AT Middleton St George, housing estates now bloom where there was once an ironworks. Where blast furnaces and slagheaps once dominated the skyline, the ground is now covered with executive homes in curling streets with genteel names like Heathfield Park or Farnborough Court that give no hint of the heavy industry beneath their foundations.

As Middleton St George has transformed itself over the last couple of decades from an ironworks village into a commuter suburb, its population has exploded: from 3,549 in 2001 to 4,759 in 2021 – an increase of 34 per cent.

That’s a hell of a lot more cars on the village streets; that’s an awful lot more people looking for facilities on their doorsteps.

But they want modern facilities. The village had two pubs in its centre. One is now an Indian restaurant while the second, the Havelock Arms, a traditional wet pub, is boarded up as it seeks a new landlord.

The old co-op has become an Italian café, which we reviewed in May 2021, and, more recently, a cake café has opened in a derelict shop (was it once a picture framers?) up near the old Fighting Cocks station.

The Northern Echo: The cafe building when derelict

However, the cake café’s bid to have four tables outside, plus open late on 24 nights year for “craft-related activities”, ran into planning problems over parking over the summer.

Why four additional tables at a cake café were the straw that broke the planners’ back when hundreds and hundreds of houses were able to be built without anyone wondering where people might park is just one of the vagaries of our planning system.

Permission has now been granted, and the outside tables are no longer swathed in black-and-yellow keep-off tape.

But at lunchtime on a drizzly grey September day, we still preferred to sit inside.

The Northern Echo: MJ’s Cake Cafe, in Middleton St George, has applied to extend its opening hours to allow forMJ's, with the disputed benches on the left

The café’s exotic cake offering greets customers as they enter off Station Road. The café opens at 8am from Tuesday to Saturday, and specialises in breakfasts – full English, French toasts, American pancakes – as well as cakes, but there are also lunchtime items, like toasties and sandwiches, and a couple of more substantial dishes.

While the couple beside us dined on many tiers of afternoon tea, I chose the “roast beef locally sourced” ciabatta with roasties (£9.95) while Petra, my wife, chose the Med Veg Tart (also £9.95). As we ordered, we were told that the tart would take 25 to 30 minutes as it was baked to order, which gave us time to admire the décor – a dark, tasteful environment with one wall enlivened by a trademark flowery paper – and watch the tiers on the other table being devoured.

The Northern Echo: Inside MK's Cake CafeInside the cafe

Immediately behind the café, I could see a building, now a private residence, which I think is the very last survivor of the ironworks. It once had narrow gauge tracks leading into it as it was where the site’s steam engines were stabled.

The Northern Echo: The Med Veg Tart

The tart (above) took every minute of the 30 to arrive but, cliches aside, it was worth the wait. In a herby wholemeal pastry and with a wholesome crumb on top, it was full of peppers, tomatoes and red onions, and came with sweet potato chips, a green salad and a little bowl of a good, creamy coleslaw. This had a degree of cookery to it that was a lot higher than a hot-plate turning out full English breakfasts.

The Northern Echo: Roast beef ciabatta

I also enjoyed my beef ciabatta (above). There was plenty of good quality meat, and the roasties were crispy on the outside and hot and smooth on the inside. A little jug of excellent dunking gravy assisted their consumption, although it probably helped that they were smothered in rock salt crystals that were guaranteed to excite the tastebuds.

A spoonful of that creamy coleslaw, or a couple of green leaves, would have made the sandwich a complete success.

The Northern Echo: Cakes from the cake cafe

To conclude, we took home four great looking cakes (above), for wider appreciation. These included a good salted caramel brownie (£3.50) that was nicely soft on the inside, a very good strawberry cupcake with a surprise jammy centre (£3), a huge piece of lemon drizzle cake with fruit on top, nice buttercream in the centre and a gentle spread of lemony-ness (£3.50), and a Cookie Pie (£4.25), which was an extraordinary concoction of Maltesers, KitKats, goey chocolate and layers of white chocolate that Theo, our son, really enjoyed.

Our communities and our tastes are continuously evolving. More people are working from home and trying to live locally, yet they no longer want to toss beer down their throats in old fashioned boozers. The MJ Cake Café, offering decent and honest local cooking and baking, is an alternative that should be supported as it attempts to grow into a sustainable business and become a community asset. One day, the sun may even again shine enough to entice to sit on one of the disputed outside benches.

MJ’s Cake Café,
15, Station Terrace,
Middleton St George,
Tel: 01325-266095
Hours: Tues to Sat: 8am to 4.30pm; Mon & Sun: 10am to 4pm

Service: 7
Surroundings: 7
Food quality: 7
Cake quality: 8
Value for money: 8