SOME time ago, I reviewed a selection of Cork’s very fine range of independent coffee shops.
Though space restrictions prohibited coverage of the entirety of the thriving local scene, Dukes Coffee Company was to the fore of my initial list, having offered good coffees in the city since first opening on Carey’s Lane, in 2005, a mere caffeinated stroll from the Irish Examiner’s former offices on Academy Street, where my posterior once polished a pew.
However, a ‘research’ mission to refresh my memory of that particular review suggested the place had become something more than a coffee house, deserving greater in-depth appraisal some time in the future.
The ‘future’ has, in its own sweet time, now become the ‘present’ and Current Wife and I are keenly anticipating a rare child-free lunch date until No 2 Son is struck down by the class of nebulous condition that apparently precludes school but not dining out — although he’ll ‘probably hardly eat anything at all’, quote-unquote.
Having specialised in this class of ‘ailment’ during my own childhood, I doff the cap to a fellow artiste, but CW, coming from the school of parenting that insists any illness — other than any of her own, naturally — can only truly be defined as such when the first sod comes crashing down on closed casket, will apparently be sucking up pureed mush through a straw, so grimly set is her jaw.
The Duke’s Coffee Company mothership (a second outlet operates in City Gate, in Mahon) is located in the city’s historical Huguenot Quarter. Appositely sited in the first two floors of what was once a coffee warehouse in days of yore, the space is an intimate, cosy clutter, packed with customers of all stripes and ages. Though not quite lunchtime, downstairs is full, forcing us upstairs where the elemental heft of this 17th century building becomes properly apparent: rugged brick walls, colossal beams spanning ceiling, deep-set windows, all wearing a mantle of white paint, the room largely shorn of décor save an old enamel sign for Newsome’s, those long-departed ‘ancestors’.
My crisp grilled flat bread encloses Swiss cheese, roasted peppers and Cajun chicken in a creamy, peppery sauce, very solid comfort food even if salting is taken to the very edge of the saline cliff. A side salad of mixed leaves, earthy sweet beetroot and carrot offers perky contrast.
Son No 2’s potato and leek soup is a simple ‘homemade’ affair but extremely tasty with good balanced flavours, served with seeded Arbutus bread. The ‘brave little soldier’ devours it in mere minutes before lunging for our shared dish, warm, nutty falafel, hymning airy lemon and herb notes, sitting atop couscous, leaves, red pepper and toasted seeds, all slathered with a generous drizzle of tzatziki, yoghurt’s chirpy lactic zing elevating all. It’s a cracker and Son No 2 is about to demolish it entirely until I enquire after his health, whereupon he resumes channeling deathbed Oscar Wilde, fatally compromised by the harsh rigours of Reading Gaol.
CW’s Quiche with mint and pea is less successful: too long in the oven, it wears a leathery ‘skin’ over what would have been otherwise tasty filling; pastry is biscuit-crunchy and old-school coleslaw drowns in a less-than-stellar mayonnaise, overly sweet and shy of crucial acidity.
His Oscar now firmly in the bag, Son No 2 shamelessly wolfs down Belgian waffle with maple syrup while CW is mightily pleased with a homely Bundt-style strawberry sponge affair with cream, macerated strawberries and fruity glaze. Ginger cake is good though my preference will always veer towards something infinitely richer and denser than this light, gently spiced number spiked with nubs of stem ginger.
The true stars, however, are the best coffees — an espresso and a flat white — we’ve had in many a long moon, the beans, Doi Pangkhon, from Thailand, yielding lush plummy spice and sweet dark chocolate in a full bodied brew of middling acidity. (Roasted by 3FE, just one of several excellent Irish boutique coffee roasters Duke’s keep on regular rotation.)
While proprietor Aidan Duke continues to insist his business is, first and foremost, a coffee house, not a restaurant, I’ll split the difference, describing it as a highly personable little café serving honest, wholesome and tasty fare along with some of the finest coffees to be drunk in Cork.
Monday to Friday, 8am-5pm; Sunday’s, 9.30am-5pm
Duke’s Coffee Company, 4 Carey’s Lane, Cork.