Monthly Archives: July 2013

Cafe Loco

There is something so comforting about having a traditional afternoon tea. I don’t do it often, which makes it feel special and luxurious, and I love the look of the tiered tray filled with goodies. Today was a perfect day for tea – a bit gray and rainy, the kind of day that reminds you that summer is fleeting and you’ll be getting the woolly sweaters out before you know it. Yes, I know there’s a whole month left of potential summer weather, but the rain really got to me over the last couple of days.

I bundled the Baberoo into her carriage and set off for Café Loco (85-87 St Aldate’s, OX1 1RA), where I had been meaning to try the Mad Hatters Tea Party (£8.50) for a while. My teapot of Earl Grey arrived at my table only moments after I had ordered it, and was soon followed by the much-anticipated tiered tray, which included eight mini sandwiches and three kinds of cake. I was pleased to note that the sandwiches were made with very fresh, moist bread – nothing ruins a good tea faster than stale, dry sandwich bread. The best of the fillings was the smoked salmon, while the cucumber, chicken, and egg salad were just fine. The cakes were better; I got a selection of chocolate, carrot, and Victoria sponge, all of which were lovely. I wished that there had been a few more cakes or bigger pieces; they looked a bit sparse on the lower tier. All in all it was an enjoyable tea and I relaxed and took my time over my cuppa while the Baberoo played happily in her carriage.

Tea tray

So, how did Café Loco rate against my five baby-friendly criteria of menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding? You can find more details about my ratings system on my About page.

Menu: If you need to hold a baby in one arm while you’re eating, there are several things on the Café Loco menu that you can eat with one hand. Most breakfast items, pastries, teas, and some mains will be easy to manage; if you’re fairly dextrous then you could also try one of the bagels or paninis. And of course, cakes are always manageable with one hand! My tea was easy to eat one-handed, although I didn’t have to hold the Baberoo today.

Space: The tables are fairly close together in this café, which means it can be a bit of a squeeze (even without a baby carriage) to get through if the place is crowded, which it often is. I managed to snag a table in the corner where I could park the carriage without it being in anyone’s way, but another patron had to move their bag and a member of staff had to move a chair so that I could get through. It’s also difficult to get to the baby-changing/disabled bathroom; it’s in a corner where the high chairs are also stored and a staff member had to move two high chairs out of the way before I could get the carriage through. If my carriage didn’t fit I don’t think a wheelchair would either.

Tables

Ambiance: The staff are friendly and our server interacted with the Baberoo several times during our visit; her perseverance paid off and she finally got a smile. The décor has an Alice in Wonderland theme and the place is light and airy with pretty windows and wooden ceiling beams. Because it gets so busy it can be loud, but not overly so, and there’s no distracting music.

Facilities: The baby-changing/disabled bathroom was big enough to fit the carriage comfortably, but the pull-down baby-changing table itself was woefully small and narrow; I’m amazed that anyone would even manufacture a table so small. It would have been difficult to fit my seven-month-old on it, so it wouldn’t be suitable at all for any older babies or toddlers needing a diaper change. Luckily, I was the one who needed to use the facilities, so we didn’t need to struggle with the tiny table.

Changing table

Feeding: I didn’t feed the Baberoo this time but I have done so in the past and can say that the wooden chairs are comfortable for breastfeeding. The café also has some tables with bench seating if you find that easier. When I have visited with friends who bottle-feed, staff brought them hot water to warm their bottles without any problems.

My final rating for Café Loco is a 7.0 out of 10. It is quite busy most of the time but if you can get there during a non-peak time you will have an enjoyable tea.

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Jamie’s Italian

Caught in a downpour today, the Baberoo and I decided to stop somewhere for lunch. On a street full of restaurants, Jamie’s Italian (24-26 George Street, OX1 2AE) was the one that caught my fancy – I needed a real hearty dish of pasta to comfort me after being soaked.

