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Oxford Mommy’s 36 Hours in New York City

New York has been one of my favourite cities for a long time, and I was extremely excited to have the opportunity to pass through for a weekend on our way to Princeton, NJ.  I did wonder, having never been there with the Baberoo before, how it would rate on the baby-friendliness scale. Of course, since we were there for only 36 hours, this review isn’t exhaustive ( I’d need a whole New York Mommy blog for that!) but we did discover some things about the city – or Manhattan, to be exact, since we didn’t have time to visit the other boroughs – that may be useful to parents travelling in from out of town.

First things first: transportation. We were travelling with our fold-up umbrella stroller (the Uppababy G-Luxe), which is a very light and fairly small.  After doing some research on the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) site, I figured using the bus seemed like a good option, and being so familiar with the buses in Oxford I figured it would be a similar experience. Not so. Apparently you need to fold up your stroller when you board a New York bus, which to me cancels out the convenience of not having to go underground and contend with subway stairs. The bus did get us places fairly quickly, although that was probably because it was early Saturday morning and there wasn’t much traffic.  It’s also good for sightseeing – on our ride up Madison Avenue from Midtown to Harlem we saw lots of great New York buildings. But if you’re carrying lots of bags or by yourself with a stroller you have to collapse when you board, the bus can be tricky.

NYC busSince we had to fold the stroller on the bus, we figured we would try the subway the next time we were going out. Not too many stations are equipped with elevators giving access to the platforms, but our hotel was near Grand Central Station, which is wheelchair accessible, as was our destination station. In theory that meant we didn’t have to fold up the stroller and take the Baberoo out. However, it’s not easy to actually locate the elevators that bring you down to platform level, and at our connecting station we absolutely could not find an elevator to get us off the platform, and we had to fold up the stroller and carry the Baberoo up the stairs. We then found the (very grotty) elevator down to our connecting train’s platform, but had to wait several minutes in a queue of strollers. Basically, the speed of a subway ride is compromised by the amount of time it takes to locate and wait for the elevator, so a trip that would have taken 20 minutes at most took us at least 45.

NYC Subway

Having tried the bus and the subway and having found both lacking in baby-friendliness, we bit the bullet and on our next trip we hailed a cab. Or rather, a very savvy New Yorker cousin of ours hailed it for us, and managed to snag it despite the fancy young woman in polka-dot skinnies and Louboutins also trying to flag it down (sorry, lady). The cab turned out to be a great option. It got us back to our hotel fast, and it was easy enough to pre-fold the stroller on the sidewalk before hailing the cab so the we didn’t have to do it on the fly while also trying to load bags and baby in. The Baberoo loved sitting on her daddy’s lap for the ride, and it took us right to the door of our hotel. No wonder so many New Yorkers are standing out in the street trying to get cabs. They really top the buses and the subway. But of course, they add a cost to your trip – our average cost was $16 per ride and we did it four times, so there goes half a week’s grocery money.

NYC Taxicab

The other option, of course, is to walk. We really enjoyed a 45-block walk from Harlem to the Upper East Side, going through parts of Central Park (although we had to go back to the sidewalk when it got too hilly). We also walked through Greenwich Village and Soho, and hoofed it to the bus station on our way out of the city. Some streets can be extremely crowded and annoying, so it helps to know which routes to take and some alternatives. (Tip: never try walking down 42nd Street in a hurry.) On the Upper East Side, in very chichi residential areas, we saw what seemed like hundreds of parents walking with their babies in strollers, and at least half of those strollers were Uppababy Vistas – which is the kind we have at home. The Vista is as big as a tank and can’t be folded up very easily, so I wondered how those parents travelled around the city. We came to the conclusion that people have more than one stroller – a big one for walks closer to home, and a fold-up one that they can bring on public transport. (In fact, we were approached on the street by a guy who wanted our opinion on a new stroller he was inventing that could roll down stairs! Only in New York!) Or maybe they drive cars. Or maybe they wear the baby in a carrier when they’re on the bus or subway. In any case, walking is a great option as long as you know your route and an alternative route, and the baby isn’t in dire need of food or a change.

