It’s a bit like the wild west on Dublin streets these days, the old Hollywood version where the facades wobbled as the stagecoach rushed by. We have redbrick facades steadied with steel girders and tonnes of concrete to stop them collapsing backwards into the void that used to be the rest of the building.
Refurbishing old stuff seems not to be where profit lies these days. Better to brace the facade, hollow out the insides and crane in a shiny new core.
It’s one of the reasons the Cloud Picker Café on Dublin’s Pearse Street is such a joy. It’s easy to miss the new cafe in an old yellow brick and stone building. My friend wanders into the former Academy Cinema to ask if they have a cafe. No, they don’t. There are offices now where the theatre where both Count John McCormack and James Joyce once sang. The Academy is now private space.
Cloud Picker has large bowls of salad and a thready home-cooked ham that looks like it belongs on a Christmas dinner table
The Cloud Picker Café is in the former projector room of the old cinema, which closed in 1981. It’s set back from the footpath a little, with a nicely designed steel and wooden bench indicating there’s a cafe there. Inside the long narrow room, a random silent reel of cartoons and black and white movies shows on a screen at the back.
Cloud Picker was the name partners Frank Kavanagh and Peter Sztal chose for their coffee roasting operation six years ago after a trip to Thailand where they went up through the clouds to see the coffee pickers. They have run the cafe in the Science Gallery but this is their first own-brand cafe operation. They have put more of themselves into this, so Dublin diners have “stewp”, described as “a hearty mix of a soup and a stew based on Peter’s mother’s Polish goulash”.
The sun has come out from between the showers so it’s too summery for stewp, but I’ll be back to try it when leaves are rattling along footpaths. In the meantime, there are large bowls of salad and a thready home-cooked ham that looks like it belongs on a Christmas dinner table.
They encourage you to bring your own takeaway containers (though I’m not sure how they police the size). We’re eating in so they wash what appear to be the only two plates they have so we can eat from them, which is always more satisfying, compostable packaging or no.
Those salads deserve a bit of time and space on the roomier platters. One of my favourites is a wild rice one which takes the old 1970s recipe card feel off the rice salad (remember the rice and raisin one we all thought was so sophisticated?) and makes it delicious. There are cubes of ham in this, with red onion, finely diced good tomatoes and parsley.
Then there are slices of sweet potato in their skins, their sodden sweetness enhanced by sheep’s milk yoghurt and peanut rayu. Mushrooms are served with truffle oil, spinach and ginger and there’s a lemony aubergine salad with bulgar wheat, walnuts and cranberries. The only less impressive one is a roasted broccoli, which is a bit washed out.
We finish up with a seasalt caramel square and paleo ginger cake that do exactly what they need to do along with, of course, some great coffee.
Eoin Cluskey’s nearby Bread 41, tucked under a railway bridge, is a beautiful operation, stone-milling flour, fermenting and baking their own delicious sourdough breads and dangerously huge morning buns, which are a pillowy mix of yeasted dough rolled with cinnamon sugar.
Here in the mothership they come filled with peanut butter and dark chocolate or a praline cream. Their ingredients are organic, many from local suppliers, and they have a serious environmental ethos, ranging from low-energy ovens to bicycle bread deliveries.
Their savoury options are lighter, to go with the shift in season since I was last here and it was lovely roasted vegetables. This time, there’s a plate of Thai noodle salad, deliciously cooked rice noodles stirred through the matchsticks of carrot and raw courgette, ovals of mild red chillies with house-pickled onions and a scattering of toasted cashew nuts to add the nuttiest of crunches. There’s a date and soy dressing here that balances savoury and sweet without tipping too far into the sugar as some Thai dishes do.
My friend has a chicken sandwich, as far from the dreary chicken fillet roll as you can imagine. Bread 41’s is described as a banh mi but instead of a French roll it is served in their own airy sourdough. The chicken is doused in a house fermented hot sauce with more gorgeous pickled carrots for zing and some roasted peanuts.
I love these two cafes for their food and their philosophy. Back on the footpath after lunch, Pearse Street is still blighted by traffic, four oppressive lanes of it. But tucked under a railway bridge and in a beautiful, refurbished old projector room, Bread 41 and Cloud Picker Café are making Dublin better from the inside out.
Lunch for two in Bread 41 came to €30.35; at Cloud Picker Café it cost €36.80
- Verdict Two brilliant cafes putting soul back into Dublin's streetscape
- Facilities Good
- Music Nice
- Food provenance Limited in both
- Wheelchair access Yes
- Vegetarian options Good