Tag Archives: cake

Jacobs Chop House

There is no greater pleasure than to meander around my neighbourhood on a beautiful spring day, pointing out the blossoms and buds to the Baberoo – who giggles and claps with joy to see such beauty – and then to continue into Headington for a leisurely breakfast. Today we tried out Jacobs Chop House (3 Manor Buildings, Osler Road, OX3 7RA), our newest neighbourhood establishment. The Chop House is the third venture for the partners behind Jacobs & Field and Jacobs Inn, and it’s a welcome addition to Headington, taking over the premises of the now-closed Cafe Noir (which lives on at Coco Noir just down the street).

I’ve given favourable reviews to both Jacobs & Field and Jacobs Inn, and I was hoping that I would enjoy my experience at Jacobs Chop House just as much. And I sure did. I ordered the steak, eggs, and spinach (‘Breakfast of Champions’, £8.50) and was treated to one of the best steaks I’ve had in ages, brought up to me from the basement kitchen by the chef himself. You might not expect a breakfast-dish steak to be as tasty and succulent as a dinner steak, but boy, was it ever. I enjoyed every bite, except for the one tiny corner I permitted the Baberoo to have. She was more into the eggs anyway: she commandeered them and I hardly got any. The spinach was served raw and was bursting with freshness.

Jacobs Chop House steak and eggs

In my book it is just fine to order cake no matter what time of day, and there was a pretty tempting-looking lemon poppyseed cake on the counter. It was nice and moist and the icing was excellent.

Jacobs Chop House cake

Jacobs Chop House, as the name suggests, revolves mainly around meat, and their menu offers lots of chops: lamb chop, veal loin chop, bacon chop, steak, etc. But there are also some other interesting dishes on the menu: slow-roasted beef short rib, grilled cod cheeks, and ‘London particular soup’, which I may well have to investigate very soon. I think it’s settled: I now have a go-to restaurant in my neighbourhood.

So, how did Jacobs Chop House rate for baby-friendliness? My ratings system takes into account menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding (more about these on my About page).

Menu: As mentioned above, the menu is mostly meat, with lots of chops that definitely require the use of both hands. So if you need to hold your baby in one arm, there are only a few large plates that you can comfortably eat using one hand. There are a few options available in the ‘smaller plates’ section of the menu. But still, if you’re going to go to a Chop House, you might as well go for the chops – which means making sure that your baby is either sleeping or happy enough to sit in a high chair so you can use both hands for eating.

Space: It’s a small space but it seems bigger than it is because of its high ceilings and clever use of mirrors. Still, there’s probably only room for a maximum of three pushchairs in the whole restaurant, otherwise there wouldn’t be room for anyone to move around. We used the lone table on the left side, near the counter with stools, and there was plenty of room for our quite large Uppababy Vista, but that was also because the place wasn’t full. I imagine that at lunchtimes, and especially dinnertimes, it can be a very tight squeeze. There’s more seating downstairs but unless your pushchair folds up easily it’s probably not an option.

Jacobs Chop House interior

Ambiance: This feels like a place where you could hang out for hours, nibbling at various plates, sipping a coffee, and just reading a book or talking with friends. It has an easy, relaxed feel about it. The staff were very friendly and our server asked the Baberoo’s name and was interacting with her the whole time. They were helpful in getting a high chair set up and opening the door for us to get in and out (although it’s a pretty easy door and there are no steps, which is great).

Facilities: Kudos to Jacobs Chop House for providing a baby-changing facility in what are some pretty tiny bathrooms – I had originally feared that there might not be a changing facility, but there is. It’s in one of the unisex loos downstairs (the one on the right), so you’ll have to leave your pushchair upstairs and walk down with the baby. The changing table is in a very small entry space outside the actual toilet cubicle. Remember to lock the outer door, otherwise you might get whacked by someone else trying to get into the bathroom. The changing table itself is a wooden shelf with one leg supporting it, very much like the one at Jacobs Inn but sturdier-feeling. There isn’t anywhere to put your bag and the changing table is quite small, and there also isn’t any access to the sink, which is inside the toilet cubicle behind a fairly heavy door. But they have made the effort and done a pretty good job with the space they have.

Jacobs Chop House baby-changing facilities

Feeding: If you’re a breastfeeding mother, the bench seats will be pretty comfy, although the tables are quite close together so you may not get much privacy. The wooden chairs are fairly small but you could probably manage with them too. If your baby is up for some food, they need to be good with eating meat; it’s not up every baby’s alley so you may want to have some snacks handy. The high chairs are actually a padded booster seat strapped to a regular chair. It was the first time the Baberoo had used one of these but it worked just fine. (Remember to put the baby’s bib on before doing up all the straps, though!)

