Tag Archives: Central Oxford

Thaikhun

Apparently I have been living on another planet for the last few months because I hadn’t heard about the grand opening of Thaikhun (36 George Street, OX1 2BJ) in April. I only noticed last week that it had replaced Cleaver on busy George Street, and made a mental note to visit ASAP, since Thai is one of my favourite cuisines. So during a jam-packed day of museum-visiting and errand-running, we stopped at Thaikhun for lunch.

Thaikhun taxi

My foodie friends will probably be aghast to know that I have become (or rather, re-become) vegetarian this year, and I admit it has made it more challenging to dine out – but I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that the menu had a whole vegetarian section. (However, I also was disappointed not to be able to partake of many of the delicious-sounding other items on the menu!). I always judge a Thai restaurant by its pad thai, so for me the Pad Thai Jay (£7.95) was required eating. I also ordered the corn fritters (£4.25) to share with Oxford Daddy. The fritters were extremely tasty and moreish, with a good dose of kaffir lime leaf. The pad thai was good, with a flavourful sauce that was just a bit too sweet. I wasn’t partial to the big, crunchy chunks of cabbage in it – I’d have preferred smaller slivers cooked more thoroughly. To accompany the meal I had a Thai iced tea (£2.50), made with condensed milk and topped with whipped cream. Naturally, the Baberoo kept requesting sips, but I only permitted her a small amount because I’m pretty sure the caffeine content was sky-high!

Thaikhun pad thai and fritters

This is one of the only Thai restaurants I know of that has a kids’ menu, and it’s a great one, with four mains reasonably priced from £4.25-£4.95. No cop-outs here – all dishes have authentically Thai flavours. Some are mini-versions of the adult dishes (classic Pad Thai; barbecued pork with sweet BBQ sauce), while others are Thai versions of classic children’s menu offerings (Bangkok popcorn chicken, a much classier take on chicken nuggets). The Baberoo got the Nong Noo Guy Noodles (£4.25), egg noodles with sliced chicken breast, carrots, and beansprouts. She actually received two bowls of noodles – our original order came after she had mistakenly gotten the next table’s noodles with cherry tomato, beansprout, and egg. We kept both and she enjoyed both of them.

Thaikhun noodles

Service was friendly and extremely prompt, and despite the wrong order being brought to our table I got a clear sense that they were aiming to please and correcting mistakes right away. One item from the menu wasn’t available, which was disappointing, but food-wise, I was pleasantly surprised. I had thought that it would be run-of-the-mill, but it was better than expected. I’m looking forward to going back and sampling more of the menu. Now, here’s how it rates for baby- and toddler-friendliness, according to my five criteria of menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding.

Menu: For those who need to hold a baby in one arm while eating with the other hand (or, like me, who need to eat with one hand while using the other to fend off a child who is alternating between head-butting you and throwing her arms around you exclaiming ‘Mommy, you’re my best friend!’), this menu offers plenty of one-handed choices. Most of the mains (excluding some of the grills) and most of the starters and salads can easily be eaten with one hand, and you also get the choice between chopsticks and traditional cutlery.

Space: Most of the seating is downstairs in the basement level, although there are some tables on the ground floor. If you’re happy to do so, you can leave your pushchair behind the welcome desk and in other corners near the front of the restaurant. If you need to bring it to your table, there are some spots on the ground floor where it wouldn’t be in the way and it wouldn’t be too difficult to manoeuvre through the restaurant, although it’d be easier with a smallish stroller.

Thaikhun space

Ambiance: There’s some amazing decor in Thaikhun, including a Thai taxi right at the door and lots of banners, canopies, lanterns, crates, posters – plus Thai graffiti on every conceivable surface. They’ve even got boats hanging from the ceiling and also made into benches at one table. They’re all from Thailand and they add so much character to the restaurant that already when you walk in you’re excited to be there. For smaller babies the visuals will be mesmerizing – although they could also be overwhelming, and the cheery loudness of the place will be too much for some babies to sleep through. The Baberoo enjoyed bopping around to the music (which was one of the only things in the restaurant that wasn’t Thai). The service is extremely friendly, and we had many servers come by our table and speak to the Baberoo. Kids are definitely made welcome.

Thaikhun ambiance

Facilities: There are regular toilets in the downstairs seating area and a disabled/baby-changing toilet on the ground floor. Both sets of toilets require you to go up a few steps, so you wouldn’t easily be able to bring your stroller in with you, which is a definite drawback if you need it or you don’t want to leave it unattended at your table. The baby-changing facilities on the ground floor are fine and reasonably spacious. Since we were in the downstairs seating area and had brought our potty with us, we just used the regular toilets. The stalls are too small to get into if you are helping a little one down on the floor (and probably would be a tight squeeze if you brought a portable toilet trainer seat that fits right on top of the regular toilet – you’d probably have to keep the stall door open in order to move around comfortably). But since the sink/mirror area was spacious, we just put our potty outside the stalls where the Baberoo could look at the colourful array of posters on the walls and we’d be out of the way of other patrons who needed to use the stalls. It worked fine.

