Firstly, it’s about timing. Places that seem tolerant of small people at lunchtime may not be so friendly after 7PM, when they’re full of loved up couples who have yet to experience the
hell joy of parenthood. Especially when those small people are overtired and should be in bed.
Secondly, it’s about restaurant choice. And as you may have guessed, that’s what I’m going to talk about today.
I don’t need to explain the *ahem* challenges of eating out with a toddler. If you want to know, Crappy Pictures explains it a whole lot better than I could. With pictures too, albeit crappy ones! And if you’ve googled “Eating out in Central London with a toddler”, then you probably have a toddler of your own. If you don’t have a toddler of your own, you don’t want to know.
Suffice to say, this is not eating out with a baby. This is not rocking up with a sleeping bundle in a sling or buggy and discreetly breastfeeding during dessert. This is not taking out your “Oh, look he’s eating broccoli!” Baby-Led Weaning baby, who’s so amazed by the prospect of eating something other than gin-flavoured milk that they’ll sit in a highchair for hours, pulling a gyoza to pieces and smearing hoi sin sauce over their face. No, this is your easily-bored, tastes-ever-changing, unpredictable toddler. This requires quick service, tolerant serving people and ideally paying upfront (for the purposes of a quick exit). Where do you find somewhere like this in the heart of one of the world’s busiest cities TM?
Lately, I’ve been wussing out. As I may have mentioned before, our church meets just north of Oxford Circus and finishes at 1pm. We’ve tried a mixture of packed lunch (for Roo) and trying to get home before eating (for us) but since I got pregnant, it just doesn’t work for me to wait till 2 or 3 to eat. So, eating in Central London is pretty much unavoidable. But -as per my opening statement – I’ve been wussing out a lot recently and going to places like Pret and Leon for a hasty sandwich before Roo loses it completely. Pret is fine on the day that Roo decides to tolerate sandwiches/ham and cheese croissants but sandwiches have been out of favour for a while now. I bought him a snack box at The Royal Festival Hall today and the sandwich element was rejected entirely (the cheesey biscuits, apple juice and grapes were well received though). So Pret is probably a no-no for now.
Leon is better but they are all so very small. The one on Regent St (North side) is barely big enough to manoeuvre a buggy round. I went to the Strand branch with Roo on Friday, in a fit of spontaneity and hunger, and that was bigger but still massively busy at lunchtime and we had to squeeze a bit to get onto a table with the buggy nearby. Still, the menu is child-friendly and they have a special meal box (£3.95ish?) with home-made fishfingers, fries, peas etc in and a free activity sheet. The fries are really good. REALLY. On Friday, Roo had already lunched on pasta salad by the time I ate, so it was fine that he just sat and ate fries. Quite frankly, anything’s fine right now. For the sake of vitamin C, I made sure he had some ketchup with them. So, Leon would be grand for a quick and tasty meal if you could be guaranteed a seat.
So, let’s step it up a notch, from the essentially grab-a-lunch places to somewhere adult folk might consider a destination. First off, Nandos. You might consider this neither an adult place nor a destination but Nathan and I used to go there every Saturday before we had kids. So there. The photo above is from Nandos, Wilton St (Victoria) and was from a day when Nathan was trying out some effects on his phone camera. The photo at the top of the page is from Nandos, Cardinal Place (Victoria) and was from a day when Reuben was refusing to look at the camera. You came to this blog for quality photography, right?!
Nandos is very child friendly and they have branches everywhere. Everywhere! When we first went to the Reading branch, the branch list fitted on to the back of the menu. Things have changed a bit since then – Victoria alone has two branches (as you can tell from the last paragraph) and we’ve also been to a couple in Soho, one in Covent Garden and one in Great Portland St. Not to mention Bethnal Green, Camberwell, Elephant&Castle, Brixton, Clapham, Islington etc. Obsessive, us?
But back to Central London! I would recommend the Covent Garden branch – friendly staff, loads of space downstairs and just the right amount of peri-peri spice. The lift has been known to get stuck with Nathan in it, but hey that’s just funny, right? I had my birthday party in the one in Glasshouse St (Soho) and again, lots of space downstairs and a mostly-functioning lift. The other Soho branch hasn’t been my favourite since I had some slightly pink chicken there, years ago. These things linger in the memory. Great Portland St is new but furnished in the manner of my school science lab and had an alarm going off most of the time we were there. The toilets were pretty cool, though – they were in individual beach huts. Both Victoria branches were fine but nothing to blog about. All restaurants have a kids menu, with the option of chips or something healthier (Roo always wants chips) and they give you crayons and an activity sheet. The service is fast and you pay upfront, both of which make it easier for toddler-dining. There is a reason we’ve been there so often…
And then there are all those other places, like….well, you may have to wait, This post is way too long already, thanks to my witterings about Nandos. But I hope you learnt something. Part 2 will be along soon!