Restaurant review: We take a bite out of Café
5A Lockview Road, Stranmillis, Belfast (no telephone)
A new generation of Belfast people has embraced Saturday and Sunday brunch wholeheartedly in recent years. This brunch love has come about in stages.
At first, people moaned about Belfast not being opened on Sunday mornings and what were tourists and healthy dudes who didn't have a hangover, supposed to do? (I find this criticism hard to believe. If you've been anywhere in the world and looked around on a Sunday morning you might find there's more action in Belfast than in most places. And anyway, what's wrong with a bit of quiet contemplation on a Sunday morning or indeed lying in the scratcher for a few hours?) Now on Sunday mornings, the shops might be closed but the Ulster Museum is open, bus and taxi tours are operating, parks are busy with families and you'll find loads of people dandering around, populating the streets.
Add to this a flourishing portfolio of cafes and restaurants serving up adventurous brunches and you've got yourself a bustling city which compares to any in Europe. Work with me. We've been doing brunches for years: Bert's Jazz Bar, Cutters' Wharf, SD Bells have been proving the point for some time. But now there is a new, cooler, hipster brunch offering. The General Merchant on the Newtownards Road has claimed top spot in this league with its bare-bricked, Australian rules, vegemite infused cycle racks and smashed avocados. But on the opposite side of town the café with no name down on Lockview Road in Stranmillis is pumping up its own brunches.
The tiny café has been a favourite with cyclists for some years. Its location not far from the tow path must have something to do with its popularity. But there is a lifestyle vibe whose draw is informal, relaxed, stylish and bearded but not self-conscious. And the food and service are good. The offer is full of grunt and street appeal. Breakfast choices are ample and served until noon. You can have oats soaked in apple juice with Clandeboye yoghurt, seasonal fruit, mint and seeds, toasted granola with honey or home made fruit compote and sourdough toast with lush almond butter among other things.
Scones, croissants further down the list bring you finally into foodie hell or heaven depending on what way you like to enjoy yourself. Croque monsieur features Irish baked ham, home made béchamel, emmental cheese on two slices of Zac's Bakehouse sourdough; spicy or traditional sausage roll; maple-cured bacon ciabatta with Ballymaloe tomato relish and home made sweetcorn fritters (which are the size of door mats) come with chilli jam, sliced avocado and a fried egg.
And talking of eggs, 5a is your man if you like them poached. These appear on quite a few lunch and other dishes and I watched them get them perfectly right time after time. Daughter number one and I went last Sunday morning and ordered the brunch du jour: pulled pork with two poached eggs, apple compote and rocket on two large waffles. Sounds a bit weird for those who want a fry but this was very good. There was cumin in the pork which added to the sense of departure from the norm. The two eggs bleeding over that pork and apple into the waffle below is a sight I won't forget in a hurry.
The compote, buried between the waffle and the pork emerges like a sweet and tangy surprise adding another dimension to the texture and saltiness.We loved it. Every little table inside and out was packed and people I know who go there a lot swear it serves the best soup in Belfast.
Behind the cool and laid-back feel lies an operation where attention to detail and quality is a priority. This matches the core market of cyclists and lifestyle choosers who value their time and spend their money wisely. For them stopping for brunch can be spontaneous but more often than not, it is something they will have been thinking about from a day or two earlier.
Which makes one ask why this café cannot be contacted by phone. A no-bookings policy is fine but being able to phone to ask if the place is busy or how long one might expect to wait for a table would be helpful. Or maybe I'm just getting old.
What matters is 5A shares its DNA with General Merchant, who quickly proved the point that if you create quality, the people will come. They will
Pulled pork waffle brunch x 2 £15.90
Cappucino (regular) x 2 £4.40