Sunday, 22 April 2012

Rick's Café, Cowley Road

Rick's Café is apparently named after the bar in Casablanca where profiteers and refugees desperate to reach America meet under the doleful eye of Humphrey Bogart, but with its cartoonish signage and wooden floors the Cowley Road version looks like any other modish coffee shop. Still, what it lacks in authentic gin joint qualities it makes up for with a few specialities of its own.

There's the usual range of coffees and a menu of toasted sandwiches with cute names like 'French Kiss' and 'Captain America' (only one price is specified for each but they actually come in two sizes) but the real draw are the cakes: a beautiful selection of highly-coloured macaroons, pastries and other jewel-like creations apparently made by a Parisian baker. Even in Paris, it's not easy to find a pâtisserie selling products that look this good (and you probably wouldn't leave with much change from 5 or even 10€) so I was impressed to see them on offer here at quite reasonable prices.
On my first visit I tried a small 'Italian Job' (£2.65), a toasted roll stuffed with an appetising mixture of aubergines, courgettes, peppers and onions bound with mayonnaise (I don't normally like mayonnaise in sandwiches but this was tasty) and pesto. The filling had clearly not been simply thrown together and the flavours balanced well, although the bread itself was disappointingly spongy and too thick to be toasted all the way through. I then moved on to my lemon cheesecake (£2.30). The photo doesn't quite show the perfect smoothness of its yellow dome (fringed with artistic crumbs). The filling was a little heavier than the ethereal exterior suggested - definitely more cream cheese than mousse - but was still delicious, and went well with the hard biscuit outside.
I returned a few days later: I couldn't base my opinion on just one cake, could I? This time I tried a 'Fort Chocolate' (£3) and a vanilla macaroon (90p), washed down with a cappuccino (£1.80). This came doused in chocolate and cinnamon powder and had a nice mellow flavour, but it was the largest 'regular' coffee I've had in a while and I would have been happy with (for which read 'preferred') a cup half the size. On the other hand, despite its decadent looks and combination of chocolate-covered shortbread, ganache-filled cake and chocolate mousse topped with chocolate decorations set at a rakish angle, my Fort Chocolate was rich but not ridiculously so. This was a sophisticated dessert: the less sweet biscuit and cake offset the airy mousse and intense ganache. Meanwhile, the macaroon's coating of poppy seeds heightened the contrast between the meringue-like crunch of the outside and the soft filling with its gooey vanilla cream.
The sugary delights at Rick's are served by quietly friendly staff in a busy atmosphere (I'm not sure I find it cosy enough to linger but the sofas are popular with groups and there are always seem to be people who have settled in with a laptop). This independent cafe clearly puts a lot of effort into offering something a little bit different, and it's good to know that - for the moment - 'we'll always have Paris', even in Cowley.

Rick's Café
90 Cowley Road, OX4 1JB

(n.b. Rick's also has a sister establishment where the cakes are made, Chateau Gateau in St Clements)

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