Bilby Bites - the food blog from Bilby Marketing

Café at 36

In need of a little respite on a sunny Friday afternoon in June, I decided to walk myself along the River Exe to Cowick Street to sit in the lovely Café at 36 and grab some sustenance. It is only around 20 minutes walk for me so it means I get exercise, rays, food and pleasure all within a convenient distance from my house.

As I switched off the computer, grabbed my bag and headed for the sunshine, I had no real intention of writing a review of the café, but having been there a few times before I knew it to be pretty snazzy, particularly for Cowick Street which isn’t over-run with spectacular eateries I think it’s fair to say. A bit of good food and inspiring décor would revitalise me. Once half way through the river walk I decided I could put an article together at the weekend, detailing my experience. This of course meant I could feel completely justified in leaving the house for a break. Perfect. After a few days at home working on your own, there is often an urgent need to get out and about to perk yourself up.

The café has a French bistro feel to it with dark wood furniture, leafy plants (imagine lots of green), candelabras and ornate wallpaper behind the main counter. It has an edge of glamour without being at all exclusive. An extra bonus and contributor to the atmosphere is the wonderful, bright abstract art on the walls, painted by the owner Jim’s wife Diem, and for sale if you fancy spending a little more than the usual £5-10 during your lunchbreak. If your budget doesn’t stretch to large canvases though, there are also tasteful fridge magnets, or mini-canvases, available in the same vibrant colours. I was first taken to the café about a year ago by a friend who I know to be very reliable when it comes to picking lovably quirky lunch locations with good food and she came up trumps yet again. On this occasion I ordered my usual from the relatively small, but well thought out menu, a goats cheese and sun-dried tomato panini with a vanilla latté. Personally any coffee establishment that isn’t snooty enough to stop you having flavoured syrups already scores big brownie points from me. The paninis are very good with a coating of sesame seeds that sets them apart. I can definitely taste the difference between these and standard paninis I’ve had many times before.

Aside from a range of paninis, the Café at 36 menu also includes jacket potatoes, sandwiches, organic soups by Rod & Ben (changes regularly) which are also often vegan, Burt’s crips and a selection of home made cakes and slices. Jim even finds the time to make his own flapjacks, brownies and caramel shortbread. On my visit that day, some of the available options were rice flour chocolate and pecan brownies and strawberry flapjacks. Whilst the café isn’t strictly speaking a ‘health’ café they try to cater for all tastes. The coffee is a Fairtrade Columbian roast supplied by the Cornwall office of Darlingtons and I can say that it is smooth & enjoyable to my taste although I’m not a strong blend fan so bear that in mind.

As you would imagine, an independent and local coffee establishment like Café at 36 relies on local suppliers, with the meat breakfast ingredients being supplied by Courtney’s, the butcher four doors down on Cowick Street. Whilst the café is only open during the day, they also offer a private function service after hours for parties, receptions, etc. catering for up to 40 people. I can imagine this would be an intimate and friendly location for a family gathering, civilised office party or just a large group of friends getting together for a meal and a laugh. During the day the Café also cater for office lunch orders so anybody within a reasonable distance of Cowick Street is well-catered for.

Café at 36 is a wonderful addition to an area that is well-serviced by estate agents, hairdressers and banks, but not necessarily by interesting cafes. Having been open for 4 years, they are now an established and well-loved part of the community. Next time you can’t be bothered to deal with the madness on the high street or down by the Quay you should consider having a wander down Cowick Street. Just walk diagonally across from the main shopping precinct towards the bright red Britannia Bank on the corner and snuggled next door you will find a pleasant little surprise.

Café at 36 Update