Category Archives: £ – Cheap and cheerful

Jamie’s Italian, Canary Wharf, London E14

Over the last few years, Canary Wharf has transformed from a white elephant to a glossy shopping and eating destination.  When I go on my own with my 3 (nearly 4!) year old we get the DLR, which is an event in itself for him. When we go en famille we drive.

We were lured last weekend by the prospect of Waitrose and husband’s need for new sunglasses (yes, he is a metrosexual and proud of it).  After a truly disappointing experience at The Gaucho, we headed for Jamie’s Italian.

The restaurant, modelled on a traditional trattoria, was busy for a Sunday with lots of families.    Jamie Oliver’s infectious enthusiasm for food and experience as a Dad, shines through from beginning to end.   The kids menu comes on one of those toy disc picture viewers so they can choose their own food from the pictures.  It also encourages the waiters to ask the kids what they want to eat rather than their parents – great for giving them independence and confidence.  Crayons and paper, highchairs and small cutlery are all provided.

Jack had brought his new toy shopping trolley with him and insisted on taking it on repeated trips to the bar to ask for straws.  This was handled with amusement and good humour by the staff, if not his parents.

The food is authentically Italian, but with more of a twist than Carluccio’s.   No opportunity to use fragrant herbs is wasted.  Jack ate olives, focaccia and every last mouthful of his spaghetti bolognese and ice cream (as well as the rosemary infused bread and blackened chicken from my salad).

The service was friendly, efficient and speedy.  The changing table is in the disabled loo which is on the same level as the restaurant.  For older tots the toilets are on a mezzanine level.  The bonus is the kids get to see into the buzzing kitchen as you go up the stairs.

Admittedly, one wouldn’t come here for an intimate, romantic lunch, but for an informal lunch out with friends and kids, it comes pretty close to capturing what’s great about the Italian attitude to kids and food.

Afterwards, as we waddled with full bellies round the shops, Dan managed to find new sunglasses and I fell in love with Waitrose.  Clutching our shopping, we paid for the parking, the coins tinkling into the machine, watched by a jovial looking parking attendant.

“If you spend £5 the parking is free, you just have to get a token in the shop” he said with a big grin.

Rating:

Stylishness: 3/5 (only misses out on a 4 because it is essentially informal eating)
Friendliness: 4/5
Feeding Facilities: 5/5
Changing Facilities: 5/5
Food: 4/5

Overall rating 21/25  £-££

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Filed under £ - Cheap and cheerful, ££ - Mid price, London, Outdoor area, Restaurant

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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Filed under £ - Cheap and cheerful, ££ - Mid price, Cafe, London, Outdoor area

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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Giraffe, South Bank, London

Being half–Italian and a (complete) foodie, I knew that when I had children I would want to instill in them a love of good food and the ritual of eating together.  Well, here I am with a 3 year old who loves olives, garlic, capers and salami.  Of course, he likes those Brit staples of chips and sausages too, but he has a well developed love of really flavoursome foods.

As soon as Jack showed interest in food when we started weaning I encouraged him to taste a bit of what we were eating too.  Eating out has been a big part of developing his love of food and sharing the pleasure of eating together with him.

On a recent day out with Jack and his grandparents we found ourselves on the South Bank at lunchtime.  It was school holiday time so there were queues for all the restaurants.  We plumped for the one for Giraffe.   What a mistake.

Now, I know that there is a place for restaurants which cater specifically for families – especially when you’ve got a gaggle of kids to feed.  But if you want to actually enjoy the experience of eating out together rather than use it purely as a refuelling stop, don’t do it.

The noise level is conversation-stifling.  If MacDonald’s did table service this is what it would be like.  There are baby changing facilities and there is plenty of room for buggy parking, but, frankly, why you would want to bring a baby here unless you had no other choice is beyond me.

If you’re in the area and need somewhere to eat you’d be much better off in Canteen or Wagamama’s.

Rating:

Stylishness: 0/5

Friendliness: 3/5

Feeding Facilities: 3/5

Changing Facilities: 4/5

Food: 2/5

Overall rating: 12/25   £

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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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