No. 27 – Sheffield’s park cafés – a review

Summer is just around the corner now. Almost there. Just a couple of days of school left, then freedom! If your family is anything like mine, then a huge part of the summer is spent at the park, and a big chunk of cash is spent at the park café! For all of you Sheffield parents, or those visiting our fine city, I thought a quick review of some of the park cafes may be useful ahead of the summer holiday season. I’ve teamed up with my sons to write this post, so its a Mum and sons review.

The cafes we reviewed are all family friendly places; Endcliffe park café, Forge Dam café, Millhouses park café, Rivelin park café and Graves park café. And here’s what we thought…

Endcliffe park café – Our second home. Literally. This café has been my refuge on three maternity leaves, my favoured meeting spot for lunch with the kids and friends, and provider of much sustenance in the form of mugs of tea and epic scones. The café comes alive in the spring and summer as the outside tables fill with mums and kids, grandparents and kids, walkers, dog walkers and cyclists. I like to watch the new faces who start working at the café, nervously and politely calling out, ‘number 12 please,’ from the top of the steps at the start of summer, and ending up bellowing, ’number 12’, at the hordes sat outside by the time August bank holiday weekend comes around.

The menu is what sets Endcliffe park café apart from the others, in my opinion. Superb breakfasts, using local meats and produce, all the classic café favourites, and an ever changing specials board featuring a soup, two or three salads or other homemade options, and a kids special too. Not your usual bog standard park café fried fare, at all! On the day I wrote this review, the specials menu included beef lasagne, scampi, a goats cheese quiche (which looked divine when somebody tucked into it on the next table) and a steak ciabatta, but we were just in the mood for cake! And what a choice there was; white chocolate shortbread, nutty seeded flapjack, cherry and almond slice, two gluten free choices, and a decadent gluten and dairy free luxury chocolate cake. We opted for a slice of Pimms cake, packed full of lemon, strawberry and cucumber flavours, and one of their famous scones. Soft and warm on the inside but crusty on the outside, the scones are not too sweet, but are simply delicious. We devoured them both in five minutes flat!

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Some other plus points about this café, are the fabulous surroundings – just beautiful, the efficiency (important when you always have at least one hungry child with you – if there’s a wait on food, they’ll let you know in advance), the friendly staff, the help yourself water (my boys think this is the best thing!) and the family friendly feel to the place. Oh, and the drinks selection is pretty impressive too. A wide range of hot and cold drinks to suit everybody’s tastes. The hot chocolate with all the toppings is to die for!

I’m struggling to think of any negatives about this café! The only things we could come up with are also what makes it so good – my eldest said, “there’s too much to choose from on the menu sometimes”, which is definitely not a bad thing in my opinion.

The verdict – Hands down, our ultimate park café!

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Forge Dam café – What sets this café apart is the gorgeous surroundings. Nestled at the back of the dam, with grass for the kids to run around on, trees that are great for climbing, the stream to paddle in and ducks to feed, its picture perfect. There are numerous benches dotted around, a covered patio seating area, plus plenty of space for blankets if you want to bring your own picnic – it has the feel of an old fashioned village green. All that, and the cakes of course! Chunky moist flapjacks, dark gooey brownies, homemade chocolate orange cake, luscious strawberry tart, thick buttery shortbread, and of course, scones a plenty. They don’t scrimp on the cake portions here at all – they are a meal in themselves. The perfect afternoon treat, with a cuppa.

We visited on a sunny Sunday lunchtime in July, with 5 small boys. They’d biked from Hunters Bar, so were all ‘starving’. The grown ups had slightly sore adult headaches too, so we were all ready for a good feed. And the menu didn’t disappoint. Featuring breakfasts, paninis, jacket potatoes, homemade burgers, pizzas baked to order and healthier options too like soups and salads, plus all the kids usual favourites, there’s something for everybody. I got stuck into a veggie breakfast, which was great apart from slightly overdone sausages – the kids still finished them off though. The ideal hangover grub! Other winners amongst our party were the massive Forge breakfast and the oven baked curly fries. The kids ploughed through scrambled eggs on toast, fish fingers and chicken nuggets (bonus points for having two different sizes of children’s meals, so we could order based on their varying appetites), and there were other options available too, including beans on toast and various sandwiches.

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Things the boys and I love about this café include the old school benches and tables inside – perfect for a rabble of rowdy kids, the retro rocking horse, the Kelly’s ice cream selection (scored top marks with the kids) and the ball pool to keep the smallest ones entertained. The old school charm even extends to your order being called out on a slightly crackly megaphone.

The one tiny negative we all agreed on was that there seemed to be a lack of condiments – people were queuing up for the brown sauce and ketchup at one point. And, only because I’m being picky, I would have liked more choice of hot main meals for vegetarians, although the options that were available all sounded delicious.

The verdict – Charming and picturesque, a real delight!

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Millhouses park café – In the summer months, the splash park at Millhouses is a magnet to families across the city, ours included! We love to picnic in Millhouses park as there are plenty of shady spots to set up camp for the day, and enough to keep the kids entertained for hours; the pedaloes, the playground, the zip wire, the skateboard ramps or splashing in the stream. A park as impressive as Millhouses needs a cracking café too, and it’s got one! We tend to find ourselves meandering towards the café around late morning time, which for us feels like lunchtime after our 5am starts. The brunch menu is a big attraction for us at the café, and we’ve spent many a lazy hour there on a Sunday. Their belly busting all day breakfasts, breakfast sandwiches and omelettes are always fantastic, but their breakfast specials are what really draw me in. Featuring kippers, ham, eggs, bacon and potato hash, the options may sound traditional, but they are super delicious.

