Category Archives: Central Oxford

Ask Italian

The Baberoo and I are back in Oxford after our holiday in Canada, so our 2014 adventures around town have begun! After a busy morning in the city centre, the Baberoo fell asleep in her stroller and I decided we’d stop in for lunch at ASK Italian (5 George Street, OX1 2AT).

I started with the small Antipasto Classico Board (£5.95, or £11.95 for the larger size), which included buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto, two kinds of salami, rocket and tomato salad, and rosemary-sea salt bread with olive tapenade. While the meats were nothing to write home about (I couldn’t taste the difference between the Milano and finocchiona salami), the bread and olive tapenade were truly enjoyable. I finished the plate while the Baberoo was still sleeping.

Ask Italian antipasti

Knowing the Baberoo would want lunch as soon as she woke up, I ordered the half-size of Spaghetti al Pomodoro to share with her (£6.25 including a side salad, or £7.75 for the regular size without salad), but I switched the pasta to the gluten-free fusilli (which is available for any of the pasta dishes), not because we eat gluten-free but because fusilli is a lot easier for a little hand to grab. We’ve had this pasta dish before at ASK Italian and the Baberoo has enjoyed it. Unfortunately, I had forgotten that she was wearing a brand-new cream-coloured sweater I gave her for her birthday, and I didn’t have one of our impermeable neoprene bibs with me (top mealtime tip: neoprene bibs with sleeves – we use the Ultrabib from Bibetta – are the best thing ever). I put two regular bibs on her, sat her on my lap instead of a high chair so I could hold the bibs in place, and hoped for the best.

Ask Italian pasta

The Baberoo enjoyed her pasta until she suddenly decided that she was done and wanted to get down from Mommy’s lap Right Now, and with an ear-splitting scream started in on one of her delightful tantrums. These are a new thing in our household and I guess we’re lucky it didn’t start earlier (and I know it’ll get way worse in the next couple of years, because at least now I can still contain her squirming with only one arm, but wait until she starts punching and kicking…). But it still sucks when it’s in public. I got my first-ever ‘can’t you control your baby’ look from another diner (lady, I forgive you, but next time try to cut a mom some slack, ok?) and we left in a hurry. Ah well. She was her usual cheerful self five minutes later. Bonus: even with the thrashing around, we miraculously didn’t get any tomato sauce on the cream-coloured sweater.

So, how did ASK Italian rate for baby-friendliness? My five criteria are menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding (more about these on my About page).

Menu: If you need to eat with one hand while holding a baby in the other arm, there’s plenty on the menu that you can choose from. Most of the pastas, risottos, ravioli, and salads would be OK to eat one-handed. The pizzas might be manageable, while the meat dishes and panini would be more difficult.

Space: We were there during a lunch hour that wasn’t too full, so there was enough space between tables to get a baby carriage through the restaurant (even navigating between other prams – there seemed to be a lot of babies there today!). If it had been fuller it wouldn’t have been as easy, and certainly I wouldn’t recommend more than one baby carriage to a table. Some of the booth seating – as I belatedly realized after requesting a booth table – is quite close together, so that might not be your best choice.

Ask Italian interior

Ambiance: It’s a chain restaurant and it looks like a chain restaurant, but it has nice enough decor and good tables and chairs, as well as a wall of drawings done by children (while they waited for their meals, presumably), so it’s not devoid of character. The staff are friendly and helpful and seem to get along very well with each other, always a good thing to see.

Facilities: The baby-changing facilities are easy to access, although in a room that looked quite big I had a little trouble turning the baby carriage around so that I could get it out of the way. The pull-down changing table (made of enamelled (?) metal) is unusual and even kind of pretty compared to the usual plastic ones, but it’s a bit chillier against skin so you might want to put a cloth under your baby.

Ask Italian baby changing facilities

Feeding: It was the Baberoo’s lunchtime so I ordered the half-size pasta from the regular menu, but I see from the ASK Italian website that there’s also a kids’ menu (which we weren’t offered) that has kid-sized mains for £6.25. They’re mainly pizza and pasta with flavours that appeal to children. If you’re breastfeeding, the padded wooden chairs look OK but are on the small side. Booth seats are comfy but awfully close together so you might be jammed up against someone else. With the number of babies in the place, I would guess that the restaurant would be supportive of breastfeeding mothers, although I didn’t try it myself while we were there.

For baby-friendliness I give ASK Italian a 7.25 out of 10. Judging from today’s clientele, many other parents already know that this is a solid choice for somewhere to eat out with a baby.

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Giraffe

Giraffe is a chain known for its kid-friendliness, so it came as no surprise that on the day the Baberoo and I visited the central Oxford location (71 George Street, OX1 2BQ) there were kids or babies at almost every table. We were starving from doing so much Christmas shopping and we really needed lunch pronto, and Giraffe is one of the places that I know can be relied upon to get your order to you quickly.

Although Giraffe offers a very reasonably-priced £6.25 lunch special from Monday-Friday, I decided to go for the BBQ chicken and smoked cheddar quesadilla (£9.25) and a Coke (£2.45). The quesadilla was a very generous size and came with a salsa for dipping and a side of slaw. It didn’t press any buttons on my deliciousness barometer, but it was fine and filling and easy to eat while I was feeding the Baberoo.

