Let them eat cake

Schools around the country have just finished up for the summer holidays and many parents have been in a state of panic. This is not my first summer juggling working from home with looking after young children who would be in school during weekday mornings, giving me an opportunity to get some work done. As any parent knows, it is difficult to get anything done when young children are at home. They need to be entertained, looked after, and don't care for deadlines while you, on the other hand, just need to get the job done.

Having children under your feet for the entire summer can be stressful if you are a stay-at-home parent, while working parents have the challenge and expense of organising care for the hours their children would typically be in school. There are many ways to keep the children entertained over the summer without breaking the bank. If you, like me, are planning out what you will do if they're not away on holidays or in summer camp, the children's afternoon tea in The Harbour Hotel is one fun activity for children very high up on my list.

While enjoying a quieter location than most city centre hotels, this upscale waterfront property is just a stroll from Eyre Square and all the hustle and bustle of Galway. It boasts a modern restaurant and sleek bar with a good cocktail menu. There is always a mix of families, groups of friends, and couples young and old in the busy dining room. While many hotels in this lucky position would be happy to tick along just doing the minimum, The Harbour Hotel has recently been raising its culinary game.

In recent months, it has hosted some excellent wine pairing events with some first class cooking from the kitchen team. It is well known for its good value Sunday lunch buffet, popular with families with young children. Besides the starters and the classic roasts, Sundays in The Harbour Restaurant are best known for the epic desserts where weekly a large table groans under piles of cakes and treats. Pear crumble with warm custard, chocolate and walnut tarts, lemon meringue pies, cheesecakes and gateaux, all are made in-house. With this standard of excellence in the pastry kitchen, it makes sense that this team could also turn out a very good afternoon tea.

Served in the bright, airy, lobby at the front of the hotel, we recently called in to check on the current offering and as something of an expert on afternoon tea in Galway and its surrounds, this menu rates very highly for variety and value. I enjoyed a pot of freshly brewed, loose leaf, tea with classic smoked salmon on homemade brown bread, Caesar salad wrap, a toasted bacon, cranberry, and brie panini, and an open sandwich of parma ham, smoked cheese, and tomato — all delicious. There were also slices of fruit cake and scones warm from the oven served with a quenelle of clotted cream and jam. The bottom tier was filled with profiteroles, lemon drizzle cake, strawberry mousse slice, and more.

Children’s afternoon tea is also served, as it is never too early to introduce a child to sharing in this mannerly ritual. However, there is nothing relaxing or luxurious about watching a child pick the detested lettuce out of a dainty finger sandwich or winkling every fragment of hazelnut out of a chocolate brownie. Neither do I take any great pleasure in mouthfuls of cake spat into napkins because they contained an unadvertised surprise ingredient. While we may coo over a sandwich filled with blue cheese and walnut or trout caviar, chances are the average seven-year-old will not be so keen.

Children’s afternoon tea at The Harbour Hotel is ideal for the younger sophisticated ladies and gentlemen, complete with its own mini three-tiered stand and similar to what the grown-ups get, it provides a delicious array of goodies, just slightly more attuned to the younger palate. My girls were impressed with the savoury sandwiches featuring ham and cheese, chicken, or peanut better and jelly. Mini cupcakes with butter cream frosting, double chocolate brownies, and a rainbow of flavoured macaroons were also on offer, with a choice of strawberry milkshake or a marshmallow smothered hot chocolate. The entertainment is in trying a little bit of everything, great for encouraging pickier eaters. The staff are more than helpful and tolerant if the guests are a little boisterous. To go with the fun menu some dress up clothes are left at their disposal. But since Darth Vader does not wear a pink feather boa and pearls, neither would my children and, alas, they wouldn't let me wear them either. Being good deserves a treat and what better way to reward good behaviour, to mark a special occasion or the beginning of the summer holidays. Make sure to enjoy your time with the children this summer and let them eat cake — they won't be little forever.

Price is €10 per child, or €12 per child including milkshakes. Family afternoon tea for two adults and two children is €50 per family, served each afternoon, and bookings are advisable. Onsite parking to rear of hotel is complimentary when you book in, and baby changing facilities are beside the lobby for the littlest guests.

The Harbour Hotel, New Dock Road, Galway. Tel: (091 ) 894 800. Email: [email protected].

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