Thaikhun toilets

Feeding: As mentioned above, the kids’ menu is great for those who are eating solid foods, especially if they are adventurous. Those who balk at anything but standard fare might not do so well here. There are plenty of high chairs for those who need them. Breastfeeding mothers can choose between bench seating and chairs. Benches are padded; chairs are not, but since they are artfully mismatched you could probably take your pick of whatever chair looks most comfortable to you, and swap with another table if yours doesn’t have one of that type.

In total, Thaikhun gets a 7.5 out of 10 for baby- and toddler-friendliness. For an energizing, cheery atmosphere and interesting kids’ menu choices, this is a tasty place to dine with your little one.

 

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Clockwork Music

I started taking the Baberoo to music and sensory sessions long ago, when she was just 7 months old. Now, aged 2 ¼, she still loves going to her regular class every week. Clockwork Music (various venues; £66 per 12-week term) is relatively new to Oxford, but is based upon the many years of music teaching experience of co-founders Claire Naylor and Karen Amos. We started out in Claire’s classes when she was teaching through the nationwide Monkey Music system, but she and Karen have now ventured out on their own to create the fabulous Clockwork Music curriculum. It’s a half-hour of fun, songs, games, and experimenting with musical instruments, with lots of movement, dancing, and just a wee bit of organized chaos going on.

Clockwork Music instruments

Clockwork Music offers sessions for different age levels from the youngest babies to pre-schoolers. Our session is the Clockmakers group, for children between 2-3 years old, and takes place on Wednesday mornings at St. Giles Church Hall. Other sessions run at different venues in and around Oxford, Abingdon, and Thame. For information about these sessions please check the Clockwork Music website for venues listings. This review will focus on the Clockmakers session with Claire at St Giles Church Hall.

Clockwork Music Tick Tock clock

As soon as you walk into the Clockwork Music classroom and see Claire with her selection of toys, puppets, musical instruments, and other props, you know that you’ll be in for a fantastic time. Tick Tock, the giant clock, has hands that turn to point to the songs that will be sung during the session, and Tick Tock’s friends Brown Bear, Mouse, Dragon, and many other friendly animals will lead you through each tune. Babies will enjoy hearing the different sounds of instruments and noisemakers, while toddlers and preschoolers will enjoy banging on drums, shaking maracas and rainmakers, and clacking castanets. There’s also time for stomping, dancing, and following along with actions to songs. The energy in the room is always positive, and Claire does an amazing job of going with the flow while also gently leading the class through the scheduled session.

Space: The main room of St Giles Church Hall acts as the music classroom. It’s a lovely open space with high ceilings, beautiful windows, good lighting, nice wooden floors, and lots of room to run around and play. There are benches where you can deposit your coats and bags. Your stroller can be parked in an adjoining space which has ample room for about 15 pushchairs or so.

Clockwork Music St Giles Church Hall

Ambiance: Fun, friendly, and energetic. Singing along to the catchy tunes will perk you up if you (or your child) are feeling low. The welcoming feeling in the room is an unbeatable combination of engaging teacher and well-chosen venue. And the little ones and parents we have met in the friendly atmosphere have ended up being some of our best friends.

Facilities: There is a baby-changing table in one of the bathrooms just off the main classroom. The bathroom is spacious, clean and well-lit, and the pull-down table works fine. The only problem is that for some reason there are no garbage bins in that or any other bathrooms in the building. If you have a stinky nappy to dispose of, you will have to bag it and take it with you until you can find an appropriate place to bin it.

Feeding: There are built-in benches in the main classroom at St Giles Church Hall. When the Baberoo was younger and still breastfeeding, I would sit on a bench after class while Claire tidied up the props and I would breastfeed her, often in the company of another mother or two. The benches are comfortable enough, but there are also some plastic chairs in the entry area and the stroller-parking area if you prefer. For older toddlers and kids who need snacks I’m fairly sure that it’s fine to eat in the room, although if there is another class coming in directly after you there may not be time to sit and stay a while while munching on a treat. However, there are several cafés nearby, to which you could hop along for, say, a babyccino, as we usually do with some of our classmates.

