Tag Archives: Cowley

The Magdalen Arms

From the reviews I’ve read of the Magdalen Arms (243 Iffley Road, OX4 1SJ), the foodies of Oxford (and beyond) think it’s either the best gastropub in the city or completely overrated. I had been looking forward to both trying the food and seeing whether it was a good place to take a baby. So the Baberoo, her Gran, and I recently dropped in for a weekday lunch.

We had the place nearly to ourselves – always nice when you have a baby carriage to manoeuvre, and also really handy when your baby is the impatient type and doesn’t like waiting too long for a meal to arrive. During the short wait I tried the homemade quinceade (£3); it had a nice sharp tang to it but tasted so much of lemon that I thought they might have misheard me and brought me a homemade lemonade by mistake. They hadn’t. Our server asked if I wanted more quince syrup added. I did, and the drink turned out sweeter and faintly quincey – but still tasted like (very good) lemonade.

For my meal I ordered the wild rabbit with chorizo, fennel, chickpeas, and aioli (£14), as well as a side of chips (£4.50). Although the chorizo/fennel sauce was flavourful it didn’t help tenderize the rabbit, which was too tough. The Baberoo was having none of it. She didn’t want the chips either, even though they were pleasingly fluffy on the inside with a delightful crispy exterior.

Magdalen Arms rabbit and chips

What, you say? You tried to feed your baby a dish containing wild rabbit and chorizo? Yes, we’ve done baby-led weaning with the Baberoo so she is a very adventurous eater; she will usually eat (or at least try) just about anything. That’s why I sometimes order a dish and share it with her – yes, even rabbit – rather than bring food from home for her or order from a baby menu (although I’m happy to do that too). If she doesn’t like it, we always have a back-up snack bag, which I had to pull out on this occasion. But when she does like a dish, it goes up in my estimation at having been pretty darn good. Unfortunately, I’d say the rabbit didn’t reach that level and I’d call it an OK but not great meal. I wished that I had saved room for dessert; their long list of offerings all looked fantastic.

So, now that I’ve come down somewhere in the middle (not loving it, not hating it) about the food, what did we think of the establishment’s baby-friendliness? I rate eateries against five factors: menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding. For more about these, please see my About page.

Menu: There’s a lot of meat on the menu and most of it comes in big hunks, so you’ll need both hands free for those dishes. On the day we visited there was a pasta dish and a few starters (soup and tapas) that could be eaten with one hand if your other arm needed to be free to hold a baby. The cod also would have worked. The menu changes daily and it’s not posted on the website, so you’ll have to go along and take your chances on there being something you can eat one-handed if that’s a necessity for you.

Space: The entrance to the pub isn’t terribly baby-friendly; there are three stone steps and then two sets of doors, so if you have a baby carriage you might need some help getting in. Once inside, you’ll have to manoeuvre through a space that’s quite full of (quaintly mismatched) tables and chairs. If the place had been full we might have had some trouble getting to a table.

Magdalen Arms interior

Ambiance: The walls are painted such a dark and sombre colour that the overall effect is somewhat dreary; I’m guessing it comes into its own and is much more animated in the evening. The staff, though, were very friendly and helpful, and enjoyed chatting to the Baberoo. Our server was happy to get us extra napkins and direct us to the baby-changing facility. They also have high chairs available (the Ikea kind, which I find more secure than the usual restaurant model).

Magdalen Arms interior

Facilities: The baby-changing facility is a pull-down table in the ladies’ loo, which is down a flight of four stairs. There’s a mini-lift for wheelchair users that I guess you could also use with a baby carriage if you wanted to bring it into the loo with you; I just held the Baberoo and left the carriage at our table. The pull-down table is in the main area of the loo, while toilets are in separate cubicles. Some chairs were set up underneath the pull-down table, which was really handy for putting the diaper bag down and organizing our things. The whole ladies’ room was clean and tidy.

Magdalen Arms baby-changing facilities

Feeding: If you’re breastfeeding, choose a table that has comfortable-looking chairs. There are so many different kinds that there’s sure to be one that suits you; my personal choice, if I’d needed to breastfeed, would have been one of the padded armchairs of different vintages near the front of the pub. I was hoping the Baberoo would eat part of my regular-food lunch, but we resorted to the snack bag; I would say that the menu at the Magdalen Arms isn’t particularly kid-friendly (unless your child’s sophisticated palate is attuned to the tastes of, say, rabbit and pork rillettes, blue cheese souffle, or potted shrimps).

