Cloud 9 is defined as a state of perfect happiness. A whimsical, aspirational destination that we arrive at when things are going better than we dared to dream. But Cloud 9 is also the name of the latest addition to the vibrant cafe scene in Athlone. And so the question is, can the food reach the dizzying heights suggested by the moniker or will it all come crashing down to Earth?
On a recent Saturday morning I decided to test it out, hoping that even if perfection remained illusive, the experience would still be a largely positive one.
Cloud 9 announced its arrival on the Athlone food scene with the massive, vibrant mural pictured above. On a once dreary wall, in a once dreary lane, it adds colour and energy and I smile each time I pass, thinking to myself that the place looks kinda cool. A good start on the happiness index.
And then, early one Saturday morning, I eventually stopped and ventured inside. Following on from the street art, the decor also has a feel good factor about it. It’s bright and airy with pops of colour to keep spirits high. Imagine Mykonos vibes but with a slightly more muted shade of blue. Terracotta tiles, white furniture, yellow paint and fresh flowers in jars – beach cafe feels in an inland location. Love it!
Interiors are winning, but can the food follow suit?
Initial indicators suggest a kitchen keen to make a real effort. The menu is an interesting mix, ranging from old staples like a full Irish and omlettes, to the more ambitious huevos rancheros or eggs benedict with brisket. It also has an admirable nod to healthy living – something I welcome in the first meal of the day. For example, you can switch up white toast for porridge bread, and have pancakes with berries and yoghurt in place of bacon and syrup. And then of course there is the hipster’s delight – avo toast with runny poached eggs. Now regular readers will know my rather strong views about paying good money for smashed up baby food on designer bread, but I suppose you have to give the punters what they want!!! And Cloud 9 goes a step further into hipster heaven by adding protein to the pancakes!!! Sweet Lord we have lost the run of ourselves completely, sure isn’t there eggs in them already?? What next, waiters with no socks serving matcha lattes?? But overall, it is a very impressive selection, offering lots of choice and options that I haven’t seen available anywhere else in town. We are off to a strong start. It looks good, it sounds good, but will it taste good?
After some deliberation, one of us had the Full Irish (he usually does), with all sausage and no bacon (cause he’s weird), scrambled eggs and several cups of tea. There was beans (too often omitted in my view), pudding, mushrooms and little cubes of saute potato. It was a good solid offering, and if there was to be a quibble, it would be the mushrooms. They needed more seasoning – or in my opinion a dollop of real butter added in the frying phase – to draw out their flavour. I am a big mushroom fan, but they do tend to need a little help – Kerry Gold to the rescue!!!!! Minor taste issue aside, this was a generous portion of well prepared food. One diner happy.
But what of the fussy author of this little series, who fancies herself as a mushroom connoisseur and rants regularly about the cost of avocado on toast? Well I opted for a breakfast hash with chorizo, wanting to try one of the less typical menu items. This dish consisted of two mildly spiced sweet potato cakes, flavoured with red pepper and spring onion, and drizzled with a sriracha yoghurt. Each “cake” was topped with a generous slice of delicious, paprika-spiced chorizo and a soft poached egg. And just like that I was sold on the place. A smiling customer, loving the type of breakfast she is unlikely to make at home and yet doesn’t often see on a menu. High praise, well deserved. But was I on Cloud 9?
Not quite – enter minor quibble number 2. There was no decaf. Real coffee or no coffee. Those are the options. Is this really a big deal? YES!!!
Although for years I was one of those people who sneered at “fake” coffee, it is now my methadone. I just need a little hit, early in the morning, to remind me of the warm, delicious bitterness that is real caffeine. And I am surely not alone – what about the pregnant people – they need decaf sometimes, don’t they? And insomniacs? Surely they avoid caffeine in the afternoon. The list goes on. But it wasn’t to be and no matter how huge the cup of peppermint tea served in its stead, it just couldn’t calm my twitch!!!
But did this ruin breakfast? Not by a long shot. I really enjoyed Cloud 9 and it proved yet again what a special little town Athlone is when it comes to eating out – at any time of the day.