Category Archives: Cafe

The Wolseley, Piccadilly, London W1

There are few places in London that manage to capture the ambience of L’ancienne Europe like The Wolseley.  One could as easily be in Vienna or Paris as Piccadilly.  When I pitched up with no booking and a weary and hungry Jack one afternoon, I had a sneaking suspicion we would be treated with a Parisian-style hauteur to match.  How wrong I was.

The lady Maitre D (or should that be Maitress?  Or is that something entirely different?) pulled us out of the small queue the moment she saw Jack, seated us in the tea salon and, with a sleight of hand which almost made me gasp, deposited a clipboard with colouring pictures and a pencil case on the table.

Whilst no specific children’s menu was provided, it didn’t matter as there is plenty of straight-forward, comfort food on the menu.  The sight of a neighbouring diner’s enormous coupe dessert prompted Jack to request ice cream from a passing waitress.  I was relieved when it arrived to see that they had automatically served a child-sized version, even though I hadn’t asked for one.  Jack was enchanted with the little silver jug of warm chocolate sauce which came with it.

Having coloured his pictures and devoured the ice cream, Jack decided it was time for a toilet break.  Nurturing his growing confidence, I encouraged him to ask a pretty waitress where the loo was.  When she offered to show him, he was chuffed.  I, on the other hand, was a nervous wreck the entire two minutes he was out of my sight.  I needn’t have worried.  She waited with him and brought him straight back afterwards.  He was so pleased with himself and with her he spontaneously gave her an enormous hug.  I melted with pride and she and the other diners were charmed.

If your tot is a little younger than Jack, they do have highchairs and a dedicated baby-changing toilet at the rear of the main restaurant.  They always have a few tables reserved for people who just turn up.  The restaurant and the tea salon were both busy but looked well-staffed and we certainly didn’t have to wait long for our food (or in my case, strong coffee).

If you need a place for tots to run off all that food, Green Park and St James’s Park are a stone’s throw away and provide respite from the crowds on Piccadilly.

Proper food, European style, child-friendly and reasonably priced?  The Wolseley delivers.  With panache.

Rating:

Stylishness: 5/5
Friendliness: 5/5
Feeding Facilities: 4/5
Changing Facilities: 5/5
Food: 4/5

Overall rating 23/25  £-££

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Petersham Nurseries, Richmond, Surrey

I’m delighted to have a guest review from the fabulous Mummy In a Hurry:

If you fancy an afternoon in the country, but feel like getting there might be a bit too much effort, then look no further than a trip to Petersham Nurseries, nestled in the heart of the tiny village of Petersham, just outside Richmond, between the Thames and Richmond Park.

To access the nurseries you need to either walk along a small footpath from River Road, or turn off the Petersham Road onto a muddy track (look closely or you’ll miss it).  If the weather is pleasant enough, you can wander along the river from Richmond.

Stepping into the nurseries is like taking a step back it time, and just how I imagine a Victorian secret garden might be. The main seating area is in a huge, old fashioned glass conservatory, decorated with rugs hanging from the ceiling, old fashioned screens, and as you would expect in a nursery, a vibrant mix of greenery,  The furniture is an eclectic mix of shabby chic tables and chairs, some wooden, some with distressed paintwork and rusting wrought iron garden furniture. Perfect for those with children, as they cant really damage it.

The floors are made from compacted mud, so there’s no need to worry about the occasional spilt drink or dropped cake.   There are high chairs available for the teenies and toddlers.

On the day of my visit, I took my 6 year old niece, my mother, and my two children David (nearly 4) and Annabel (2). The food is prepared under the watchful eye of acclaimed chef Skye Gyngell. We didn’t eat at the main restaurant, instead, favouring tea and cake. The drawback if you have a pram, is that the food is served from a charming but raised wooden hut, so you will need a hand to lift the buggy up the steps which are a little steep.

We opted for coffee cake, carrot and walnut cake (popular with the kids), a Claudia Roden style orange and almond cake, and a lemon poppy seed cake with a crunchy drizzle icing.

There is only one toilet that is suitable for changing, next to the tea hut in what looks like an old stable block. As toilets go, it is as nice as you could find. Flagstone floors and framed pictures on the walls. It is clean, and well equipped with a changing table, the only disappointment being the slightly grubby looking changing mat. Its a unisex toilet, so Dads can do the changing too.

