Cakes & Ale
Saturday 28th September 2013.
“Art any more than a steward? Dost thou think because thou
art virtuous there shall be no more cakes and ale?” Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare, Act 2.3.
But it’s not just in Shakespeare where cakes & ale are symbols of the good life. The phrase also appears in a tagline in a fable attributed to Aesop (The Town Mouse & the Country Mouse): ‘Better beans and bacon in peace than cakes & ale in fear’. So ‘Cakes & Ale’, is a phrase synonymous with la Dolce Vita, with the word ‘cake’ a metaphor for a good thing in many idioms. ‘Having your cake and eating it’, ‘that takes the cake (or biscuit)’and so on. Hence when Shakespeare wrote of there being no more cakes & ale he wasn’t being literal. And neither are the proprietors of this lovely licensed cafe in Swindon’s Old Town in naming it thus – because they offer so much more than cakes & ale with which to tempt you – as the ‘legend’ on their blackboard states.
Now, I’m no Giles Coren so I have absolutely no knowledge or authority on which to expound about whether an establishment has the menu ‘right’, and if a dish has just the right balance of this and that and the other. So I won’t even try – there’s ‘proper’ food critics, such as the aforementioned Mr Coren, for that sort of thing. But if a place has an agreeable ambience, the food is decent, the wine and beer quaffable and the prices reasonable then that’s me happy. And Cakes & Ale fulfilled all those criteria for me.
Cakes & Ale is, as the postcard pictured here states, a licensed cafe. It’s a ‘Heinz 57’ of a place being a mixture of pub, cafe, and restaurant. It’s a quirky concept – well I’ve not come across such a place before – and I liked it a lot. They do breakfast, elevenses, lunch, high tea and supper – and brunch on Sunday. The decor is whitewashed wood panelling with pops of colour – the same colours, unsurprisingly, as on the postcard. In fact the whole thing does, as a comment on this post pointed out, bring to mind the vintage Penguin book covers – which has to be deliberate, as they have yet another carefully placed reference to ‘cakes & ale’ in the form of a Penguin copy of the eponymous Somerset Maugham novel along with other editions – as you can see on the photograph below.
The furniture is all mismatched tables and chairs in a variety of styles, retro advertising prints, floral china cake stands along the window sill, lace around the votives on the tables – you get the idea. I loved the loo which was papered from floor to ceiling with girls comics from every age. I recognised The Four Marys for sure! I could have stayed in there all evening reading those.
I went for dinner so found a very cosy atmosphere with tea-light votives on all the tables. I approve! I LOVE a candle – what I spend on the things annually could probably clear the national debt. My companion had booked a table which was a wise move as the place is clearly very popular. No sooner were we sat than the waitress brought a jug of water – without our having to ask – which impressed me no end as I sometimes feel that alchemy would be easier than getting water brought to your table. Especially in Indian restaurants I’ve noticed….
Not feeling in the mood for a heavy meal we eschewed the interesting selection on the specials board and opted instead for Fritto Misto for sharing (£12 for two), accompanied by home-made bread with a carafe of white wine. All of which was very enjoyable indeed. Nom, nom, slurp, nom. Having only had a light main we both decided to finish off with cheese and biscuits. When ever I have the cheese board anywhere I generally don’t bother with the biscuits – shop bought crackers I can do without. But the biscuits here were a different beast altogether being homemade. They and the selection of cheeses were presented on a wooden bread board which was a rather nice touch I thought.
So did I enjoy my first experience of the Cakes & Ale cafe? I most certainly did. Will I be going back? I most certainly hope so. If only for the ales! And perhaps the High Tea…I saw a snapshot of their high tea on Twitter and it did look very civilized indeed. But then there’s the brunch too…oh decisions, decisons…