Alyssum – the new authentic Greek café in Sheffield
Sheffield Unchained contributor Emma Wells visits Alyssum, the new Greek themed cafe on Barber road, Crookesmoor.
Alyssum Café Bistro opened on Barber Road, Crookesmoor, in July this year. I adore Mediterranean food, so when I heard there was a new Greek café opening not far from where I live, I couldn’t wait to check it out.
My first visit didn’t disappoint. My partner and I shared the meze, which included a selection of delicious foods such as lamb kofta, Greek sausage, homemade humous, artichoke, feta salad, olives and lovely soft bread drizzled in olive oil.
There was plenty of food between the two of us, but we managed to squeeze in a piece of the baked white chocolate cheesecake with rose petals; it looked so good it would have been rude not to.
I was interested to find out more about Alyssum, so I arranged to meet its owner, Alexa Exarcopolous. Alexa, who turned 21 the day Alyssum opened, runs the café with her mum, Jane Baxter. Alexa grew up in Athens, but Jane is originally from Sheffield, and the family had visited the city a number of times when Alexa was younger. Four years ago, Alexa came to Sheffield to study fitness instructing and photography, an unusual combination but she ‘couldn’t choose between them, and then decided to do something else completely!’ I asked Alexa why on earth someone would swap the Greek climate for Sheffield and she told me:
The weather is growing on me! It’s 40 degrees in Athens at the moment, so I’m not jealous!
Alexa has ‘always loved baking’, and whilst studying, she decided she would like to open a coffee shop. As she put plans in place, Jane came to join her in the new venture. The mother and daughter team investigated a number of potential cafes in the city, during which time Alexa had got a job as a barista at a coffee shop on Abbeydale Road, where she was promoted to manager within a month. She also undertook barista training in Bradford, and said ‘I got the experience I needed, which was essential’. Eventually Alexa and Jane found the café on Barber Road which was perfect for them.
We thought ‘let’s start small’, so the risk is not too big, and I’m only young so couldn’t afford anything bigger anyway!
Alexa had also lived nearby whilst studying, and liked the area. Jane lived in Greece for 30 years, and during that time learned to cook a large repertoire of traditional dishes. Alexa told me:
Mum has not worked in catering before, but she absolutely adores cooking.
Jane is responsible for the Alyssum Café Bistro Greek inspired dishes and breakfasts, whilst Alexa looks after the front of house, as well as baking the impressive array of cakes. Despite having been open a short time, Alexa says:
We’ve had a lot of compliments from people about the food. It’s different; other Greek places in Sheffield do more fast food, but here we do everyday food they eat in Greece. It’s healthy Mediterranean food mainly cooked with olive oil.
Alexa explains that the café is popular with vegetarian and vegan clientele because the way the food is cooked means butter and cream are not needed. Having previously been a greasy spoon café, some customers have asked Alexa for dishes which they don’t serve, however she told me:
We had a person that asked for something we didn’t do, but he tried the Greek sandwich of feta, tomato, onion, oregano and olive oil. He absolutely loved it and came back the next day and asked for another one!
Alexa devised the breakfast menu, and wanted to offer something different from the standard fare. Dishes include ingredients such as potato rosti instead of toast, and avocado on toast with pesto and lemon. She explains that the main menu changes every day, and her mum comes up with the ideas. The café is relatively quiet at the moment, but Jane is planning to have a wider variety of specials on offer after the summer holidays.
When I visited, the specials included spinach fritters with tzatziki, and prawn saganaki. Although the focus of the main dishes is Greek-inspired, Alexa tells me: ‘the cakes are not very Greek, but I do like European cakes’! Whilst I personally think this is entirely forgiveable (brownie biscuit cheesecake with raspberry mousse? Yes please!), Alexa is planning to include some more Greek sweets such as baklava. I ask her what her favourite Greek dish is and she replies:
My favourite? Ooh that is difficult…I think traditional moussaka, and pasticcio.
Pasticcio is a baked dish usually made with lamb mince, tomato sauce and ‘long pasta like spaghetti, but with a hole in the middle’. Alexa was excited to find proper pasticcio pasta in Ozmen International Food Centre on London Road, as she hadn’t been able to find it anywhere else in Sheffield. Another of Alexa’s favourites is the green bean casserole, which is ‘really good, and healthy’.
I ask Alexa about getting ingredients for their dishes, and she tells me that it is important to her and Jane to source ingredients locally where possible, and to support other local businesses. To that end, Gerry from Gerry’s Bakery and Coffee House in Walkley will soon be supplying a selection of Greek breads for them. Alexa told me:
His bread is lovely, it will be amazing.
The interior of the café is bright and airy, with a white and silver theme to the décor and the hand painted tables and chairs, and a variety of mirrors to reflect the light. Alexa says:
We did it all by ourselves, we took over on the 6th July, the 12th was my 21st birthday and we did the grand opening at the same time, so we had five days to fix it all up! We changed everything completely, it was quite a job but it was fun!
The café had been a lot darker, but they wanted to brighten it up because ‘it is probably the smallest café in Sheffield!’ Whilst we chat, the sun is streaming through the windows, and although Alexa is loving summer in the café, she tells me she is also looking forward to winter so she can make it ‘cosy and atmospheric, with lots of candles.’
Alexa explaines that her brother came up with the name Alyssum, which is from the Greek ‘Alysson’, meaning ‘curing madness’. Her brother has recently written a sci-fi book, which features a paradise planet called Alyssum, so the name is ‘a nice link’. It is also the name of the pretty white flowers which are growing in a pot by the door.
Alexa is clearly enjoying fulfilling the dream of running her own café so far, and I asked about her ambitions for the future. She says
I would love to have a few more cafes; bigger places if this goes well.
There are also plans to open for bistro nights after the summer season.
Greek is the main thing for us, we want to become known for it in Sheffield.
If Alexa and Jane’s passion and enthusiasm is anything to go by, I don’t think it will long before they achieve that aim.