My absolute favourite brunch dish is the smashed avocado with thyme roasted tomato and a poached egg on toasted granary bread, and I ordered this again when writing my review. Perfectly poached egg, creamy avocado, crunchy toast. Never fails. The kids always love to tuck into the mixed berry granola, and my other half who knows his way around a breakfast sandwich, really rates the bacon and sausage breakfast bun for any meat lovers out there.

So apart from the brunch menu, what else do we like about Millhouses café. Well, the setting is just fabulous – grab a table and chair outside and watch the kids pedalling around the boating pool and the flags flapping in the breeze – idyllic. The café has a welcoming feel, no matter how many kids you turn up with, and the food is real value for money – most meals are around the £5-£6 mark, less for kids meals, which is brilliant for fresh, home cooked delicious food. And so many healthier options too. And then there’s the cakes – O.M.G!

The only real negative we could come up with is really a positive – in the height of summer you can be waiting 30 minutes or more for food, which, “feels like it takes forever”, according to my 4 year old. Top tip – get there for lunch by 11.30am and you usually don’t have much of a wait.  Rock up at 12.30 on a sunny day in the school holidays and you may have to wait a while, but there’s plenty going on to keep everyone entertained until lunch is served.

The verdict – just brilliant for brunch!

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Rivelin park café – One of my good friends lives near to Rivelin park, and we’ll often meet there for the kids to have a splash in the water park, burn off some energy in the playground, and refuel at the park café. It’s a smaller café compared to the others we frequent more regularly, but there are tables and chairs outside, plus grassy banks to flop down on if the café is overflowing at lunchtime, and they have a great takeaway menu if you want to find a shady spot to eat your lunch in. As this is a sister-cafe to Millhouses, we knew that the menu would be varied and delicious, as the same grub is served up at both. I arranged a lunchtime catch up with my friend on a drizzly July lunchtime; two slightly harassed Mums, three four year olds and a 14 month old, and we hit the café. We timed our arrival just right, and got our orders in before a walking group arrived for their lunch, so our meals were served nice and promptly – always important when you’ve got four hungry kids with you!

I really rate the kids menu choices at this café – lots of ‘on toast’ options, substantial sandwiches for bigger kids, and smaller ones for little tummies, breakfasts, soup, a packed lunch with healthy bits and bobs in, jacket potatoes and ‘things with chips’. As Mum to three vegetarian boys, a major bugbear of mine is that kids menus often have only one choice for them, and more often than not its cheesy.  Here, there were more than ten options, which is fantastic to see! My smalls went for homemade cheese and tomato macaroni, which was ‘really yummy’, and the snack plate, which was perfect for toddlers who just want to feed themselves. I couldn’t look further than a three egg omelette – packed with mushrooms and fresh tomato, and served with a side salad, it was delicious and filling. Other favourites from our gang included the cheesy nachos with chilli and all the dips, which said it was a ‘light bite’, but came as a great big bowlful of yumminess, and the children’s pizza meal.

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Great things about this café include the real homely feel, the cute decorations, kids reading corner, and the cakes – well, it is the Pudding Ladies, after all! On the day we visited the treats included a salted caramel cake, a cappuccino cake, apple and cinnamon slices, Mars cake, scones, rocky road chunks and kid friendly gingerbread men. If you are on a diet, resisting the cakes will take some serious willpower – you’ve been warned! I also like their specials options – a soup, a salad and a quiche, and their summer cooler drinks which looked fabulous.

Because the café is small, in the middle of summer when the waterpark is open, you may struggle to find a seat and may have to wait a while for your food. Top tip – if you are visiting on a sunny day, try to avoid peak times. But I’d much rather have a short wait for freshly cooked food than be served reheated processed fare, wouldn’t you?

The verdict – Loads of choice for kids and cakes to die for!

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Graves park café – I’ve never really been a fan of this café if I’m being honest. I love the park – the farmyard is great, and as my youngest son is obsessed with animals at the moment, we go there regularly to marvel at the size of the pigs, coo over the chicks (no, you can’t take one home boys), and have a turn sitting on the tractor. But the café has never been a big draw, and I prefer to take a picnic with me. Nevertheless, I took my youngest two, one hot and sunny Thursday afternoon in early July, for a snack to see whether the café had improved.

It is what it is this café – it’s more traditional and limited in its menu offerings than some of the other park cafes. The menu includes breakfasts, sandwiches, jacket potatoes, quiches and kids favourites with chips. And more things with chips. And that’s about it. Oh, and cakes too. But nothing exciting, very little that doesn’t involve being fried or stuck between two slices of bread. I opted for the tuna sandwich, and when it arrived a few minutes later, it was just that – tuna in a bread roll. No butter, no salad, no fuss. Well, I guess that is what the menu says, but still… The boys had already eaten lunch, so I got them a toasted teacake, which was perfectly toasted and served with butter. The boys were happy. Me, less so.

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Plus points about this café include the settees, the play area, ride on taxi and TV, meaning that there’s plenty to keep the kids entertained whilst waiting for food. And the kids section of the menu, whilst mainly being fried food, does have healthier options, such as beans on toast, a tomato pasta and a lunchbox, albeit served with crisps, chocolate and juice. And they serve Kelly’s ice creams, which are divine.

Things we didn’t like were the fairly limited menu, lack of healthy options, and the general cleanliness of the café. It is a big café and is always busy, but tables were left covered in plates and cups, there was food on the floor and everything was suspiciously sticky. I’ll be sticking to a picnic next time!

The verdict – Cheap and cheerful, but could be so much more!

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Now over to you – are there any park cafes that you love which are missing from my list? I’m always on the look out for new places to try, so comment below with your recommendations, and I’ll definitely check them out. Here’s to a long summer of parks, playtime and tasty café treats!

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