Although billed ‘Belfast’s best kept secret’, Kay Gilbert’s luxury gift and homeware shop has been a destination of choice for those in the know since the mid ‘80s – and, with its beautiful window displays (The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, perhaps), this iconic shop and café would be hard to miss.
The stylishly renovated, light-filled, space allows Equinox’s famed contemporary design pieces to be very temptingly displayed – and, among the many top international brands (Alessi, Cuisipro, Rosenthal, Orla Kiely, several leading ranges of Scandinavian art glass and much more), it is good to see Northern Ireland gifts offered too, including classical Irish linen, and delightful tea towels by Flaxfox.
But, if you can tear yourself away from these luxury items and make it to the back of the shop, you’re in for another treat when you’re greeted by friendly staff in the shop’s smartly cosmopolitan café.
Situated atmospherically under an atrium roof, the café provides a tranquil antidote to the bustle of the city and is understandably popular with Belfast’s ladies (and gentlemen) who lunch. And, while the menu is simple, you will be spoilt for choice, with gourmet sandwiches, thoughtfully created salads, quiches (brie or smoked salmon & chive, perhaps), pasta, soups, excellent brunch dishes, and daily specials - a mix of Irish and international flavours, all freshly cooked and based on top quality ingredients.
Like everything else at Equinox, Kay Gilbert’s eye for detail is seen in the food produced in the café. The scrambled eggs with smoked salmon you order for brunch will come on a toasted croissant, with a garnish of peppery leaves with mustard dressing – and the smoked salmon will be Belfast’s best, from Ewings Seafood. The daily soup comes with a choice of bread or a filled bagel; salads include a delicious combination of goats cheese, apple and candied walnut with lemon mustard seed; and a herby, perfectly seasoned meatball mozzarella focaccia is dressed with melted mozzarella, sweet sharp tomato sauce and pesto makes a really tasty light meal.
The home baked patisserie is reason alone to stop at the café and, combined with a speciality tea or delicious Italian coffee, that’s afternoon tea taken care of. Try a slice of luscious Moroccan orange cake, for example - made with ground almonds and flecked with lots of orange zest in the sponge, it’s very moist, sticky and sweet…the perfect partner for a cup of their excellent coffee.
With its simple, classy food cooked with care (and a slightly decadent touch), the stylish Equinox is well placed to offer Belfast another quarter century of ‘ cafe society’ done the way it should be.