On the day we went, almost everyone there had children in tow. Although on this occasion I had another adult to lend a hand, when I have been there on my own, the staff have been only too happy to carry the food to the table for me.

When you have finished looking around, you can visit the cows, then wander across the road to a playground just inside Richmond Park, or pay a visit to Ham House.

Rating:

Stylishness: 5/5 The epitome of country garden chic
Friendliness: 4/5
Feeding Facilities: 4/5
Changing Facilities: 4/5
Food: 4/5

Overall rating 21/25  £-££

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Mudchute Kitchen, Mudchute City Farm, London

There are some places I would never have thought of going before I had Jack.  I’m not a particularly outdoorsy type.  I hyperventilate if I’m more than walking distance from a Pret A Manger or Starbucks.  I don’t own a cagoule or a ruck sack.  I do, however, have a 3 year old.

It was after a tip off from another mum that we first ventured to what is the largest city farm in London at Mudchute.  It is now a regular fixture for us, come rain or shine.  The promise of a trip on the DLR is enough to get Jack excited.  The entrance to the park is right opposite the stop and walking up the sheltered, shady path to the farm does not prepare you for the striking optical illusion of Canary Wharf appearing to spring up right from the farm’s main field.

Mudchute Kitchen is right in the middle of the farm.  The food can best be described as an edited menu of wholesome, home cooking.  Strangely, for a place aimed at children, they don’t do child-size portions.  The dishes are heavily garnished with adventurous salads which even the most adventurous of toddler eaters would baulk at.  The cakes are the saving grace – homemade and huge.

It has to be said that the toilets are like farm toilets: cold with concrete floors.  And you can’t avoid the distinctive farmyard smell wherever you go.

You can buy animal feed at the shop by the kitchen, so once you’ve fed and watered the children you can feed the animals. Beware though: the sheep are very scary.  As we entered the open field where they were grazing, their little beady eyes spied Jack’s paper bag of food and they began running towards him, till he was completely surrounded by the woolly, smelly beasts fighting for the food.  I had to beat them off.

Jack loves the place.  And so, on those days when we just have to get out of the house, do I.  I’ve even bought a pair of wellies.

Rating:

Stylishness: 3/5 (be prepared to get muddy…)

Friendliness: 4/5 (and that’s just the sheep)

Feeding Facilities: 3/5

Changing Facilities: 3/5

Food: 3/5

Overall rating: 16/25   £

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Victoria and Albert Museum Cafe, Cromwell Road, London

I had a morning off this week to go to the Grace Kelly exhibition at the V&A (which, incidently, I would highly recommend if you are a fan) with my friend Clementine.  Clem is a regular at the V&A with her two and a half year old and swears by the place as a great summer retreat with toddlers.

She’s got a point.  The indoor café has plenty of space and some great food (half price for children).  The nearby toilets are an absolute dream for baby changing: the ladies has a changing table, there is a dedicated separate baby changing cubicle and – amazingly – even the gents has a baby changing table.

If your tot isn’t ready for a whole meal there are certainly options which you could share.  Having recently seen a genius device called the wean machine it strikes me that this would be the perfect outing for it as you could order one dish and cleverly mash what you need for a child on solids but not ready for proper food.

The absolute cream on the cake in the summer is the Garden Café area.  Clem’s little girl adores the fountains which tots can play in.  We took Jack last summer and he too adored the fountains.  A great way for little ones to cool down – just remember a change of clothes!  If you can, go during the week when it is likely to be slightly quieter.

And Clem’s top tip? If your tot still has a nap, you can let them run around in the fountains till they flake out, then push them round the exhibition whilst they sleep soundly in the buggy and you get to take in a bit of culture in peace and quiet.  That, dear readers, seems like a win-win situation to me.

Rating:

Stylishness: 5/5 (It is a cultural paradise, for goodness’ sake…!)

Friendliness: 4/5

Feeding Facilities: 4/5

Changing Facilities: 5/5

Food: 4/5

Overall rating: 22/25   £-££

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Carluccio’s, just about everywhere…

There are some places that provide a kind of culinary comfort blanket.  They cosset you in a warm and safe space.  And they never, ever give you a nasty surprise.  For us, Carluccio’s is such a place.

They manage to pull off a seemingly impossible feat of appealing equally to adults and children.  You know exactly what you’ll get: simple, authentic Italian food and generally cheerful, friendly service.

