The luck of the (Northern) Irish

Visits to Belfast are always punctuated with the regular consummation of tea and cake – not just because a wealth of tea is available in my parents’ home (all nicely labelled, obviously) but because the city possesses some of the best places in which to sit and eat cake.

For a start, my Dad’s theological college has tea and scones every morning. Who couldn’t fail to love an institution that pauses at 10.50 every day for such a refreshment? And, when I say ‘scones’ I don’t just mean the regular raisin variety, I mean baskets of all sorts of variations – wholemeal with dates; strawberry and white chocolate; cherry; plain… It makes our St Mellitus biscuit assortment on a Monday morning pale in comparison.

Edgehill SconesA basket of Edgehill scones.

Then there’s the hitlist of places I require a visit to on every trip to the city…

Avoca [renamed ‘Avocado’ by the iPhone autocorrect] which also does a fantastic line in scones. (What can I say, I love a good scone – as long as it’s sweet. Savoury scones are wrong, wrong, wrong.) Their pear and vanilla scone has to be consumed to be believed! On this particular trip, as I’d only had a college scone a couple of hours previously, I went for the lunch option of Carrot & Ginger soup with a side of wheaten bread – utterly delicious. The café is the upper floor of an equally delightful shop that sells what can simply be described as ‘nice things’. The foodie bit of it is wonderful, and a good place to go for an affordable dessert for a dinner party if you want your guests to be fooled into believing that you made it yourself.

The Ikea café. Yes, I appreciate that one can eat Swedish meatballs in practically every major city around the world, but Belfast’s Ikea must have the most entertaining cafe view of the entire chain. In Edmonton you look out over a roundabout; in Wembley it’s the A40; and in most other locations it’s the car park, but in Belfast it’s the runway of Belfast City Airport. [We don’t ever refer to the ‘George Best’ bit of its name.] You don’t need to be a plane spotter to appreciate the entertainment value of planes landing and taking off, though it becomes rather more geeky when your companion uses their flightchecker app to establish the destination/origin of each plane. Plus, what’s not love about a mid-morning tea break that includes free beverages (thank you Ikea Family Card) and three Swedish cakes for £1.50? I also love visiting Ikea when it’s physically impossible for me to buy anything but that which can be easily carried in hand luggage (basically, cushion covers and Swedish liquorice).

Common Grounds. The traditional Saturday brunch location of the Belfast Clutterbucks and an incredible example of social enterprise. Run by a combination of paid employees and volunteers, all  the profits are put into social transformation projects locally and abroad. It has a fabulous atmosphere and delicious food, plus lovely means of showing love to others. They had the ‘suspended coffee’ concept long before Starbucks and you can also pay for a coffee/snack for a friend when they next visit – the chalkboard above the counter bears the names of those who have a treat awaiting them. It’s no wonder that it’s effectively become my mother’s second office. According to their website, in their 8 and a half years of existence, they’ve given away over £55,000 – quite a feat.

Lunch at Common Grounds & Harlem CafeOn the left, my go-to savoury brunch at Common Grounds (potato cakes with chilli sauce) & the Veggie Fry at Harlem Café. There’s a potato theme…

Harlem Café. A new addition to my ‘places to visit in Belfast’ list, but well-deserved. It’s eclectically decorated with myriad ojects d’art, generally vintage themed, but with a cracking menu of local delights. (I had their Vegetarian Fry, which was carbtastic in a way that only happens in Ireland – potato farls, soda bread and pancakes!) I noted that they also do a range of afternoon tea options (something to explore on another visit), including a ‘Gentleman’s afternoon tea & cognac’ (with an optional cigar extra). The mind boggles…

The Dock. I’ve saved the best till last. This pop-up café may not be around forever, so catch it while it is! Located in a new shopping strip in the Titanic Quarter and barely a 5 minute stroll from the Titanic Experience, this café is run by the Church of Ireland and staffed entirely by volunteers. There are no prices, you simply donate what you feel your food and drink was worth. (I’m virtually certain this results in people giving more than they might actually have been asked to pay.) There’s a mix of furniture; interesting art on the walls; friendly volunteer staff; free books; and they serve Suki Tea, seriously, this place is amazing!

Homemade Chocolate Tea CakesHomemade chocolate tea-cakes at The Dock. I am now obsessed with getting hold of a silicone mould in which to try this out myself – as inspired by a technical challenge on the last series of the GBBO.

Oh, and talking of the awesome Suki Tea, my other Belfast foodie essential is St George’s Market, where I was able to stock up on tea leaves – Earl Grey Blue Flower (a classic) and Mango Tango (a newbie, sampled at The Dock and likely to be an excellent candidate for summer iced tea making).

Wee Buns at St George's MarketAnd this stall, at St George’s Market, will always make me giggle. Because I am a child.


  1. Sorry LIz I feel forced to put in a word for the savoury scone. Cheese with a little paprika and mustard in the mix, maybe even a few herbs, warm from the oven with butter melting on its split middle to accompany a heart warming bowl of soup. Well it almost has me looking forward to next winter! I sell apple scones but now I may consider branching out.

    • Perhaps I’ve been put off by a bad experience of cheese scones at church events… Your version does sound much more appetising! Apple scones sound excellent. I think I need to have a bit of a scone baking session soon!

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