Eating out: The Cake Cafe
The Daintree Building, Pleasants Place, Dublin 8. (01) 4789394, thecakecafe.ie
The Daintree Building, designed by Solearth Architects and completed in 2005, is one of Dublin's sustainable gems, tucked away on a tight urban site on Pleasant's Place off Camden Street. Upstairs there are apartments and offices, while a bookshop now occupies the Camden Street retail space once home to the Daintree paper workshop; you can walk through here to the Cake Café, or else access it from Pleasant's Place.
At lunchtime one day last week, it was still warm and sunny enough to sit outside in the sheltered internal courtyard. The chairs may not be the most comfy, but there's an adorable restaurant dog pottering around, saying 'hello' to everyone and certainly not giving the impression that he has designs on anyone's sausages. Perhaps he's just a good actor. Or perhaps, if you live at the Cake Café, you become inured to the seductive power of a good sausage.
I hadn't been to The Cake Café for years, so I don't know whether its new chef, Tadgh Byrne, has changed much about the menu, which offers plenty more than cake and is hugely confusing. Perhaps most of the customers are regulars and don't need a menu; for first-timers it's boggling.
I'm with three friends having a post-summer catch up so we have plenty to talk about, which turns out to be just as well because it's over half an hour before any food arrives, and when it does it comes in three separate deliveries, each at least five minutes apart, which is not very relaxing.
And that's not the end of the confusion. I've ordered a Chef Special - these change monthly - described on the menu as 'organic potato rosti with spring onions, goats cheese, smoked bacon, organic kale and green goddess dressing' - and opted to 'put an egg on it', as well as some chorizo for good measure. One of my friends has chosen the same, minus the egg, and with sausage. But the dish that arrives has two eggs on top, and something that could be either sausage or chorizo (it turns out to be sausage). Our server tells us that the eggs are part of the dish, yet they're not listed on the menu. And if they are part of the dish, why does the menu suggest adding another? It's exhausting.
As for the food? Well, for the most part it's pretty good, if lacking finesse in terms of presentation. It's clear that the kitchen is using ingredients of good quality, although I'd like to see more suppliers name-checked. Those sausages, for instance. Merguez in style, made with lamb and beef, they're properly meaty and the spicing is just right. The bacon, fine thick smoky rashers, and the generous chunks of chorizo, are excellent, while the flavours in the rosti dish are harmonious and satisfying, the eggs perfectly poached.
Smoked trout smokies - another of the seasonal specials - is our favourite. Made with Goatsbridge smoked trout baked with crème fraiche, slow roast tomatoes, shallots, herbs and salsa verde, it's rich and unctuous. But the eggs in the sausage scramble are dry, heinously over-cooked, and house-made baked beans are an insipid business, badly in need of ooomph. Courgette and cauliflower soup is pleasant enough.
As you'd hope from the give-away in the name, the cakes are the star of the show. Victoria sponge is simply gorgeous, the blueberry filling leaching enticingly into the lower of the two layers. It's a joy both to behold and to eat, an equal to the one made by my cousin Evelyn in Castletownbere which is saying something. Carrot cake is a tad crumbly, but the flavour good, enhanced by a hint of citrus. And something described by our server as a 'vegan sugar-free caramel slice' is surprisingly good, although the flavour of coconut dominates. God love the vegan who doesn't like coconut, it crops up everywhere.
House-made kombucha of pomegranate and lime is the prettiest shade of pink, light and lovely, not too vinegar-y, and coffees are good. Lunch for four costs €89.65 before service.
I find myself charmed by the Cake Café despite the slightly chaotic service, which I'm guessing derives from a kitchen team finding its feet. Give it a week or two, I reckon, and all will be well.
On a budget
The Cake Café serves an all-day brunch. Egg and soldiers, featuring baked eggs with cream - decadent nursery food - costs €6.50.
On a blowout
Afternoon tea - sweet and savoury bites, with a glass of prosecco and tea or coffee - is €19.95 per person.
The high point
A hidden courtyard in the heart of the city, with a very lovely dog.
The low point
It was just as well we weren't in a hurry.