Speaking of diaper changes: that was the most baby-unfriendly part of  our experience. There is almost nowhere to change a baby’s diaper. Even restaurants don’t necessarily have baby-changing facilities. We were lucky that we managed not to have to do any baby-changing in public restrooms, but that was because I scheduled in some nap times back at the hotel, and we also visited friends with a baby (it was a super-fun play date!) so we were able to change the Baberoo at their house. None of the restaurants we went to or cafés we visited had baby-changing facilities. It makes you wonder where anyone changes their baby’s diaper. Does everyone with a child under 3 have to go home every time their kid poops?

The restaurants we visited, while not having any baby-changing facilities, were very welcoming of babies. Our first one was B.Cafe, where we had brunch with the taxicab-hailing cousin. They provided a high chair and stowed our stroller away so that we could get through the restaurant (it would have been impossible to get through with the stroller because of tightly-packed tables). My burger was good and the fries were excellent. The Baberoo didn’t appreciate the stack of pancakes we ordered her, but she did enjoy my burger bun. She was flirting with the staff and with the other patrons at nearby tables and got a whole bunch of compliments, too. In fact, all over town New Yorkers just couldn’t stop gushing about how cute she was, which made us feel pretty chuffed (but also confused: if they love babies so much, how come they don’t make it easier for parents to bring their little ones around the city?)

B.Cafe burger

The next place we ate out, again for brunch, was Eastwood, on the Lower East Side, with some friends who are in the know about the best new places to eat. It has a lovely vibe and a fabulous Scottish-Israeli menu. My fish tacos were great and the Baberoo enjoyed her scrambled eggs. Service was fantastic and really quick, which is always useful when you have a hungry little one clamouring for food. There were no high chairs so she had to sit on my lap, but there was a lot of floor space for the stroller, which she started snoozing in as soon as she finished her meal. I would definitely go back to Eastwood to try some of their other delicious-sounding fare.

Eastwood

We found some fun things for the Baberoo to do while we were visiting the city; one was a simple but really enjoyable trip to the park for a swing ride. There are lots of public parks in New York – the one we visited was Seward Park on the Lower East Side – and the ones we saw were pretty well kept up and quite clean. And only in a New York park can you also spot a contingent of older ladies doing outdoor aerobics to Chinese music.

We also visited a great bookstore, McNally Jackson. They have a fantastic children’s section, with a toy theatre kids can play in, and a great selection of old and new classics. The children’s section is in the basement so you do have to fold up your stroller to get down there, but it’s worth it.

As for where to stay in New York: there are many hotels, from reasonably-priced to over-the-top expensive, but since we only stayed in one of them all I can’t tell you what others might be like. But I can highly recommend the one we chose – the Library Hotel in Midtown. It was excellent in every respect and it went beyond my expectations for baby-friendliness. They provided a very good travel crib, there was ample space in the room to create a baby-changing station, and they had high chairs and great service in the breakfast room, which also served as a 24-hour Reading Room and quiet space (the Library Hotel’s rooms are based on the Dewey Decimal System, each room having a different subject; our bedroom was the Classic Literature room). The hotel’s public bathrooms didn’t have any changing facilities so after we checked out of our room and then suddenly needed to do a diaper change we were a little stuck – but then the staff recommended that we use one of the benches up in their rooftop Poetry Garden, which worked out just fine and was probably the best view the Baberoo will ever have while getting her diaper changed. The Library Hotel isn’t cheap, but it was our anniversary weekend and I decided to splurge, and was it ever worth it.

Library Hotel Reading room

Our trip to New York was over in a flash, but we still managed to cram in a whole bunch of activities and it was a lovely stay. It’s not the most baby-friendly city in terms of baby-changing facilities and transportation (and now I understand why lots of Manhattanites move to Brooklyn when they have kids), but boy, do New Yorkers know how to compliment babies. If you’re travelling there, I recommend using cabs for convenience and factoring the cost into your budget. Having a great, well-located hotel helps too. I can hardly wait to go back when the Baberoo is out of diapers; I suspect that will be loads easier and she’ll be able to appreciate more of the great things about the city.

