Parlour Cafe58 West Port,
£ – inexpensive
££ – mid-price
£££ – expensive
££££ – very expensive
Review published on 10/04/2006 © Sunday Herald
Traditional cafés have all but disappeared these days, to be replaced by establishments with all manner of airs and graces. Where once you got a no-nonsense bacon roll, now you get a pancetta, lolla rossa and mozzarella sun-dried tomato wrap or a Cajun-spiced stir-fried chicken ciabatta.
Superficially, the Parlour Café in Dundee looks like it could be one more in this mould, so it proved a pleasant surprise, because the food turned out to be even nicer than the menu would lead you to think.
Take, for example, the carrot and coriander soup the soup cliché of the 21st century. How many mediocre C&C soups have you tasted, all orange sludge and khaki fleck, about as scintillating as the supermarket carton stuff?
However, the Parlours version jogged the memory as to how good C&C soup can be when an intensely carrotty bulk is enlivened with the tang of vibrantly fresh herb. The same miracle had been performed with the sweet potato and thyme soup. The vegetables tasted almost as if they had been pre-roasted to concentrate their flavour, while the thyme had the aroma of the fresh variety.
Nevertheless, these soups were let down by their sidekicks Europap bread rolls with wrapped butter portions so I had my doubts about the home-made flat breads. But I had to eat my words; crisp, blistered circles of patently hand-made deliciousness arrived, all warm and ready to be dunked in lemony hummus and basil oil, with fleshy, roasted peppers and toasted pine nuts to nibble.
By this point, our taste buds had woken up to the fact the cooking level was higher here than the surroundings might lead one to imagine. (Not that the Parlour is grotty, quite the contrary; it is rather stylish in a slightly cramped way, with its emulsioned, breezeblock walls, concrete floor and design-conscious curved wood chairs.) Even so, we clucked approvingly over the reality of the black-eyed bean burger which sounded worryingly like a stodgy Eighties veggie job, but which was a nicely textured combination of ably seasoned ground nuts and black-eyed beans with their faintly smoky, savoury character, served with a fondant red onion marmalade and a rather zingy mayonnaise dotted with finely chopped capers.
In a passing moment of enthusiasm for healthy eating, brought on by a morning of blue skies, I had rashly ordered the superfoods salad, a decision I then wondered if I might regret. When we heard it would take 15 minutes to prepare, we were puzzled, assuming wrongly it would come out the refrigerator.
But then along came quite the most interesting salad Ive eaten in a long time. What didnt this salad have in it? Freshly blanched broccoli, green beans and sugar-snap peas had been mixed with fluffy quinoa, otherwise known as the super-grain of the Andes because it is a rich source of B vitamins and protein. Then there were raw vegetables like cucumber and beansprouts, crunchy toasted pumpkin seeds, crumbled feta and chopped fresh mint. The whole thing was dressed with lemon and possibly olive oil, the heat of the vegetables causing the feta to melt just a little and blend in with the now mint-scented dressing. It was delightful.
You can take the health bit only so far and Ill admit I had been eyeing up the Desperate Dan-sized chocolate biscuits sandwiched with white, minty filling and topped with a thick layer of dark chocolate, like a very superior version of mint YoYos a biscuit for which I have always had a fatal weakness. Raisin and bran muffins, meanwhile, had an addictively springy texture and were studded with plump dried fruits, so not a penance to eat.
At the peak of a Friday lunchtime, the service was sluggish but the food was so fresh, and the serving staff so sweet and good natured, that we didnt mind.