Belfast Telegraph

Established Coffee and Kitchen: A city centre trendsetter

Popular Belfast cafe's reputation has spread far and wide - and it's not just the exceptional coffee that makes it well worth a visit

Trends are as exciting as they are a pain in the neck. In fashion, they change every few minutes to allow the adventurous to risk their reputations and lead the way by wearing flares, drain pipes, orange, black, kaftans or real fur. The clothing industry relies on the constantly changing trends to assure itself of a stable future.

In food, trends are no less temporal. At the moment, there is a surge for veganism that some are describing as a trend. I would argue that veganism is more of a movement with all the political and social awareness attendant. But trends in the food sector tend to be more frivolous and will-o'-the-wisp. Coffee shops, brioche buns, dirty food and anything cooked on a Josper grill are very hip for now.

The most achingly trendy sub-sector in the eating-out range is the cafe, and none more with a finger firmly on the pulse than Established Coffee in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter.

Established has proven to be the exception. It's been painfully cool from the minute it opened seven years ago. It hasn't missed a beat. Staff are charming and helpful and yet utterly beguiling. They exude that kind of confidence and wisdom that makes them mysteriously irresistible. Whatever magic they weave, they create a feelgood ambience in the otherwise bright and harsh environment.

The second feature in Established is the quality of its offer. Simple it may be and even, God forgive me, conventional, in that it upholds a generations-old Belfast tradition of traybakes and buns, teas and coffees.

It used to be that you went to Established just for the coffee. Their coffee is exceptional and the choices are broad and exotic: Farami from Costa Rica, Bulega from Ethiopia, Sunzita Yellow Bourbon from El Salvador. They're not that far up themselves, and will make iced lattes and Americanos.

But moving on from the great kwaffee, Established has carved out a secondary reputation as a luncher.

Lunches here are wholesome and among them are those that have carved out a place among 21st century classics.

Take the open sandwich, which features great hunks of ham, a few big green leaves, a grape salsa and the now mandatory fried egg on top. Big and beautiful, it's a reassuringly ample, tasty and interestingly sweetened thing.

The vegetarian toastie does what these things do so well: crispiness, butteriness and loads of crunchy texture and softness from the red lentil and sweet potato dahl.

Before me is the Established Seasonal Hash, a composition of colour and flavour that would put the grumpiest diner in a great mood: chorizo, green bell pepper, sweet potato, chilli, chopped scallions, pickled bulb fennel and cauliflower, a rich little hollandaise and the crown of poached egg. Cheerful, smiling and happy food for the workers on a week day. It's Aldous Huxley's soma.

And still there's better to come in the form of those buns. Among the eight on offer are individually baked little loaves of peanut butter and chocolate, white chocolate and raspberry, sunzita coffee and sticky toffee. There are also thick slices of banana bread, lemon and pistachio yoghurt, flapjacks and cinnamon and brown sugar swirls.

These are truly magnificent. It's as if a seasoned Parisian patissier has spent a year or two in a Belfast home bakery and baked these in tribute to his or her Irish hosts. The peanut and chocolate loaf is rich and deep in flavour, yet light and airy. The lemon and pistachio balances a strong citrus with delicate nut beautifully, and the cinnamon swirl is as visually arresting as it is soft and spongey.

Established will continue to be successful as long as it manages the queues with the diplomacy and understanding shown to three of us earlier this week. It's as easy for staff as it is for customers to stress out when they're at the counter ordering their food and drinks but can't see a free seat anywhere. Perhaps this is an area of floor management Established will have to address if they're not to lose the goodwill of so many who love it.

Last time I was here, I was meeting friends from London who had come over to run in the Belfast marathon. They had booked it because they had read and hear loads about it. That kind of reputation is gold dust. It needs to be protected.

Open sandwich.................................... £8

Toastie............................................. £6.50

Established Hash................................. £8

Iced Americanos x 2............................ £6

Fresh orange juice.......................... £2.20

Pastries x 3...................................... £7.10

Total............................................... £37.80

Established Coffee and Kitchen

37 Talbot Street, Belfast Tel: 028 9031 9416

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