I ordered the Sausage Pappardelle (small size, £6.50), a side of Famous Polenta Chips (£3.25) and a Noble Ice Tea (£3.50). The pappardelle was as rich as I’d hoped it would be (I was glad I’d ordered the small size!), and although I didn’t taste the fennel flavour in the sausage as much as I’d have liked I found it very satisfying. The polenta chips were melt-in-your-mouth good – so light and yet so creamy, with a crisp, crunchy crust. The iced tea was made with Earl Grey and the bergamot flavour was refreshing.

Pasta

So how did Jamie’s Italian do in terms of baby-friendliness? My ratings system (which you can read about in more detail on my About page) includes five criteria: menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding.

Menu: If you need to hold a baby in one arm, there are several things on the menu (all the starters and about half the pastas) that you can eat with one hand, although most of the main courses (steak, chicken, etc) require both knife and fork.  I was pleased to find that my pappardelle was very easy to eat with one hand while holding the Baberoo, who had woken up from her nap just as my food arrived.

Space: There’s ample space to wheel a carriage through the restaurant, but I wouldn’t say it was suitable for groups with several prams; there’s not enough room for more than one carriage at a table. The entrance is difficult to manage since it’s on a bit of an incline, and there are also three steps to go into the main seating area of the restaurant. Staff were happy to help me with the carriage for both of these obstacles, though, and they did it without waking the baby. There was a 15-minute wait for a table (since everyone in Oxford had the same idea as me and ducked in somewhere for lunch as soon as the rain started), during which I had to stand because all the seating in the waiting area was high bar stools, which I didn’t want to sit on while minding the baby carriage. It would have been nice to have some standard chairs as well.

Table

Ambiance: Jamie’s Italian goes for the rustic touch, but there’s an inescapable commercial feel since it’s part of the Jamie Oliver empire. There are things to buy placed strategically around the restaurant, although they’re not right in your face. The staff are friendly and competent and seemed to enjoy working with each other, as attested by a high-five between two of them. Jamie’s is a family-friendly place (almost half the tables had children and the restaurant has colouring sheets to complete as you wait) so staff were all welcoming to children, and they have several Stokke high chairs for the smaller ones to use. The noise level is quite loud; we were seated near the dishwashing area so there was constant clanking of plates. I wouldn’t expect a baby to be able to sleep too long in the bustle of the restaurant.

Jamie's wares

Facilities: The main facilities at Jamie’s Italian are downstairs, but there’s a disabled and baby-changing toilet on the ground floor – although you wouldn’t know it if you didn’t ask; the door has an ‘exit only’ sign on it rather than a sign letting you know there are facilities, and the door itself is almost invisible since it’s part of a section with a mural that includes the door as part of the design. However, I asked and was pleased to find that it was right near my table. An excellent feature of this facility is the sliding door, which means you don’t have to wrestle with your carriage while trying to hold a door open. The room is also well-arranged so that the carriage fits in the space and there’s lots of room to stand and change your baby. It’s clean and somewhat nicer-looking than your standard baby-changing facility because of the nice tiles and the reproduction ‘Thomas Crapper’ cistern.

Changing table

Feeding: I thought perhaps that the metal chairs might be too uncomfortable for me to nurse the Baberoo, but actually they turned out to be fine; they’re wide enough and the seat is comfortable enough so that I didn’t feel like I was perched precariously, about to drop the baby. There are some tables with bench seating, too, if that works better for you. I was in a well-travelled area of the restaurant but only about half the people who passed me realized that I was breastfeeding; I got a couple of encouraging smiles and the staff weren’t fazed at all.

Jamie’s Italian does pretty well on my ratings scale; I give it a 7.75 out of 10.  Its family-friendly atmosphere extends to babies, and you and your baby carriage will be well-accommodated.

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Mamma Mia

The Baberoo and I went out for lunch today with her Gran and Great-Gran at the Summertown branch of Mamma Mia Pizzeria (8 South Parade, OX2 7JL; there’s also a branch in Jericho at 102 Walton Street, OX2 6EB). Family friends have been coming here for over 20 years and I’d heard the pizzas were among the best in Oxford.