Now, I know that Carluccio’s isn’t everyone’s plate of spaghetti, but the sheer number of restaurants, means that if you find yourself somewhere with a hungry toddler and need a quick, good value, child-friendly meal you could do a whole lot worse.

They have a children’s menu which doesn’t compromise on flavour at all, yet goes down really well with all the kids I know.  All branches have high chairs and most have baby changing facilities.

If you’re shopping in the West End the branch in St Christopher’s Place is handy; if you’re at the Museums in South Kensington there is a branch just opposite the Tube; the one is Covent Garden is the ‘flagship’ and handy for the Galleries in Trafalgar Square; the one in Bluewater has a queue at the weekends so stick to weekdays if you can; we’ve even been to the ones in Bath and Tunbridge Wells.

But my favourite is the one in the basement of Fenwick’s on New Bond Street.  It’s perfectly located for lunch on a Sunday inbetween a little sneaky shopping.  Fenwick have a delightful toy section packed with unusual things.  And it’s right next to the restaurant: perfect for bribes and distraction…

Rating:

Stylishness: 3.5/5 (you’ll never be caught short with a hungry toddler again: what could be more stylish for a yummy mummy?)

Friendliness: 4/5

Feeding Facilities: 4/5

Changing Facilities: 4/5

Food: 4/5

Overall rating: 19.5/25   £-££

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Chapters, Blackheath, London

When I was on maternity leave there were days I felt like everyone else was busy at work and I was the only person – in the world – sitting at home longing for an adult conversation.  On days like those, the only way to keep my sanity, was to get out and about.

At the very least, walking down to Blackheath Village for lunch would be enough to lift my spirits a little.   We have the obligatory high street eateries like Pizza Express, Cafe Rouge and Strada but I give them a wide berth.  Bursting at the seams with mums, babies and children and a decibel level which would not be out of place on the flightpath of a jumbo jet, they instill in me a mortal fear that I have morphed into ‘the middle-aged mum’.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Pizza Express and other mums and their babies.  Just not all in the one place at the same time.  Places that specifically aim themselves at mums and children seem to assume that children will only eat plain (and sometimes downright poor) food.  There is a kind of culinary lowest common denominator at work.

Thankfully, a handful of great independent cafes have established themselves in the Village.  A recently reinvented Chapters is currently our bistro of choice.  The food is beautifully prepared, generously proportioned and as good as you would expect in the West End.  The children’s menu is well edited without compromising on taste.  The staff are unfailingly friendly and helpful.  The baby changing table is in the disabled loo which is also handy for toddler needs.

And best of all?  On any given day, at any given time you are as likely to be eating alongside young couples, famous children’s TV presenters from the 70s, ladies (and laddies) who lunch, as you are other mums.  Good enough to save your sanity.

Rating:

Stylishness: 3/5

Friendliness: 5/5

Feeding Facilities: 4/5

Changing Facilities: 5/5

Food: 4/5

Overall rating: 21/25   £-££

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5th Floor, Waterstone’s Piccadilly, London

Browsing leisurely in a bookshop, working my way from one interest or passion to another, is a luxury I rarely have time for now I have a 3 year old as well as a job.   Occasionally, my husband and I, in some reckless desire to behave as we did BC (before child), torture ourselves by popping into Waterstone’s in Piccadilly.

The miles of books wink, whisper and call to us.  Read me.  Read me.  Read me…

Ah, if only.  As we make our way to the children’s department something displayed by the entrance or the stairs will catch my eye.  Otherwise I rely on recommendations, reviews and Amazon.

We must be doing something right though, because Jack regularly asks to go to ‘the book shop’.  He could spend hours looking at the books and demanding to be read to.

Luckily, they do have a small family room on the same floor, complete with changing table, loo and chair for feeding.  For toddlers and adults in need of refreshment the 5th floor eaterie beckons.

The tables and chairs are not too closely packed so it feels quite relaxed, even when it is busy.  The food is ok, but nothing to write home about.  Then again, one doesn’t come for the food; one comes for the books.  The staff are efficient and, sometimes, friendly.

Any minor shortcomings of the eaterie are absolutely forgiven for what it creates: the time and space to enjoy the books.

Rating:

Stylishness: 4/5 (Come on, it is a HUGE bookshop, what could be more stylish?!)

Friendliness: 3/5

Feeding Facilities: 3/5

Changing Facilities: 5/5

Food: 3/5

Overall rating: 18/25   ££

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