Sunday, May 2, 2010

What makes them special?

You know those cafés which, by and large, you don't notice? They're sometimes quaint but mostly nondescript, sometimes bearing intriguing titles or frontage a good deal fancier than the bill of fare inside turns out to be. They quietly do their daily trade below the radar of journalists and food writers, which for the most part is understandable.

Their ubiquity around Ireland seemed to accompany the burgeoning of the economy through the last decade, as indeed 'coffee to-go' and deli counter food - cornerstones of the modern foodservice and convenience offering - came to symbolise a new culture of 'cash-rich and time-poor' consumerism. Their standards seem to reflect the needs of their customers and their value for money perhaps a little more so nowadays than in the past. But in general they have one thing in common: homogeny.

And yet, on the rarest of occasions, you will happen upon one that seems to be of a different breed. On first appearances, it may seem the same, perhaps owing to the presence of chicken tikka and tuna mayo, or other such regulars of the standard deli. But then something about it sets it apart, and what that is only some people will appreciate.

I recently stepped into one of these 'special' coffee shops, just next to Patrick's Cathedral of all places. Almost instantly I began to wonder, 'what makes this special?' Is it little details in the decor or atmosphere - on this occasion, filled with the scent of cinnamon buns that were baking in the smallest imaginable oven - or perhaps the way they toast the bread, under an old fashioned grill?

Is it the way they make good old fashioned scrambled eggs, without the addition of cream or chives, but cooked moist nonetheless? Is it the way their coffee is unexpectedly good? Or is it the way their steady stream of regular customers flit easily in and out, occupying their favourite nooks and rattling off their usual orders to staff with whom they have a comfortably friendly relationship?

Truth is it's all of the above, but most of all, it's the owners of the business who give it its je ne sais quoi. Love, that is. Love of food, love of good service, love of the place. The most refreshing thing about 'it' when you do come by it is its authenticity, because it's something that can't be faked. Those little details that make a place special arise from a person's genuine interest in what they're offering, and a genuine love of what they do.

Bite of Life on Dublin 8's humble Patrick Street is full of love! Established in 1997 by husband and wife team Jorinde and Conor Moynihan, its small, simply furnished interior is more than well-equipped to give as much pleasure as some of the most popular brunch spots in town. What could be more perfect than Saturday morning with the paper, in the window seat next to the cosy log fire, watching the world go by while enjoying a breakfast of simple pleasures and the smell of freshly baked, homemade buns?

The food is simple: perfectly scrambled eggs and toast, with a choice of smoked salmon or bacon if you're feeling so inclined; perfect porridge with honey and banana; fresh homemade cakes and confections; and an array of homemade soups, salads and sandwiches on bread from Blazing Salads. And good coffee.

There's nothing to stand out and grab your attention in the humble offering at Bite of Life, and perhaps nothing special in its homely space or cheerful yellow exterior. However, if you also have a love of food and those things which people like Jorinde and Conor Moynihan appreciate deeply, you too will see what's special about their café, and those other gems that share the same love.

Review, 9th February

Bite of Life
Café and juice bar
55 Patrick Street
Dublin 8

T:01 4542949

Open Monday to Friday 7.30am to 4pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am to 4pm
Caters for offices (platters), ring before 11am to order. Free delivery.


  1. Good scrambled egg on toast is a lost art. Ever since Bewley's instigated the green-edged version, no one puts the effort in anymore.
    Nice review.

  2. Thanks Ruth, and you're right, it is a lost art - it even used to be a practical exam in Leaving Cert Home Ec.