The Belfast city centre branch of Avoca is the ninth store in Ireland for the renowned Wicklow-based homeware, fashion and food company, who also have a US outlet in Annapolis, Maryland.
The Belfast store is between Donegall Place and the popular Victoria Square Shopping Centre; as elsewhere, it offers all of the classy clothes, giftware, books and household items Avoca is famous for (including some of the beautiful handwoven rugs from the looms in their original mill at Avoca village), and there is a kitchen shop, food hall, café and bakery, which is in operation from 6am daily. Although slightly bigger, it will feel very familiar to anyone who knows the Dublin store.
The café is on the first floor, with vintage décor and well spaced tables, but also a highly unusual feature - a glass-walled cheese room, which is tempered for the cheeses, making a practical and very interesting addition.
The style at Avoca is eclectic and, although they are especially well-known for great baking and traditional dishes like beef and Guinness casserole, their salads and vegetables are also legendary. Healthy eaters will love their Superfood Salad, for example (sprouting broccoli, butternut squash, quinoa, goji berries and feta with a tahini and lemon dressing) and in summer people travel especially for the Dundrum Bay crab salad, which is one of the best in Belfast.
Quality local ingredients-led menus follow the established formula here, with special strengths in breads and baking, along with a wide range of wholesome dishes, some with Mediterranean or north African influences such as a tasty lamb tagine with beetroot tzatziki, baba ghanoush, caramelised onion hummus and spiced moghrabieh and flatbread.
Rounded off with a homely dessert - this is the only place where you will find Armagh apple purée and gingerbread crumble - and bravo for doing mini desserts too.
Drinks include jugs of refreshing homemade lemonade and elderflower or berry pressés, and Afternoon Tea is a ritual that must be booked 24 hours ahead.
Prices are a little more expensive than other city centre cafes but the quality of the ingredients justifies the extra cost - and, under the direction of legendary restaurant manager, Kathy Toye, the enthusiastic young staff are keen to please so service is exemplary.
A visit here makes a perfect shopping break, but the Arthur Street Café has also earned its place as a destination in its own right.