The final score for baby-friendliness for Jacobs Chop House is 7.0 out of 10. They do very well with the small space they have available, and the ambiance and friendly service makes it a place you’ll want to return to again and again.

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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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Barefoot Books

Last week the Baberoo and I met up with my NCT friends and their babies at Barefoot Books (294 Banbury Road, OX2 7ED) for some tea and cake at the Storyteller’s Café. The bookshop’s ethos is global culture and diversity, and its independent publishing imprint reflects the founders’ love of storytelling. The café is a place where many parents come to chill out while the kids run around the bookshop singing along to animated videos on the big screen and playing in the storytelling area. It’s pretty much a children’s paradise.

On this visit, I ordered a chocolate brownie and pineapple juice (£5 all in). The Baberoo ate some cooked apple and toast brought from home. My brownie had a chilli kick to it, which was nice, although its cakey nature meant it was slightly on the dry side. The chocolate sauce that would have come with it might have mitigated this, but they had run out before I got there.

Brownie from Barefoot Books

So how does Barefoot Books rate for baby-friendliness? My rating system, which is explained fully on my About page, covers menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding. Here’s how Barefoot Books stacked up against my five criteria.

Menu: The Storyteller’s Café menu includes sandwiches, quiches, salads, soups, and other lunch dishes, as well as all-day breakfast, cakes, and other treats. There’s also a kids’ lunch pack with kid-friendly items, although I think probably most of the menu items would be enjoyed by children. You’ll be able to find several items that you can eat with one hand while holding a baby. There are also lots of high chairs (the most I’ve ever seen in one establishment – and they are the lovely Stokke Tripp Trapp ones) that you can use for your baby if you want to be hands-free.

Space: On most of the occasions I’ve been here, the place has been jam-packed with parents and children. You won’t have any trouble manoeuvring through the bookshop, but once you get to the café you may find yourself trying to squeeze through rather tight spaces. Since it’s such a family-friendly place there are usually lots of baby carriages everywhere, but if you’re stuck people will move their carriages out of the way for you. Our NCT group chose to meet during the school run hour, which meant that we enjoyed more space to ourselves since there were fewer families there. Bonus!

Barefoot Books Storyteller's Cafe

Ambiance: Colourful, fun, and geared towards children. Activities abound in the bookstore, including storytime, arts and crafts activities, and the animated video wall that kids can sing along to. There’s also an events calendar with bookable events such as pilates (for parents), ballet, tap, and yoga (for children), and sessions in French, Spanish, and German, many of which take place in the upstairs studio. The staff are friendly and obviously very welcoming towards children. It’s all so bright and interactive that you may find it grating after a while – or perhaps I’m the only parent who’s allergic to too much colour all in one place – but the kids will love it. I think as far as babies are concerned, the child-friendly stuff isn’t as attractive to them now as it will be in a year or two.

Activity Station at Barefoot Books

Facilities: The baby-changing facilities are just as colourful as the rest of the store, which makes a change from the usual dull gray or cream fittings. There’s enough space to get your carriage in comfortably, and there’s a toilet for parents to use. The room has an unusual, highly-curved changing table, which works well to prevent exploratory rolling. There’s natural light from a window and the room smells fresh, although the bin needs to be emptied more frequently; on this visit it was overflowing.

Barefoot Books baby-changing facilities

Feeding: I’ve breastfed the Baberoo here on a few occasions and have felt right at home doing so, although the chairs aren’t terribly comfortable. There are comfier benches in the storytelling area, although you may not get to use them if there’s an activity going on. This is the kind of place where you might see several other mothers breastfeeding at the same time as you, so it’s very welcoming. I’ve also fed the Baberoo with snacks from home without feeling guilty for not buying her food from their cafe, although when she’s old enough and hungry enough to eat from a kids’ menu she’ll have some excellent choices here.

Barefoot Books gets an 8.0 out of 10 for baby-friendliness, but I would still say it’s more geared towards children rather than babies. However, if you, like me, are encouraging your child’s love of books early, you’ll have a nice time perusing their bookshelves and finding stories to read to your little one.

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Cafe Loco

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

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

Tea tray

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

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

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

Tables

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

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

Changing table

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

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

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Modern Art Oxford

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

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

Butterscotch cake

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

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

Entrance

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

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

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

Tables

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

Tea selection

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

Changing table

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

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

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