Giraffe quesadilla

Although we’d brought some fruit from home it wasn’t enough for the Baberoo’s lunch, so I ordered her something from the kids’ menu. The entrees are all under £6 and there’s also a meal deal that includes a main plus a drink for £4.95, all day, any day of the week. I got the Baberoo the Italian pizza bites (£4.05), which come with a side of fries and a salad. It arrived in record time; she only did a little bit of screeching when I didn’t serve her pre-meal grapes as fast as she would have liked. The Baberoo enjoyed the pizza bites, which were made with nice fluffy focaccia bread, and had fun examining the salad leaves minutely before eating them. (Sorry, kiddo, but Mommy had to eat all your fries for you because you’re not allowed to have them yet. Ha ha ha!)

Giraffe pizza bites

Certainly Giraffe is kid-friendly and caters to a family audience. So how does it do when it comes to baby-friendliness? My ratings system (explained in full on my About page) takes into account menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding.

Menu: For parents, there’s plenty on the Giraffe menu that can be eaten one-handed if you need to hold your baby in the other arm. Breakfast/brunch items, salads, pastas and some of the Giraffe ‘favourites’ all give you good choices for one-handed eating. It’s nice that they have a whole kids’ menu, too, and the portions (for both adults and children) are generous.

Space: There’s ample space to move around the restaurant with your baby carriage, although you probably wouldn’t get to park more than one carriage at a table. Go for one of the circular tables rather than the booths because you’ll have more of a choice for where to put your buggy. One annoying thing is that it’s somewhat difficult to enter the restaurant; there are two heavy glass doors and you have to turn a corner. Usually a staff member will be able to help you but it’s too bad the doors don’t open more easily. It seems like a no-brainer to provide easy access in a kid-friendly place.

Giraffe interior

Ambiance: Colourful, festive, and global. The decor in the restaurant will be pleasing to children and babies; it’s bright and fun. The staff are very helpful and friendly to children. We were offered a high chair and a kids’ menu right away. On the day we went, it looked like there were only two members of staff taking care of all the tables, but they were in very good humour and seemed to be having fun despite being run off their feet. They also give out balloons to children, which is always nice (unless your baby is scared of them – I know I was as a child!).

Giraffe wall

Facilities: The bright orange baby-changing/disabled toilet is a fine size and has a good layout, although the bin should be closer to the changing table. On the day we visited it was clean and well-aired despite not having a window. It suffers from a narrow pull-down changing table without a shelf to put your bag on, but there’s space to hang your bag from the corner of the table. If you’re waiting in the corridor for someone to come out, you may have to back up quite a long way when they leave the changing room as it’s a very narrow corridor.

Giraffe baby-changing facilities

Feeding: No one minded that we had brought some of our own food for part of the Baberoo’s lunch. I’ve also fed her entirely with home-prepared food on a different visit and it didn’t raise any eyebrows. I haven’t breastfed her at Giraffe, but the ambiance suggests that it would be welcomed, and you can choose from tables with regular seats or bench seating, whichever is more comfortable for you.

In total, Giraffe gets an 8 out of 10 for baby-friendliness. It’s a reliable place to stop in with a young one and you won’t be kept waiting long for your meal.

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Pitt Rivers Museum

Yesterday was day 19 of illness in the Oxford Mommy household. Two back-to-back colds have caused us to cancel all our classes, playdates, and outings for the last couple of weeks and we were going stir-crazy. So I was racking my brains for somewhere to take the Baberoo where she wouldn’t touch things that other babies would then touch and get sick, because I would never want to inflict this cold on anyone else. All of a sudden I had an epiphany: a fun place where you don’t touch stuff? A museum, of course! So we set out for the Pitt Rivers Museum (South Parks Road, OX1 3PP, admission free) where I figured that I would get a little boost from looking at the shrunken heads and realizing that I still don’t look that bad, even after two and a half weeks of no sleep.

Pitt Rivers view from top gallery

The Pitt Rivers is a worldwide anthropological collection, with objects displayed by type rather than by culture or age. Whether you’re interested in musical instruments, boomerangs, clothing, body art, spears, or toys, or just coming to browse through the myriad objects and traditions that the museum houses, you’ll always discover something interesting and unusual. The old-style exhibition cases with their tiny handwritten labels give the museum a dark, enchanting atmosphere. But it’s not musty or boring, and during our visit there was a group of schoolchildren on a booked education session who were really enjoying vivid storytelling by a staff member.

Pitt Rivers ball games case

The Baberoo, being a little cranky because of her cold, was not terribly impressed by the collections, but I enjoyed looking at them, especially the textiles and the ‘ball games’ case. I was also pleased to note, after inspecting the ‘Treatment of the Dead’ case, that I did indeed still look better than a shrunken head. (We’ll have to see if that still applies in a week or so if we’re still not sleeping at night, though.) I do think that the Pitt Rivers collections appeal to older children rather than babies, so if you choose this museum as a destination it’ll mainly be for yourself. Once your kid gets to the age where they can ask all sorts of questions, it’ll be a great place for them too.

