Pubs, restaurants and hotels, our little windows into heaven, are feeling the brunt of the Covid-19 restrictions like no other sector. What gives us greater pleasure than food, drink and a night or two away from home can, of course, only be discussed among those of us who are on very close speaking terms.
ut that aside, the pleasures brought to us by musicians, comedians, actors and artists come a close third to providing us with the excitement, entertainment and occasionally, levels of participation, close to that offered by the first two.
In a nutshell, the three most significant experiences which make our miserable lives a little less gloomy are hospitality, sex and the arts. And two of those are seriously under threat. People can be very sniffy about the arts. They tend to overlook that the creative industries which require a supply of artists, musicians, writers, actors and people who are not wed to convention, employ well over a million across the UK and Ireland. How very different our world would be if there was no radio or telly to switch on.
These days, the gateway career to mainstream telly and radio is the town art centre where you can get a coffee and plug in your laptop and get inspired, or rent a space for whatever creativity you want to get up to.
Art centres across Northern Ireland are a fabulous legacy which sprung into existence after the Good Friday Agreement. During the 2000s Northern Ireland saw more than £200m invested in the arts infrastructure from the Millennium Forum in Derry to the Braid in Ballymena and from the Strule in Omagh to the Marketplace in Armagh. And Belfast got the twin crowning jewels, the MAC and the new Lyric. All of these have a catering function but none so well developed as the MAC. I am biased, of course. As a former chairman of the MAC and still on the board after all these years, there is nothing quite so invigorating as to see the MAC loom across St Anne's Square in all its modernist elegance.
Head chef Gareth Curran produces seriously good eggs benedict with smoked salmon among other brunchy things and frankly, this is where the cafe shines.
There are Baghdad Eggs (two fried eggs, freshly made flat bread, sun blush tomato pesto, feta and sumac and lime yoghurt), French Toast (Bara Bakehouse thick slice tin loaf with crispy bacon and maple syrup or caramelised banana, honey and nuts), Sausage bap (carnbrooke pork and leek sausage with bacon and chorizo jam and brioche bun) and a Jackfruit special (BBQ pulled jackfruit with Kimchi slaw, brioche and skinny fries - if you've never had jackfruit you'll swear you're eating pork).
Gareth says the place is somewhere to think, work and hide and to indulge yourself while doing all three. More importantly, all revenue raised through the MAC's cafe goes into creating connections between people and the arts so you'll be doing your bit to secure the future of Northern Ireland's leading cultural venue (and you don't even have to go see the art).
And then there's a nice bracing mimosa. Nothing like a mimosa at 11am on a school day to help ease you into the bohemian world of art if only until it's time to get the bus back to collect the children. If the best way to the art world is through your stomach, the MAC's got your back.
Note: this review was written before the new regulations were announced on Wednesday by the Northern Ireland Executive. Since then, the MAC has published this statement on its website: "In line with the spirit of today's public health update and associated restrictions announced by the NI Executive, the MAC has decided to close from this Friday (yesterday) at 4pm for an initial period of three weeks."
For the full statement and more information, visit themaclive.com
Baghdad Eggs £8.50