No one comes to The Cake Café by accident. Hidden down a most unassuming laneway that runs parallel to the non-stop traffic of Camden Street, if you found yourself wandering down Pleasants Place, it wouldn’t be a café you were looking for. But you would certainly find sanctuary tucked behind some tall bamboo gates. Indeed, it was my plan to head up this way from Aungier Street, having been meaning to pop in for lunch for some time.
The courtyard is most inviting. It says “there’s more inside, please come in.” To my right is a long hut, with patio chairs and tables, fairy lights strung up overhead, and crazy colourful tile mosaics on the wall behind. In warmer weather, you’d have to fight tooth and nail to get a space in this calm little oasis, but today, on the first really cold day of winter, only two stalwarts brave the cold.
The interior of The Cake Café is instantly inviting. Low ceilings. Black and white tiled floor. Homemade bunting and paper chains strung from wall to wall. An old mirror and those flying duck wall ornaments. It’s retro and it’s kitsch and there’s nowhere else in Dublin I’d rather be right now. I am warmly welcomed. From the moment I sit down and am handed a menu, I know I’m in the right place.
The menu is impossibly sweet. I flick through it, check out the wine selection. I have oft been regaled with tales of the prosecco and cake lunch. But today, I need sustenance. I choose the tart of the day: Organic Beetroot with Goat’s Cheese & Hazelnuts. As I’m waiting for it, I can’t stand it any longer: even though I’ve come here “off duty”, I must take photos. Happy Food Baby must blog about this place. Luckily, The Cake Café’s owner, Michelle Darmody, is behind the counter. I ask if I can do my blog business and she cheerfully says yes. The cook from the kitchen brings me my tart just then and asks me about le blog. They’re ever so nice here. In fact, I imagine it would be impossible to work here and be cranky. Perhaps the soundtrack helps: some Otis Redding melds into Ray Lamontagne – it’s totally chill.
But for the food! The tart is yummy: a delicate sweet and vinegary tang from the beets; that strong, earthy unmistakeable goat’s cheese flavour comes shouting through; and then the hazelnuts come along to clean up. This is really good. In fact, I had beets last time I was here: beetroot soup with a dollop of crème fraîche. It was fab. They really do wonderful things with beets here. And I can now say, hand on my heart, that I am over my fear of goat’s cheese. I’d love some more but that’s all there is and I must leave room for dessert, duh.
My coffee comes in a dainty blue china cup with saucer. If I worked here, I know I’d always be trying to steal the tea cups. The texture of my victoria sponge is loud and proud and has a yummy raspberry cream filling. It was a tough choice to make, between chocolate fudge cake and lemon bars (which I hear are fantastic). Another day*.
I texted The Mammy while I sat and ate and ruminated over my lunch. I suggested we come here for a bite some day, after an afternoon of shopping. Or she should bring The Sisters. It’s a totally girly place. That said, there is a suited gentleman beside me, enjoying a big pot of tea and tucking into the Chicken, Chickpea and Black Olive Hot Pot beside me. I think of so many wasted lunches spent in the crappy café in Arnotts, following an afternoon of traipsing and spending with The Mammy, where you’d get a disappointing, stodgy reheated-to-death excuse for a lunch and some dry sponge cake that cost an arm and a leg. The Cake Café is the perfect antidote to this – pity it’s so far up Camden Street, but sure you’d make the effort, wouldn’t you? Just like The Iveagh Gardens, this place is the out-of-the-way, sort of well-kept secret, and something I love about this city.
My food is gone. I’m sipping the last of my very nice coffee. I’m warm and cosy and I don’t want to leave! I’ll come back soon though. Gotta try those lemon bars.
* The Mammy always used to pawn us off with this excuse when she took us out for dinner as kids. She knew we wouldn’t manage dessert after eating only half our dinner so she’d say “you can order dessert next time” or “we’ll come back another day, just for dessert”. And I fell for it every time!