So how does the Pitt Rivers rate for baby-friendliness? I’m rating it on my ‘attractions’ scale of 8 points, 2 each for space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding. For more about my ratings system, see my About page.

Space: The building the Pitt Rivers shares with the currently-closed Museum of Natural History (reopening in 2014) is an old-style Victorian building and has lots of stairs at the front, so there’s a special entrance at the side for prams and wheelchairs. The signage was good until I got to where I thought I was supposed to go in, and then I was stymied until a staff member helped me. Once inside, there’s a route to follow to get to a lift, which will bring you to the main floor of the Museum of Natural History, which you walk through until you get to the Pitt Rivers. The entrance to the Pitt Rivers is its gift shop, and there’s a platform lift to get to the main court area from there. There’s another (very large) lift that will take you from the court level to the two gallery levels.

Pitt Rivers lift

With all the cases in the court area, you might think there wasn’t enough room to push a baby carriage around, but actually there was plenty of space to get through, even with our very large Uppababy Vista. It was fun to go around corners and be surprised by the contents of the next case, and I never ran into any areas where I couldn’t get through.

Pitt Rivers view from court gallery

Ambiance: Staff were extremely friendly and helpful, which made up for the bad signage at the front. The museum is quite dark and pretty quiet, so it may be a good bet if you want a sleeping baby to stay asleep (unless there’s a school activity going on, in which case you can hear it throughout the space). I also personally appreciate the feeling of being surrounded by things made of natural materials that have taken time, skill, and attention to craft – it’s the kind of atmosphere that can soothe my most uneasy, illness-induced addled-brain feelings.

Facilities: There is a baby-changing area on the court gallery level. It is very pretty. But whoever designed it didn’t think about needing to bring a pushchair in with you, so it is the narrowest possible space. We certainly couldn’t navigate it with our large pushchair and I doubt even the smallest umbrella stroller could make it into the space along with a parent and still have enough room for the door to close. It’s a shame, because it’s a nice-looking room and you can tell the designer tried to maximize the space by putting the changing table directly above the sink.

Pitt Rivers baby changing

However, you are in luck because there’s another baby-changing room elsewhere in the museum, and it’s huge. You need to go back out via the same route you came in, through the Museum of Natural History and down in the lift to the corridor leading to the wheelchair/pram exit. In that corridor there is a massive disabled/baby change toilet which has all the space you need.

Piitt Rivers disabled and baby changing toilet

Feeding: I didn’t feed the Baberoo while we were at the museum, and of course actual food and drink wouldn’t be permitted inside the museum building. As for breastfeeding, I’ve been happy to do so in many other museums, although there aren’t too many seats available at the Pitt Rivers. The only ones I saw were within the court gallery, right amongst the display cases. I don’t think there were any in the non-gallery areas (ie, the corridors, near the lifts, etc), but I did see someone sitting on a bench in the area outside the Pitt Rivers entrance (in the under-construction Museum of Natural History). Your choices are limited for sure, and I would probably go elsewhere for a feed.

The Pitt Rivers Museum gets a 5.75 out of 8 on my baby-friendliness scale. It’s a nice place to go for a quiet and extremely interesting afternoon away from the bright lights and big crowds of central Oxford – not only during this pre-Christmas rush season, but at any time of the year.

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The Big Bang

(Updated August 2015: The Big Bang has now closed.)

One might be forgiven for assuming that all the restaurants in the Oxford Castle Quarter are chains – after all, many well-known names are housed in this restored and reinvigorated ancient castle and prison. But The Big Bang (42 Oxford Castle Quarter, OX1 1AY) is a staunchly independent British restaurant that uses locally sourced ingredients, and is Oxford’s only sausage-and-mash specialist. In addition to boasting a huge selection of sausages, it also hosts jazz evenings and art exhibitions, and is helmed by a most effervescent owner, Max, who greets you personally and even sits down at your table with you to chat. Perhaps I am easily pleased, but when someone calls this soon-to-be-40, permanently-exhausted mommy a ‘young lady’ she is tickled pink. I loved the place as soon as I walked in.

The obvious decision in terms of food is the Big Bang trio (£12.49), which lets you mix and match from the extensive sausage repertoire. Never one to shy away from a challenge, I selected the wild boar and pigeon sausage (‘Don’t even ask, just be brave and try them out’, says the menu), the smoked bacon sausage, and the pork and apple sausage, with spring onion mash and apple cider gravy (£1 extra). The smoked bacon was my favourite, but the wild boar and pigeon came close. I goofed when I ordered the pork and apple sausage, which was more subtle and therefore overpowered by the other two; I should have gone for the garlicky Toulouse instead. Ah well, next time.

The Big Bang trio

I thoroughly enjoyed my meal, and am kicking myself for not trying The Big Bang earlier – especially during the summer, when they built a beach outside the restaurant, using 36 tonnes of sand and 12 palm trees, and had a Stay-and-Play session for children twice a week all summer long. I don’t know how I missed this, and I will be first in line next year if it happens again.

