Cake Face Pastry sits on Ireland’s Medieval Mile in the shadow of St. Canice’s Cathedral and Round Tower in beautiful Kilkenny city. Opened less than a year ago, Cake Face is already a firm favourite for both Kilkenny people and visitors for its great coffee, gourmet sandwiches and high end patisserie selection.
After visiting Cake Face numerous times over the past few months, it’s clear to me that it’s someplace special. There’s no place quite like it in Kilkenny and I’m not even sure there is a place like it in Ireland. It would be a sin to talk about Cake Face without talking about Laura and Rory Gannon; the husband and wife team behind it. I popped in to meet with them one grey Wednesday morning and with a perfect Americano in hand we spent a good hour chatting all things patisserie.
When you meet Laura and Rory, it’s not long before you realise just how passionate they are about good coffee, good desserts and good food. Both Kilkenny natives, they met for the first time on the Ballymaloe three-month cookery course. Laura has high praise for Ballymaloe; “it’s amazing; you go in there for three months and close the door to the world and you are totally immersed in good food.” Laura had given up a career in property and finance and Rory had just left college with a chemical engineering masters degree and rather than go abroad to find work, decided to give Ballymaloe a go instead.
Love blossomed and once the course was finished, the couple moved to the South of France. Laura says that it was here that they did their grunt work and basic apprenticeships. Laura worked in service desserts and pastries and in four fork restaurants and then Hotel de Moujins, near Cannes. Rory worked in a boulangerie with a chocolatier near Antibes. It was during these two years in France that they gained traditional experience, learning the basics such as custards and anglaises.
Laura says that the plan was always to come home to Ireland but they wanted to get as much experience as possible first. After France, came a move to London, where both got jobs in the Savoy Hotel, Rory doing patisserie in the banquet section and Laura in the afternoon tea section. The Savoy, famous for its beautifully delicate desserts was the perfect place to further perfect their skills.
From the Savoy, Rory took up a position in Hotel Café Royal training under chefs from the UK Pastry Team while Laura worked in the pastry section of a high-end caterers covering events from Ascot to London Fashion Week. Laura also worked at the two Michelin starred Hélène Darroze restaurant in the Connaught Hotel. With this experience behind them, the couple were well placed to return to Ireland to do something special.
The move home came when they entered a start your business competition with the community enterprise board in Piltown in County Kilkenny. They actually came second, but the person who won the competition never set up his business and so Rory and Laura were offered the enterprise kitchen instead. The business plan for the competition was just to do macarons; however they wanted to do more. Laura laughs that they were “scarred for life from doing macarons” from their time in spent in London.
Laura says that they knew that there were plenty of places doing good café type food and cakes here in Ireland and they didn’t want to try to compete with that. As they had always trained at a very different level they wanted to come home and produce the sort of stuff that they did at the Savoy. As Laura says, “something a bit quirky and unusual with a bit of colour and flair”.
When they originally came home they started doing farmer’s markets and the festival circuit to test the waters and do their market research. They were pleasantly surprised by people’s reactions; Laura says people they met at the markets were really into it and she credits shows such as The Great British Bake Off for making people more technically aware and savvy when it comes to desserts and cakes.
With the training behind them and a wealth of experience, Laura and Rory set up their Kilkenny city café last year and it’s no surprise that it is going from strength to strength. On the morning I popped in to meet them, I arrived just as they were opening and the place was full within a few minutes; always a good sign.
Given the couple’s patisserie background, it’s the delicate cakes and desserts that are the highlight of Cake Face’s offering. They are intricate and beautiful to look at and even more of a joy to taste. With names such as Miss Lemony Rose, The Jaffa Orange and Raspberry Velveteen it’s clear that these aren’t your standard dessert offering. In fact, there is nothing standard or average about the dessert selection on offer here.
Cake Face also offers a gourmet sandwich selection at lunch times with the ingredients being sourced from local suppliers that Rory and Laura met while doing the food market circuit. The sourdough bread comes from Seagull Bakery in Tramore, County Waterford.
It’s clear that Cake Face is offering a new and fresh perspective on desserts in Ireland. An example of this was when they hosted a pop-up dessert restaurant during the Savour Kilkenny Food Festival last October at which they served a six-course dessert tasking menu. One course was modelled on a traditional brunch with the egg being made from coconut mousse with a mango centre, served with brioche dipping toast and a raspberry ketchup, compete with caramelised bacon. Another dish was a beetroot macaroon with a goat’s cheese and pork filling.
If it all seems a little Heston like in its magic that’s because Laura cites him along with the leading London based pastry chefs as their influences.
There’s an acknowledgement that people are becoming more health conscious and more mindful in their choices when it comes to desserts. Laura says that many of their customers want to know what ingredients are used and how their food is made and that when they eat dessert, they want it to be a treat and good quality.
Currently all patisserie and baked goods are made by Rory and Laura in their development kitchen in Piltown, County Kilkenny, but plans are afoot to move their kitchen into the city and establish it as an open kitchen where the public can see the work that goes into creating these beautiful creations. As Laura says, the idea is to show people the magic behind the curtain.
It is to words like magic and theatre and quirkiness that Laura continuously returns in describing their offering and I can see why. It’s clear that Cake Face is bringing about a dessert revolution here in Ireland and I have a feeling dessert will no longer be the forgotten course. Aren’t we lucky to have a little taste of the Savoy right here in Kilkenny?
For more information visit thehonestproject.com.