Lily Barclay, shares her top tips for eating out with children this summer
Few things match the horror of a public meltdown in a restaurant, a pristine tablecloth covered in your toddler's spaghetti Bolognese or a jug of water sent crashing to the floor. At the same time many parents want to dine out in a way that doesn't involve eating left over fish fingers whilst watching your child drown in a pit of multi-coloured balls.
So if you're out and about this summer holiday here's a pick of child-friendly restaurants that have a little something for everyone...
Going to see the sea? Barefoot café has a very relaxed vibe where you can enjoy wholesome salads, soups, good coffee and barbecues on sunny Sundays. The sandy play area complete with toys is a real plus for families, as is the extensive children's menu, little eaters can order anything from pancakes to simple cheesy pesto pasta. You can watch the energetic types play out a spot of volleyball while you relax.
Wagamammas has a great way of dealing with their smaller noodle fans as little adults. Highchairs that attach to the table are great for a feeling of inclusion and the kids' menu goes way beyond fish fingers and chips. Adventurous dishes are still sensitively tailored to kids' tastes, mini chicken Katsu curry, grilled fish noodles and natural fruit ice lollies are some of my toddler's favourites.
If you're heading to Kew Gardens on a family trip then Torelli's is really worth a drop-in. The atmosphere's relaxed, the coffee is good and when it comes to welcoming children this café couldn't be any warmer. On quieter days the waiters have been known to chase ecstatic toddlers around the playroom. The small, designated kids' corner is crammed full of toys and books for babies and older children. There isn't a specific children's menu but the good selection of sandwiches, pasta and Italian ice creams can be shared and enjoyed by all.
It may seem an obvious choice, but Pizza Express has put a whole lot of love into their Piccolo menu. Kids can tuck into a four-course feast - including dough balls, side salad, a pasta or pizza main, dessert and a babychino to finish. If you're lucky then children might even be invited to the front counter to create a lot of mess with flour and dough on a pizza-making mission of their own.
If it all gets too much or your child hasn't been introduced to the world of dessert yet, you can get a chocolate fudge cupcake to take away which can be eaten by parents safely after bedtime. More often than not my toddler has left with a balloon clutched in his weary hands too.
Modern European, Bradford-on-Avon
If you're after a bit of quiet luxury then Wooley Grange might be the place for you. There is a designated bear den where you can leave under-sevens to make friends and get creative under the care of Ofsted-registered staff for £5 per child. Or for the more unruly bunch there is an unsupervised area where older kids can create chaos in peace - although with air hockey, football table and pool table you might want to stick around for a bit to help them 'settle in'.
Kids can be fed from an extensive high-tea menu before parents dine child-free, or you are more than welcome to keep children with you for a family meal.
* Don't leave before taking little ones on a tour of the play area with make believe farm shop, farm kitchen and vintage tractor to boot.
European and African inspired, nationwide
If your child is an early eater this place is brilliant for brunch - you can indulge in a full fry up while your child tucks into a cottage pie and broccoli or even a breakfast of his own. Crayons and colouring-in sheets are in abundance and a friendly waiter will normally whisk your pram off to a room at the back. Service is usually efficient too, with kids' meals arriving slightly in advance of adults, which is great if your child still needs a little help getting spoon to mouth, not via the hair. Overall this is a super-easy dining experience.
Set in the ghostly yet beautiful Romney March, Lathe Barn is renowned for its cream teas and home-baked scones. Kids can tuck into free-range brown eggs and soldiers a traditional ice cream sundae or a cream tea of their own. There's a children's farm and play area with goats, ducks, rabbits and you can also admire one of the grumpiest donkeys in Britain, who has been there since I was a toddler myself.
Choosing a restaurant is the first hurdle but what happens when you get there? A bit of forward planning can make all the difference. Here are some top tips for a stress-free experience.
- Ask for an extra cold plate to come with your meal so you can transfer your child's food from hot dishes to cool down quicker.
- Take some quiet toys - puzzles, books and crayons are always good.
- Don't forget to take kid-sized cutlery
- Look for restaurants that open at 11.30am so you can get settled and prevent your child's lunch being too late.
- Keep it short if you have a restless child, asking for your bill at the same time as dessert or coffee always speeds things up.
Do you have any top tips for dining out with children? Or any restaurants or cafes you would recommend as being family-friendly? We'd love to hear your comments.