Here’s how The Big Bang rates for baby-friendliness according to my five criteria of menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding (for more on these, see my About page).

Menu: Since nearly everything on the menu is sausage, you’ll have to be adept at using one hand to eat a banger if you need to hold a baby in the other arm. But this is easily done (best technique: spear the sausage directly in the middle and eat from the ends to the centre – no cutting required as long as you can keep it on the fork!) Mash is easy to eat with one hand, and so are the peas and cabbage that come with each meal.

Space: The best space for anyone with a baby carriage is somewhere near the entrance to the restaurant; there are a few individual tables, which are your best choice, and there are also tables with benches, which could work in a pinch. Further into the restaurant, the tables are quite close together and there isn’t much space for a stroller. When the restaurant is full I doubt you could get one between tables very easily.

The Big Bang seating

Ambiance: The ambiance at The Big Bang is truly wonderful and service is stellar. As I approached the door, one of the Sausageers (yes, that’s what they call the staff!) ran to open it for me. The Baberoo received many compliments, and hilariously, my Sausageer and I were both instructed in Max’s foolproof method to tell a girl baby from a boy baby (it’s all in the eyes, apparently). When we went to visit the baby-changing facilities the doors were also opened for us without my needing to ask. And the homey way that the staff sit down with you (iPads in hand to take your order) while you choose your meal is very appealing. They have truly cracked how to be helpful and personable, and it’s obvious that they love what they’re doing.

Facilities: The baby-changing facility is light and clean and has enough space to move your baby carriage around. There is a slight odour of clogged drain; I’m going to put this down to the fact that the Oxford Castle surroundings are over a thousand years old. The changing table is a pull-down one of the narrower type and there’s no shelf for your changing bag.

The Big Bang baby-changing facilities

Feeding: We were offered a high chair right away, and my Sausageer also brought a plate and spoon for me to use for the Baberoo’s lunch without my even asking. The Baberoo ate her meal (brought from home) with gusto and tried my peas, which she loved. I didn’t breastfeed her on this occasion but if you are breastfeeding you can choose either a table with regular chairs or a table with benches, whichever suits you better. There are also a few squishy, cushy armchairs near the entrance, if you can snag one.

In total, The Big Bang gets a 7.75 out of 10 for baby-friendliness. Go during a weekday lunchtime to ensure that there’s enough space for your baby carriage, and revel in the fun and friendly atmosphere.

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Byron

I’ll never be known as the world’s biggest meat eater, but from time to time I feel like I simply must have a big, juicy hamburger RIGHT AWAY. This was one of those days, so the Baberoo and I headed to Byron (33-35 George Street, OX1 2AY) so I could treat myself while she napped.

I ordered the limited-time-only Le Smokey (£9.75, available until 31 October), which comes with basically everything I most want on a burger: crispy bacon, smoked Cheddar, crispy fried onions, pickles, and smoked chilli barbecue sauce. I waited a while to get it (the restaurant was not particularly full but it still took 20 minutes to get to my table), but then again, you can’t rush a good burger and Byron is not a fast-food joint. It was also cooked truly medium-rare, exactly as I had requested. It was delicious in every way. I gobbled it down like there was no tomorrow.

Byron Le Smokey burger

Even though I already had crispy onions on my burger, I made the gluttonous decision to order a side of onion rings (£3.25). I am a huge fan of onion rings and I already know that Byron does them the way I like: huge pieces of onion in with a nicely spiced batter that’s crispy but not overdone. Having practically inhaled the burger before the Baberoo woke up, I took my time with the rings while feeding her. I washed it all down with an A&W root beer (£2.95); oh, the memories of high school that beverage invokes! I haven’t found it served anywhere else in Oxford yet, so for me it is a rare treat.

Byron onion rings

I truly enjoyed my meal and will always go back to Byron, which I’ve loved since my London days. Now, how does Byron rate on the baby-friendliness scale? My five criteria (which are explained further on my About page) are menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding.

Menu: Byron’s hamburgers are big and messy and that’s the way it should be. But they aren’t easy to eat with one hand while holding a squealing baby, as I can attest from today’s experience. The Baberoo woke up from her nap and absolutely refused to sit anywhere but my lap, so I had to hold her while eating. Luckily I had devoured most of the burger already, which meant I could use a fork for the rest, but there is no way you could start on one of these without the use of both hands. There are salads on the menu. The salads look good. But come on, who goes to a place that makes such good burgers and then orders the salad? Do yourself a favour and go when your baby is either napping or in a good enough mood to sit in a high chair so you can use both hands to pick up your burger.

Space: There’s a fair amount of space in the restaurant at lunchtime; you can definitely fit a baby carriage next to a table with no problem. The staff were helpful in selecting a table for me close to the baby-changing facilities and in a location where I wouldn’t be blocking anyone’s way with the buggy. It wouldn’t be suitable for more than one pram at a table, though, and if there are more people in the restaurant it could begin to be a tight squeeze.

Byron restaurant interior

Ambiance: The staff were extremely friendly and helpful with both the baby-changing and the high chair. The restaurant itself is open and welcoming. There are skylights but the general ambiance, especially in the back, is slightly dim, which is great if your baby is napping. There is catchy music playing in the background but not loud enough to wake a sleeping baby.