I was looking forward to a real Italian stonebaked, thin-crust pizza, and that’s exactly what I got. My Stagioni pizza was generously topped and the smoked ham was particularly tasty. The crust had just the right amount of charring required to impart the best flavour, which is what I look for in an authentic pizza. For pies of this size I am amazed at the price: most pizzas on the menu are £6.95 (including a drink) as part of the Fixed Price Lunch, which runs Monday to Thursday and can also be applied to pasta or salad.  (Mains costing £9.55 and more are charged a £1 supplement during the lunch special. My Stagioni was one of those so my lunch was actually £7.95, but I thought that price was still pretty fabulous.)

Pizza

Pizza is so easy to get wrong that it’s lovely when someone gets it right. But how does Mamma Mia stack up against my five criteria for baby-friendliness? For my reviews I look at menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding. Find out more about my ratings system on my About page.

Menu: Pizza and pasta aren’t the easiest things to eat one-handed while you’re holding a baby, but if you get someone else to slice your pizza for you it’s not that difficult. The pizza at Mamma Mia has a very thin crust, but the top is not soupy like some thin-crust pizzas so it still holds up if you want to eat it with one hand using a libretto fold, pinching the sides in to contain the toppings.  Some of the pastas would be fine to eat while holding a baby in one arm too.

Space: There’s not a huge amount of space between tables, but we managed to get one where I could put the carriage out of the way so I wasn’t obstructing the way for patrons or staff. I did rearrange it a few times because I felt it was perhaps taking up too much space, and if the restaurant had been full I would have had a hard time.  Still, the tables are not as close together as in some other places, and in the summer there’s outdoor seating in front which also looks like it has ample room for a baby carriage or two. I wouldn’t come with my NCT group, however, as the restaurant wouldn’t have room for so many carriages all at once.

Tables

Ambiance: This is a very family-friendly restaurant; many of the patrons were there with children and there were high chairs available for smaller tots. The staff are all very friendly towards babies as well, and talked to the Baberoo a few times (unfortunately, they didn’t get much of a response from her!). The exposed brick walls, checkered tablecloths and wine bottle displays give the place a homey, welcoming atmosphere.

Mirrors

Facilities: To my surprise there was no baby-changing facility, which is a shame since Mamma Mia is such a family-friendly place otherwise. If you live in the Summertown area then you’ll be fine if you can get home again quickly should the need arise, but if you’re visiting the area just for the pizza then you’ll have to have a backup plan for baby-changing.

Feeding: The chairs at Mamma Mia are the cafe-style wooden ones that don’t offer too much support; I decided not to try to feed the Baberoo because neither of us would have been very comfortable. If you can perch on a small chair to feed and your baby isn’t the fussy kind then you’ll be OK.

My final score for Mamma Mia is a 6.5 out of 10; it gets a lower score because of the lack of baby-changing facilities, but the pizzas are well worth going for.

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Modern Art Oxford

I needed a quick snack while out with the Baberoo this morning, so we dropped in to the café at Modern Art Oxford (30 Pembroke Street, OX1 1BP). What started off as a pit stop for a piece of cake turned into a much longer visit, as I became enthralled with both of the current exhibitions, Chapters by Haris Epaminonda and Black Drop by Simon Starling.

Our visit started off with cake and tea, though, and boy, was it good. The Butterscotch Cake I ordered (£3.10) was moist and not too sweet for a butterscotch confection, and my pot of Earl of Grey tea (£2.10) from local company Jeeves and Jericho had a delicate bergamot taste without any tannic bitterness. I also got a Biscuit and Brazil Nut Tiffin (£2.50) to bring home to my husband, but it was half gone before he got any.

Butterscotch cake

Being a museums person myself (until very recently I led the Digital Programmes team at the V&A), I can never pass up an exhibition, so the Baberoo and I entered the poetic, ethereal world of Haris Epaminonda’s Chapters (exhibition ends 8 September). Four film installations comprise the main part of the exhibition, and the staged scenes and shots of natural elements, accompanied by an eerie, haunting soundtrack, were mesmerizing. Chapters also comprises another two rooms with three-dimensional installations.

