A lovely human recently gave me the idea to compile a little list of the best places in Belfast to take a beat when you have kids in tow. This is an entirely different entity from Places To Go When You’re Flying Solo, because, sorry, what is alone time? And it’s not necessarily the list to read if you’re hunting down the smoothest flat white in the land or the best pour over.
Although I do my utmost to retain the essence of my life before the boys certain compromises have to be made. Thankfully, this city has got enough substance that those compromises mostly consist of checking door widths and the selection of Innocent smoothies rather than being at the expense of my own experience.
I actually have a much longer list of places not to go when you have kids but that’s a different conversation! Anything more than five would have felt disingenuous. There are plenty of places I have been and enjoyed but just aren’t the full package. If the accessibility was good, the coffee wasn’t. Or the food was great but space-wise it was like trying to eat a la carte with chopsticks on the cattle train. The following are my top haunts and regular rotations.
10 Exchange Street
This will not be a surprise for any locals and has remained at the top of my list since Lucas was born. Perhaps my love for industrial interiors has predisposed me to appreciate the architecture here, but I find the concrete and exposed red-brick comforting. The staff have never been anything but warm and accommodating. I’ve never seen one person bat an eye at the boys and their occasional whoops or wild dashes across the foyer.
The restaurant has changed hands a couple of times since it’s inception but the quality of the food has remained the same. It’s my top city centre spot for Saturday brunch and I could blindly order anything off the menu and be happy. The coffee is great and it is the only place that I would even think about meeting a girlfriend when it’s just me on my own with both boys. That in itself speaks volumes.
I’d recommend: The Ham Hock & Braised Leek Risotto
Ground x Next
40/46 Donegall Place
This is a fairly recent discovery and a happy accident at that. I sort of fell upon it if it’s possible to fall upon a fourth floor cafe set within a clothes store. Which, actually, it isn’t. I knew it existed but had avoided it pre-kids in favour of my usual poky caffeine palaces . But one day after a long walk into town with Milo I was desperate to sit down somewhere I could feed myself and him in relative privacy. Where better than the backside of a top floor in a retail space?
After manoeuvring the sea of floor fixtures and waiting on probably the slowest lift of all time, I wasn’t expecting much but I was hungry and happy to be minutes from a seat. Cue lift doors opening and my pleasant surprise to discover a relatively spacious nook nestled at the far end of the shop.
It’s clearly a kid-friendly spot and the staff are always pleasant. Your order gets brought to the table so no awkward tray balancing while your ankles are being pawed at as you’re losing control of both the pram and your mind. And not that anyone ever batted an eyelid, but if you are after a little breastfeeding privacy, there are a couple of booths that would do the trick nicely.
There is an escalator next to the cafe so you’ll want to watch any rabid kiddos, but on the opposite side in a neatly enclosed spot is a well-stocked play area that should entertain even the gnarliest of littles while you inhale your food.
I’d recommend: The Falafel & Hummus Wrap
41 Arthur Street
I really like to cook and preparing dinner each night is a sort of therapy. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I just want to sit down and eat a Pepperoni Passion until I feel sick. But generally speaking, healthy, fresh and home-cooked gets my vote every time. So when I eat out I like to have something I’d normally make for myself, something with all of the flavour but with none of the effort.
Avoca’s deli style cafe ticks all those boxes and hits all those nails right on their tasty little heads. Their prepared salads are a piece of heaven and the bench style seating arrangements lend themselves well to an informal lunch date.
Both the cafe and more formal dining area are situated upstairs but you get the added bonus of a meander through its treasure trove of home goods on the way to the lift. Keep an eye on tiny grabby hands at this point to prevent any ceramic catastrophes or display.
I’d recommend: The Chickpea Pastry Roll with salad plate & Pomegranate Iced Tea
40a Church Lane
A newbie on the Belfast scene but it didn’t take Papa P and I long to get ourselves down there for some grub. Before we stopped in I wasn’t sure how it was going to fare in terms of having a kid-friendly ‘tude. But the staff here are either ridiculously well trained or just generally very nice. Or perhaps, in a hospitality shocker, both in which case they should maybe think about taking over the world.
I’ve since met a couple of friends here for both coffee and food and each time has been faultless. Disclaimer, I’ve never been on my own here with both boys at once because I’m not mental. If you have ONE two year old, I’d say go for it. But if you have a toddler and a baby that needs your full attention or a crawler, I’d say don’t leave the house.
I’m kidding, clearly, but I wouldn’t wreck this chilled out venue for yourself by chasing kids from beautiful pillar to immaculate post when you have other options on hand.
I’d recommend: The Chorizo & Smoked Scamorza Salad with a flat white
46 Church Lane
There is no shortage of places to have your fill in our fair city, many of them mainstream eateries you’ll find in any city anywhere across the U.K. What I like about this place is its independent ownership and distinct menu style.
If you’re after something a little less lunchy and a little more stuff-your-facey, this is a great spot. Service is quick and midday is a relatively quiet time to pop in.
As someone who upon sitting down at any eating establishment immediately begins to clear the table of forks, napkin holders, ketchup bottles and salt sachets I appreciate a place that serves your order on one big Southern style tray. These burgers are meant to be messy. And did I mention there are cocktails? Yeah, I’ll see you in thirty.
I’d recommend: The Pig Out Burger, Sweet Potato Fries & a cheeky Margarita.
And so concludes my whistle stop tour. If you’re a fellow city-dweller I’d love to hear where you prefer to park your tinies and if you’re thinking of visiting, do! And give me a shout so we can hang out and chat over some tasty treats. And coffee. Lots of coffee.
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