Facilities: The baby-changing facility requires a key to get in, but the staff will let you know where that is so you can use the room at any time. It’s clean and large enough to manoeuvre your stroller inside. There’s a pull-down changing table, although no shelf for your bag.

Byron baby-changing facilities

Feeding: Byron has several types of chairs at its tables so you can request a table that has chairs that look comfy to you. There’s also bench seating and padded booth seats. I was in a booth but the table was a little close to the seat so it might have been difficult to hold the Baberoo while breastfeeding; however, I didn’t breastfeed her on this occasion so I can’t say for sure. There are high chairs for babies who are eating food, although the Baberoo rejected the chair and made me sit her on my lap while she dropped mango and rice cakes all over me. We did not look elegant while we ate; thank goodness Byron isn’t the kind of place where that’s necessary.

In total, Byron rates a 7.0 out of 10 on the baby-friendliness scale. Because of the messiness of burgers in general, make sure you will have both hands free or go with someone else so you can swap the baby back and forth while you enjoy your meal.

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Ashmolean Dining Room

I am a museum lover. I’ve worked in the sector for 12 years (although I’m currently on hiatus while I work as a stay-at-home mom) and I have always thought bringing children to museums is a great thing to do from even the earliest age. The Baberoo has enjoyed several visits to the Ashmolean already, and on our last visit I decided to try out the Dining Room while she napped.

The Ashmolean Dining Room (Beaumont Street, OX1 2PH) is the swankier of the two eateries at the museum; I’ll review the downstairs café separately sometime in the future. The Dining Room is on the top floor of the museum and boasts an outdoor terrace with views of Oxford’s dreaming spires. It has a menu of fresh seasonal ingredients, using local suppliers where possible. I ordered the guinea fowl with cavolo nero (black cabbage) and sauteed potatoes (£14.50) along with a Fentiman’s Lemonade (£2.95). The guinea fowl was moist and tender, as were the vegetables. Sitting on the rooftop was a thrilling experience – not necessarily for the views, which were partially obscured by potted plants, but because it’s October and it was still warm enough to sit outside and enjoy the sun.

Ashmolean Dining Room guinea fowl

For dessert I ordered the chilli and caramel roasted pineapple with sweet ginger crème anglaise (£5). While the pineapple was nice, it didn’t have the truly caramelized flavour I was hoping for, and the caramel sauce itself was too thin. The chilli, caramel, and ginger were competing rather than complementing each other. I should have gone for the salted caramel cheesecake instead. Still, I had an enjoyable meal and the Baberoo only woke up as I was finishing my dessert, so I had a little time to myself.

Ashmolean Dining Room roasted pineapple

Let me digress a little and talk about the museum in regards to babies for a moment before I get down to reviewing the baby-friendliness of the Dining Room. The Ashmolean has quite a comprehensive family programme, encompassing downloadable museum trails, free summer activities for kids, an Activity Station near the entrance to the museum, and free year-round drop-in creative sessions, as well as free entry to special exhibitions for kids under 18. More information is available on the Family Events page. There are several choices for under-5s (so it’s great if you’re bringing a toddler or pre-schooler along with your babe-in-arms), although I don’t think babies would be old enough to enjoy any of the activities. I would say the museum is mainly kid-friendly rather than baby-friendly. Still, even babies can enjoy the spectacular art and archaeology collections if you take them round the museum.

Now, how does the Ashmolean Dining Room rate on the baby-friendliness scale? In my reviews of eateries I look at five elements: menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding, all of which are explained in detail on my About page.

Menu: The menu is quite small and changes regularly, so I can’t predict how many dishes will be available for you to eat with one hand while you hold a baby in the other arm – but going by the menu on the day I visited, there were a few options (charcuterie platter, fish, soup, salad) that could be eaten with one hand. The mains, however, generally require both hands to be free.

Space: The terrace is quite large and has lots of space between tables. The dining room itself has less space, although certainly you could fit a baby carriage at a table. More than one parent with a baby carriage, though, and you’re probably out of luck. This is not necessarily because of the amount of space in the restaurant, but because of the inconvenience of getting in and out. Unfortunately, only one lift in the museum goes to the fourth floor where the restaurant is located, and this lift is in constant use. I got off on the wrong floor on the way down and then had to wait – I kid you not – 10 minutes for the lift to come back again without having too many people or trolleys in it. There was a wheelchair user waiting behind me and luckily we both managed to squeeze in, otherwise she’d have been waiting even longer. The museum is accessible, but it’s not necessarily easily accessible.

Ashmolean Dining Room terrace

Ambiance: The Ashmolean Dining Room has beautiful tables and seating; it’s a very pleasant place to be, as is the rooftop terrace. The staff are friendly and offer high chairs for babies. I didn’t see any other babies or children there during my visit; I think probably parents who bring their kids to the museum choose the downstairs cafe instead because it’s cheaper and easier to get to. That said, there is a kid-friendly menu at the Dining Room.