I was then just in time for a showing of Black Drop, Simon Starling’s 30-minute film about the transit of Venus and its relationship to the beginnings of cinema (exhibition ends 26 August). The film is beautifully shot in black and white, and although I’m not sure I understood everything about the astronomical phenomenon (last seen in June 2012 and not scheduled to happen again until 2117), just watching the film and being swept away by thoughts of the vastness of the universe was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Entrance

So, how did Modern Art Oxford’s café and exhibition space rate on my scale of baby-friendliness? My five criteria are menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding (all explained in detail on my About page).

Menu: There’s one soup and three paninis on the menu each day, plus lots of cakes and other sweet snacks. Paninis aren’t the easiest thing to eat with one hand if you’re holding a baby, and neither is soup – but if you’re dextrous you can do it, and the cakes and other baked goods are easy. Go for tea/coffee and a sweet pick-me-up.

Space: Plenty of it, and there were lots of parents with prams there today. During the summer the café is located in the side entrance to the museum off St. Ebbe’s Street. It’s a vast cavernous space that presumably must have been an entry for trucks or deliveries, but they’ve transformed it into an area that holds several tables with lots of room for baby carriages all the way through to the entrance to the gift shop. In winter the café is indoors on the ground floor, and has just as much space for carriages. The first time I went, in fact, there was a group of mothers with about seven baby carriages.

Tables

Ambiance: In the café it’s laid-back, colourful, and streamlined. Because of the high ceilings it’s light and breezy but also sheltered and quiet. You feel like you could stay for hours. Café staff were very friendly and brought sugar and cutlery to my table, seeing that I had too much to carry. In the museum, the ambiance is what you might expect from a modern art museum: spare and plain, concentrating on the works of art rather than on any décor. Museum staff were also very friendly and held open doors and curtains for me so I could manoeuvre the baby carriage through the gallery spaces.

Tea selection

Facilities: The baby-changing toilet is on the lower level, past a space that is used for talks. Unfortunately, although the facility was clean and fresh-smelling, it caused me problems in terms of space. I could bring the baby carriage in, but then there wasn’t enough room to pull down the changing table or stand next to it to change the baby. I also couldn’t leave the carriage right outside the door because it would have blocked the entrances to both the men’s and women’s toilets. So I had to leave the door open with the carriage half-in and half-out of the bathroom. There were further problems with the layout of the room; once the changing table is pulled down there’s no way to reach the garbage can to throw away used diapers and wipes.  It wasn’t an easy experience and the Baberoo also screamed her way through it (you would too, if the bathroom door was open so everyone could see you).

Changing table

Feeding: I was at a table where everyone could see me breastfeeding, although I didn’t mind, and I got a few smiles of encouragement from museum staff who passed by. There aren’t really any private, quiet corners in the layout of the café, so it’s not for shyer nursing mothers.  There are no benches, sofas, or pillows, but if you and your baby are OK nursing from a standard-sized chair then it’ll be a fine experience.

My final rating for Modern Art Oxford is a 7.75 out of 10. Despite the difficulty with the baby-changing facilities, I’ll be going again for cake and the chance to see world-class art in my new city.

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All Bar One

After a few nights of hardly any rest (the Baberoo is going through a rolling-onto-her-tummy-in-her-sleep phase and wails every hour to be turned over onto her back), I was sorely in need of a meeting with my NCT friends – not to mention a virgin mojito. Four of us headed with our babies to All Bar One (124 High Street, OX1 4DF) for a chat and commiseration session.

Virgin mojito duly obtained, I proceeded to order a Quinoa House Salad (£6) with grilled halloumi (an extra £2). The salad was full of fresh, healthy ingredients, although there could have been more dressing.  Quinoa has a habit of soaking up liquid like a sponge, so it needs quite a lot of it for any flavour to come through. The grilled halloumi was perfection. I could have eaten another whole plate of it.