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The Oxford Kitchen

It says a lot about a restaurant if I visit it twice in one week. It says even more if it’s on the opposite end of town from where I live and I still make the effort to get there. That’s what I did this week with the Oxford Kitchen (215 Banbury Road, Summertown, OX2 7HQ). I had been wanting to visit this new restaurant since it opened a few months ago – the menu looked spectacular and the reviews were generally excellent, so I wanted to see whether it lived up to the hype as well as to establish how baby-friendly it was.

My first visit with the Baberoo was for Sunday brunch; I ordered the full English breakfast (£10.50) for us to share. While we waited, the Baberoo enjoyed playing with the coloured pencils she was offered, dropping them one by one on the floor. When the meal came, she devoured the scrambled eggs – I hardly got any at all! – and also had some of the toast, which was a bit too crispy for my liking. The sausage was lovely and had that gooey stickiness to it that only slow cooking will produce. The bacon was good, and the grilled tomato was elevated to something special with slivers of garlic. My Earl Grey tea (£2.50) and a pain au chocolat (£1.75) completed the meal; the pain au chocolat was very nice but – like all pastries – would have been better warm.

Oxford Kitchen brunch

I could have written this review after our brunch, but I had already studied the à la carte menu and knew there was a ham hock with my name on it. There was nothing to do but come back for it. I was sneaky and timed today’s lunch for when the Baberoo was sleeping so I wouldn’t have to share anything with her. Poor kid, she missed out. The crispy ham hock with celeriac purée, compressed apple, and walnut (£7) was delicious. The saltiness of the ham and the crispiness of the breadcrumb coating went perfectly with the tart green apple. The celeriac purée was smooth and velvety.

Oxford Kitchen ham hock

Since the ham hock is a ‘small plate’ (you can have it as a starter or order several small plates to share), I also went for a beef burger (£12.95) as a main, because I seem to be on a burger kick these days. It came with a red onion jam, mixed leaves, and triple-cooked chips. Not advertised on the menu but also making an appearance on my plate (or, rather, my wooden board) were some onion rings. Folks, I haven’t been so excited to see fries and onion rings together since I was in high school and our beloved Canadian burger chain, Harvey’s, introduced Frings (fries and rings together so you got some of each). I am always thrilled to see onion rings, as you may know if you read my blog regularly. That said, these rings were somewhat disappointing as they had a bitter taste. It wasn’t the onions themselves, it was the batter. I’m not sure what happened there but I hope it was just a kitchen mistake. The chips were much better; you don’t get many of them but they are thick and fluffy and perfectly crisp. The burger was great; it had a certain amount of charring on the surface that might not appeal to everyone, but I enjoyed it. The mixed leaves were miles better than the usual iceberg lettuce and the red onion jam was sticky and delicious.

Oxford Kitchen burger

It was a lovely meal and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Despite not being able to even finish the burger because I was so full, I was toying with the idea of ordering dessert, but the Baberoo woke up so I left well enough alone. Although I do think I will have to go back sometime soon just to order dessert!

The Oxford Kitchen is certainly one of the best places I’ve dined in Oxford. So how does it do for baby-friendliness? My five-point scale covers menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding (more about these on my About page).

Menu: Many of the ‘small plates’ on the a la carte menu can be eaten with one hand if you need to hold a baby in the other arm, although many of the main plates will need both hands, so you may not have that much choice there. The set menu for lunch/early supper (£10.50 for one course, £13.50 for two, £16.50 for three) may be a better option; both starters and at least one of the main courses are one-handers.

Space: There was lots of space for the Baberoo’s carriage at the table I chose near the front. There is less space as you go towards the back of the restaurant, although you can probably get a pram in at most of the tables. There is lots of seating upstairs but it’s not accessible with a pushchair. If the restaurant is full of diners it may be a squeeze to get through. The front door is somewhat heavy and it isn’t within easy view of the staff, so although they are happy to help you in and out, on one occasion a passer-by on the street had to help me get our pushchair in.

