Following the launch of the original General Merchants Café in east Belfast a year earlier (see entry), General Merchants opened on the Ormeau Road in 2016.
Just over a mile from the city centre, it's on a corner location and easy to spot with its name embossed on the awning. It has a free parking bay outside and the wheel chair friendly access ramp takes you inside where the painted brick walls and black ceiling say industrial yet the wall-mounted lamps create a cosy atmosphere and there's attention to detail in the parquet flooring and central strip of mosaic tiles. With seating for up seventy, there are tables for two and four people as well as two bigger communal tables in the middle of the room to share with other customers.
Staff are attentive and well informed on what's on offer. Breakfast options are served all day. Recommended for a first visit is the popular Melbourne Breakfast (£8.50), a feast of toasted sourdough, Vegemite, smashed avocado, parsley, capers, seeds, pickled red onion and lemon, it is served with poached eggs. Head chef and co-owner Tim Fetherston spent ten years in the Australian city enjoying other food cultures around the world that he has now brought home to Belfast.
Also recommended for breakfast is the 361 Baked Beans (£8.50) featuring plump cannellini beans, with a homemade tomato sauce, braised ham hock, and poached eggs served on Zac's Bakehouse sourdough.
Lunch options from 11am include The Club sandwich (£8.50) consisting of Givan's bacon, baby gem lettice, mayo, fresh tomato served on toasted buttered sourdough and shoestring fries.
Impressive too is the Kid's Daytime Menu. It has five options priced £2.50 to £3.50 including ham and cheese toastie, waffle and maple syrup as well as plain or spicy sauce rolls.
On the drinks front mention must be made of the cortado coffee (an amount of espresso with an equal amount of warm milk). Few cafes in Belfast serve or know of the existence of this smaller preferable alternative to the ubiquitous bucket-size cup of cappuccino
The evening menu is served from 5pm to 9.30pm, Wednesday to Saturday. For starters you might try the Gambas Pil Pil, a sublime combination of Portavogie prawns, garlic, chili, butter and parsley; go for the additional add on chorizo for an exceptional starter.
Typical mains include the Maestranza Burger (£9.50); made with three ounces of beef from Hannan's of Moira and served with a side of fries, it is garnished with maple mustard, campfire sauce and melted cheese. The highlight ingredient in the bun however is the pickled cucumber.
Fish Tacos (£7.50) consists of two toasted shell tacos, guacamole and beer batter cod and it works well with its accompaniment of Mexican salsa verde, red cabbage slaw, guacamole, seeds and cress.
An attractive vegetarian option is Connie's Veggie Burger (£9.50) served with fries. It consists of a quinoa, tofu and carrot pattie with smashed avocado, baby gem lettuce and tomato and chipotle mayo.
For dessert there are two main options. These may be a chocolate tart combining a homemade honeycomb and digestive base, dark chocolate ganache with raspberry sorbet and morello cherry gel, and perhaps a crème brûlée that is done exactly as it should be except one is arguably big enough for two. (If you disagree, order another!)
As well as delicious food made from local ingredients, there's a drinks menu featuring sixteen craft beers including some from the Hilden Brewing Company in Lisburn and the Farmageddon Brewery in Comber. No self respecting cafe would be without a gin menu these days so, of course, General Merchants has five on the menu, including the locally produced Jawbox and Shortcross.
The thirteen red and white wines available are mainly Spanish or Portuguese, at around £5.00 a glass, the others are New World.
All in all it's tasty, interesting, well presented food with an emphasis on quality and local provenance, and generally the service is good. Booking is to be recommended in the evening, especially at the weekend. Also, be aware that while background music and the chatter of happy diners can create atmosphere, the General Merchants can, on a busy Saturday night, be noisy, especially down the back where its ceiling is lower than at the front.
The menu at General Merchants is different and delicious and for the owners to call it a cafe is arguably to undersell it.