Quinoa salad with grilled halloumi

The rest of the group had all ordered brownies and ice cream (£5), and who was I to buck the trend? Besides, I needed the chocolate fix. The brownie was the gooey, cakey kind, and was very good indeed. I didn’t have a hot drink to go with it, but as my group knows from experience, any coffee, tea, or hot chocolate comes with a shotglass full of Smarties, which is a delightful tradition.

Brownie and ice cream

So how does All Bar One rate for baby-friendliness against my five criteria of menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding? (You can read more about my ratings scale on my About page.)

Menu: There are several items, mainly on the tapas menu, that can be eaten with one hand if you’re holding your baby in the other arm. Since the Baberoo was being fractious today due to lack of sleep, I went for the salad from the lunch menu and was pleased with how easy it was to eat, even while she was trying to grab my fork. Most of the lunch mains and burgers will need two hands, however, while the wraps are for the dextrous only. Note that the dinner menu will probably be out of bounds – there’s a policy at All Bar One that children under 14 are welcome until 6 pm, after which it’s adults only.

Space: Because it’s a bar and there needs to be standing room for evening patrons, there is plenty of space for baby carriages during the day and many tables are empty on weekday afternoons so you’ll have your choice of seating. Virtually all sections of the restaurant are easy to access with a carriage and there is lots of space for several carriages if you come with a group.

Interior

Ambiance: There was a shift change while we were there and both staff members who looked after us were extremely friendly and helpful. The place is fairly dark unless you’re sitting near the front of the restaurant. If your baby sleeps better in dark spaces then this is useful. It’s also quite cool, which is nice on a hot day like today. The music, however, has too much of a beat; two out of four babies in our party today became quite wired listening to it. (Mine slept!) Otherwise, the look of the place is mainly nondescript with a few rustic touches; it’s a giveaway that All Bar One is a chain, but it doesn’t matter much. If you’re a wine lover you can take a look at their prodigious display and look forward to the evening you finally go out sans baby.

Interior

Facilities: The baby-changing toilet is on the ground floor (all other bathrooms are upstairs). In my experience it sometimes requires a key to get in, although it was open today. The facilities are clean with a standard baby-changing unit, but no large sheets of disposable paper to lay under your baby. It’s got enough space for a baby carriage to fit inside comfortably. All in all, it’s your standard no-frills baby-changing area.

Changing table

Feeding: Three of us were breastfeeding and there was no reaction from staff or patrons. There are some tables with benches or sofas if you find those more comfortable for feeding. One of our party asked for hot water to warm up her baby’s bottle and it was presented to us, very fancily, in a champagne cooler!

The final score for All Bar One for baby-friendliness is an 8 out of 10. It’s a good spot for a mid-afternoon break and you’ll be well looked after.

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Jacobs & Field

This was a lazy Sunday. We decided we’d rather go out for lunch than make it ourselves, and we were both in the mood for a doorstopper of a sandwich. So we headed off, baby in tow, to our local deli, Jacobs & Field (15 Old High Street, Headington, OX3 9HP).

Since I was with my husband and we were passing the Baberoo back and forth, I had the luxury of using both hands to eat. I ordered the salt beef sandwich (£5.50) and a homemade lemonade (£2.75). My husband ordered the Merguez sausage sandwich (£5.50) and an Americano.

Salt beef sandwich

My sandwich proved very difficult to eat even with both hands free – the bread, while delicious, was falling apart with every bite and I ended up using my fork in the end. The salt beef and sauerkraut were both tasty and so was my husband’s Merguez sausage. I thought my lemonade was a bit too sugary, but it was refreshing nonetheless.

Merguez sandwich

The brownie I ordered for dessert (£2.50), however, was a standout. Somehow they manage to cut the pieces in the pan so that you are guaranteed at least one ‘side’ piece; this is my favourite part of a brownie so I was very happy. I can also highly recommend their baklava, which I’ve had on several other occasions. It is the best baklava I’ve had anywhere in the UK, ever, including all the London-based Middle Eastern shops and restaurants.

