Woytek takes one look at me and tells me very nicely to sit down. “I make you a cup of coffee, please take a seat.” I am hot and a bit bothered but I do what he says. Sun pours through the window of Kleofas Cafe as I sit writing lists of all the things I have to remember before World Kitchen opens at Leith Festival tomorrow. Then the coffee arrives with a slice of warm apple cake and suddenly I am in another time and place.
Not for the first time I am struck by the thought that catering is much more a vocation than a job. The best hotels, restaurants and cafes always give you a feeling of being personally cared for and that may have nothing to do with the price you are paying.
A taste of childhood: Maryjanna’s sour apple cake.
Years ago I interviewed Peter Tyrie when he was raising the new Balmoral from the ghost of the North British railway hotel above Waverley Station. He strode through the wet, cold building site taking a boyish delight in the make-belief world of luxury bedrooms and bathrooms still to be constructed. But he also saw beneath the surface: “You have to make each guest feel uniquely important.”
Woytek and Daniel have none of Tyrie’s financial resources (and admittedly Balmoral International was brought down to earth by the recession in 1991 which briefly took Tyrie off the luxury hotel scene) but I think they show the same sense of vocation and imagination.
The two young men worked in the hotel trade when they arrived in Scotland four years ago but they spent so much of their spare time cooking for friends everyone said they should go into business. Kleofas Cafe was created over a year ago with the help of a £5,000 grant (£4,000 from PSYBT plus £1,000 Scottish Enterprise start-up funding) and long days and nights of gutting and restoring a derelict building. “Everything you see here we have done for ourselves,” says Woytek with great pride.
Including the excellent cakes. On the café board are some Kleofas specialities: Maryjanna’s Sour Apple Cake, Carrot Cake, Vienna Cheese Cake, hot with ice cream, (£3.50).
Which reminds me, I am here to collect the cakes Woytek and Daniel are donating to the World Kitchen stall for Leith Festival. I know, Gorgie Road is a long way from Leith but every week Kleofas provides food for the Polish community group, Swietlica which is based (more or less) in Leith. And they want to support World Kitchen aims of using food to bring together people from different cultures.
They choose carrot and cheese cakes, and, especially, the apple cake because it has a good story which Daniel tells in Polish while Woytek translates. The recipe comes from Daniel’s grandmother Maryjanna who lived in east Poland, near Warsaw. She grew most of her own food and the sour apples came from her garden (“Your Bramley apples here are perfect”). The secret of Polish baking is in the beating – apparently the cheesecake, flavoured with lemon and vanilla, takes 45 minutes of beating and Kleofas has only just invested in an electric cake mix. See what I mean about vocation!
I drive off, still hot but much less bothered, in a car smelling beautifully of vanilla and freshly baked sour apple cake. I intend to come back soon.
Kleofas Café, 342 Gorgie Road (just opposite Aldi but on a different planet from the nearby McDonalds) is open Tuesday to Sunday from 1pm to 10 pm.
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