An idea Flowers at Dyson Place

Martin Flowers: Dyson Place is his Lego set

THIS IS developer Martin Flowers, the man behind that new lively little square of shops, flats and restaurants which is Dyson Place, not far off Ecclesall Road, Sheffield.

On a sunny weekday morning the place is vibrant as people stroll in to buy a coffee, stop for lunch, get their hair cut, shop for vegetables or seek a little therapy in the tweely-named but correctly apostrophied Artisans’ Yard around the back.

Martin, aged 63, with no thought of retiring, sips his double expresso outside Tonco, his first tenant, and tells how he had to battle with planners to get his concept off the drawing board.

He’s a tactful man so we’ll brush over the original Town Hall veto of no shops. “Think how boring it would have been,” he says.

It would. The square is overlooked by 14 triple-glazed two-bedroomed apartments with ample balconies from which to survey the scene below. All but one are rented. That is occupied by him and his wife Wendy so living above the shop helps them keep a benign eye on things.

Shops and flats: a lively enclave off Sharrowvale

“I’d never done anything like this before so I had no idea how it would turn out. It has raised the standards in Sheffield. It’s even got decent toilets,” he says. His previous schemes were residential.

Right from the start, when he heard the site was coming up for sale on the death of Ron Wetherall, owner of garage firm Champion & Emmett, he knew he wanted a mixture of residential and commercial. The problem was getting the planners to see that. They just wanted flats.

He also wanted good restaurants. He likes his food. “I find Sheffield a frustrating city . . . I get tired of having to go out of Sheffield to eat decent food.”

The idea for Dyson Place, named after the cigarette stub of a lane between Mann’s fishmongers and the Mediterranean restaurant on Sharrowvale Road, first emerged in April 2013 but it wasn’t until just before Christmas 2019 that it received its first tenant, restaurant Tonco.

He met would-be restaurateurs Joe Shrewsbury and Flo Russell, who were then also considering another location in the city, on site. “It was an article of faith,” he says as the young couple were looking for their first bricks and mortar business. He’s been proved correct. Joe has no doubts he made the right decision. ” It’s really busy here. The city centre is dead.”

The other hospitality outlets are Vietnamese restaurant Nam Song, vegan coffee and cakery Olive & Joy, and from late summer a new Italian-style restaurant, Cornerstone, in what was the old Mission Hall.

Nam Song on Dyson Place

Ironically, this was the one place planners did originally approve for a restaurant. The origins of the hall, built in 1905, are something of a mystery, as is its location, someone’s back yard.

If the original occupants raised the roof with their singing, Martin and his engineers have done it again literally. The roof was raised over a foot in the renovation.

The restaurant offer is going to stop there. ” I want Dyson Place to be somewhere people can kill time, look around the shops, while waiting to meet someone,” he says.

The Mission Hall

Other businesses include Inco Interiors, furniture and furnishings; men’s hairdressers Rapscallions in a former lock-up once used to store Christmas trees, and Unit 6, currently fronted by Doncaster-based greengrocers K.D.Davis & Sons.

The fruit and vegetables bring a splash of colour to the square. ” It’s a different culture to Doncaster ( where the firm has a big stall on the market). People don’t start buying until much later,” says Andrew Davis. His grandfather started the business in 1938. He is third generation, his sons are the fourth.

Greengrocer Andrew Davis at Dyson Place

Behind the aubergines and grapes is an area for a mix of micro-businesses, a sort of posh flea market.

Martin finishes his coffee and leads me into Artisans’ Yard, housing skin clinic Arubia, acupuncture and lifestyle practice Life & Lemons and handmade children’s clothes makers Bear & Babe.

This area was originally meant to be the beer yard for the Mission Hall project but developed “organically,” his favourite word.

Dyson Place has had a spin- off effect on the local area. “It’s brought increased footfall on a Sunday from people attracted to the place,” says Marvin, who runs nearby curios emporium Trove.