Brownie

So how did Jacobs & Field stack up against my five criteria for baby-friendliness?  (See my About page for more information about how I rate the menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding for every place I review.)

Menu: Deli food, it seems, usually requires both hands. I pored over the list of sandwiches to see whether there was anything that sounded like it could be eaten one-handed, but Jacobs & Field are pretty generous with their fillings and I doubt that any of their offerings is dainty enough to be consumed while holding a child in one arm. Likewise with the breakfast menu, which always requires a knife and fork. There are some great pies and pasties, and if you’re particularly dextrous you could try eating those one-handed. But your best bet is the quiche or the salad bar, I’d say.

Space: The place is jam-packed both inside and outside, with as many tables as they can fit into the space, along with adornments, decor, and food stacked from floor to ceiling. This is great for customers unencumbered with baby carriages, but it’s quite difficult to fit one into the café.  Even the outside tables are packed pretty close together and a pram would always be blocking someone’s exit. The exceptions to that are the two tables to the right of the entrance; those seem to be the best places to sit outside.  Inside, there’s not much room in the front of the café for a pram, so you must traverse a narrow space by the counter to get through to the back seating, where it’s a little wider and there’s more space for a carriage. That narrow space is exactly where customers have to stand to order and pay for their food. Wait staff also need to go back and forth through the space. I had to wait a while to get through, but once I made it to the back we snagged the table with the comfy couch and parked the Baberoo between it and the (beautiful old-fashioned) water cooler. Because of the lack of space, I’d suggest going at non-peak times so you can wheel your carriage through to the back, or, alternatively, go on a day that’s not brilliantly sunny so that you have a hope of getting an outside seat.

Salad bar and bookshelf

Ambiance:
A vintagey, home-grown vibe, with bunting strung all over and vintage china and homewares for sale alongside boxes and jars of deli delights, some produced by Jacobs & Field. It’s a very pretty place with a relaxed atmosphere. The music is very much in the background; I hardly noticed it at all except for when the Baberoo was bouncing up and down to ‘Rollin’ on the River’. It’s a bit warm inside, so be prepared to shed a layer or two. The staff are usually very friendly, although when it’s extremely busy they have less time to be attentive.

Corner table

Facilities: This must be one of the cutest café bathrooms ever; it has displays of vintage china and homeware and framed artworks. The Baberoo really enjoyed staring up at the bunting-bedecked ceiling while we were in there, and the wooden counter was supplied with a baby-changing pad. Everything was clean and fresh-smelling and well-lit.  There’s ample space to fit a baby carriage in with you, although to get it in you might have to ask someone at the table closest to the toilet to move their seat, which can block the door.  I did feel slightly guilty that all the other patrons would have to wait for us – and diaper-changing sometimes takes a while – since it’s the only customer toilet and it’s constantly in use.

Bathroom

Feeding: The comfy couch where we were sitting also has plenty of pillows, so the Baberoo was mainly happy during her feed; other tables have smallish chairs so might be more difficult for comfort while feeding. No customers or staff seemed to care that we were breastfeeding. I got a smile of encouragement from one patron, which was nice.

My final score for Jacobs & Field is a 7.75 out of 10.  If you’re solo with the baby, go at a time when they’re not very busy, order one of their brownies, and you’ll be in for a treat.

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Big Society

Last night I saw a tweeted picture of a pulled pork burger from Big Society (95 Cowley Road, OX4 1HR) and nearly dragged my husband out to get it right then and there. Then I remembered that there was a baby sleeping upstairs and that I hadn’t been out past six pm for nearly seven months. Crestfallen, I hung onto the thought of succulent pulled pork and promised myself I’d get it for lunch the next day.

After the Baberoo’s first swimming lesson this morning, I bundled her into the baby carriage and set off for Big Society. The place is relatively new (it opened in February this year) but has been getting a lot of buzz for its nightlife. It opens at noon, serving food all day before the night-time crowds begin to queue out the door. Famished from the swimming lesson and having forgotten to eat breakfast beforehand (which happens surprisingly often when you have a baby), I ordered the pulled pork burger with fries (this week’s special, £6.25) and, whimpering with hunger, parked myself at one of the cafeteria-style tables with the Baberoo sleeping in her carriage.

