When my friend Vick invited me over to her native neck of the wood in Ipswich, I knew she would suggest something kitsch and quirky for our lunch out – a girl after my own heart, Vick’s penchant for quality fodder and sweet treats matches my own munchable favourites. Driving from her house to nearby central Ipswich, I must confess I was at first a little confused as to why we seemed to be approaching what looked like a student campus. Extremely modern grey and glass high rise buildings cut into the cloudy skyline, surrounding the picturesque view of bobbing white boats on the waterfront. With freshly thrown gravel paths and an undeniable newness, everything seemed too polished and pristine to be plonked on a simplistic Ipswich harbour.
However, Vick’s instincts were not to let us down. As we walked up to a building made from glass she explained the back story to Ipswich’s most recent water side café – owned and run by a successful pub businessman, he had taken the down trodden student hang out and injected it with his own distinctive brand of effortlessly mismatched yet compatible comfort. Using food that had been sourced locally, the menu was a complete mix providing everything from gourmet burger stacks to salads and noodles, with an array of freshly concocted and baked sweet nibbles lined up in a tempting chorus line along the bar. Aiming to expand his culinary prowess, the café was an additional notch on the foodie bed post, the quality clearly evident as the café is now far and beyond a simplistic student den, as shown by the relaxed collection of locals using it as a relaxed lunch time hub.
There is no doubt about it, but Cult Café is cool. It just oozes massive waves of trendy glamour, laid back sophistication with the buzz of complete comfort and relaxation. You could choose whether to sit down at wooden dining tables with odd hard chairs, or opt to recline inelegantly at one of the low wooden coffee tables, orbited by a selection of mismatching sofas and soft chairs. Despite none of the seating actually matching, it still seemed seamless, somehow complimenting each other in a weird form of shabby home chic that was less shabby and more thoughtful. Hogging a coffee table in the corner, I settled down into a low slung white recliner chair that looked uncomfortable, but in fact was one of those rare chairs that makes you never want to stand again.
Scattered throughout the café were the most amazing lamps that were evidently being used as artwork as well as providing quirky lighting fittings. An old school film reel camera was the base of the tall lamp next to me, while other lamps around the room used other random odds and ends to make stylishly weird ornaments. Everywhere you turned there was something to look at and admire. What I also loved instantly, was the atmosphere. Cult café may be part of the popular crowd, but it has no airs and graces with a fabulous inclusive feel. We shared our table with a young family, admiring each other’s food choices with friendly small talk and inconsequential nattering. Cult Café is a place to kick back and relax whilst tucking in to some hearty, quality and original fodder.
Although the menu was not extensive, there was still plenty of choice, and it took me a while to decide what to pick. In the end, I opted for the café’s speciality – poutiness. These are basically a bowl of cheesy home fried thick chips, but Cult Café have given the rustic chip a full on foodie make over, by letting you select one meaty topping and one sauce to sit atop your potato pile. I went for the Chinese beef paired with the chicken gravy, and I have to confess I totally made the right choice here. The chips were delicious, the Chinese beef served in thickly shredded chunks and coated in a black bean style sauce that splashed on to nearby chips. The gravy oozed down into every layer of my bowl, adding flavour to both the beef and chips. A really simple idea yet it tasted divine to be honest and it was a great size to get stuck in to. We both went for large bowls, which was the ideal lunch size – I assume a small bowl would be better as a side or a snack.
On our table, there was also a selection of ketchups for us to have with our food. While Vick stuck with the traditional tomato, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the pinky coloured banana and chilli ketchup, flecked with red chunks. Chips simply cannot be eaten without ketchup in my opinion so I took this as the green light to sample some of the strange sauce, which Vick told me was handmade by the premises. The first hit of flavour is full on fruity, with the smooth natural taste of banana dominating. As this gentle fruit taste fades, it is replaced by the zinging warmth of the chilli in a second burst of flavour, almost like an aftertaste. I’m not a huge fan of anything over spicy, but this was perfect, adding just a boost of heat but not detracting or taking over from the flavours of the chips, just enhancing what was already there. Maybe the soft fruit works well to tone down the excitable chilli, but however it works, it was a brilliant invention, and I only wish they sold bottles of the stuff so that I could have taken some home.
With the chips done and dusted, it was time to move on to the sweet stuff. With a cappuccino to sip, Vick ordered us a chocolate and marshmallow pie to share. While we were waiting for it to arrive, we decided to sample one of the nibbles that adorned the bar. A squidgy chocolate truffle like layer sat on top of a base of caramel coated rice crispies, with the whole thing coated in a decadent layer of white chocolate. Soft with the vague texture contrast of the cereal at the bottom, it was chocolately heaven and delicious to graze on with our coffees.
When our chocolate and marshmallow pie arrived, I was so glad that we were sharing it as the slice was enormous – but then again, that’s how I like my desserts. An incredibly dense and sludge like chocolate torte style filling formed the majority of the pie, the deep dark brown peppered with fun pops of white and pale pink mini marshmallows. The tall chocolate pie had a crumbly biscuit base, the whole dish decoratively swirled with a golden caramel sauce, with more marshmallows simply scattered across the plate. With the slice of pie was also a generous spodge of caramel flavoured ice cream, that seemed to also have chunks of either honeycomb or caramel wafer hidden within it as a sneaky bonus which we both adored. To be honest, this was probably one of my most perfect and ideal desserts as it hit all of my favourite flavours – namely chocolate and caramel. It also provided different textures with the chocolate layer, the biscuit bottom, the marshmallows, the sauce and ice cream, meaning that every mouthful was pure perfection. I absolutely loved this afters, and although I may have been slightly overstuffed after womanfully eating every last bite after Vick was defeated by chocaholic mountain, there was no way I was leaving even a scrap of something so tasty. Heaven.
Price wise, Cult Café is also very reasonable, although this probably harks back to its student relations and base as a majority student venue. Our large bowls of fancy chips were £6, the chocolate pie £4, our coffees £2. Really reasonable, especially when you consider the quality of the food you are given as well as the really great portion sizes – scrimping is definitely not on this menu. I thoroughly enjoyed Cult Café and I would love to return, although I have no clue what I would have next time! Delicious, imaginative food that hits the treat taste buds, served in a comfortable and welcoming cafe, with stunning views across the peaceful water front. Definitely a win win venue.