Clockwork Music is one of our favourite activities of the week. I can’t recommend it highly enough. This review gives it 7 out of 8 points, but it can’t do justice to the fun and camaraderie that we experience every time we go. If you are looking for a fun session that introduces your little one to music and movement, Clockwork Music is my top recommendation.

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Nick Cope

The Baberoo has owned one of the CDs by Nick Cope, the Oxford-based children’s singer-songwriter, for quite a while now, and we have always enjoyed listening to his music. But we had never been to see one of his concerts (£3 per child, £1 per adult) until last month. We accompanied some friends who are regular attendees to a performance at the St Albans Church Hall in East Oxford (corner of Charles and Catherine Streets), and as soon as he started playing I kicked myself for not attending a live show before.

There’s a reason Nick Cope has such a strong following. He is beloved by both children and parents because his songs are delightful and catchy. We’ve all had the irritating ‘Wheels on the Bus’ earworm follow us around for days at a time, but Nick Cope’s songs are so funny and tuneful that it’s actually a pleasure to catch yourself humming, oh, say, a song about a witch that lived in a forest with a pet dragon named Keith.

It’s his unusual and inventive songwriting that’ll charm you first, and if you’ve got his CDs (he’s got three so far and a fourth to be released for Christmas 2014) then it’s fun to sing along to his indie-pop-sounding songs with your little one at home. But when you see him performing live, you’ll realize what you’ve been missing. It is brilliant live entertainment. He’s got an incredible talent for relating to both children and adults at the same time. He gets the audience clapping, stomping, making faces, and jumping up and down with gusto. His act is a perfect balance of over-the-top gurning and deadpan patter. And his impressions are spot-on; when he does one of his animal songs you actually believe that what you are seeing in front of you is a meerkat.

Nick Cope plays weekly family music sessions at several locations in Oxford and Abingdon, and also performs at festivals and events in and around Oxfordshire. The session we have attended most frequently runs from 10:45-11:45 on Fridays at St Albans Church Hall in East Oxford (although it’s a bit of a trek for us; I wish there was a concert location in Headington!). We’ve also been to see him in Wantage at the Beacon, and he’s a regular at the Story Museum during school holidays. Check Nick’s site for details of locations and times for upcoming sessions. The following details about space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding (as per my usual ratings system) refer specifically to the St Albans Church Hall location.

Space: The space at St Albans Church Hall isn’t huge, but it’s got enough room for about 30-40 families, including enough space for everyone’s baby carriage to be parked at the back. A half-circle of about 30 chairs provides a seating space, and there’s plenty more space to sit on the floor. Many children love to go right up to the front to watch Nick play, all the better to watch his hilarious facial expressions.

Ambiance: The feeling when you walk into a Nick Cope concert couldn’t be more wonderful. The music puts you in such a good mood that you feel like you’re friends with everyone in the room. To watch the gyrating toddlers throwing themselves around in gleeful abandon takes you back to your own childhood, lifting your spirits and temporarily banishing all your worries. There’s a reason I’ve never seen a kid cry at a Nick Cope concert (unless they’ve fallen and bonked themselves, in which case the crying only lasts a couple of seconds). It’s like magic. Yes, it’s that good.

Facilities: St Albans Church Hall, unfortunately, does not have any baby-changing facilities. However, there would be ample space on the floor (not in the bathroom itself, but in the concert area) if you needed to change a diaper. But I’m guessing most people who attend live close enough to be able to get home fairly quickly (perhaps while even humming Nick’s song ‘The Baby’s Done a Poo’) in the event of a diaper emergency. I can’t speak for the facilities at the other locations where Nick does concerts, but again, it may be that many attendees live close by and can get home for diaper changes.

Feeding: I’ve seen mothers happily breastfeeding their younger babies as their toddler joins the ranks of dancing children. And although food is not available to buy, eating in the hall is permitted and there are plenty of rice cakes, raisins, and other snacks strewn on the floor by the time the concert is over.

In total, the Nick Cope concerts at St Albans Church Hall get a 6 out of 8 on my baby- and toddler-friendliness scale, the mark lowered only because there is no baby-changing facility available at that location (not his fault, of course!). But Nick Cope himself gets a 10 out of 10 in my book. Go and see his concerts; you and your young children will love them.

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Carluccio’s

Carluccio’s (1-2 Little Clarendon Street, OX1 2HP) has recently reopened in Oxford – good news for those who love the chain and were disappointed when it shut down its original Castle Quarter location in 2010. It has taken a while for them to find a new place, but they are now very well-located on Little Clarendon Street, which has no shortage of eateries and foot traffic.

