Cafe Ronak, Gloucester Road: Review

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Image from https://www.facebook.com/CafeRonak

Image from https://www.facebook.com/CafeRonak

 

This review comes from Will Pearce – you can read more from Will at willpearce.wordpress.com, or follow him on Twitter at @W_J_Pearce. You can read more of Will’s reviews for Bristol Bites here

 

I’ve come to find that there’s a strange dichotomy at work in the world of coffee shops. More often than not, the places that serve the best coffee aren’t always the most welcoming, while the most welcoming places don’t always serve the best coffee. Gloucester Road’s Cafe Ronak – which takes its name from the Farsi word for ‘light’ and has been serving up fairtrade coffee and Persian-inspired cuisine since 2010 – is a rare exception to the rule.

At the front is an attractive al fresco dining area fenced in with box planters, while the interior is surprisingly spacious, complete with framed works by local artists, raw wood panelling and terracotta-coloured walls splashed with abstract graffiti, lovingly daubed by the staff themselves. The relaxed North African/Mediterranean vibe makes a nice change from the achingly hip, ‘distressed-vintage-industrial’ atmosphere that seems to have become the standard for restaurants and cafes over the past few years.

Another thing that sets Cafe Ronak apart from other coffee shops is the staff. The minute I set foot in the door, I was welcomed like an old friend, and my barista Alina had a verve for customer service that was matched only by her enthusiasm for coffee. In fact, enthusiasm doesn’t even begin to cover it. Fanatical zeal comes a little closer.

After ushering me to a table, Alina produced two huge bags of roasted coffee beans. ‘You have to smell them,’ she said. ‘I love the aroma of coffee. It’s just so…comforting.’ I stuck my nose into an open bag and took a deep draught. She wasn’t wrong. At any given time, Ronak serve a seasonal guest blend – normally a dark roast – and the house blend, a bespoke medium roast which goes by the entirely appropriate name of Ronak Superstar (30% Brazilian, 30% Kenyan AA, 20% Nicaraguan and 20% Colombian Inza, for all you coffee geeks out there). The guest blend at the time of my visit was an Ethiopian single origin by the name of Amharic. Both smelled divine.

Alina hurried back to the bar, only to return moments later with a plate of baklava, two huge slices of cake – one chocolate, one lemon meringue – and two coffees. First up was an espresso made with the guest blend. The aroma was salty, redolent of sea breeze, the taste intense and sweet, bursting with red berry flavours. It partnered beautifully with the homemade baklava, an indulgent wodge of crisp pastry and chopped nuts drenched in syrup.

The second coffee, a house blend flat white, was rich and creamy with notes of popcorn and cocoa – a divine accompaniment to the moist, full-flavoured chocolate cake. As I ate, Alina told me about the cafe’s longstanding partnership with Wogan Coffee. Ronak’s staff regularly descend on the family-owned roastery for cupping sessions and training, which gives them the sort of knowledge and appreciation for coffee that you just won’t find in the chains (and, indeed, a lot of independents).

Suddenly, Alina’s eyes lit up. ‘Ah!’ she exclaimed. ‘You should try the house blend as espresso!’ Before I had a chance to reply – not that I would have declined – Alina had disappeared, leaving me alone with the final piece of cake: a lemon meringue sponge. She returned with the espresso, and upon taking a sip I immediately understood her excitement: dazzlingly piquant and abounding with sharp citrus flavours, it made a perfect foil to the sweet lemon meringue.

Alina returned to work, leaving me to shamelessly polish off the remains of the cakes. Soon I was joined by Kav, an affable Iranian who, together with his brother Kia, owns and manages Cafe Ronak. By his reckoning, more than 90% of Ronak’s produce is sourced from the South West, and the majority of that from Gloucester Road – but Kav’s vision goes even further. We made our way outside to the garden, where a varied clientele – students, families, couples, old and young – enjoyed their drinks in the sunshine.

‘We grow our own herbs here,’ Kav explained, ‘but my dream is to start growing vegetables, too, and baking our own bread. Ultimately, we’d like to become as self-sufficient as possible.’ Sitting there amid the greenery, full of coffee and cake and surrounded by the good-natured chatter of strangers, it was hard not to be intoxicated by Kav’s dream – and with plans to expand the already spacious garden in the pipeline, it looks set to become a reality in the not-too-distant future.

We chatted a while longer, our conversation pleasantly interrupted at intervals by a flow of well-wishers and regulars; but clearly, Kav was on borrowed time. Before heading back inside, he introduced me to Julie, one of a multitude of fiercely loyal patrons. I asked how long she’d been a customer.

‘Blimey. About five years now,’ she replied. ‘The coffee is amazing, and Kav’s a big draw – in fact, all the staff are lovely. They’re like a big extended family, really – and when you come to Ronak, it feels as though you’re a part of it, too.’ As we spoke, it dawned on me that Cafe Ronak is more than a coffee shop. There’s local art on the walls, local produce on the menu, local musicians play in the garden on summer evenings – and the local residents can’t get enough of it. Lots of places these days make specious claims to being community ‘hubs’, but Ronak is one of the few I’ve come across actually deserving of the title. Just read their TripAdvisor page and you’ll see what I mean – or better yet, make a visit of your own. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

As I was getting ready to leave, Julie introduced her daughter, a brown-haired girl of about ten. Her name was Kasota.
‘Kasota,’ I echoed. ‘That’s a nice name.’
‘It’s Native American,’ Kasota replied. ‘It means “cloudless sky”.’

 

 

6 Responses to Cafe Ronak, Gloucester Road: Review

  1. Barbara Hollyhead

    I absolutely LOVE this place, for all the reasons you mention, and your article reminds me that I am well overdue another visit!

  2. Loves it.

  3. Pingback: Cafe Ronak, Gloucester Road | Girl in Bristol

  4. We’ve eaten at the Cafe Ronak for last night! The restaurant is very grubby and the seats in the are filthy! The food were luke warm and the main course very greasy. The whole place needs a really deep clean!

  5. Been meaning to go for ages. No excuses now..!
    Thanks for the great review.
    @nomad_baker

  6. Pingback: Coffee Shop Review: Cafe Ronak, Bristol - Will Pearce: Copywriter

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