Oxford Kitchen interior

Ambiance: Couldn’t be nicer. The staff were fantastic. They asked right away about whether we needed a high chair, offered a colouring activity to help the Baberoo pass the time while waiting for brunch, and interacted with her whenever they came to our table. They also remembered us when I came in the second time. The restaurant is light and airy, with huge windows and a calm, relaxed vibe that is hard to come by in some fine dining places.

Facilities: The baby-changing facility is part of the women’s/disabled toilet on the ground floor. The pull-down table – one of the swanky metal ones – is in the entrance area to the room along with the sink, and there is a separate toilet cubicle. It’s all very clean and fresh-smelling. There is quite a lot of space in the baby-changing area, but if you need to bring your pushchair into the toilet cubicle with you it’s a tight squeeze. There should be a lock on the outer door, not only on the toilet cubicle door.

Oxford Kitchen baby-changing facilities

Feeding: If you are a breastfeeding mother the wooden chairs will be fine, although the padded upholstered ones may not be great because they have arms that jut out quite far forward. For babies who are on solids, there is a children’s menu (£5 for one course, £7.50 for two) that has some kid-pleasing meals on it; most children’s palates probably won’t be refined enough to appreciate the regular menu.

For baby-friendliness, the Oxford Kitchen scores a 7.5 out of 10. If you want fine dining, there are very few places in Oxford that can outdo this one. Go for lunch or brunch while it’s still a bit of a secret, because when it starts getting more popular it’s going to be jam-packed.

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Gourmet Burger Kitchen

Sometimes Oxford Mommy just wants to have lunch in peace. Not that the Baberoo isn’t excellent company, but there are moments when I just want to read a book while waiting for my meal to arrive, and then to dig in using both hands without worrying that I’m going to have to stop eating and attend to her immediate needs and/or whims. With that and the craving for a hamburger in mind, I walked up and down George Street with her in the stroller until she finally fell asleep. Then, after a quick victory dance, I wheeled her into Gourmet Burger Kitchen (29-31 George Street, OX1 2AY) and parked us at a table.

While trying to get her to nap I had passed the menu in the window a few times, so I already knew what I wanted: the Taxidriver (£9.75), which comes with American cheese, onion ring, Cajun relish, smoked chilli mayo, dill pickle, and salad on a brioche bun. Naturally, I also went for a side of onion rings (£3.35).

GBK burger

Returning to my seat (you have to go up to the counter to order and pay), I pulled out my book to have a few minutes’ reading while I waited. My order came fairly promptly so I dove in before the Baberoo could wake up. It was a tasty burger, and although I’m not usually a fan of American cheese, it was exactly what was needed for this particular flavour combination. I think it would have been even better, though, if I had ordered it medium-rare instead of going with the standard medium (which is my own fault, not GBK’s!). But truly miraculous was the fact that the burger held together and didn’t fall apart while I was eating it. I’ve never seen a burger do that before. I don’t mind when burgers get sloppy, but I was amazed that this one remained uncompromised.

My lunch was satisfying, and all the more so because the Baberoo stayed asleep until I had finished eating. But how does GBK rate on my baby-friendliness scale? I look at menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding (more about these on my About page).

Menu: Mainly burgers, so you’ll need both hands free to eat them. If your baby is happy in their stroller or in a high chair, go for it! Or do like me and wait until they’re asleep so you know you’ve got your hands free.

Space: The restaurant is one of the smaller ones along George Street; I had expected it to be cavernous like many others but it’s actually more boutique-sized. This means they have to put quite a lot of seating in a small space, which doesn’t leave much room for a stroller. There are a few tables at which a pram might fit, but most of the tables are booth or bench-style and a baby carriage next to them might really impede the movements of the staff as well as the patrons who are going up to the counter to order.

GBK interior

Ambiance: The staff were helpful in suggesting a table where I could park the stroller with the sleeping Baberoo in it, and they came back several times to ask if I needed anything. The music is somewhat loud and boppy but that didn’t bother the Baberoo at all. Strangely, at the time we visited there were no children at all in the restaurant.