In our London days, Oxford Daddy and I frequently visited our local Carluccio’s, sometimes to eat and sometimes just to buy some of their fresh pasta and sauces to cook at home. There doesn’t seem to be any space in this new Oxford Carluccio’s for fresh food, deli, and bakery items to take away, which is a shame, but they still have some of their packaged items (mainly biscuits, savoury crackers, and Italian coffee) for sale.

Carluccio's interior

When the Baberoo, her Gran, and I tried out the new Carluccio’s for lunch recently, we arrived before noon, but the restaurant was already filling up quite quickly, a testament to its new location. Just in time, we grabbed one of the round tables near the window, which had some space for both the stroller and a high chair. With the help of one of the accommodating staff, I placed the Baberoo’s order right away (always a useful thing to be able to do if you have a little one who can’t stand long waiting times) and she was successfully entertained by a colouring/activity book and pencil crayons, as well as by her appetizer of grissini breadsticks, until her main course arrived. I ordered her the penne with tomato sauce (all children’s meals are £6.60 and include breadsticks, soft drink, and ice cream or fruit salad along with the main), which she enjoyed, all the more because she was eating with a fork – a newly-developed skill that makes eating out a lot less messy!

I ordered the spaghetti carbonara (£8.75), a dish I hadn’t eaten for ages. It had a generous amount of delicious smoky pancetta but the pasta was a little plain – as it should be with carbonara, but it made me remember that I prefer pasta with a sauce. My own fault! I’ll order differently next time.

Carluccio's spaghetti carbonara

The Baberoo is very much into ice cream right now, so she was thrilled when her tub of ‘cold’ came along. Unfortunately, by that time service had become much slower due to an influx of diners, and we had to cut the dessert short to rush off to the carpark to put some more money in the meter. It was a good thing that the ice cream came in a container we could take away (although eating it in the stroller wasn’t the easiest thing and I ‘had’ to finish it for her).

We had a pleasant time at Carluccio’s and I’d go there again. Here’s how it stacks up for baby- and toddler-friendliness according to my five criteria of menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding (more about these on my About page):

Menu: With a menu this big, you’re bound to find something you can eat even if you are holding a squalling baby with one arm while you use your free hand to twirl some pasta. Certainly many of the pasta dishes will work, as well as many first courses or small plates. Main courses that are fish-based may also be OK to eat with one hand, while meat-based dishes require both hands.

Space: There’s not a huge amount of space between tables at this Carluccio’s – if you have a big stroller, your best bet is one of the round tables near the window. Otherwise you may have difficulty negotiating your way around the restaurant, especially with all the diners and staff. There is a step up to get through the front door but it’s pretty manageable.

Ambiance: Light and cheerful, with very friendly staff who enjoy talking to babies and toddlers. It’s a busy place and we had about four different people helping us over the course of our lunch, which is not always a good thing – sometimes requests (like our water) can be forgotten. It’s clear that the restaurant is a family-friendly place and Carluccio’s has spared no expense in making this known – not least with the colouring/activity book. It was no ordinary photocopied sheet; it was a multi-page, beautifully-produced ‘Italian Journal’, designed by the illustrator Marion Deuchars. It made me want to do all the activities myself!

Carluccio's activity book

Facilities: There’s a spacious baby-changing and disabled toilet on the ground floor, near the back of the restaurant. It’s clean and fresh, with good bright lighting and a well-placed disposal bin and sink.

Carluccio's baby-changing facilities

Feeding: If you’re breastfeeding, choose a table with the wooden chairs without armrests, as those with armrests will be too cramped for you to hold a baby comfortably. There are a few tables with bench seating if you prefer. If your little one is eating solid foods, there’s a very thorough kids’ menu with all the classic Italian favourites in smaller portions.

In total, Carluccio’s rates an 8 out of 10 for baby- and toddler-friendliness. If you can, go during a time when it’s not as busy and you’ll get prompt and helpful attention from the staff.

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Pierre Victoire Bistrot

I have been meaning to visit Pierre Victoire (9 Little Clarendon Street, OX1 2HP) for quite a while now, but I’ve always been worried that its cozy (read: non-spacious) interior won’t afford enough room for our massive pushchair. But this weekend as the Baberoo, her Daddy, and I strolled around Oxford looking for a good place for lunch, we decided that we would give it a shot – despite the fact that nearly all the tables were occupied. Sometimes you just really want a confit, you know?

We hadn’t been out to eat in a while because the Baberoo’s nap is usually during lunch time, and I am very pleased to report that there has been a massive change for the better in her table manners and patience. Parents of toddlers, rejoice! There is yet hope if you cringe at the thought of taking your little one out. In my experience, from age 12 months to about 20 months was the worst of the tantrum stage, and I can see that things are starting to get better. (Parents of older toddlers, are you shaking your heads thinking that I don’t know what I’m talking about and the worst is yet to come? I beseech you, don’t burst my bubble. The kid acted great this time. I know I’m basing my prediction on one instance, but I hope that this trend will continue.)

