Category Archives: Restaurant

Galvin La Chapelle, Spital Square, London E1

We first went to Galvin La Chapelle for my fortieth birthday dinner.  And what a place for a special dinner.  The setting is stunning: eglomisé mirrors, dark wood, nickel-coloured metal and some amazing lighting.   The service was impeccable, the wine and the food wonderful.

So, when I discovered that they were launching a family Sunday lunch, I was more than a little excited.   On arrival we couldn’t miss the table on which were set out a wide range of toys and games for kids of all ages.  Whilst Jack loved the cars and puzzles, we saw one family playing a game which involved putting large cards on their foreheads and guessing what was on them.  Now that is parental dedication.

Knowing we were being accompanied by a three and a half year old they had allocated us a banquette table and deliberately kept the table next to us free so he had plenty of space to play while we ordered.  There was a children’s set menu of roast chicken, green beans and creamed potato which was utterly delicious.  The waiter even bothered to check whether we wanted Jack’s food served as soon as it was ready rather than waiting for ours.

Jack’s place was laid with smaller cutlery and a smaller glass (note: a proper glass not a hideous plastic tumbler).  He loved the food and tried bits of what we were eating too and was particularly taken with my asparagus velouté.

On Sundays Fifi La Mer, a french accordion player entertains guests, which adds to the sense that you could be a million miles from the humdrum weekdays.  She even let Jack have a go at playing it, though it was almost as big as him and weighed as much.

There is a spacious (and beautifully decorated) disabled loo with a proper changing unit which is located in the Bistro area – when I asked where it was a waiter insisted on taking us there.  We didn’t have a buggy with us but I noticed others had been careful parked out of the way.

As we made our way back to our table, every single member of staff we passed said hello and made a fuss of Jack.  It is rare that the approach of the owners and Chef is consistently applied throughout, but to the staff at Galvin La Chapelle it appears to come naturally, effortlessly and with warmth.  As well as several other families, with children of varying ages, the restaurant was busy with couples and small groups of diners who all looked like they were having a delightful time.

As it approached 3 pm – we’d barely noticed the time – we managed to drag ourselves from the restaurant for a wander round the redeveloped Spitalfields.

For a chilled, leisurely, but supremely stylish place, for a Sunday lunch with your baby, toddler or older children, there is nowhere better than this.  We vowed to return. Often.

Rating:

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

Overall rating 25/25  ££-£££

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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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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

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

Dean Street Townhouse, Soho, London W1

Birthdays in our house, you’ll not be surprised to learn, are opportunities for eating out.  Last weekend was my husband’s 40-something birthday and we celebrated by having lunch at the Dean Street Townhouse.  As Nick Jones’ (he of Soho House and Babington House fame) latest offering, The Dean Street Townhouse has been getting quite a bit of attention so it was our way of pretending we are entering that fourth decade still as hip and on trend as ever.

It also, we discovered, allowed us to indulge our love of all things New York: as soon as you step inside you could as easily be in SoHo as Soho.   We had booked the table for three but not indicated that our third was in fact a three year old.  The host took this in her stride and a great fuss was made of taking Jack’s coat and seating him in the best spot with a view across the room.

Jack asked for bread and some water before we’d even had a chance to open the menus and was genially indulged.   Whilst no children’s menu was offered, when I ordered the fish and chips for Jack the waiter immediately suggested a children’s version of the adult dish.

The restaurant was almost full but there was no sense that they were over stretched.  Dan’s chicken pie, my salt beef and Jack’s fish and chips arrived just as we’d managed to clock a couple of broadcast journalists and a former Downing Street staffer.  The blackbird steam vent in the chicken pie brought on a rendition by Jack of Four and Twenty Blackbirds which was the cause of some amusement (and thankfully not a hint of annoyance) from the staff and diners around us.

Since it was a birthday celebration we all had dessert.  Ice creams for the boys and sherry triffle for me.  The food is simple but perfectly prepared and presented.

There isn’t a baby changing table but the disabled loo is enormous and absolutely spotless, so as long as you have a good changing mat I wouldn’t let this put you off because this is a great place for a relaxed and thoroughly enjoyable lunch.   We left vowing to come back for a more romantic ‘diner a deux’ as soon as we can get a baby sitter…

Rating:

Stylishness: 5/5

Friendliness: 4/5

Feeding Facilities: 4/5

Changing Facilities: 3/5

Food: 4/5

Overall rating: 20/25   ££-£££

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Gaucho, Canary Wharf, London E14

On the spur of the moment last weekend we decided to go out for lunch.  As we rang round unsuccessfully trying to get a table, the realisation that it was Valentine’s Day slowly dawned.  Our excuse for our lack of awareness of it being simultaneously the most romantic day of the year and the day you are least likely to get a spur of the moment table at a decent restaurant?  We eschew the crass commercialisation of love…obviously.

We finally got a table at The Gaucho at Canary Wharf – a mere 15 minutes drive from us.  Result.   Chancing upon a restaurant with a free table on such a day really ought to arouse suspicion, however hunger and toddler demands for ‘sausage and mash now’ got the better of us and off we went.

The Gaucho don’t have a children’s menu but we figured that they had mash on the menu and a sausage platter which would fit the bill.  We figured wrong.  Despite offering to pay for the whole platter but just be served the least spicy sausage from it, the waitress said that was not possible.  Jack settled on a burger and mash instead.

The pasta dish which I decided on, was, the waitress informed me, made with a different pasta, but ‘still good’.  Done.

The restaurant is dark.  Not cosy, romantic dark, but dark enough to make it difficult to see your food.  So when my pasta arrived, though I thought it didn’t look quite right it was not until I tasted it that I realised not only was it a different shape pasta, it was a completely different dish to the one on the menu and not a particularly tasty one at that.   My query was met with bemusement by the waitress.  No doubt I was being punished for having the temerity to order pasta in a steak restaurant.

The toilets are cramped but there’s just enough room to get a toddler in with you.  There was a couple with a baby sitting not far from us but I decided not to spoil their meal by informing them that there is no baby changing table, though there is a disabled loo with a floor which would do if they had a changing mat.  They might have thought I was a mad woman.

Rating:

Stylishness: 0/5

Friendliness: 3/5

Feeding Facilities: 2/5

Changing Facilities: 0/5

Food: 2/5

Overall rating: 7/25   ££

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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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