Category Archives: Jericho

Branca

This past Saturday we had a family outing downtown to do some shopping, take care of some errands, and most importantly, go out to eat. We found ourselves in Jericho at the magic hour of noon, when – on weekends – one is faced with the delightful conundrum of whether one will go for brunch or for lunch. We chose Branca (111 Walton Street, OX2 6AJ), which had both brunch and lunch menus available simultaneously between 12 and 1.

I was in the mood for French toast with maple syrup and smoked bacon (£4.95). The husband ordered the full breakfast (£7.45). We looked briefly at the kids’ menu but decided to order the half-size penne with tomato and Tuscan sausage sauce (£7.65) for the Baberoo, since she has really been enjoying sausage lately (usually filching it from my plate).

The penne arrived along with the full breakfast, but there was no sign of the French toast so I continued sipping my tea (China pai mu tan white, £2.40). The Baberoo started in on her pasta, but unfortunately it was woefully underdone to the point of crunchiness. We pulled out the ol’ backup snack bag for her and gave her some food from home, supplementing it with some of the full breakfast – which, according to my husband, was fine but not exceptional.

Branca pasta

My French toast seemed to have been forgotten, so we asked for it again and it arrived a few minutes later with apologies from the staff. The bacon was very good; the toast was also tasty and, fortunately, not too eggy (too eggy always ruins it for me) but I wanted more maple syrup to pour over it. What can I say? As a Canadian I believe that whenever maple syrup is part of a dish there ought to be a giant vat of it available for extra helpings.

Branca french toast with bacon

The dining experience at Branca was all right, although undercooked pasta shouldn’t be happening at an Italian restaurant. Now, how does Branca stack up against my five criteria (menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding) for baby-friendliness? (You can find out more about my ratings system on my About page.)

Menu: If you have only one hand available to eat while you hold a baby, the brunch menu has more options for you than the regular lunch menu. About half of the brunch menu is easy to eat with one hand; the lunch menu has a few good starters, salads, risotti, and pasta, but you’d be hard pressed to eat any of the meat mains using only one hand.

Space: Branca is easy to get into with a pushchair, but there’s a bit of a bottleneck near the front where the bar juts out. Depending on how many people are waiting in that area, it may be hard to get past into the main dining space. The tables at the back of the restaurant are further apart than the ones near the front, so they’re definitely your best bet if you have a stroller. The first time I came to Branca there were five of us NCT buddies, all with prams, and we fit at the back just fine, and during this visit there were plenty of parents with strollers and/or young children. There’s a garden terrace with loads of space that is open in both colder and warmer months, if you prefer to sit outside.

Branca interior

Ambiance: Light and airy, the place gives off an aura of being simultaneously cool and welcoming. There’s a tree growing at the back, and a lovely view of the garden terrace. The staff are friendly, and although we had to ask for a high chair (they are the nice Stokke Tripp Trapp ones) and a children’s menu, they were helpful with our requests (which makes me kick myself for not asking for more maple syrup).

Facilities: The disabled/baby-change toilet at Branca is at the back of the ground floor, and although there are regular toilets downstairs sometimes customers use this one because it’s more conveniently located, so it’s quite busy. It is a lovely bathroom with a window giving lots of natural light, and it smells fresh and clean. The pull-down table is close to the door, where there is a hook to hang your diaper bag. The room is on the small side. I left the stroller at the table, but if I’d brought it in with us we’d have been rather cramped.

Branca baby-changing facilities

Feeding: Although the Baberoo didn’t enjoy her pasta, Branca gets marks for having a children’s menu (mains range from £3.45 to £5.25) with a selection that has plenty of kid appeal. They also apparently have a baby menu, but although I asked for this I got the children’s one instead. If you were breastfeeding at Branca (which I have done in the past) you might find the chairs small and awkward; they have arms that curve right around so that if your baby is larger than infant-sized it might be hard to get into a comfortable position. There are a few cushy armchairs and sofas right at the front of the restaurant, but be warned: the front façade of the building is entirely glass so you’d be on display for passers-by to see. Bring a shawl or cover-up if you want to retain some privacy (nothing wrong with baring it all, though!).

Overall Branca gets a 7.5 out of 10 for baby-friendliness. From the number of babies and children in the place, parents already know that this is a nice and spacious restaurant that is baby- and kid-friendly.

