Dublin can be heaven, with coffee at 11 and a stroll in Stephen’s Green.
So sang politician David Norris to myself and two college pals back on a cold December evening in 2005. We interviewed him for a class project which was a TV news package about the proposed closure of Bewley’s Oriental Café on Grafton Street. While I doubt our final cut would have won any awards, I still have warm memories of the joy Norris had in speaking of the delights of going for coffee, tea and cake in this fine city, and I’ve always remembered ‘The Dublin Saunter’ ever since. Bewley’s thankfully stayed open, and there are now heavenly cake and coffee experiences sweetly sprinkled all over Dublin.
The delicious squidge when the cream squirts out of a cream slice, the harmony of coffee with coffee cake, the lip smacking sweet and sour of lemon drizzle, the regal Victoria sponge with sweet Summer strawberries, rich and gooey chocolate fudge, sticky orange cake, wholesome and nostalgic ginger cake, moist carrot cake with creamy frosting…..I love them all.
Dublin, most certainly can be heaven and here are some of the places I love:
The Merrion Hotel
I’ve been smitten with The Merrion Hotel since I moved to Dublin in 2002. It’s everything a grand hotel should be and I remember in my pauperina student days being taken here for afternoon tea and scones. Lord above, how could a girl ever recover from that? Proper scones like buttery, fluffy clouds that seem to know they have a small warm window where they will meet butter, jam and cream to fulfil their afternoon destiny. Pastries that are beautiful works of art with zesty citrus creations, luscious chocolate delights and the best fruits of the season presented in pops of confectionery wonder. If only I could have my breakfast here every day.
My Mom is a coffee connoisseur, and taught me, among many, many other things, the joy of taking time for a coffee and slice of cake or scone if the day allows it. So I knew we were on to something when she admired the quality of Avoca’s fruit scones on a visit to Dublin. Avoca’s Suffolk Street upstairs café has been one of our favourite places to go ever since, we cherish it most after the lunchtime rush when we get to linger and talk and admire all the pretty cakes. Their Lemon Drizzle cake is one of the best I’ve ever eaten with an exquisite high note of citrus in the moist sponge, balanced with a sweet and tacky icing glaze. Cake heaven.
The Cake Café
My favourite thing after my birthday is to have leftover cake for breakfast, if there is any. Because having mixed up, upside down meals at precisely the time before or after you are supposed to, makes it all the sweeter, and much more fun. The Cake Cafe’s cakes are lovely anytime, but I’m particularly partial to one of a weekend morning. I love their mismatched tea cups and crockery and spoons and pretty napkins that make you feel you are at the best grown up tea party that’s ever happened to Dublin. Their chocolate biscuit cake is the best in the city.
Fallon and Byrne
Fallon and Byrne’s coffee and cakes are exceptional, and the very talented pastry chef Shane Smith made my birthday extra special a few years ago when I worked their as a cheesemonger, by presenting me with a heavenly little birthday cake. His cakes are sweetie pie heaven with sponges as light as air and chocolate delights that I’d propose marriage to. That man can bake. A perfect spot to nip into with a friend for an afternoon treat, and the people watching from their glorious tall windows onto Exchequer Street is worth it alone.
Brother Hubbard’s cakes are like their menu, simple, sincere and absolutely delicious. Their scones are gigantic and I can still remember the first one I had with orange blossom butter. A delicate kiss of citrus on the creamy rich butter. Their salted caramel brownies are one of my favourite things in Dublin, a whisper of salt seduced by caramel live happily in a perfectly moist chocolate sponge. It’s something to write home about. There’s not much else you could hope for in an afternoon, or morning, than a coffee and cake here.
The Queen of Tarts
‘The Queen of Hearts still making tarts, and I not making hay.’
Luke Kelly singing ‘Raglan Road’ is often in my head hours after every visit to the lovely Queen of Tarts. Cakes are their speciality naturally and I implore you to try their Victoria Sponge. All springy to the touch sponge, fluffy whipped cream and fresh berries. Their baked cheesecakes are my favourite, and if they have a seasonal crumble on them menu, be sure to order it. It’s not just cakes, they have cracking brunch and lunch menus, but my heart belongs, just like Luke and Patrick Kavanagh’s, to their cakes.