Cook & Baker, Wilmslow

My home town of Wilmslow is completely transformed from “the village” it used to be.  I was recently explaining to my son how the site of Sainsburys was at one time a car showroom; what is now TSB bank was Mercury Market, the one and only supermarket in town in the mid-60s; where Waitrose now stands proud was in my day the village hall and a car park.

This is a matter of some regret, even if one cannot stymie the march of progress, though in culinary terms there is good and bad.  Restaurants were few in the old days since people rarely ate out, and those that did exist contained neither the quality nor the variety you find now.  Supermarkets earn a degree of cynicism from me, though offer way better choice than what we had before – and this is without the wonderful street market Wilmslow’s Grove Street now hosts.

There was the odd cafe and baker to be found in my younger days, mostly old-style and down-market, though not the tea rooms serviced by waitresses in pinnies.  Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose:  Cook & Baker is a bright and sparky new cafe, part of a family business with long associations in the Wilmslow area, as told here.  Before it became a cafe it was an estate agent, and before that Pimlotts, the fishmonger’s shop.  From my youth it is Pimlotts that I will always associate with that site, but times change and the current generation cares little of times past.

The name is the clue here.  C&B offers bread, cakes, simple meals and drinks, as you would expect of a business with origins in the patisserie trade.  As with all cafes these days, and certainly true of Wilmslow, the aspiration is decidedly up-market – reflected in the prices, which are not quite London but certainly heading in that direction.  That said, you should be able to guarantee freshness and quality for that price, plus decent service.

Opinions vary though, with many comments swirling around the net suggesting an unhappy and less than friendly service offered to some customers.  I’m not one to dwell on other people’s experiences, believing my own eyes and ears instead.  On the day my son and I tried out C&B they appeared to be doing a steady trade and were efficient without being overtly friendly.

Like the proverbial curate’s egg, our breakfast was good in parts:  we went for breakfast baguettes: bacon for me, sausage for him.  I chose my customary black Americano, Adam chose his customary Coke, which has the benefit of being identical pretty much anywhere in the world, for better or worse.

My coffee was, frankly, muddy and not very pleasant – certainly not the exceptional standard claimed by some reviewers.  Perhaps the barista was having an off-day, or maybe this is becoming more than coincidental after two mediocre coffees served to be recently in different establishments in nearby Alderley Edge?  Either way, it shouldn’t be too difficult to serve a good cup made from freshly roasted and ground beans, offering a powerful hit of caffeine and bringing a smile to the drinker’s face.  Alas, this was not it – too sludgy by half.

The baguettes were, as you might expect from a bakery, excellent – true crusty artisan bread that was beyond criticism.  The bacon and sausages (origins unknown) were both given the seal of approval, though for £4.80 portions could have been slightly more generous.

All well and good?  Well yes, but for a very cheap and nasty ketchup served with it – on which both my boy and I remarked.  Why go to all the trouble of making an excellent bacon baguette then ruin it with watery ketchup?  After all, attention to detail means you should be getting everything absolutely spot on, and customers will remember the think that went wrong long after they have forgotten the successful elements.  With the benefit of hindsight, maybe bringing a bottle of ketchup from my own local jam factory shop (see here) might have been a better solution?

I don’t mind paying premium prices, providing everything is spot on.  In this case, C&B did well the things they do well, but really have some room for improvement – or maybe just consistency?  After all, it’s no good running a top cafe if you don’t deliver your best every time to every customer.

There you have it: Wilmslow is very different but its bright new face doesn’t necessarily guarantee you top standards.  I wish you luck!

PS. A second visit confirmed the first: excellent baguettes but burnt, muddy coffee

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