The final score for baby-friendliness for the Magdalen Arms is 6.25 out of 10. I would say this is a gastropub for the grown-ups to enjoy on their own rather than with their little darlings.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Aqua Babies at Temple Cowley Pool

(Updated August 2015: Temple Cowley Pool has now closed. All operations have been transferred to Leys Pools and Leisure Centre.)

I am not a born swimmer. I hate getting my face wet. I hate being under water. And even though I managed to make it through years of swimming classes as a child and finally ended up being a pretty good swimmer, I still have a primal fear of being submerged. I want my kid to feel better about being in the water than I did when I was young, so I started her early with Aqua Babies, a swimming programme for little ones from 4 to 18 months old at Temple Cowley Pool (Temple Road, OX4 2EZ)

Temple Cowley Pool sign

Aqua Babies (£5.50 per session) runs four times a week (Monday 10:15, Tuesday 11:15, Friday 11:15 and 14:00) and is bookable by phone on 01865 467124 or online. The 45-minute class includes both serious learning and fun time: the first part teaches babies essential skills such as going under water, finding the side of the pool and holding on, and kicking on both the stomach and the back. Then there are songs, splashing about, and time to play with toys. It’s a great way to get your baby used to the water, and the teachers (Carol and Brenda) are both excellent with little ones.

One of the best things about Aqua Babies is that you don’t have to sign up for a whole course. You just book an individual session each time, so you can choose different days of the week or skip some weeks or even call in to cancel a session if your baby happens to be taking an extra-long nap and you don’t want to wake them up. Compared to baby swimming lessons elsewhere, this is fantastic (I have friends in different cities who are literally hovering over their computers hitting the refresh button on the morning that swimming class bookings open). The freedom of choice is great, but do make sure that you book in advance because the classes sometimes are fully booked and they take a maximum of 12 babies.

Here’s how Aqua Babies at Temple Cowley Pool rates for baby-friendliness, based on my 8-point rating scale for activities. In my reviews I look at space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding; see my About page for more information on my ratings system.

Space: Before you enter the changing rooms, you’ll have to park your baby carriage in the designated space under the stairs in the lobby. There are usually several carriages under there, although I have seen parents take them into the changing rooms as well (there is a small fenced-off area in the changing room where you can put a lightweight foldable umbrella-type stroller, but nothing bigger). The changing rooms at Temple Cowley Pool have quite a lot of space and you will always find an area where you can spread out your swimming paraphernalia. However, the lockers (for which you need a pound coin) must be the worst lockers in the history of fitness facilities; usually I have to try three before I get one with a working key, which is hard to do while holding a baby and about five bags of necessities. They are clean, though, as is the rest of the changing room. There are two areas with a baby-changing table in each of them and a further four cubbyhole-type private changing rooms. Certainly, there is lots of space for you to navigate the seemingly-impossible task of getting a baby’s swimming costume on and off. There is also a Family changing room for parents who come together with their baby.

Temple Cowley Pool women's changing room

Ambiance: The learning pool is a very welcoming space and the teachers are lovely. Other parents are friendly. It feels like a fun place to be, an ambiance which other pools I’ve been to definitely lack. Everything revolves around the babies during a session, so it is very baby-friendly.

Facilities: There are two areas in the women’s changing room with baby-changing tables. They’re in high demand after an Aqua Babies session, so be prepared to wait for one if you need to use it. There’s also a regular pull-down baby-changing table in the regular women’s toilets, but you wouldn’t use it for changing into or out of a swimming costume.

Temple Cowley Pool baby-changing facilities

Feeding: I’ve seen mothers breastfeed their babies right in the changing room, and there’s also a space in the lobby with tables that are sometimes full of mothers breastfeeding or bottle-feeding their babies after a session. It has a very welcoming community-type feel to it. The benches in the changing room might be more comfortable than the non-adjustable bucket-seat chairs at the lobby tables, though.

Temple Cowley Pool tables in lobby

In total, Aquababies at Temple Cowley Pool rates a 6.75 out of 8. If you are looking for a way to get your little one used to the water at a very young age, I highly recommend it. And it is so much fun to watch your baby splash about in the pool!

I’d like to end this post with a shout-out to the Save Temple Cowley Pools & Fitness Centre campaign. Temple Cowley Pools (and the fitness centre, and Blackbird Leys pool as well) are currently under threat of closure by Oxford City Council. If you’d like to know more and sign the petition to keep it open, please visit the Save Temple Cowley Pools & Fitness Centre website and follow them on Twitter at @SaveTCP.  The pool is such an important resource for Cowley and surrounding areas that it would be a shame if it were to close.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,