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The Big Scream at the Phoenix Picturehouse

OK, so this isn’t an activity for your baby. It’s an activity for you, because you may not have taken yourself out for a while. Maybe months. Maybe you haven’t had an evening out yet since your baby was born and you don’t envision being able to have one for some time. That’s OK: you can still go to the movies during the day with the Big Scream at the Phoenix Picturehouse (57 Walton Street, OX2 6AE).

Big Scream is a club that screens newly-released films for parents and babies under one year old. If you don’t have a baby with you, you can’t get in! Films are a very reasonable £5 and are screened every Wednesday at 11:30 am. There’s no charge for joining the club but you need to do so when you attend your first screening; your baby’s first birthday is your membership expiry date.

Phoenix Picture House

The Baberoo and I have gone to the movies two weeks in a row at the Phoenix Picturehouse. Now, I have to explain that the Baberoo is a sympathy screamer; as soon as she hears a baby start crying she’s off on a crying jag herself, usually ten times louder than the instigator (I guess she takes the name Big Scream literally). She’s also pretty wriggly and doesn’t like to sit still, even if plied with toys, pacifiers, and snacks. So I had quite a job keeping her in the cinema for a two-hour film without her going ballistic. I realize now that I should have gone when she was much younger and was still able to nap as soon as she was in the dark. On both occasions I really envied those parents with younger babies who were just sleeping peacefully in their baby carriers or slings, while the parents sat back and relaxed. I should have come months ago. Let this be a lesson to you! Come early on in your baby’s life so you can actually enjoy the film. (That said, I did enjoy both films that I saw: ‘The Way Way Back’ and ‘About Time’.)

The Big Scream goes to some lengths to provide an enjoyable experience for parents and babies. So how does it rate on my baby-friendliness scale? My 8-point rating scale for activities looks at space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding. For more about the way I rate activities, see my About page.

Space: The space in the movie theatre itself is great; it’s large with very few people in it (probably about 20 parents in total each time I went) so there are lots of cushy seats to choose from. I tried to sit far away from other babies in case they set the Baberoo off! If you come with a baby carriage, you will need to leave it at the front of the cinema, under the screen, otherwise it presents a safety hazard. If your baby is sleeping in the stroller you’ll have to sit right up front with them parked in the approved parking area. I would suggest bringing your baby in a sling or carrier if you can: that way they can sleep on you wherever you choose to sit in the cinema. The space outside of the actual screening room is harder to manoeuvre; there is very little space in the front lobby and if more than six prams are in the space while parents are buying tickets, there’s no room to move around. There are four small stairs up to get to the movie theatre; there is a wheelchair lift that can also be used for buggies, but it hasn’t worked very well on both occasions when I have visited, so I suggest hauling your buggy up the stairs instead if you can.

Ambiance: The other parents are all very friendly – perhaps because everyone is so happy just to be getting out to the cinema – and everyone makes room for each other and helps each other manoeuvre the more difficult spaces. The staff are also friendly and helpful and will help you with your buggy. I hope that they don’t mind cleaning up after snacks, too: on our second visit we left quite a lot of rice cake and cheese strewn on the floor, I’m sorry to say! You can’t tell much from the picture below, but the cinema itself has a nice feel to it and the seats are very comfortable.

Phoenix Picture House seating

Facilities: The baby-changing facilities are in the disabled toilet in the lobby, which means you need to use the lift or stairs to get down there if your baby needs a change during the movie. The room requires a key to get in, which you can get from staff at the counter. They must have two sets of keys because while I was in there with the Baberoo someone else tried to get in! The space is clean and large enough to move your baby carriage around. There’s a pull-down changing table (no room for a bag) and an unusual tiger-striped toilet.

Phoenix Picturehouse changing facilities

Feeding: Almost everyone at the Big Scream is feeding their baby at some point during the movie, either by breast, bottle, or food snack. The seats are comfortable for you, but it’s too bad you can’t move the armrests out of the way so that there’s more room for the baby. Still, it’s a pretty good and welcoming space for any kind of feeding.

Taking all of these factors into account, I give the Big Scream at the Phoenix Picturehouse a 6.75 out of 8. Go while your baby is still young and can happily conk out for two hours. Enjoy the movie!

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