Pulled pork burger and fries

My pulled pork and fries arrived on a metal cafeteria tray with a side of mustardy coleslaw and a pickle on top, a nice touch. The pulled pork burger (I’d call it a sandwich myself, although it was in a burger bun) was overpowered by BBQ sauce; it needed less in order to let the flavour of the pork itself stand out. The fries were your standard shoestring fry in a hugely generous portion. I enjoyed the meal, but from what I’ve read in other reviews I’ll go for one of their regular burgers next time.

So how did Big Society stack up against my five criteria for baby-friendliness? The criteria, further explained on my About page, are menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding.

Menu: Well, a pulled pork burger is just about the hardest thing to eat with only one hand, but I wanted it so badly that I ordered it anyway, hoping that the Baberoo would keep sleeping.  She didn’t.  But I bribed her with a toy and she was quiet in her carriage for long enough for me to finish most of it. If I’d needed to order a one-handed meal, though, I’d have had to stick to the sides or salads. Most of the food on the menu (hot dogs, burgers, fried chicken) is meant to be savoured with both hands free and lots of paper towels in the vicinity.

Space: There are lots of wide-open spaces at Big Society, which I’m sure are packed with people in the evening but were totally free at 1 pm (although this is summertime and I’m told that during term time it’s hopping with university students at lunch).  The space inside could have handled about ten baby carriages without blocking anyone’s path and the garden could have taken the same. There were a couple of steps outside the front entrance that were a bit hard to handle with the pram (I’m sure that night-time revellers wearing stilettos also have trouble with them), but out of nowhere a helpful member of staff materialized and helped me get in.

Big Society interior

Ambiance: Retro hipster meets caff, with lots of natural light and a sunny garden that I didn’t realize was so huge until I looked around the corner and saw that all the other patrons were sitting outside. The music – which I probably should have recognized but didn’t, because I am old now and cranky and have a baby so I don’t know who anyone is any more – had enough of a beat to wake the Baberoo up, but she was just finishing her nap anyway. It was a nice, relatively quiet, calm, neighbourhood hangout type of ambiance. I wished I’d brought a book so I could stay and read in the garden.

Big Society interior

Facilities: No baby-changing facilities, which doesn’t come as a surprise. After all, this place’s main evening clientele won’t be bringing their babies. But with all the space available in there during the day, it could be a great hangout for parents who live close enough to be confident that they could get home quickly enough in case of a diaper emergency.

Feeding: I don’t think more than one patron walked by as I was breastfeeding the Baberoo, and I think the only person who noticed that I was feeding her was the server behind the bar. There are a few bench seats if that’s more comfortable than a chair for you and your baby.

My final score for Big Society is a 6.25 for baby-friendliness; it loses points on my ratings scale because of the lack of baby-changing facilities and the menu of deliciously sloppy foods that require both hands to eat. However, if you live close by and you know your baby is going to sleep for a while in their pram before you have to go home for a diaper change, head on down there and revel in the quiet atmosphere before the university term starts again.

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The Jam Factory

My first review is of the Jam Factory (Hollybush Row, 26 Park End Street, OX1 1HU).  Today isn’t the first time I’ve been here; the Baberoo and I have visited several times, most often with my NCT group.  The group has been meeting for six months now, trying out Oxford’s cafés and restaurants and naturally gravitating back to the most baby-friendly places. As trepidatious new mothers back in January/February we found the Jam Factory, and it’s still the one we go back to most often. My reviews will be covering eateries I’ve been to before as well as ones that are new to me, but I thought I’d start with a place I love.

