster thermidor for £30 a go, Korean spicy pork, vegan salads and sourdough loaves not 30 yards from the Poundland opposite.
Kommune sounds a bit beardy and trendy with tattoos optional and indeed it is, on both sides of the counter. But in the opening weeks this enterprise with 10 different food options has had a real vibe and exciting atmosphere. Sit at the communal tables, bar stools or booths and you get just a hint of Lisbon’s Time Out food hall, although not the sophistication.
On our first two visits it was packed and difficult to find a table, on our third, a Tuesday, it was quieter but still busy. And certainly livelier than when you went to get your divi at the old B&C.
At lunchtimes you order from each kiosk, pay and are given a buzzer when your food is ready. Evenings are more relaxed: pagers are dumped and food is brought to your table.
Kommune is still being developed. On the non-food side there is a splendid bar curving around the well of the building’s impressive spiral staircase, an art gallery and arty magazine shop but the building still has acres of empty space.
I’ve eaten or bought from seven of the independent businesses here. There is a ubiquitous burger and a pizza place, which I have yet to try, but the star of the show has to be Mann’s fish bar, the offshoot of the wet fish business at Sharrow Vale (where owner chef Christian Szurko already cooks up lunchtime fish ordered from the slab).
Kommune is all about street food and you might say Mann’s is hardly that. Here we had an excellent, if slightly small salmon fish cake (£10, to a Savoy Hotel recipe) on a dazzlingly good dill sauce and a ‘fish finger sandwich’ of battered goujons inside a squid ink-coloured bun. Chef Scott Mills, Christian’s partner, is enthusiastic about things so far.
The menu looks tempting: there is also dressed crab, clam chowder, steamed mussels and stuffed squid but did he really sell many thermidors? “They fly out,” he said, perhaps a little over-dramatically. “We don’t make anything on them but it gets us known.” He covers the breakfast and brunch market with dishes like kippers and haddock frittata with more expensive and sophisticated offerings at night.
We have yet to go at night. A trip to the Chaat Cart, a South Indian street food joint, produced an excellently flavoured chicken kati roll (£8), spiced-up poultry with vegetables on a roti. It was chicken for me from Shoot The Bull, a rotisserie and grill. I enjoyed my quarter chicken (£7.50) which was hardly more than a leg. This had been first brined then basted with maple syrup so there was plenty of flavour in the flesh and skin. The price included top quality chips fried in beef dripping. One thought: I never saw more than two birds on the rotisserie so the stall lacks kerb appeal.
Pom Kitchen is an Australian-inspired vegan and veggie option. The salad bowl (£7) was lively salad with decent focaccia let down by boringly bland hummus. A trip to Yoki, a Korean enterprise, offered an interesting spiced pork (slices stir-fried with chilli) which combined heat with a touch of sweetness. It came with a timbale of rice and salad garnish.
Kiwi coffee from local enterprise Tamper is stronger and richer than your average cup (each shot uses 42g of beans instead of the usual 36g) so you might not be safe drinking it after 2pm!
So far, so good. Kommune could do with a desserts offering, perhaps to justify lingering in the evening. It’s so refreshing to see something good, locally owned and independent in the city centre as a change from all those dreary old chain eateries.
Kommune is at Castle House, Angel Street, Sheffield S3. It opens Tues to Sat 9am to 11pm, Sun 9am to 9pm. Web: http://www.kommune.co.uk
#Castle House, a Grade II listed building has a lot of history and a story of delay caused by two world wars. Land was originally bought by the B&C on Angel Street in 1914 just before war broke out so building was delayed until 1927. It was slowed by discovery of the Sheffield Castle site and not completed until 1938. The building was destroyed in the Sheffield Blitz of 1940. The new building, designed by G S Hay, took as its inspiration Irving Park’s Sears Roebuck department store in Chicago, with its two blind walls on the first and second sales floors. The splendid interiors, including a mural, are by Stanley Layland.