With the Baberoo ensconced in her high chair, we ordered from the Prix Fixe menu, available from Monday-Saturday from 12:00-2:30 (a terrific value at £7.90 for one course, £9.90 for two, or £11.90 for three, with a few selections that cost extra). I chose the Confit de Canard à la Framboise, the duck confit with raspberry sauce and gratin Dauphinois. I was very happy with the way the meat fell away from the bone, and the tangy sauce complemented the rich flavour of the duck. The cheesy, buttery potatoes were also delightful. My husband enjoyed his steak, and the Baberoo ate quite a lot of her Linguine à la Provençale, the pasta-and-tomato-sauce dish from the kids’ menu (£5.90 for a main plus dessert), plus two little pots of grated cheese. She also wolfed down her ice cream, which had flecks of real vanilla bean, while my husband chose a pleasingly-spiced apple cake.

Pierre Victoire confit de canard

The service couldn’t have been nicer. The maitre d’, who helped us get in with our stroller and parked it in a corner near the kitchen so that we had plenty of room around our table, was charismatic and hospitable. During his many tours of the restaurant floor we overheard him chatting with diners, taking reservations (some from people lunching who wanted to come back for dinner!) and giving advice – including recommendations on how best to get wine stains out of clothing. I think the yellow cardigan in question was actually taken to the kitchen and the wine stains removed! When he came to our table he told us about his little boy, whose favourite food is snails (for the record, right now the Baberoo’s favourite is olives). Our waiting staff were also very helpful and, for the most part, efficient, especially considering that the restaurant remained full far past the lunch closing time of 2:30.

I truly enjoyed my meal and the whole experience I had at Pierre Victoire. I will certainly be going back again to try some of the other menu offerings. But how does it rate for baby- and toddler-friendliness? The five categories I look at are menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding – you can find out more about these on my About page.

Menu: Classic French dishes usually require the use of both hands to eat, so if you’re looking for something you can eat one-handed while holding a baby in the other arm, you only have a small number of choices when it comes to main courses. The hors d’oeuvres are mosty doable, but for mains the only ones that you could eat with one hand for sure are the quiche and the risotto – although I think I could have eaten my duck with one hand in a pinch.

Space: True to the cozy bistrot style, the tables at Pierre Victoire are packed close together and there’s not a lot of room to move around, especially with a stroller. That said, our maitre d’ was excellent at helping us into and through the restaurant and relieving us of the pushchair to save space at the table.

Pierre Victoire restaurant interior

Ambiance: The staff were friendly and spoke directly to the Baberoo. Music, if there was any, was drowned out by the boisterous sounds of happy diners – not a bad thing, unless you have a sleeping little one who is prone to awakening at loud laughter. The decor is homey and unpretentious.

Facilities: Quel dommage! Pierre Victoire doesn’t have any baby-changing facilities. It’s such a shame, because there is probably enough room in the toilets to add one if they could re-jig the space a bit (although you would still have to go downstairs to the basement). There is a wooden counter where the sink is, but it would only accommodate the smallest of infants. If your little one is any bigger, you’re out of luck unless you want to try the floor.

Pierre Victoire toilets

Feeding: Because the tables are quite close together, if you’re breastfeeding you might be a little cramped. The wooden chairs are not especially comfortable, but they’ll do if you need to breastfeed. For little ones who are eating solid food, there are high chairs and a kids’ menu, although some offerings (smoked salmon quiche, chicken and fries) are more suited to older kids’ palates. If your toddler enjoys pasta (and really, who knows one who doesn’t?) the linguine with tomato sauce will do fine.

In total, Pierre Victoire gets a 6.5 out of 10 for baby- and toddler-friendliness. The mark is necessarily lower because of the lack of baby-changing facilities, but it’s no reflection on the food, which I thought was excellent. I would say that it’s more of a place for parents to enjoy on their own, rather than with their little ones, but if you are fine with no changing facilities then by all means go with your babies and toddlers. The staff will help you out and you can all enjoy the French fare together. Personally, I can’t wait to come back here on a date alone with my chéri so we can enjoy a whole leisurely 3-course dinner.

 

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Oxford University Museum of Natural History

The Oxford University Museum of Natural History (Parks Road, OX1 3PW) re-opened in February 2014 after 14 months of closure, with a restored glass roof and a new café in the upper gallery. The Baberoo and I have visited a couple of times since then, once with friends during a quiet term-time lunch hour and once during the height of the school holidays.

