I first came across Jellybean Café when I was a bright-eyed and fresh-faced journalist living in east Belfast.
Given the length of time that has passed by since then, I’m not sure how I discovered this little gem, but suffice to say it quickly became a firm favourite.
Even back then, in all my childless innocence, I could see that it was about as family friendly as you could get.
And despite the noisy toddlers, I still returned regularly for my favourite on the menu – a number three on granary, with chicken, and without the sun-dried tomatoes, if you please.
After all these years, I don’t think I’ve ever found a sandwich that can compete.
So, this is why, even though I now live miles away, I still go out of my way to pay it a visit whenever I can.
It has become even more of a draw now I have children of my own and I found myself there with Ethan quite soon after he was born.
At the time, I had just embarked on a dairy free diet, given the fact that I was breastfeeding and Ethan had a dairy allergy.
Anyone who has been in that position will know what a challenge it is to eat out, particularly in the early days when you’re getting to grips with the limitations and the fact that dairy seems to crop up in the most random of places.
Did you know there is dairy in some red wines?
Neither did I until Ethan was diagnosed with a cow’s milk protein allergy.
Anyway, at the time I was sticking to green tea only – too overwhelmed by the whole thing to consider trying any of the dairy alternatives.
However, as I was giving my order to the waitress (number three on granary with chicken and no sun-dried tomatoes), I mentioned the fact that I was off dairy – in the way you have to warn people every time you eat out.
I was totally amazed by her reaction – she was a wealth of knowledge and she encouraged me to order a normal tea and try the almond milk.
And do you know what? I actually liked it.
Better than that, they had a selection of non-dairy milks in the coffee shop and the staff there really knew about allergens.
All the food they serve is prepared to order, meaning they can even tailor dishes to suit allergies and everything is fabulously fresh.
Bright and airy, there are comfortable sofas or tables and chairs when you want to use a high chair, and a play area to keep those runaway toddlers amused while you eat.
Much to my delight during my most recent visit, the walls were decorated with original works of art by the fabulous Dawn Crothers.
The menu also provides a little more selection than you get in your average coffee shop.
Think sushi rolls, meat or veggie pate, soup with sun dried tomato bread and sandwich fillings that include falafel, humous, salad leaves, cucumber, tomatoes, red onion and sweet chilli, or chicken, avocado, salad leaves and lime chilli mayo.
Bagels, scones, muffins, raisin toast and banana loaf are also on offer.
If you think there is nothing there to tempt your picky eaters, the kids’ menu provides some children friendly options with pancakes, scrambled egg and even a teddy bear’s picnic making an appearance.
There is also a microwave to heat baby food or milk, a selection of healthy baby options and some kid friendly treats, like ice pops, pink lemonade float and ice cream with jelly beans.
They even serve dairy free smoothies – pineapple, mango and coconut milk, berry, banana and almond milk, and strawberry, banana, honey and oat milk.
Speaking as someone who has followed a strict dairy free diet, I know how hard it is to find a coffee shop or restaurant that takes allergies seriously.
If you’ve been there, you’ll know only too well the unbelievable comments you’ll get – “you can’t have the mayonnaise because there’s egg in” and “yeah, I think the burger is dairy free”!!!
And speaking as a parent, I also know how hard it can be to find somewhere to go and enjoy a cup of tea with the little ones and not feel uncomfortable when they are less than perfectly behaved.
So, finding somewhere that caters for both is priceless in my book.
If you ever find yourself on the Newtownards Road, or even if it means travelling a bit out of the way, I am pretty sure you won’t be disappointed by a visit to Jellybean Café.