Review and photos by Angie Aspinall
Photos © Aspinall Ink 2011
Café Nouveau at Home is the brain-child of local patisserie queen, Marie-Claire Micuta, who perfected her skills at Betty’s Cookery School in Harrogate. She aspires to one day owning her own cafe and wine shop but, rather than diving in at the deep end and opening a café straight away, she opted to dip her toe in the water and in 2010 she launched Nouveau Cakes. Soon after the launch, she started supplying cakes and pastries professionally for the tearoom of local ice-cream producers, Yummy Yorkshire in Denby Dale
Such was the feedback from customers, that the young entrepreneur soon started swimming towards the deep end: she joined the underground cafe movement. And, after receiving the thumbs up from the local environmental health officer for her spotlessly clean underground kitchen, she opened her home once a month to lovers of that quintessentially English ritual that is afternoon tea.
So, what exactly is an underground café? Ms Marmite Lover, otherwise known as Kerstin Rodgers, a highly successful photographer and food writer runs 'The Underground Restaurant', London's first underground restaurant and one of the first in the UK. Famous as a blogger, her blog chronicles the triumphs and setbacks of her living room restaurant. Kerstin is at the forefront of the underground food movement and, it is to her and local underground tearoom hostess, the Bakelady, that Marie-Claire turned for advice about setting up a cafe in her home.
Like the Bakelady and Ms Marmite Lover before her, the media-savvy businesswoman used social media sites Facebook, Twitter and Eventbrite to promote Café Nouveau at Home and soon started to build up a following of ‘bright young things’ looking for something ‘a bit different’ in their search for a foodie’s paradise. And, if the offerings at the first afternoon tea are anything to go by, then, that elusive ‘slice of heaven’ is already here.
Visitors to Café Nouveau are given a warm welcome by the hostess and her husband, Martin, in their stylish Grade II listed home (an original Edgar Wood house) in the village of Lindley in West Yorkshire. Guests are seated around a huge dining table, prettily set with vintage china and linen napkins. After the introductions, guests are offered an impressive range of speciality teas on offer, including herbal and fruit teas, and there are also coffees – (well, the hostess is a fully trained Barrista so, it is nothing less than you’d expect).
Café Nouveau events are themed: the first being focussed on ‘locally sourced foods’. Marie-Claire’s extensive research and natural attention to detail ensured guests dined on such delights as Yorkshire ham (cured in Leeds and sold in Huddersfield), Barncliffe Brie made in Huddersfield and, last but not least, clotted cream delivered from North Yorkshire by courier.
The array of savoury and sweet treats conjured up images of the teas made famous by Enid Blyton in the Famous Five adventure stories; the table and sideboard fairly groaned under the weight of the extensive range of choices. Afternoon delight!
Unlike afternoon teas at commercial cafés, Café Nouveau’s tea offered a perfect balance between the sweet and the savoury. In addition to the mouth-watering ham sandwiches, there were home-made mini Yorkshire puddings topped with local roast beef and a dash of horseradish: a canapé with bells on. Diners can ‘go at their own pace’, with some guest sticking to the savoury selections long after other more sweet-toothed diners had started tucking in to their Yorkshire curd tart, parkin, sultana scones and Betty’s Café blueberry palmiers. One guest commented how nice it was to be able to try a little bit of everything and then go back for more of your favourites. Everyone agreed that this was a distinct advantage over the traditional afternoon teas served in most cafés.
As the afternoon draws to a close, a teapot is passed round for the guests to make their ‘donations’. A minimum donation is advertised on the website but discreet tipping is also allowed. It’s all so very British.
The last ‘French inspired’ affair, was fully booked. Not surprising as the menu included tuna niçoise, paté on pain de campagne, chicken mayo crêpe wrap, mini croque monsieur and onion tart. Followed by a selection on mini cakes including ‘Paris Brest’ (choux pastry rings), hazelnut macarons, madeleines and sultana scones with jam and clotted cream.
Future events include a gluten free tea for anyone that has a wheat intolerance or wants to reduce their wheat intake but still enjoy a good cake (fully booked), ‘A Proper British Tea Party’ celebrating the Queen’s official birthday and a Spanish inspired afternoon. The pièce de résistance, and something which may see the makings of signature dish for the young chef, is the ‘Cake and Wine’ event in May 2011. When asked what inspired this idea, Marie-Claire replied:
“A few years ago on holiday in France, I stumbled upon a wonderful little cafe in the Rhone Valley offering an array of cakes as well as champagne by the glass. At a bit of a loss to know what to choose, I sought the help of the owner, a very friendly and obliging Frenchman who like lots of French people had an instinctive knowledge about wine. He recommended the apple crumble style cake to complement the champagne. He was spot on.”
Every chef has a signature dish which encapsulates their philosophy and Marie-Claire’s may well be borne from experimentation which results from the shock discovery that, “wine and cake does work.”
You can also experience Cafe Nouveau in your own home: why not book a ‘pop up’ cafe event? These are perfect for sophisticated hen parties or family gatherings.
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