The first thing that hits me as I open the door to walk into Cafe 164 is the crisp, bitter scent of fresh coffee.
Follow it beyond the threshold and the aroma deepens with the tang of cinnamon, the nutty allure of chocolate and the unlooked for but really quite pleasant, slightly alcoholic fragrance of Christmas fruits. But it’s the coffee which dominates, both in scent and sound, the noise of the machines which make these modern concoctions whirring and frothing away in the background.
In that fleeting moment, I could be just about anywhere: on a beach in California, sauntering through the back streets of some Italian seaside town or holed up in a snow-bound log cabin somewhere in the Alps. As it turns out, Cafe 164 occupies one of the really rather mundane ground floor units at Munro House, Duke Street, bang opposite the grit and grime of Leeds Bus Station and the muck n’ muscle of Leeds outdoor market. It’s not the most alluring of locations but that said, once you get beyond the functional entrance lobby with its Merrion Centre-esque steps and polished metal handrails, things begin to improve.
Cafe 164 has been here for about eight years and some time in the last year or so it must have had a refit, because there’s not a centralised service area, an island if you will, comprising all the modern machinations of coffee manufacture, together with some neat little display units showing off their wares. It’s a ‘sister’ outlet to Bakery 164 on Woodhouse Lane, which boasts of nightly baking fresh ciabatta and focaccia for its sandwiches, all of which contain unusual fillings. Those same fresh breads are shipped down to Cafe 164 each day, with a decent selection to go at but I plump for the ‘Christmas’ sandwich, which comes with chunks of chicken, stuffing, cranberry sauce, a layer of brie and what I can only imagine to be the thinnest slices of roast potato, underneath which are a few salad leaves to represent the ‘greenery’ of the season. I have to say the sandwich is good: its substantial and one criticism which cannot be levelled at them is that they skimp on the fillings, because if you were to unpick this sandwich and put it out on a plate, you’d pretty much have a Christmas dinner (minus the gravy). So, (Christmas) hats off to them for that.
The weird and wonderful flavour combinations continue into their desserts, with offerings such as sticky stem ginger cake and salted caramel brownie but I go for the ‘Xmas mince slice’ for £2.90. Together with a flat white and can of North Brewing Co’s Herzog (£4), the bill rolls in at under a tenner.
This is a bustling, lively cafe with friendly service and possibly the right location to benefit from the Eastgate renaissance.
Cafe 164, Munro House, Duke Street, Leeds