Jam Factory interior

Today the Baberoo and I arrived a bit too early for the lunch menu, so I tried out the Factory Frittata (£7.50) with a glass of red berry iced tea (£2). Alongside the iced tea came the rest of the pot (freshly brewed and still hot) and the promise of more ice whenever I needed it. The meal was very much like a full English breakfast (bacon, sausage, beans, mushroom, and tomato) with the eggs in frittata form, binding it all together.  I liked that the sausage and bacon were still whole, and I got four (count ’em!) rashers of bacon, which pleased me greatly.

Frittata

So how does the Jam Factory rate for baby-friendliness?  Point by point, here’s how it does against my criteria (menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding). For a comprehensive explanation of these criteria, please see my About page.

Menu: At any time of the day you’ll find at least one item that can be eaten one-handed, which is something I never kept in mind until I had a baby and realized that one arm would need to be free in case she needed to be held! Eating one-handed is somewhat of an art and I still haven’t perfected it. My frittata today wasn’t a one-hander, but the Baberoo was sleeping in her carriage and then happily playing with a toy while I ate. If she’d been fractious, I’d have ordered a breakfast burrito instead!

Space: The Jam Factory has ample space for baby carriages, especially in its café section and its outdoor seating area. I’ve been there with at least six NCT friends and our prams all fit without impeding the other patrons’ means of egress.  And it’s not just me and my NCT pals: I saw another group of five mothers with prams in the café today. The Jam Factory is fairly busy with people working on their laptops (with free wifi) but there is usually space to fit carriages in.

Ambiance: Lovely, and today a staff member admired the Baberoo, which is always nice. It also showcases interesting art and design (there’s always an exhibit in the café – as well as in the dedicated exhibition space – and there are lovely hand-knit tea cosies for sale), is well-lit, and the music (Aretha Franklin today) is neither too loud nor too soft and won’t irritate your baby with a dancey bassline. The espresso machine does make a very loud sound and in my experience it can wake up sleeping babies, so don’t sit right next to it if you can help it.

Teapots

The only beef I really have with the Jam Factory’s ambiance is that it’s so hot. It wasn’t just this particular summery day (we’re in the middle of a three-week heatwave! This Canadian can’t believe it!), it’s just generally really hot in the building. The first time I visited – on a cold winter day – I had to take the Baberoo’s outfit off piece by piece until she was practically down to her diaper. I’m not sure what it is about the building – it does have glass ceilings so that doesn’t help – but they sure could use some air conditioning.  By the time I walked out of there I was as limp as wilted lettuce. A nice warm room might be helpful in getting small babies to sleep, but this kind of heat is uncomfortable.

Facilities: Go for the door with the D; it’s a disabled toilet that also doubles as a baby-changing room. Unlike most baby-changing facilities, the space to lay the baby on is a plain wooden tabletop-type area. It doesn’t have any guard rails so be careful not to let your baby roll. There’s also no disposable sheets to lay your baby on; I have my Thula eco mat (a kind of baby-sized yoga mat) so I just spread it on the table and the Baberoo had a soft and clean surface to lie on.

Changing table

The bathroom is very small; there was just enough room for me to wedge my (admittedly large) baby carriage in and there wasn’t much room left for me to stand. I am not a fan of leaving my empty baby carriage unattended, anywhere, for any reason, because it was damn expensive and I don’t trust anyone (although I doubt that the nice patrons of the Jam Factory would take it!). So I like having a little more room in the bathroom to bring it in with me. That said, the facilities smelled very fresh, they were clean, there was natural light coming through an actual window, and while it wasn’t decorated in any particular way it wasn’t horribly stark like baby-changing areas can be.

Feeding: I breastfed the Baberoo while we were sitting at the table and no one (patrons or staff) even blinked an eye. There are plenty of couches and bench seating that can make breastfeeding much more comfortable (the Baberoo is a reluctant public feeder, not because she cares that she’s in public – nor do I – but because she’s so used to the comfy pillow we use at home, so I appreciate it when there are seating choices other than chairs). I know from NCT group experience that bottle-feeding mums are also given prompt attention when they ask for heated water to warm their bottles.

Final rating: the Jam Factory is a lovely place and very baby-friendly. In my book it gets an 8.5 out of 10.

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