It’s not quite a smorgasbord, but Damon Fairclough is impressed by this café’s Nordic delights
Given what we know about the coolly discerning nations of Scandinavia, lunch in a café inspired by their open-topped cuisine would surely pique any food lover’s interest.
Conversely, the idea of sitting down to sandwiches in the lobby of a non-profit-making youth service’s building might be less instantly appealing. There could be many reasons why you might do it, all admirable and worthwhile, but perhaps you wouldn’t expect to have your epicurean socks blown off in the process.
At Malmo Mat Kaffe in central Liverpool, however, it’s possible to combine both of these apparently disparate experiences into one unfeasibly tasty Hanover Street happening. Because although the venue is housed in the foyer of Merseyside Youth Association’s city centre HQ, and there are the expected reception desks and noticeboards in the atrium area beyond the café, there’s also a smorgasbord – almost literally – of excellent Nordic grub.
The first-time visitor might even pause at the threshold, wondering whether they’re actually allowed in. But don’t let the scurrying of people wearing lanyards put you off. To turn back here would be to miss out on a breakfast, brunch and light lunch menu that even Scandinavians might kill for. Because, as box-set addicts are well aware, killing is something they do at the drop of a tastefully knitted woollen jumper.
The first indication that Malmo was going to impress came with the arrival of our drinks, specifically a thick, verdant smoothie simply called ‘green’ (£4). Resembling a scoop of mushy peas from a decent chippy, the impossibly viscous substance delivered a fresh, grassy hit, before following up with a fistful of privet and throwing in some fragrant tendencies of coconut, banana, spinach and avocado.
It was creamy, presumably nourishing and, yes, delicious. There may be other, more pungent green substances available on the streets of Liverpool these days, but they certainly don’t rinse out the senses quite like this stuff.
Not that the cup of green was the last star turn at Malmo. Item five from the menu’s lunch selection (£7) was really no more than a ham and smoked cheese sandwich with a dollop of potato salad, but as a food-based demonstration of the phrase ‘more than the sum of its parts’, it was exemplary.
There were generous layers of excellent ham, thick slices of nutty, smoky cheese, bread with all the yield and bounce of a perfectly adjusted trampoline – plus sharp pickles, a scattering of leaves and the creamy tang of a Danish remoulade sauce. Oh, and a thick, mustard-flecked potato salad topped with a beetroot-blushing pickled egg.
Item eight from the open sandwiches list (£3.80) was also superb (header image), combining thin slices of caramelised baked aubergine with a rich red pepper, tomato and fennel spread. A chewy slice of rye bread carried the toppings, while a carpet of chopped chives completed the snack. As with everything we ate, the visual hit was as satisfying as the taste, with the reds, golds and greens looking more than good enough to eat.
We coupled the sandwich with a spiraliser side salad (£3.20). Its twirled and tangled sweet potato strands were knotted together with an endless list of good-for-you ingredients – from avocado and artichokes to beetroot and beans. And again, it was all picture-book perfect on the plate.
Considering the quality of the savoury dishes, it’s a shame that Malmo offers little in the way of sweet treats. The choice begins and ends with crepes, so we had one with ‘chocolate hazelnut spread’ and one with a dulche de leche sauce (both £3.50).
The pancakes themselves were delicate and papery, while the chocolate spread was, well, just like Nutella. The dulche de leche was more interesting, with its milky, toffee sweetness sharpened with an edge of lemon. However, the paucity of dessert options felt disappointing – though you could always choose a bowl of muesli for pudding instead.
In spite of its central location, Malmo Mat Kaffe is a bit of a Scandinavian secret, hidden as it is behind the functional frontage of a voluntary-sector youth centre with a closing time of just 4pm. Ask a passing Liverpudlian where the nearest Swedish café is, and they’ll probably direct you to IKEA down the M62.
But for sandwiches and salads that twinkle with freshness and whose colours seem to dance before your eyes, the quality of this place is no Norse myth. In fact, anyone who says otherwise is just a troll.
Malmo Mat Kaffe, 63-65 Hanover Street, Liverpool, L1 3DY Tel: 0151 317 7868
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Green smoothie 9/10; Lunch menu, item five 8, open sandwich menu, item eight 8, spiraliser salad 8.5, crepe with chocolate hazelnut spread 7, crepe with dulche de leche 7.5
Foyer from the madding crowd