Ashmolean Dining Room interior

Facilities: There’s a baby-changing facility in the disabled toilet right outside the entrance to the Dining Room. The room is clean and bright and the pull-down changing table is a good size. There’s no shelf to put your changing bag near the changing table, but there’s a low ledge behind you which might do for a place to set your bag down.

Ashmolean Dining Room baby-changing facilities

Feeding: I didn’t do any feeding on this occasion because the Baberoo was napping for most of it. I would have felt more comfortable on an indoor seat than an outdoor one if I’d been breastfeeding, but if I had been using a high chair for her it wouldn’t have mattered whether it was inside or outside. There are regular chairs and bench seating (and a few comfy chairs right at the entrance to the restaurant) so there are different choices for breastfeeding in comfort.

In my book the Ashmolean Dining Room gets a 7.25 out of 10 for baby-friendliness. It’s not necessarily easy to get to, and it’s not inexpensive, but if you’re feeling like treating yourself to something fancy you’ll enjoy yourself here.

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Las Iguanas

Now that the Baberoo is over her two-week cold (it was her first one, and it was a doozy!), we’ve resumed our usual schedule of going out, having fun, and generally swanning around town. Our first stop today was Las Iguanas (40-41 Park End Street, OX1 1JD) for a Latin-inspired lunch.

The Baberoo ate rice cakes from home (while sitting in a restaurant high chair for the very first time! I don’t know why I waited so long to try her in one; it worked great!) and I ordered the Gringas, a bean and cheese quesadilla with smoked chicken topping (£5.50). It was spicy and cheesy, and paired well with my Apple Mojo-less (£3.10), a sweet and refreshing version of a mojito. Those of you who have read my reviews so far know that I’m an aficionado of the virgin mojito, so I order it everywhere I can. The one at Las Iguanas is quite sweet compared to others, but I like it that way. It was a very satisfying lunch.

Las Iguanas Chicken Gringas

But I didn’t stop there, because I saw the Creamy Caramel Cake (£5) on the menu. Even more than I love a mojito I love a Tres Leches cake, so I ordered it. Reader, I gobbled it down so fast that I forgot to take a picture! Many apologies. It was a lovely and delicious cake, steeped in creamy, milky sauce, and it didn’t go overboard on sweetness, which this type of cake sometimes does. I think it was gone in 20 seconds.

So, I definitely enjoyed my meal – but how did Las Iguanas rate on the baby-friendliness scale? I rate eateries on five points: menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding (for more details about my system please see my About page.)

Menu: A lot of Latin American food is somewhat messy to eat and requires both hands (enchiladas and burritos, for example), but there are several things on the lunch menu that can be eaten one-handed if you’re holding a baby. Salads and starters are good choices, but the meatballs and chilli would also work. Now that the Baberoo is big enough and less fussy than she was when she was an infant, I’ll be seating her in a high chair so I have both hands free – but for those with younger babies or those who need a parent’s comforting arms, there’s enough here for you to be able to order something.

Space: Las Iguanas is a large restaurant with many sections, including an outdoor terrace overlooking Castle Mill Stream. We arrived just after it opened so there was plenty of space between tables to manoeuvre the baby carriage; when it’s fuller I think it would still have enough space to manage getting through without any problems. However, I think that at lunchtimes there’s generally a lot of space available; it’s much more crowded on evenings and weekends. I’ve been here before on a weekday with my NCT friends and we sat four strollers around an area with sofas and had plenty of room to ourselves.

Las Iguanas interior

Ambiance: We had a wonderful staff member serve us – she immediately offered a high chair for the Baberoo and chatted to her every time she came to our table. Staff were also considerate enough to come warn us that they were going to test the fire alarm system. It ended up making no difference to the Baberoo; she hardly registered it at all, perhaps because it was masked by the restaurant’s cheery stream of Latin music, which we were both happily bopping along to during our lunch. (Don’t expect your baby to nap – the volume isn’t deafening but the music is catchy!)

Facilities: The baby-changing facilities at Las Iguanas are clean and tidy, and the bright red walls make for a change from the usual dull white bathroom. The lighting is too dim, though, and makes it difficult to see what you’re doing. There’s a pull-down changing table, but no counter to put your bag on. The room is narrow, so although there’s a lot of space it might be tricky to manoeuvre a bigger pram.

Las Iguanas baby-changing facilities

Feeding: I didn’t breastfeed the Baberoo this time but I have in the past and it was fine. There are many types of seating to choose from: regular chairs, higher stools, bench seating, and sofas, so if you’re breastfeeding you can take your pick of what would be most comfortable for you.

All in all, Las Iguanas scores an 8.0 out of 10 for baby-friendliness. It’s a good choice for an inexpensive weekday lunch with Latin American flavour, and you’ll have plenty of room for your stroller.

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Browns Bar & Brasserie

This week the Baberoo and I went to Browns Bar & Brasserie (5-11 Woodstock Road, OX2 6HA) to meet up with our NCT group. The first time the group went to Browns was in May, and our babies have doubled in age (and grown tenfold in cuteness) since that time. It’s amazing that they were ever so small back then!

