Meraki Merchants review

New member of Parramatta's cafe scene: Toufick Chami at his venue Meraki Merchants.
New member of Parramatta's cafe scene: Toufick Chami at his venue Meraki Merchants. Photo: Edwina Pickles

5 111 George St Parramatta, NSW 2150

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Opening hours Monday to Saturday 5:30am-1pm
Prices Cheap (mains under $20)

Meraki Merchants is a few blocks from the heart of Parramatta and it's well worth seeking out this sunny little cafe. It's a good spot to take a book, settle in at a table outside and while away a morning sampling syrup-soaked baklava or knafeh with a batch brew by Stitch Coffee. 

Meraki Merchants takes cafe classics and adds Middle Eastern elements. Avocado toast is finished with feta and dukkah, tasty cheese jaffles contain sliced black olives and chewy pieces of sujuk (fermented Levantine sausage). Iced tea is Egyptian, made with dried hibiscus flowers.  

The cafe spent much of lockdown closed, with owner Toufick Chami opting to reopen at the end of September. A return to trade meant the same coffees and sweets, but a simplified menu of dishes reinterpreted for takeaway.

Avocado toast is finished with feta and dukkah at Meraki.
Avocado toast is finished with feta and dukkah at Meraki. Photo: Edwina Pickles

There are more sandwiches, like the chicken toasty with sous-vide chicken, cheese and seeded mustard sauce, or the more-ish lamb toasty with chargrilled eggplant and hummus.

Now that dine-in has returned, the toasties will stay, but shakshuka is once again served the traditional way, in a pan, rather than a wrap. Chami makes an outstanding version of this comforting dish. 

"Every week I cook a massive pot of shakshuka sauce from 6am to 4pm, reducing it all day," he says. Eggs and sujuk are added to the rich spiced gravy of tomato and red capsicum, and baked.

Tasty cheese jaffles contain sliced black olives and sujuk (fermented Levantine sausage).
Tasty cheese jaffles contain sliced black olives and sujuk (fermented Levantine sausage).  Photo: Edwina Pickles

Chami puts as much love into making the drinks as he does the food. "I love coffee. It's my life. I live and breathe it," he says. Before opening Meraki Merchants, he was at ONA Coffee and Circa.

All the usual suspects are covered, plus excellent batch brew and cold batch. But it's the departure from coffee that makes Meraki Merchants unique. There's hand-pressed orange juice, plummy-red, hibiscus-based Egyptian iced tea and golden turmeric lattes with house-made with almond milk. 

The process to make the milk is labour intensive, and Chami says that while it's not especially profitable, he does it because customers love it. "It's a bit of a process. It takes 24 hours just to activate the almonds in filtered water. Then we put it in a blender with fresh beetroot, cinnamon, cardamom and dates and strain it through a muslin cloth."

The vegie bowl with red quinoa, dukkah, cauliflower, eggplant and sweet potato.
The vegie bowl with red quinoa, dukkah, cauliflower, eggplant and sweet potato. Photo: Edwina Pickles

There's also the Rosy Milo. "It's based on a drink my mum, Fatima, used to make when we were kids. Being Lebanese, we love rose water. My mum would get two spoonfuls of vanilla ice-cream, rose water and mix it up with milk. I thought, why not put Milo in it? It's like this perfect marriage of Australian and Lebanese culture." 

Fatima is a big part of the business, making all the cakes and sweets. "She makes banana cake, carrot loaf, sticky date cake, custard tarts, knafeh. She bakes four days a week for us and for customers requesting whole cakes."

The confections aren't overly sweet. Instead "Mama Meraki" lets natural ingredients such as carrots or bananas sweeten the cake batters "rather than dumping a tonne of sugar in each cake".  

A beetroot latte at Meraki Merchants.
A beetroot latte at Meraki Merchants. Photo: Edwina Pickles

The cafe is obviously a labour of love, from the succinct menu of delicious items, to the lovingly made drinks, to the thriving plant collection which Chami watered religiously during lockdown. The fruits of his labours are apparent: lush devil's ivy and spider plants trail their vines off high shelves and from hanging pots, and expansive monstera tower and press against the ceiling.

The cafe wouldn't be out of place tucked on a quiet corner in Marrickville. Chami considered opening somewhere closer to the city, but wanted to give back to his home suburb.

"I love the inner west, I love those semi-industrial areas; the inner city is like the mecca of coffee in many ways. But I've lived in Parramatta all my life. I'm a local boy. I wanted to give locals an option not to travel. We've got Circa, but I wanted them to have another local cafe with an amazing coffee offering."

The low-down

Meraki Merchants

Main attraction A phenomenal member of Parramatta's cafe scene, serving Middle Eastern-inspired fare, outstanding coffee and homemade sweets.

Must-try dish Mama Meraki's golden knafeh with rose water, cream cheese, pistachio and cornflakes is the cafe's most popular sweet. 

Insta-worthy dish Vegan bowl piled high with red quinoa, dukkah, cauliflower, eggplant, sweet potato and very good quality tahini. 

Drinks Coffee by Stitch, golden turmeric lattes topped with fragrant cardamom and Milo-rosewater milkshakes that marry quintessentially Australian and Lebanese ingredients. 

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