Dyson Place is the latest sector of an area of Sheffield which has seen its fortunes transformed in the last half century. Ecclesall Road started things with its shops and boutiques, earning it the sobriquet ‘Bond Street of the North,’ before going over to restaurants and micropubs.

Then it was the turn of Sharrowvale and Hickmott Roads, cheaper rents attracting a variety of independent shops, as off-Ecclesall Road. Dyson Place leads off Sharrowvale so in reality it is off-off Ecclesall Road.

It is only with great reluctance that he agrees to be photographed and then when I threaten to take his back view. “Even worse!” he protests.

Developers are often categorised as greedy but you sense Martin has a heart. Consuming food and drink bought off the premises in the square is banned except for fish and chips from local chippie Two Steps “as we love them,” says a notice board.

Dyson Place: fish and chip friendly

It also appeals to the little boy in him. ” This to me is a game of Lego – taking bricks and reshaping them.”

* web: http://www.dysonplace.co.uk

Tonco: so trendy but tasty

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Quincewell tart – lovely pastry

IF TONCO, a bijou little eaterie tucked away shyly behind the stone lions in embryonic Dyson Place, Sheffield, sounds vaguely Mediterranean (Greek or Italian, perhaps?) you might be surprised to find that it takes its name from a long-forgotten sarsaparilla drink brewed in Barnsley.

Once you have managed to open the stiff front door, which obviously spent a previous life as muscle improving gym equipment, you find an industrial looking restaurant. Bare concrete walls, old school chairs, tables made from bicycle frames and a bar-cum-open kitchen give a deliberately unfinished look.

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Celeriac, confit yolk, pangritata

Tonco is the first tenant of Martin Flowers’ retail and apartments redevelopment of an old garage, chapel and wasteland behind Sharrowvale Road.

The exact location has fooled some but just tootle up the alleyway between the wet fish shop and the Mediterranean restaurant. This makes it off-off Ecclesall Road.

The place is run by rhyming couple Joe and Flo (Shrewsbury and Russell) who specialise in the currently fashionable small plates (think Anglo tapas) with a very eclectic menu. Someone asked me what the theme was and I said Very Modern Modern British. Quirky might be a better description. Which started by pinching the name from an old pop bottle.

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Tonco – Hidden away in the corner

Quirkiness has its charms but can irritate if it doesn’t work. Flo’s cooking, which juxtaposes unexpected flavours and ingredients, makes sure it does.

Slivers of celeriac are topped with a confit egg and run through with crispy pangritata, the Italian ‘poor man’s parmesan’ of fried garlicky breadcrumbs flavoured with thyme (£7). It doesn’t look much but the runny yolk binds vegetable and crumbs together for comfort food appeal.

The fashion for fermenting is seen in the fermented kohlrabi, another root, combined with wild sea bass, lightly cured, or ceviched, in the fermenting liquid (£7). It leaves a satisfying tang in the mouth and quite a bit of heat from a fiery paprika sauce.

We could have had oh-so-trendy cavolo nero salad with hemp seed and sesame or bigger plates of braised beef shoulder with homemade orecchiette pasta but, instead, settled for a delicious and generous plate of Italian meats: coppa, lomo and finocchiona (£7).

On my next visit I will get my teeth into bigger dishes such as the beef or stone bass with burnt leek, mussels and elderflower emulsion but instead shared a dessert from the list unforgivably headed Pud-Pud. There was nothing twee, though, about the tart, a quince take on Bakewell with spectacular pastrywork.

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Sea bass ceviche, fermented kohlrabi

The baking is first class here: try the soft, moist, spongy bread which almost converted me to sourdough with a vividly grassy Greek oil – just pressed by a friend of Joe’s, naturally.

They don’t have an espresso machine so you have to settle for cafetiere, which comes in a homely mug.

Tonco may be achingly trendy but, with the dishes we had at least, it works. What I liked was the excellence of the ingredients and the care with which they are used. So be like Joe: go with Flo.

Website: http://www.tonco.co.uk

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Joe and Flo at Tonco. Picture by @zoegenders