Our meeting was in the late afternoon in order to work around various naptimes (oh, for a baby whose naptimes were predictable!), so it was high time for a sweet treat of some sort. I ordered the Chocolate Marquise (£3), which was described as a rich chocolate mousse, and rich it was. Extremely rich. I’d say it was more like a solid ganache than a mousse. I would probably order it as an after-dinner dessert than an afternoon pick-me-up. Luckily, my Nojito (non-alcoholic mojito) provided a refreshing counterpoint to the chocolate.

Browns Bar & Brasserie Chocolate Marquise

So, how does Brown’s stack up against my five criteria for baby-friendliness? In my reviews I look at menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding. For more information on how I rate eateries, see my About page.

Menu: The food is mainly British favourites and brasserie fare, which includes a fair number of dishes that require both hands free to eat, such as meat mains and substantial sandwiches. However, if you’re holding a baby and need to eat with one hand, try the salads or the flatbreads (although you’ll need to pre-cut those).

Space: We didn’t make a reservation this time as we did the first time we visited, so it was a bit of a surprise for the staff to find four baby carriages that needed to be seated at the same table. However, they were gracious enough to open up a closed section of the restaurant just for us so that we had room for our strollers. It also helped that it was a quiet time of day. I can imagine that at busier times there is a lot less room available; the tables aren’t squashed together but they aren’t that far apart either. Certainly you wouldn’t be able to get several prams in at one table during a busy time, but if you’re by yourself with the baby carriage it should be fine.

Browns Bar & Brasserie Seating Area

Ambiance: Whenever staff actually attended to us, they were friendly and one of them also chatted to the babies. However, it was quite a while between times when we saw any staff; I wasn’t sure whether this was because we were in a section that was closed, or whether they were very busy, or whether they had gauged (correctly, may I add) that we didn’t really need that much attention (although I’d have felt differently if I’d wanted to order lunch). The brasserie is full of potted plants and ferns, which were visually interesting for the babies. At one point two of the babies were playing on the floor, which shows how comfortable we felt putting them down in this space.

Browns Bar & Brasserie

Facilities: The baby-changing and disabled toilet has a pull-down changing table, but nowhere to put your bag. There’s enough room to get a stroller in, although it’s not huge. The lighting is a little dim and the room isn’t as fresh-smelling as one might hope. Too bad they don’t have one of their potted plants in there to add a little visual interest.

Browns Bar & Brasserie Baby-Changing Facilities

Feeding: We had breastfeeding, bottle-feeding, and food meals going on for our babies, and all were just fine. The chairs are the standard brasserie kind, which means they’re on the small side and maybe not terribly comfortable for breastfeeding, but there is also some bench seating if you prefer.

On my ratings scale Browns gets a 7.0 out of 10. Go during a non-busy time; if you have a whole group of babies and parents getting together definitely ring ahead so that they can make space to accommodate you.

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University of Oxford Botanic Garden

The forecast for tomorrow is 16 degrees with rain all day, a sure sign that autumn is right around the corner. Today, however, was a scorching 27 degrees. The Baberoo and I took advantage of summer’s last hurrah by visiting the University of Oxford Botanic Garden (Rose Lane, OX1 4AZ).

Riotous colours

We’ve been big fans of the botanic garden since the Baberoo was only three months old. I first took her there at the end of March, when the hellebores were nearly the only thing blooming and the rain and my baby-induced sleeplessness made it seem as if the winter would never end. We’ve been going back ever since on our annual pass, which is the best £15.50 I’ve ever spent (and it gets you into Harcourt Arboretum too!). Every few weeks we’ve gone back to see the changes in the botanical season, from tulips to peonies to dahlias. And that’s only the herbaceous borders: there’s also a fabulous vegetable garden, fruit trees, seven glasshouses, a rock garden, a bog garden, and the new Merton Borders, which feature an ornamental, environmentally sustainable display using direct sowing of seeds.

Merton Borders

Today the vegetable garden was a pretty amazing sight, with corn, beans, rhubarb, and squash all looking like they were at their peak (we missed the giant pumpkin, though, as I discovered to my chagrin when we got home). The Merton Borders were full of bees (a good thing!) and blooming splendidly; I remember seeing the area in March and there was nearly nothing in it. I can’t believe it’s the same garden! There was some riotous colour in the herbaceous borders, and the bog garden – where we sat for an alfresco lunch – was so lush that you could hardly see the water for all the plants.

Corn

Not only is the botanic garden a treat for all the senses, it’s baby-friendly too. Here’s how it stacks up against my four criteria for baby-friendliness (space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding – see my About page for a full explanation of my criteria for rating attractions that aren’t eateries).

Space: There’s an entrance for prams and wheelchairs at the side of the garden on Rose Lane. There’s plenty of space in the two outdoor gardens (the Walled Garden and the Lower Garden), so you can wheel your baby carriage around as much as you like. It’s a bit more difficult getting into the glasshouses; the conservatory (which houses the citrus plants) has plenty of room inside but it’s difficult to get in the doors; usually I need someone to help me because you need to open both doors to fit a stroller in. Happily, today they were already open because of the hot weather. The other glasshouses are more difficult; a larger pram might not fit the width of the very narrow corridors (especially since there are huge plants coming at you from either side), and if you do fit, there’s no chance of anyone being able to pass your carriage in the space so you might have to do some backing up. The rose garden facing the High Street isn’t accessible to strollers unless you have wheels that can roll on gravel; mine can’t. To be fair, I don’t think that this is actually part of the University of Oxford Botanic Garden so isn’t managed by them – but when you’re going for the experience of a garden, you don’t care about technicalities like this: you just want to see the roses!

