BY ROZ CROWLEY
A CAFÉ in Farran on a main route from Cork city to West Cork has become a mecca for cyclists and drivers, walkers in nearby Mullinhassig Wood & Waterfall, and rowers at Farran Forest Park.
Wunderkaffee recently won Best Munster Café at the Irish Restaurant Association Awards 2023, and in turn its quirky offering rewards customers with a range of treats.
Now a hub for the local community, it’s well supported, especially since two other cafés in the area closed during covid. ‘Their closure encouraged us to make our move,’ says co-owner Alex O’Callaghan. ‘We had looked at the area while they were open and were slow to take business away for them and dissipate their income, as well as our own. Business can be tough.’
Wunderkaffee is a brother of two Cork city cafés, Filter Espresso & Brew Bar on George’s Quay, and more recently Paradise Place, South Main Street. Filter didn’t miss a beat during Covid, adapting by closing off the seating area and using a hatch to serve freshly brewed takeaway coffee.
The increased interest in good quality coffee during Covid meant that new customers had the opportunity to experiment and try the weekly suggestions of beans from all over the world. This week Guatemala, another week Brazil, another Ethiopia, Nicaragua, or blends of all three.
Wunderkaffee has more to offer than excellent coffee. Bakewells, baked cheesecake slices, caramelised banana bread, cookies, chocolate and pistachio tarts; polenta peach and lime cakes with honey yoghurt are made by Alex, who was trained by a baker to supply their former wholesale business. ‘I don’t have a sweet tooth, so I reduce the sugar content as much as possible without reducing flavour. Method is as important as the recipes. Our scone method is a closely-guarded secret.’ They buy in croissants, and vegan treats come from Wazzy Woo in Clonakilty.
Co-owner and partner Eoin MacCarthy has vast experience in the hospitality industry having run Café Bar Deli, Gulp’d in Triskel Arts Centre, and others in Cork. They plan to expand the seating area and do toasted sandwiches soon, and will make their own relishes. ‘We’ll look at cheese and ham suppliers in West Cork. Quality and good flavours are the keystone of everything we do and it seems locals and passers-by appreciate that.’
Wunderkaffee’s name was inspired by German Wunderkammern (places where curiosities/antiques are exhibited). Here, collected pieces of furniture from an old pub and stored for six years, are used as shelving; a counter top is supported by a 1860 Collard & Collard grand square piano. A room divider was once the facia of a counter in a café they ran in St Peter’s Church on North Main Street in Cork. A hobby knitter during Covid, Eoin presents his own curiosities. He has applied his fingercraft to making the macramé pieces – producing pieces using a knotting technique – for sale in the café. It’s back in fashion ‘and much faster and satisfying than knitting a jumper’, he says.
Jewellery for sale comes from three talented artists, including West Cork’s Ruby Robin, while colourful lamps are made in Cork by Mr Kite Designs. With notebooks, cards, candles, olive oils, it’s a useful resource for gifts. They’re pulling in more local suppliers as they develop.
Potted plants are part of the charm here, providing a lush entrance. Having studied horticulture, Alex tends the plants as they grow, pinching out leaves, spraying mist, and there is no shortage of conversation. He also trained in sound engineering, interior design, and bee keeping. He sells local honey, and beeswax candles and heather honey from Little Island – another passion indulged. They have an orchard in Mallow planted with heritage apples. If they don’t eat them first, they would like to make juice for sale in the café. ‘Blood of the Boyne is a beautifully sweet, irresistible apple,’ says Alex. Ideas are bubbling all the time.
It certainly beats Alex’s former job as a property manager. ‘I became ill with the stress of it, being on call every minute of the day and night to sort repairs and other problems. This change of career was just right for me.’ But no experience was wasted. The skills from that work have been useful in refitting the café.
Another indulgence of the partners is selling organic and biodynamic wines. Their main supplier is Kenmare-based Mary Pawle, one of the first in Ireland to recognise the clean tastes of organic wines from vineyards such as Albet y Noya in Spain (try their good value sparkling instead of prosecco or champagne).
‘The kick we get out of the business is seeing people put their heads through the door and being surprised at what they see,’ says Alex, as Eoin supervises the rich crema dripping into cups. ‘That’s why we got such a kick out of the restaurant award. We’re 10 years in the business of brewing coffee in Cork and the team here of Elaine Moore and James O’Connor – our head barista – work hard five days a week, Tuesday to Saturday 8am to 3.30pm. We’re in for the long haul and these hours allow us all to have a life outside work.’
There are big plans afoot for this place of curiosities. Watch this space.