The sandy-coloured buildings and archways of Millennium Walkway invite you in. The yellow lights glow and the outdoor seating feels distinctly Italian, despite the chilly weather.
Suddenly, however, my romantic stroll is interrupted by the much darker and murkier Strand Street Great, which that intersects the walkway.
Normally the type of lane I’d avoid walking down, I turn right. And there it is. The warm and welcoming Foam Café.
The outside sends mixed messages. With glittering sequins on the signage, quaint curtains, and potted plants and lanterns, it seems like a disco-garden-old lady’s house.
Inside, the mishmash effect continues to overwhelm. Ornaments, pictures, paintings and everything else you can think of make the bright, zany wallpaper even more outstanding. Matching first-aid boxes line one wall and giant chess pieces occupy the shelf above it.
A shining Christmas tree models in the corner, as does a wreath of shiny baubles. And although it’s still early in November, they don’t send me into a fit of rage and Grinchiness, because I suspect they are probably there all year round. Just another feature of the eccentric decor.
I take a seat by the wall. Mona Lisa peers out from a frame so crooked that it makes her smile look straight.
Foam Café offers a lunch menu until 5pm and a dinner menu until 9pm. Its dishes try to use Irish ingredients and local suppliers.
Faced with an array of soups, salads, omelettes and sambos, I choose soup of the day (€5). It is a thick and creamy chicken soup, filling and great to get the chill out of your bones.
Funnily enough, my favourite part was the delicious, rustic bread that came on the side: two thick slices of brown bread with a hard crust and fluffy middle, full of whole walnuts.
My companion got a small bowl of seafood chowder (€7). A considerable portion, with chunks of fish, it’s hard to imagine it coming in a larger size, but it does (€13). The scones (€3) were good too.
The dinner menu is also moderately priced, with main courses ranging from €9.50 to €14.
Open since 2011, Foam Café got a new lease of life under its new owner, Thomas Butler.
The Irish Times reported last year that its previous owner was struck-off solicitor Thomas Byrne, who in 2013 was convicted of organising a property scam worth €52 million and jailed for 12 years. He had rented the property under a fake name and made irregular payments, allowing arrears to build up. Another article in the newspaper claimed Byrne used to tell customers that his name was “Sebastian Hobart”.
This strange side-show does not seem to have hurt the café’s popularity at all. Business is booming.
Perhaps it’s the decor: Foam Café’s attention to detail is astounding. Down the stairs, garden gnomes guide you to the bathroom – there are enough to make you feel like Snow White.
And even the bathroom holds a surprise. Each cubicle has a different theme, with detailed wallpaper and a clock. One is nautical, another is horological.
Though the decoration is a bit much at first, it becomes entertaining. You could go for lunch here every day for a year and still manage to spot new details.
And if this doesn’t capture your imagination, the piano is occasionally used as more than just decor.
[Editor’s note: Foam cafe announced that it had closed 31 January 2018.]