GBK condiments

Facilities: The baby-changing room was clean and fresh-smelling on our visit. The pull-down changing table is a good size. It’s equipped with a soft pad to make it more comfortable for changing, although I personally think the hard surface of the changing table is easier to keep clean. The room is big enough to comfortably fit a large pram.

GBK baby-changing facilities

Feeding: GBK has a junior menu with scaled-down burgers and other treats for kids. The Baberoo was sleeping so she didn’t try anything from either the kids’ or adults’ menu, but she probably could have devoured part of my burger for me. If your baby is new to solid foods there won’t be much on the menu that they can eat, so bring your own food from home. If you’re breastfeeding the chairs are wide enough to be fine, but there’s not much space between them; you might want a bench seat instead but the same lack of space applies.

On my baby-friendliness scale, Gourmet Burger Kitchen rates a 6.5 out of 10. It’s a small space for a baby carriage but the staff are helpful and friendly.

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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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Oxford Mommy’s Guide to Ottawa, Part 2

As we continue our Ottawa holiday, we’ve been having some great experiences around the city with the Baberoo. I always like visiting old favourite spots, but there are so many new places to try whenever we visit the city that I end up wanting to go to all of them too.

One of the coolest areas in Ottawa now is Hintonburg, and after visiting friends who live in the neighbourhood we took their recommendation and headed to the Hintonburg Public House (1020 Wellington Street West, K1Y 2X9), where we had a fantastic lunch. My burger was one of the best I’ve had in years (perfectly medium-rare as requested and boasting yummy fried onions on top), and my husband’s fish and chips was tasty too – although it, and most of the menu, isn’t the easiest thing to eat with just one hand free. The staff were very friendly and kept admiring the Baberoo. There are no baby-changing facilities at Hintonburg Public House, although in a pinch you could use the floor if you had a mat.

Burger

We tried out the OC Transpo buses to see if Ottawa’s public transport measured up to Oxford’s bus system (I haven’t written a post about Oxford public transport yet, but it’s coming soon!) Sadly, on our first journey we were on an overcrowded bus with a surly driver who was annoyed that the Baberoo was crying, and there were no rules about where we could park our stroller (we started out in the middle of the aisle; luckily, someone was getting off so we could move into one of the wheelchair spaces). Our subsequent rides were much better, though, and the actual bus system works very efficiently. I prefer the seating system in Oxford, however: in Ottawa the section where baby carriages and wheelchairs can park have benches that flip up, rather than individual seats that can be folded one at a time in case you want to sit down. If you have a baby carriage and you use the space, you’re out of luck for sitting down yourself – which I imagine isn’t great if you’re pushing a stroller while pregnant with another child!

Another lunch outing saw us at Milestones Grill and Bar (700 Sussex Drive, K1N 1K4), where we were meeting a friend who had told us it was relatively baby-friendly, as I guess a chain restaurant with so many locations would pride itself on being. They did have several menu choices that were easy to eat with one hand while holding a baby, and the baby-changing facilities (in the disabled stall in the ladies’ room) were fine. Staff were also very friendly to the baby. Still, we weren’t blown away by the food – mine was a Thai chicken curry and my husband’s was pasta with asiago cream sauce – and next time I’d probably suggest somewhere else.

Thai chicken curry

While out book-shopping in the Byward Market (Argosy Books at 209 Dalhousie Street is one of our favourites) we stopped at the new Ottawa branch of i deal coffee (176 Dalhousie Street, K1N 7C6; there are also three locations in Toronto) to recharge and because it smelled heavenly – you could smell the roasting coffee from half a block away. I don’t drink coffee, but the delicious scent made me nearly swoon anyway.  My husband said it was one of the best he’s had for a long time. i deal coffee is a fair way up Dalhousie Street, but it’s definitely worth going. There was ample room next to the booth seating for the baby carriage, and there’s also an outdoor patio with a few tables. No bathrooms, though.

Coffee roasting

So far I’ve eaten so much that I feel like I have to roll myself to bed every night, but I still have some more places to review. Stay tuned for Part 3 of our Ottawa adventures!

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