Dinosaur

There are some fabulous touch-and-feel areas in the museum that babies and toddlers can enjoy, including tiny Mandy the Shetland Pony (an example of taxidermy so adorable that I wanted to stroke her as much as all the kids did; I’m surprised her coat isn’t worn down by all the petting she gets) and two huge tables of touchable specimens. The Baberoo especially enjoyed the stuffed fox, owl, and wallaby. The tables are at adult height, so you will have to hold your baby or sit them right on the table to touch the specimens.

OUMNH touch and feel table

If your little one is toddling around, they’ll have fun running around the museum spaces; just be careful around some of the dinosaurs and other skeletons, which are very easy to reach out and grab for despite the signs warning that they are delicate and not to be touched.

Baberoo and bones

For some reason, every toddler I know who has visited the museum is obsessed by the Victorian iron grates on the floor (although I expect that their obsession will shift to dinosaurs by the time they’re preschoolers). The Baberoo spent a lot of the time running from grate to grate, although she did pause to point out some eggs and animals in some of the glass cases.

Baberoo and grates

One way in which the museum could do better is by improving the signs around the building’s exterior directing you towards the stroller entrance. Signs in different places give conflicting information and the entrance for buggies and wheelchairs is not obvious at all. You could walk from one door to another several times without finding the way in. The picture below shows you where to enter – it’s to the right of the main building, at the first rounded archway. You go in through a door on the left when you enter the archway (you can’t see the door in the picture, but the red arrow points in the correct direction). You then need to turn to the right, go down a corridor, turn left, and take a lift up to the main level or the upper galleries.

OUMNH stroller entrance

We have enjoyed our visits to the museum and we’ll continue to go back in the future. The experience is limited at the moment to the touch-and-feel specimens and the intriguing floor grates, but as the Baberoo gets older she’ll begin to be interested in more of the gallery content. The museum is geared more towards families with school-aged children, but babies and toddlers will still have fun.

So how would I rate the OUMNH for baby- and toddler-friendliness? I usually rate an attraction on an 8-point scale rather than a 10-point scale, since there may not be any scope for the ‘menu’ criteria to be evaluated. However, since the OUMNH has a café and I’ve eaten there, I’ll use my regular 10-point scale instead, with the five criteria of menu, space, ambiance, facilities and feeding (see more about these criteria on my About page).

Menu: The café – run by Mortons, one of Oxford’s independent sandwich bars – serves mainly sandwiches, wraps, cakes, and other lunch/tea fare. Most of the items are easy enough to eat with one hand if you need to hold your baby with the other. The hummus wrap I had on our first visit was good and fresh; the coffee and walnut cake was a little dry. If your baby is on solid food there are some choices in the café that may work; there are special kids’ meal boxes (although some of the contents may be too ‘grown-up’ for some babies and toddlers). Signs in the café ask visitors to please not bring their own food to eat, but on our first visit I ignored this rule, having brought some snacks for the Baberoo. I was pleased I had, because she didn’t want the porridge that I bought her from the café. I think you can probably safely bring things for young babies and toddlers without the museum minding too much. There is an abundance of high chairs for little ones.

OUMNH Cafe

Space: The aisles and spaces within the museum are wide and roomy enough for any stroller, even a double buggy. (Amusingly, they were built this way to accommodate Victorian ladies’ crinolines!) You’ll have no problem manoeuvring your buggy anywhere within the gallery spaces. The café might present more of a spatial challenge; it’s in the upper galleries so it’s narrow and long. When it’s full people tend to station their buggies, high chairs, or an extra regular seat at the side of their table, using part of the aisle.  The lift, which you will need to use in order to get from the stroller entrance to any of the gallery spaces, is quite small and narrow.

Ambiance: This is a really family-friendly museum; they understand that families are one of their primary audiences. There’s a welcoming feeling, and the wide-open spaces and great lighting from the high glass roof make it feel a little less crowded even when it’s chock-full of people. Babies and strollers are made to feel welcome.

Facilities: There is a huge baby-changing toilet near the stroller entrance; it has masses of space and a very large pull-down changing table. The room is clean and fresh-smelling. Since this bathroom is located on the lower ground level you will need to use the lift to get to it (unless you’re using it when entering or leaving the building via the stroller entrance). According to the museum’s website there are also disabled toilets with baby-changing facilities near the main museum entrance.

OUMNH baby changing facilities

Feeding: There are chairs scattered around the museum; if you’re breastfeeding you may be able to find a chair in one of the quieter gallery spaces. They are padded and don’t have arms so they will probably work well for comfort. Little ones who are eating regular food can partake of the café’s offerings; since it’s a museum obviously no food is allowed in any other area.

