Discover our top child-friendly restaurants, plus we share tips on making eating out with kids a seamless experience.
Few things match the humiliation of a public meltdown in a restaurant, a three-mile radius of debris around your toddler's high chair 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 leftover fish fingers whilst watching your child drown in a pit of multi-coloured balls.
So if you're out and about over the school holidays or on a weekend, here's our pick of child-friendly restaurants that have a little something for everyone...
Min Min Noodle Bar
Fantastic Indian food and one of the best breakfasts in London (the egg and bacon naan has achieved near-cult status). There are branches in Soho, Covent Garden, Kings Cross and Shoreditch and service is friendly and attentive.
Old school fish and hand cut chips wrapped in newspaper is always going to be a hit with kids. This London-wide chain also has fun retro memorabilia on the walls.
Offering sourdough pizzas with only six choices of topping, Franco Manca set the artisan pizza trend a while back and is still just as good. There are twenty branches in London now, all of which welcome mini diners.
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.
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 the more unruly bunch there's an unsupervised area where older kids can create chaos in peace - although with air hockey, a 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're more than welcome to keep children with you for a family meal. Plus don't leave before taking little ones on a tour of the play area that's complete with make believe farm shop, farm kitchen and vintage tractor to boot.
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.
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 that includes dough balls, side salad, a pasta or pizza main, dessert and a babyccino 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, and they sometimes get to leave clutching a balloon too.
Wagamamas 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, like mini chicken katsu curry, grilled fish noodles and natural fruit ice lollies.
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 their 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. Overall this is a super-easy dining experience.
Proper burgers in good quality buns, marvellous milkshakes and a Mini Byron menu for diners with a smaller appetite, this nationwide chain has everything you need from a family restaurant.
This bright and breezy Mexican restaurant chain founded by MasterChef contestant Thomasina Miers has outlets in London, Manchester and Liverpool, but the Wahaca family is expanding all the time. Freshly made guacamole, tacos, tostadas and taquitos are feistily flavoured as is the rest of the menu, but save room for the churros y chocolate.
Top tips for seamless family dining
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.