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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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