Ambiance: Couldn’t be nicer, at any time of the year. Whenever I visit I marvel at how quickly things change and how beautiful each season is. The staff at the reception are very welcoming and helpful, and so are the garden staff if you happen to meet any of them working outside. Even the ducks are friendly!

Borders

Facilities: There is a baby-changing facility in the disabled toilet. It’s spacious and has a pull-down changing table. It’s clean and presentable, although there’s no place to put your changing bag.

Baby-changing

Feeding: There are plenty of benches to sit on throughout the garden, but you can also bring a blanket and sit on the grass with your baby. We dined alfresco on a bench today (with regular food, although I’d have been happy to breastfeed as well). If you go in the winter it might be too cold for breastfeeding, though!

As an attraction, the Botanic Garden is a wonderful resource and a haven of peace and quiet away from the crowds in the city centre, and a perfect place to bring your baby to relax. I give it a 7.0 out of 8. If you love gardens, treat yourself to an annual pass and go throughout the year.

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Rhymetime at the Oxford Central Library

Lately I’ve been taking the Baberoo out to many more activities around Oxford, all designed for babies and their parents. We have enjoyed Rhymetime at the Oxford Central Library (Westgate, OX1 1DJ) so much that we go almost every week.

As a veteran attender of library activities myself (my mom started bringing me to storytime at the Ottawa public library when I was just a few months old), I was really looking forward to watching the Baberoo experience the reading-aloud and interactivity that I always loved so much. I’d already brought her to the library many times to borrow books, but I only started taking her to Rhymetime when she was about six months old.

Library books

As the name suggests, Rhymetime is a session of chanting and singing well-known nursery rhymes and songs. I say well-known, but I actually only knew about half of them and was somewhat dismayed on our first visit to find myself humming along, pretending to know the words to songs such as ‘Horsie, Horsie’, ‘The Grand Old Duke of York’, and ‘Wind the Bobbin Up’. I chalk my ignorance up to the fact that we’ve got totally different tunes and chants in Canada so I didn’t learn these when I was growing up! (And I bet you don’t know the words to ‘Pomme de reinette et pomme d’api’.)

Rhymetime takes place twice a week at the Oxford Central Library, from 10:30-11:00 am on Wednesdays (led by two library staff members) and 10:30-11:00 am on Thursdays (led by volunteers), and is for children under 5 and their parents. The Baberoo was certainly not the youngest child there – I’ve met babies who were three months old when they came to their first session. Both sessions have the same content: rhymes and songs (but no storytelling), including some that have the kids shaking jingle bells and noisemakers, as well as playing with animal puppets.

So how does Rhymetime rate for baby-friendliness? On this blog I’m rating all non-food-related activities on a scale of 8 points rather than my usual 10-point rating scale, since out of the five criteria (menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding), there’s no menu. For a full explanation of my criteria see my About page.

Space: Rhymetime takes place in the dedicated under-5s room in the children’s section of the library, which is spacious and well laid out. There are usually more than 25 children (plus 25 to 30 parents) at each session, so the room really fills up. The space has a lot of benches, beanbags, and chairs, but by the time everyone has squeezed in, it’s standing room only for latecomers. My suggestion is to arrive a bit early so you avoid the queue for the lifts, which can be quite long right before a session begins. Baby carriages can be parked within the other room of the children’s section.

Oxford Central Library children's department

Ambiance: Colourful, interactive, and loud! The presenters are very welcoming and so are the other parents. It’s a fun environment and kids love to participate. In addition, each time we’ve attended I’ve noted how much the session is enjoyed by the presenters themselves. This is the kind of activity that keeps families coming back for more; there are many devoted regulars.

Facilities: The Oxford Central Library has a baby-changing facility in the lobby outside the Children’s department; it requires an entry code, which is obtainable from any member of staff. It’s a serviceable room with a handy desk to put your bag on and a pull-down changing table. The room is long and narrow, which means you may not be able to reach the sink until you’ve put the changing table back up again. The way the room is laid out in relation to the regular toilets is somewhat awkward, so you need to make sure you have opened the exit door before you wheel your baby carriage into the tiny entrance space; otherwise you may find yourself stuck!

Oxford Central Library baby-changing facilities

Feeding: I have fed the Baberoo in the library (not actually during Rhymetime, but afterwards when the crowds have cleared) and can say that it’s a very welcoming space for breastfeeding. You also have your choice of seating (benches, chairs, or beanbags) so you can make yourself as comfortable as possible.

Rhymetime at the Oxford Central Library scores a 7.25 out of 8 for baby-friendliness; it’s a fantastic activity and I urge any parent with children under 5 to try it out. We are now regulars!

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