I love going out to eat. I love choice and treats, indulging and talking. As a child, we ate out somewhere every now and again as a treat. The places and food never changed meaning I didn’t really cherish the occasions. I always ate chicken and chips. In fancier places (big event like a communion) I might have had some dessert but rarely. I still ate chicken and chips. Desserts were on a tray that was wheeled about and we (the kids) would go for a ‘look’ at it. Sherry trifle, Apple pie, Tiramisu, Profiteroles…guess the decade anyone? My parents called anything outside of a hotel bar restaurant ‘swanky’. We rarely went ‘swanky’. All of our eating out places were cafés or pub lunches and they were all the SAME. A parsley sprinkled world.
It makes me wonder how my children will see eating out. In my opinion, we have lots of choice and go to so many interesting places. Children are children however; will they see it like I do? They will probably roll their eyes and say, ‘Remember when we went to those boring places back in the 2000 teens…’ and I, like my own parents now, will look on in bewilderment!
Ireland is a fabulous place to eat out in now. We have everything, everywhere. Therefore an occasion to eat out should mean a venue that is worth seeing. A recent influx of vintage fashion has seen tearooms shoot up everywhere with one competing to outdo the other in quirk and charm. I am not competitive by nature, but this kind of competition I like!
I holidayed in Yorkshire about ten years ago, before babies and marriage, and had ample tearoom meandering time. This type of eating experience was rife in the Dales. Themed tearooms at every turn. I recall several clearly, yet could not tell you what I ate. Welsh rarebits probably or sausage rolls. Cream tea. The themes were varied, yet thorough. A frog tearoom. Froggy paraphernalia at every turn. A monkey tearoom. A parrot one. My favourite of course was Alice in Wonderland themed. Marvellous.
The food is the same everywhere but I see lots more care take now with homemade preserves, abundance of ingredient options and baking wonders. Eating out is now a joy. My children (two and nine months) love going into restaurant but I rarely choose a tearoom. Toddlers and Tearooms seem like a bad mix. I will admit though (Mammy confession) that I love having time to enjoy a tearoom with my friends and not always with a bag of wipes, nappies and tupperware full of fruit and yoghurt. The chintzy environs of tearooms are usually cubby holes and corners too, not conducive to our bus loads of buggies and bags. Precarious toddler stomping ground.
I got an hour to meet a work colleague for coffee last week. So off we went to a lovely place that myself and Mr Paper never bring the girls to. I don’t because of stairs, delicate interiors and a general terror of potential mayhem in an atmosphere of vintage calm being created by my family. When I got there however, I felt guilty. Us Mothers. Guilt is a sidedish to all meals! A brave Mammy with two little boys were there. A family of six also came in. Children galore! Happy faces. Without trying to be rude, I watched how they did it. Mammy with boys was near the end of her rope. The boys were bouncy and loving the furniture. A sharp crash brought the Mammy to a startled jump and screech, making me realise how on edge she actually was. We smiled at each other. I reckon she thought I was lucky to be there without little people. I thought she was braver than me to go out with her two alone to this particular place (think wall to ceiling china) and I know she didn’t enjoy that coffee and scone. Her boys had a ball however. I realise that she was happy with that. I felt inspired by this. The family of six were very peaceful. Calm parents (it seemed anyway) and the trick here seemed to be the older children played with and entertained the younger. I see!! I don’t think I should have more just for this reason though…
Back to my solo run to a tearoom. The Ballinhowen Tearooms in Co Westmeath’s Craft Village is not a million miles away for me and this little place ticks all the boxes for ladies who lunch. Charm? Tick. Home baking? Tick. Stockpiles of vintage delft and crockery? Tick. You must call it crockery and not cups if it looks like something your Granny had.
A few handmade touches? Absolutely.
Suitable decor? Tick.
A killer scone with cream and jam with a healthy mug of coffee in a suitably floral encasing later, I was ready to face baby world once again! (Killer as in fabulous but could mean heart attack inducing too…wonder if that is why they call it clotted cream..).
Toddlers and tearoom culture. Can we mix them? To a certain degree. As long as we don’t expect relaxation to be a certainty and accept that children are children and will act like children, then yes. Do we still enjoy a visit on our own? Of course! Most places accommodate children well now however. Changing units, highchairs, toys and special menus mean the tearoom want your child there and make you feel welcome, just as this one does in Ballinhowen. It is only my own trepidation that has stopped me bringing the smallies so far.
Will my children remember these experiences in a nostalgic manner? Or will they laugh at the memories as dated, as there is a new trend? Eighties Ireland did not go for choice or customer service whereas modern Ireland must. Will the newfound friendliness be what remains in their memory? I hope so! Meanwhile, my girls, their Daddy and I will try enjoy quirkily themed tearooms. Occasionally we will have a little solo trip out too though…shhh! Secret!
Just one full cup whilst it is hot.