For baby- and toddler-friendliness the Oxford University Museum of Natural History rates an 8 out of 10. Little ones will have fun exploring the museum’s touch-and-feel activities, and when they’re older they’ll get even more out of it. My advice is to start them young!

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Bill’s

One thing you never realize until you’ve lived with a toddler is that regular-people lunchtime falls exactly during toddler naptime. That means that going out for lunch at a normal hour is pretty difficult indeed. Never mind: there’s still breakfast, brunch, tea, and dinner!

Our most recent breakfast was at Bill’s (Northgate Hall, St Michael’s Street, OX1 2DU). I went to the original Bill’s in Lewes when it was the only one and rushed with excitement to try the one in Covent Garden when they opened in London; now there are more than 40 branches. They’re definitely doing something right, but as with most endeavours that start out small and get a lot bigger pretty quick, there’s a bit of a sameness to the newer branches that will never match the homegrown ambiance of the original.

Bill’s does a good job of offering tasty food throughout the day; there are menus for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and teatime. I ordered the blueberry and buttermilk pancakes (£5.95) with a peach and fresh mint iced tea (£2.95), while Oxford Daddy opted for the Bill’s Breakfast (£7.95) and the Baberoo got the eggs on toast from the kids’ menu (£2.95). The pancakes were light and thin – much better than your average stodgy thick pancake – but there were only three of them, which left me still hungry. This is unusual for Bill’s, where I’ve always found the servings quite generous.

Bill's pancakes

Luckily, I had also ordered a Jaffa cake (£2.55) from the teatime menu, so I wolfed down most of it – revelling in the squidgy, tangy jelly – and exchanged the rest for part of Oxford Daddy’s breakfast (the sausages were delicious). I also scarfed most of the Baberoo’s eggs, since she was enjoying the toast more. I was finally full, but I wouldn’t order the pancakes again because of the small quantity.

Bill's Jaffa cake

I’m a longtime fan of Bill’s and it will always be on my list of places to go for something tasty at any time of the day. But is it baby- and toddler-friendly? Here’s how it rates based on the five elements I always look for: menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding.

Menu: The breakfast menu offers a few choices suitable for those who need to hold a baby in one arm while eating with only one hand; the lunch/dinner menu does less well, since most of the offerings will require both hands to eat. Your best bets, if you need to eat one-handed, are risotto, mac’n’cheese, and some of the mezze, starters, and small plates. But you can always get one of the cakes or sweets from the teatime menu (which I highly recommend), so it’s a great choice of venue for afternoon tea. Bill’s offers a kids’ menu that offers a larger selection than the usual children’s menu, including six breakfast dishes (priced from £1.95 to £4.95) and seven lunch/dinner dishes (all £5.95, including ice cream for dessert). Many of the dishes will appeal to even the smallest toddlers.

Space: Your first hurdle will be getting up the stairs; there is a set of five stairs to get into the restaurant, which may deter those with large prams. It put me off for months before I finally went in! The staff are always happy to help you lift your carriage up the stairs, though. Once you’re in, you have only a few choices for seating where you are not blocking the way for other restaurant patrons and staff, especially since tables are set close together. There are a few tables that have regular chairs; these are your best bet. The booth seating doesn’t leave much room for a pushchair (and if you also need a high chair then there’s hardly any room at all). We sat at a regular table and removed two chairs so we had room for both stroller and high chair.

Bill's interior

Ambiance: The style is industrial-cozy: reclaimed wood, exposed piping, leather armchairs in lounging areas. The restaurant is also bursting with displays of Bill’s packaged specialty foods, which are available to buy right from your table, where you can fill out a little form while you eat. The service is friendly enough, although our server didn’t talk directly to the Baberoo or bring us a kids’ menu until we asked for one. He also suggested a table that would have put us in everyone’s way; we vetoed it in favour of one that was a little easier for a pushchair to fit in. On previous visits our servers have been much more on the ball about catering to our little one’s needs.

Bill's food to buy

Facilities: During this visit I had mistakenly thought there were no baby-changing facilities at Bill’s; the regular toilets (which are tiny) are signposted very well, but there is no sign on the door for the disabled/baby-changing loo so I didn’t see it at all. Alerted to its existence by a kind reader after having written this review, I made sure to try it out when I visited again some weeks later. The room is spacious and clean, and did the job fine – so if you were put off by my original post saying there were no baby-changing facilities, don’t be!

Feeding: If you’re breastfeeding there are some comfy leather armchairs you can lounge in, although they are right at the restaurant entrance so you will be on view. The bench seating will probably only be OK if you’re feeding a smaller baby, while the chairs will be fine for breastfeeding any age of baby/toddler but may not be that comfortable. If your little one is eating solids then it’s a safe bet to say the kids’ menu will have something they will enjoy.

