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Restaurant review: Get a fine taste for cafe life at Dundee’s Pacamara

Buttermilk fried chicken burger at Pacamara

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre. The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”. The Second Coming – William Butler Yeats.

I’ve often wished I was the kind of person who sits in a cafe for hours, maybe reading a bit of poetry, dreaming of a fairer society and just watching the world go by.

You’ll have seen many variations of this scenario, most acutely with people who seem to have no deadlines, generally never order food and make one cup of coffee last all afternoon while they work on something terribly important on their laptops.

Such folks always carry a spare charger, rarely tip, and ask for a fifth glass of tap water when it becomes obvious the cafe owner might need the table back for someone who actually wants to eat.

Inside Pacamara in Dundee.

But recently it struck me that this cliched image said more about the social circles I used to mix in – media types being “creative”, basically – and not so much about the wider world where things just got even more real.

We now live at a time when many of the people you see in cafes probably can’t afford to heat their own homes, a problem which is now much more severe following the widespread need for home-working, and with fuel costs rising so rapidly.

An hour in a different happy, buzzing space can provide huge respite during a long day spent either working from home or just trying to keep sane in these difficult times.

It’s undeniable that a cafe often provides me with a warm and welcoming escape from the isolation of a day spent working at the kitchen table and thus many of my favourite places unwittingly offer so much more than coffee and cake, firmly entrenching them as fundamental parts of their local communities.

I see this most acutely in the classic Forte’s in Dundee which, apart from serving the best coffee and cheese rolls in town, exemplifies the idea of the cafe as a true social hub.

Yes, Forte’s is a cafe, old school and proud, but this is also a place where owner Jim keeps a keen eye on his older clientele, looking out for signs of illness or distress in their lives and seeing how he can help.

Over the years I have heard some amazing stories in Forte’s and I truly believe that cafes like this provide a safety net for some of the most fragile people in our harsh society.

Forte Cafe in Dundee.

It would certainly be a brave person who asks Jim at Forte’s if he has a spare laptop charger behind the counter and anyway the tables are too narrow for a Mac to sit on – so here it’s just classic Dundee banter competing with the scoosh of the coffee machine, and the only clicking you’ll hear is that of your own heels as you wait for those miraculous cheese rolls to appear.

Nevertheless, the idea of the cafe as a work spot is both steeped in culture and increasingly necessary in this new world.

London used to be awash with these displaced keyboard warriors, to the degree that private members club Soho House introduced zones where laptops were banned, thus making the surreptitious click of a Mac as outlawed as illegal drugs, public sex and smoking anything other than your own vapid fumes of self-importance.

Apart from the fact I get bored sitting anywhere for hours on end (I will never, ever order coffee or a digestif at dinner because my attention span wanes after just a few hours, even in the most high-octane social occasion) I feel cafes are for drinking coffee and eating food that’s a little bit calorific while listening to intriguing conversations at the next table.

It’s often here on that eternal next table of life, pitched on the grass that’s not always greener, that we humans display our finest moments – and our failings.

A recent breakfast at Goodfellow and Steven saw my sister and I rivetted by a nearby conversation where one of the women was Broughty Ferry’s unwitting and highly-voluble answer to Alan Bennett.

Her unknowing campery, straight from a Victoria Wood sketch, was all the more delicious because the lady on our other side could be seen grimacing at every barbed witticism in a way that confirmed you should never, ever mess with Dundee gals.

All human life is in a cafe and you can be part of it for the cost of a flat white, which seems like a bargain to me.

Pacamara

Pacamara on Dundee’s Perth Road is somewhere I’ve been going for years, having been introduced to it by Dundee musician Andrew Wasylyk who has an innate sense of what’s cool.

Recent visits to Pacamara show why it’s still one of the nicest cafes in Dundee and definitely the best in this part of the West End, even if the current menu feels scaled back to me – something you find in many places right now as hospitality is forced to look to genuine crowd-pleasers to bring in customers.

Pacamara in Dundee.

The food

Our first recent visit was on a Sunday morning, a time that suited this brunch- orientated menu perfectly.

From a two-sided menu featuring “Lunch” on one side and “Brekkie” on the other (how I hate the word “Brekkie”) we chose two classic brunch dishes, and both were lovely.

David’s huevos Pacamara (£7.95) was simply rancheros born with a view of the Tay and comprised organic fried eggs, salsas, spicy refried beans and, obviously, tortilla.

Huevos Pacamara

Additions like crispy halloumi, chorizo, avocado and smoked bacon
are all £2.

