Restaurant review: We take a bite out of Kaffe O
411 Ormeau Road, Belfast. Tel: 028 9064 2434.
Belfast's Ormeau Road is a micro-economy with loads of moving parts. It has passed all the tests to qualify as a pukka boho quartier Latin because it is home to independent wine merchants, small and bijou boutiques, an Orange Hall, places to buy Mass cards, good pubs, ethnic food stores and a decent bike shop.
There are more than three cherries on this cake with the presence of Le Petit Ormeau, Macau and Shed, great restaurants with loyal neighbourhood followings.
To this exclusive club we must now add Kaffe O, the impossibly cool, Scandinavian coffee shop which serves up wholesome Nordic breakfasts and lunches in a steamy, modern, white formica and sharp-edged cafe.
Orla Smyth, the former Danske Bank lawyer who had some kind of epiphany in Denmark during a temporary posting there a few years ago, says the O in Kaffe O stands for Ormeau (although she is happy that her name starts with the same letter).
Her love affair with coffee and coffee shops in Copenhagen prompted her to set up something akin to what she had left behind. People wonder out loud these days about the proliferation of coffee shops but when you look at the margins in a cup of Colombian roasted Arabica, it's not hard to see that you don't have to sell millions of them to turn a decent buck in this game.
But thankfully for the Ugg boot and Barbour set in nearby Rosetta, Kaffe O serves more than coffee. A couple of visits at different times of the day reveal a tidy little spread of uncommon offerings ranging from a Kaffe O plate which includes Greek yoghurt with seasonal compote and whole almond granola, croissant, rye bread, Irish cheddar, cured meats (Serrano ham, chorizo, salami) and hard boiled egg, to a Swedish flatbread sandwich of smoked chicken, chorizo, chipotle mayo, grated Irish cheddar and crunchy leaves.
There are lots of salads, super foods and things with cold milk and bananas. Soups and stews feature large, although anything with porridge finishes at 11am. There are also tray bakes and muffins which have taken on a legendary reputation on Twitter.
I thought I'd attempt to break the free-form approach of anything goes with anything by ordering three courses, a starter, main and dessert. There is nothing on the menu which would indicate this as a choice but it's not hard to see that a soup, a muffin and something in between can constitute a decent lunch.
The soup of the day was tomato with beans and a hint of something hotter and spicier. This was very wholesome indeed with little, if any, salt and therefore light on flavour. But having said that it was brought to life by a well judged amount of chilli and spice, just enough for a cold winter's day but not cack-handedly destructive.
The stew of the day was too similar to the soup and I wished that the server had mentioned this before taking the order. But again, the stew of beans and tomato, celery, bell peppers and courgette was lightly savoury, beefened up with some cream and grated cheese. The accompanying Serrano ham and cheddar on two slices of pesto-pasted rye bread was very good.
One of the highlights was a muffin so soft and squidgy, light and spongy it easily matched its recent but now legendary status.
The strongest point of Kaffe O is its coffee. A macchiato with the muffin was beautifully dry and packed with tiny hints of tobacco, chocolate and burnt oak. It is probably the best coffee you can get in Belfast right now. Kaffe O says it comes from a highly respected independent roaster in Denmark (you can buy it here for £7.50 per 250g). I've always been a bit sceptical about coffee - as long as it doesn't rip your throat out from the inside, it should be pretty drinkable. But this is in a different league. Try it and tell me I'm wrong.
Kaffe O is a game changer in some respects. The Ormeau has gone from scruffy boho to somewhere short of chic Latin quarter thanks to it, Kiln & Loom and the relocated Soul Food. What's Danish for: "Can I have the bill?"
Stew with open sandwich £7