By my ratings system, Bill’s gets a 7.75 out of 10 for baby- and toddler-friendliness – up from its previous lower score of 6 out of 10, which was my mistake because I hadn’t noticed the baby-changing facilities. It has the advantage of being open all day long, and if you have a fairly small baby carriage or are using a sling or baby carrier, you’ll be able to enjoy it. However, it’s a much easier place to take an older kid rather than a baby or toddler.

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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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Cleaver

(Updated August 2015: Cleaver Restaurant has now closed.)

When the new Cleaver restaurant (36 George Street, OX1 2BJ) opened up last month just before we went on holiday, I made a mental note to visit soon after we got back. And visit we did, for lunch today.

Cleaver’s menu is probably the most pared-down, simple menu I’ve seen in a while: chicken, burgers, ribs. That’s it! (OK, there are a few salads and you have a choice of various sides, but basically it’s those three items, in various sizes). Nothing fancy, just straightforward meat.

Cleaver ribs and chicken

Of course, I got greedy and ordered the combo of half-rack of ribs plus quarter chicken (£10.95), along with a side of onion rings (£2.95) and some roasted vegetables (£2.95), reasoning that the Baberoo would be eating some of my lunch. She looked askance at the vegetables – more fool her, because they were delicious; full of caramelized flavour while retaining their shape rather than falling apart. I didn’t offer her any onion rings because, as you know if you read this blog regularly, I am an onion ring aficionado and will not share them under any circumstances. They were the big fat kind, surprisingly non-greasy (although I like greasy), and quite tasty, although not especially memorable. The chicken was fine. The ribs were very good indeed, although not the best I’ve ever had. The sauce was piquant but not too spicy, and the meat was tender and came easily off the bone. The Baberoo ate them so fast that I couldn’t keep up with her. She ate more than I did! If there had been any extra ribs she would have kept on devouring them.

So: the ribs are recommended by both mommy and baby. Now, how did Cleaver fare against my five criteria for baby-friendliness? (Menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding – more on these in my About section.)

Menu: Well, if you need to hold a baby in one arm while you eat with one hand, you’re pretty much out of luck here – you will need both hands to eat almost every main on the menu, with the exception of the chicken wings. You could try the salads and some of the sides, but the whole point of coming to Cleaver is to enjoy the meat. Wait until your baby is big enough (and in a good enough mood) to sit in a high chair and then you can order whatever you want.

Space: There’s a huge expanse of space at the entrance to Cleaver, and the tables closest to the door are also spaced pretty far apart. You could fit a few prams into the space if you wanted to come with an NCT group or a few friends with baby carriages. (In fact, two ladies with strollers were coming in together just as we left.) The tables further back are spaced closer together. There’s also a downstairs seating area and a bar on a mezzanine level five steps up. A huge leather couch, leather armchair, and low table form a sort of waiting area near the front of the restaurant, which I immediately co-opted as a play area for the Baberoo while we were waiting for our meal to arrive.

Baberoo playing on couch

Ambiance: Everything is wood or leather with plenty of salvaged-looking materials, and the space has a natural, warm and inviting aura, albeit with a whiff of chain-restaurant (it’s the fourth of the Cleaver restaurants, owned by the Prezzo empire). The staff couldn’t have been friendlier. Three of them snapped to attention the minute we walked in the door, and they were all absolutely charming. Our server asked the Baberoo’s name and then addressed her by name every time she came to our table. She was just fabulous. All the staff members were helpful and were obviously also having a good time working together.

Cleaver interior

Facilities: The disabled/baby-change toilet is up five stairs on the mezzanine level. I’m not sure how a wheelchair user would get up those stairs, but I left our baby carriage at the table and carried the Baberoo there. The pull-down table was brand-spanking-new and the bathroom was clean, although the lighting made it look a little dingy. The door lock was broken (I pointed it out to our server and she reported it to the manager). The space was on the small side, so it was just as well that I hadn’t brought the stroller in.

Cleaver baby-changing facilities

Feeding: There’s a children’s menu with pretty much the same meats as the regular menu, but at a cheaper price (£5.95 for three courses including main with fries or salad, dessert, and drink). If you’re breastfeeding, the leather couch or armchair at the front look eminently comfortable (although they are quite close to large windows so there’s not much privacy). There is also some bench seating as well as regular chairs; take your pick for what’s most comfortable for you.

For baby-friendliness, Cleaver gets a 7.75 out of 10. The staff were really great on our visit, and we’ll be back when the Baberoo gets her next craving for ribs.

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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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