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Back Buzz - March 16, 2008

pumping heartCream, 1 Crookes Road, Broomhill, Sheffield, South Yorkshire

As Broomhill already has several coffee cafes, I was recently surprised when I noticed another one had opened. Cream -- the café, not the milky stuff -- is situated on a busy corner where Crookes Road meets Fulwood Road. This roomy new café looks nothing like its predecessor, Abbey Glen Dry Cleaners, and I'm sure Cream doesn't offer ironing or a duvet service wash. The first time I decided to give Cream a try was when I had a lunch hour to kill in Broomhill, so I stopped in for a sandwich and an espresso. But as soon as I entered and spotted the sign announcing all sandwiches were £5.99, I gasped audibly in disgusted astonishment and walked out. I ended up down the road at Nicky's, a takeaway sandwich shop, where I picked up a lovely Wensleydale cranberry sandwich for less than £2.00 which I enjoyed while seated on a nearby bench.

Recently I decided to give Cream another chance, so I stopped in for an espresso only. The sandwich prices seem to have relaxed a bit, at least so that the only vegetarian option is a mere £5.00 rather than £5.99. But that's still way too dear for me, I'm afraid. For that price I'd rather be relaxing in a nice food pub like the Devonshire Cat where I would be confident whatever I'd ordered would be excellent.

My double macchiato was a slightly steep £1.95 as well, and although it was perfectly served in a macchiato-sized pretty round white china cup with demitasse spoon and topped with a nice amount of milk foam, it just wasn't that good. I can't put my finger on it exactly. The espresso is quite bitter but it lacks body and aroma.

What is so strange about this place is the absence of aroma: there is no coffee smell wafting about, ringing around the tables and drifting out the door to nab prospective customers. Perhaps I'm unable to smell the coffee because my sensory system is being pummelled by the cries of babies. For some odd reason this seems to have become a "third place" for mothers and their babies. During my early Friday afternoon visit the customers consisted of myself, a young couple, two young women, a male student glued to his laptop, a middle-aged man reading a newspaper, and 3 mothers with their respective babies. I'm not sure why this has happened. Perhaps Cream is the most child-friendly coffeehouse in Broomhill, providing plenty of space for prams, nappy bags, and toys. Or perhaps they offer free nappy changing with any purchase.

The homemade soups sound nice, but still they're all £4.00 which, even with bread and butter, is quite dear. My local pub serves homemade vegetarian soups with bread and butter for half that price.

I suppose a student-rich area like Broomhill can handle yet another coffee café. It's not like you're stumbling across them every few steps. But it's always a bit sad to see something so trendy take over the location of a neighbourhood service. Granted, dry cleaners are a dying breed, like post offices and hardware shops. I mean, why trek all the way to a post office when you can stay in your seat and send an e-mail? Why drive to a hardware shop when you can order online from B & Q? Why take your clothes to a dry cleaners when you can scan your suit and use the latest free downloadable dry-cleaning software?

Obviously nobody yet makes a decent cappuccino-making printer - although I fully expect Sun Microsystems to be working on developing one. For now we obviously still need lots and lots of cafes and coffeehouses. I mean, you wouldn't want me to run out of material, would you?

(Or . . . would you?)

Speaking of buildings reminds me of a recent e-mail exchange with my Bay Area friend:

There is a new 44-storey skyscraper planned for London, 122 Leadenhall, which people have already nicknamed the Cheese Grater. Considering London already has the Gherkin, I think they should build an entire kitchenful of buildings. How about a building which looks like a blender? Or a colander? How about the Cafetiére? Or the Toaster? The Potato Masher? The Butcher Block Table? Ooh, I'd like to see the triple towers of the Knife, Fork, and Spoon buildings! And they could all have revolving restaurants on the top floor... I like the Cheese Grater, and the Gherkin -- not really so picklish in colour or texture -- has a lovely shape and surface pattern. The double helical sweep of lines makes me imagine walking a diagonally ascending corridor, peeking in on workers in higher and higher offices as I go.

And to follow in the Gherkin's class - a spate of pickled, marinated and otherwise preserved architectural edibles (or not-so-edibles)? I can't quite visualize Chutney Station. Cole Slaw Business Park and Playground? Fruitcake Bank and Trust? (maybe too ordinary in shape, but solid and substantial). We've already seen Spam and Jell-O rendered into castles and cities, why not the other way around? The Bangers and Mash horizontal towers? I guess we've already had something like a marshmallow in the Blob at the foot of Queen Anne Hill. Maybe a sushi and tempura housing project?