My bubble & squeak Benny (£7.95) was another classic done well, the organic eggs perfectly poached.

You can jazz this dish up with halloumi, harissa hollandaise and za’atar for an extra £1.95, the same cost as the black pudding and bacon crumb addition for we carnivores.

Bubble and squeak Benny.

Service was great and the tables are really well-spaced out. Pacamara also use those perspex shields between tables which give Covid-19 paranoiacs like me an added sense of security.

Next time I go there I will order the brioche French toast with caramelised banana, honey and cinnamon mascarpone and roasted hazelnuts (£7.95) which seemed almost too decadent a proposition before church
on this visit.

The Perspex screens inside Pacamara.

Lunch here a few days later offered a wider menu although some brunch classics still featured. For me, though, there was only one choice – it had to be the buttermilk fried chicken burger (£8.95) which comprises marinated chicken thighs in a crispy, highly-seasoned coating, served on a sesame seed brioche bun.

This whole dish was completely brought alive by the Cajun spiced mayo which, together with the tenderest chicken, instantly transported me to a similar lockdown dish I ate in the graveyard near Kinneuchar Inn as the snow fell around us and we contemplated whether we would ever eat in a restaurant again.

For me, this burger tasted almost as good as the Kinneuchar version although I have to say I missed the more searing, lip-scorching rasp of slightly too hot chicken against my mouth in this slightly cooler Pacamara delight.

The  buttermilk fried chicken burger.

Incidentally, if you’re new to the delights of marinading chicken in buttermilk then I refer you to page 349 of Nigella Lawson’s seminal How To Eat, where she prefaces a recipe with “The tenderest chicken”. The title tells no lie. The buttermilk marinade stops the flesh from drying and turning stringy, even after it has been blitzed in a hot oven.

Although I would advise getting a proper free-range chicken, this method will work miracles on inferior supermarket birds. Despite its name buttermilk is very low in fat, which makes it useful if you want to keep a skinless portion as
moist as possible”.

This Pacamara version uses the more succulent chicken thigh meat, which is to be commended.

Colombian eggs with halloumi.

A selection of toasted sourdough sandwiches are also available at lunchtime for £6.95 (£5 to takeaway). These include a delicious-sounding French onion, grilled cheese, onion jam and garlic and herb butter version. Handcut rooster fries (£2.50) tasted great and would sit well with anything on this menu.

The verdict

Pacamara is just lovely. Yes, it’s a fairly limited menu right now but what they do they do very well and I know that they’ll be adding more dishes as the seasons change (more salads would be welcome).

The staff are ace and the surroundings are so comfortable you don’t notice them (this is a compliment).

There’s also a selection of good food shops nearby including Fraser’s Fruit and Veg, Fisher & Donaldson, the Little Green Larder and, for more cerebral delights, Le Freak Records.


Kitschnbake

Closer to home it was great to go back to the wonderful Kitschnbake in Newport-on-Tay and even better to see powerhouse owner (and fellow Courier columnist) Mary Jane Duncan dashing around making everyone welcome and making everything work.

Mary Jane and I are friends and perhaps this has meant I haven’t written about her lovely cafe as much as others. My fault, because this is a gem of a place and somewhere I often escape to for a perfect solo lunch.

Everything here is good but I have to single out the stovies (£6.95), made with brisket from Scott Brothers and served with Fisher & Donaldson oatcakes, the frittata (£5.50) and the incredible sausage rolls (£6.95).

Posted by Kitschnbake on Wednesday, 19 January 2022

My lunch of home-made carrot, parsnip and lentil soup (£3), that wonderful sausage roll with salad and the moistest, densest triple chocolate brownie (£2.50) qualified as a three-course meal and meant I didn’t have to eat that night.

Filled rolls are £3.50 and Wild Hearth pastries are £3. Coffee is excellent. Banter is encouraged and is free.

This is my real definition of a home from home – minutes from my house, joyful, relaxing, socially-aware and a true hub of the local community.

Now that’s what I call a cafe!


Information

Address: Pacamara, 302 Perth Road, Dundee DD2 1AU

T:  01382 527666
W: www.facebook.com/pacamaradundee

Price: Brunch/lunch dishes from £6.95

Scores:

  • Food: 4/5
  • Service: 5/5
  • Surroundings: 4/5

Address: Kitschnbake, 16 Boat Road, Newport on Tay DD6 8EZ

T: 01382 542704
W: www.kitschnbake.co.uk

Price: Filled rolls are £3.50 and Wild Hearth Pastries £3


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