Hay-On-Wye might be best known for its numerous bookshops and annual literary festival, but it’s also at the heart of an expanding empire. Since Alex Gooch set up his bakery there in 2008, he’s grown his business significantly – no doubt helped by being named Baker Of The Year at the 2015 Baking Industry Awards. The list of stockists on both sides of the border continues to lengthen and a dedicated outlet in Cardiff’s Kings Road Yard has been serving customers for some time – but his new fully-fledged café with indoor seating on Whitchurch Road takes things to another level.
Speaking at the time of its opening last November, Gooch said: “Wholesale is great but you never know what’s happening from one day to the next. With this, you can plan what you’re doing, and it’s a chance to be creative every day.” That creativity could extend to a greater selection of savoury fare, I’d suggest: when we visit, there are only a couple of sandwich options and one type of pizza on offer. A shame, given that it’s a golden opportunity to showcase the individual qualities of the many varieties of bread on sale to take away.
We duly snaffle the last three focaccia sandwiches – enormous wedges of herb-and-salt-encrusted bread filled with a winning combination of pepperoni, pesto, rocket and smoked gouda. Gooch being a man of noble principle, everything is not only organic but vegan too. Not that you’d know, mind – the plant-based pepperoni deserves an Oscar, so convincing is its portrayal of meat.
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Suitably stuffed and caffeinated, we retire homewards – though armed with an array of sweet treats to tuck into later, of course. The cronc – a kind of pastry muffin – delivers a warming hit of cinnamon, the custard in the doughnut is exceptional, and doughy, pastry-like Breton confection the kouign-amann is far easier to demolish in a matter of seconds than it is to pronounce.
All eyes are on the chocolate croissant, though. As Pettigrew regulars, we’re artisanal croissant connoisseurs. Going up against their magnificent golden monstrosities with an effort containing no butter seems like trying to win an arm-wrestling contest with both of your arms tied behind your back. Against the odds, though, it holds its own – a triumph of dark chocolate and dark arts.
All told, the Whitchurch Road café is a welcome addition to a street that already boasts some excellent local indies – and, with another café set to open in the redeveloped Clearwater Parade in Lakeside, the growth of Alex Gooch’s bakery business shows no signs of slowing down.
45 Whitchurch Road, Cardiff. www.alexgoochbaker.com
words and photos BEN WOOLHEAD
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