My lovely mum offered to take me out to lunch yesterday and after some discussion we settled on Robinson and Cleaver, a restaurant and café that opened a few years ago on the site of a former department store also called Robinson and Cleaver. It’s one of my favourite places to eat in Belfast city centre. The food is always good and the restaurant itself is a light and contemporary space with white walls, pale wooden floors, stylish decorative touches and large windows flooding the place with light. When the weather is good, you can sit out on the terrace and enjoy a cocktail al fresco while admiring the views to City Hall and the Victorian buildings that surround it.
As the weather was not so good , we contented ourselves indoors with a bottle of rose, a light lunch and plenty of chit chat. I opted for a delicious leek and cashel blue cheese filo tart garnished with fresh rocket and pine nuts. We then shared a sticky toffee pudding between the two of us – sadly no picture as mum dived in before I could grab my phone!
Perhaps what I like most about this place is its heritage. Robinson and Cleaver was originally quite an up market department store. Known as the ‘old lady’ it is a beautiful Victorian building which opened its doors in 1888 and became renowned for its personal service, attractive window displays and a stunning marble staircase. I remember back in the 1970s my mum took me once or twice just to look at the interior – we never bought anything as it was all very expensive but it did look incredibly glamorous. Sadly, the store closed down in the early 1980s and the name faded from our minds until thankfully part of it reopened as this restaurant just a few years ago. Of course, the original store has gone but there are old black and white pictures everywhere harking back to the store’s heyday.
Looking at these pictures, it makes me feel nostalgic – it was so chic and glamorous and I imagine the staff must have felt very privileged to work there. Of course, times change and by the early 1980s the store was perhaps looking a little old fashioned. Soon after it closed new stores like Next and Principles moved in but nothing as grand as the original Robinson and Cleaver. I can’t help thinking how lovely it would be to have a department store like this in Belfast now – I think a little bit of glamour and style would be welcomed by both locals and tourists alike. At least in the meantime, we have these pictures to remind us of this grand old lady.
If you are ever in Belfast, Robinson and Cleaver is well worth a visit. When we were there it was packed with people and the whole place had a nice relaxed vibe to it.. It’s a great central spot and this ‘old lady’ is now a lovely mix of old and new Belfast all in one – contemporary food, Victorian architecture and social history. A great example of how Belfast is changing and moving with the times.
You can find out more at robinsonandcleaver.com