Once the domain of vegetable soups and haggis paninis, Dundee’s café scene is opening up to a cooler, more creative crowd. As it’s now strongly influenced by the resident population of art students, you’ll find a lot of vegetarian options, hand-painted murals and gourmet coffee.
For this guide to the best cafés in Dundee, Culture Trip speaks to Steven Stewart (co-owner of The Bach) and Barry Thomson (owner of Pacamara), both of whom are responsible for elevating the city’s café culture to new heights. “When we arrived six years ago, it was impossible to get a proper brunch – everywhere would stop serving at noon,” says Stewart. How times have changed, and it’s all down to a new raft of entrepreneurs bent on perfection. “The secret to running a great café is to aim to be the very best in your area,” says Thomson. “But never believe that you are, because the minute you think that you’ve made it, your standards will start to slip.”
Restaurant, British, $$$
Courtesy of The Bach
The Bach (pronounced “batch”) takes its name from a type of Kiwi holiday home, reflected in its laid-back vibe and made-from-scratch menu. “We created something that we would want to walk into, based on the sort of food and experiences we had growing up in New Zealand,” says Stewart. “We spend a lot of time in the kitchen, tasting things.” Also of note: coffee made by real humans. “We’re coffee snobs,” says Stewart. “£20,000 espresso machines are great at getting coffee out the door fast, but the art and subtlety of making coffee have been lost. We offer people a different experience – handmade coffee from Scottish roasters, the kind you wouldn’t normally make at home.”
Tiny SORBUS on Dock Street is well known for its baked treats: almond croissants, pain au chocolat, brownies, apple crumble danishes and fruit loaves. It also stocks on-trend artisan goods from local suppliers, such as canned cold-brew coffee, kombucha and CBD chocolate. The drinks menu is short but sweet, including a delicate pink hot chocolate (made from cacao, unrefined panela sugar and beetroot) and locally sourced coffee. “SORBUS uses the same roaster as us, Unorthodox Roasters from Kinross,” says Stewart. “It’s a hole-in-the-wall kind of place. It’s only got around three tables, but it’s nice – good coffee, good food.”
Daily Grind Coffee Co. was founded by Richard Davies, owner of the award-winning Hard Grind barbershop and the Abandon Ship apparel brand. Inside has an eclectic mix of furnishings and walls that feature Davies’s signature hand-drawn murals. Enjoy toasties made with cheese from The Cheesery across the road, or select from a menu of milkshakes, smoothies and gourmet coffee. “It gets its coffee from Sacred Grounds in Arbroath, which is another roaster that we use,” says Stewart. “It’s a unique sort of place – they’re a nice bunch of people.” And they do a great haircut, too.
“We visited various places as part of our research and picked little bits from each,” says Thomson of his café, which serves brunch classics, such as toast, smashed avocado and poached eggs, in a relaxed, chic yet cosy setting. “We wanted to create a place that was cool but not hipster, serving nice food and speciality coffee. Service always comes first – we want everyone to feel comfortable whether they’re a 20-year-old student or an elderly couple. The design is not too cold and contemporary – it has little quirks that make it feel welcoming and warm, right down to the music we choose to play.”
Technically a little outside of Dundee, Longparke Farmshop and Cafe sits on the A-road that winds out of the city and up the east coast to Aberdeen. “My wife and daughter go here regularly – at least once a week,” says Thomson. “It opened in a really strange area, and I thought, ‘That’ll never work,’ but it’s done really well.” Families can easily make a day of it – after sampling coffee, scones and Instagram-worthy cakes in the café, browse local meats and gins in the shop before heading over to nearby Monifieth, a pretty seaside town.
Located near the beaches and castle grounds in Broughty Ferry, Gracie’s is a café and restaurant where anything goes – from coffee and champagne to brunch and burgers. “Gracie’s does a similar menu to ours,” says Thomson. “Eggs benedict, that sort of thing – what I consider modern café food. It’s got a nice vibe and a lovely setting with an outdoor area. It’s always busy, which is a good sign.” There’s an excellent vegetarian selection on offer, and it’s also dog-friendly, making it a great place to stop by during a weekend walk.
An indie counterpoint to the V&A cultural behemoth, tiny Gallery 48 is a one-stop cultural shop in the West End, often hosting art exhibitions by graduates from Dundee’s Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design. It’s also a tapas bar serving gambas (shrimp), chorizo and churros, as well as a great selection of Spanish wines and Scottish gins. Food intolerances are well catered for, and the restaurant doesn’t stop serving until 10pm, a rarity in Dundee. But for Thomson, it’s the arty daytime café vibe that he loves most. “Strictly speaking, this isn’t a café,” he says. “But it’s a beautiful setting for drinking coffee.”
Whenever a hospitality business announces its intention to be everything to all people, it rarely goes well, but The West House has bucked that trend, somehow managing to excel in all areas. “The West House does everything well,” says Thomson. “At night it’s a bar, but during the day it’s a busy, popular café. Its pizzas are also absolutely fantastic.” If you’re staying out late, its neighbour business, Tom’s Pacific Cocktail Parlour, makes a mean gin cocktail. And if you need something to cure the next day’s hangover, The West House’s Sunday brunch is served until 2pm.