Tag Archives: food

Banana Tree

In our pre-Baberoo days, when we lived in London, Oxford Daddy and I used to enjoy an occasional visit to Banana Tree, which had a delicious Indochinese menu and laid-back vibe. So when this small chain of 8 restaurants opened a new branch in Oxford (63 George Street, OX1 2BQ) in December I put it on my list of places I really needed to try – although we only managed to get there last weekend. Life moves fast with a three-year-old and what with nursery school and other activities we don’t have time for many lunches out any more!

Although the menu has changed quite a lot since we last visited a Banana Tree, it still offers the same kind of out-of-the-ordinary Southeast Asian fare. As a newly-minted vegan (yes, my foodie friends! I am now VEGAN!), I was thrilled to be handed, as a matter of course alongside the regular menu, a special vegetarian and vegan menu that offered at least eight starters and mains I could eat, as opposed to the paltry selection in many other restaurants.

I started with the Street Style Crispy Dough (£3.95), which was kind of like morsels of non-sweet doughnut with a satay sauce on the side. I enjoyed the first few bites, but it was a bit too deep-fried for my taste and I couldn’t eat the whole thing. The Blackened Monks Noodles (£9.65), on the other hand, were so tasty that I ate every last bite of the noodles, the lovely crunchy vegetables, and the sweet corn cakes that came on the side, and then wished that my tummy was empty so that I could order it again right away. Yum!

Banana Tree blackened monks noodles

The Baberoo, after repeatedly asking why there was no pizza on offer (I think she’s under the impression that pizza can be procured at every restaurant), seemed as if she was going to balk at any of the choices on the kids’ menu (main, drink, and dessert for £5.95), but when her noodles with bean sprouts arrived she happily ate them and told us they were delicious. She also liked my crispy dough. She didn’t touch much of her corn cakes, but Oxford Daddy helped her out by eating those himself. Of course, she got her second wind when the ice cream arrived (ahem, I fear that after sampling so many kids’ menus in aid of the Oxford Mommy blog, she’s also under the impression that ice cream comes after every restaurant meal)!

Banana Tree kids' meal

The service at Banana Tree couldn’t have been better. Our servers were all personable and attentive, took the time to chat with us, and seemed to really enjoy their work. It was clear they had mastered the art of serving customers promptly and quickly without seeming rushed or harried, even during a busy Saturday lunchtime.

So, top marks for service, food, and general enjoyment of our meal. Now let’s see how they rate for baby- and toddler-friendliness using my usual 5 rating categories of menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding.

Menu: For parents who are eating while holding a baby or child for any reason, there are lots of starters and mains that you can happily eat with only one hand available. In fact, most of the menu lends itself to eating one-handed, which is characteristic of many Eastern-inspired restaurants. From noodles to curries, you’re covered.

Space: There’s not too much space between the tables, and with the exception of one wide route through the restaurant, everything else is a bit close together to handle a buggy. We parked ours at the front of the restaurant in the waiting area, which, thankfully, wasn’t heavily populated. At very busy times, though, there wouldn’t be too many areas in the restaurant that could fit a pushchair.

Banana Tree space

Ambiance: Because we had such great service, we felt like the restaurant was extremely welcoming and friendly. The decor was both minimalist and maximalist – a stripped-back industrial feel but with giant (and I do mean giant) lamps (that were perhaps bells in a former life?) hanging over the main communal table. Babies and toddlers will really enjoy looking at those because they’re just so darn big, and they will also be enthralled by the stuffed apes hanging from the ceiling, so try to get a seat where they can be amused by the eye candy.

Banana Tree ambiance

Facilities: The baby-changing facilities, located within the disabled toilet, are brand-new so are very clean and fresh. The pull-down table is a good size and has a bag hook, but if you want to actually rest your diaper bag on a surface there’s only a small shelf somewhat far away from the table, along the wall with the toilet. For kids old enough to be using travel potties, the floor space is large enough to comfortably help a little one without feeling like you can’t move around or bend down. It would probably fit a stroller, although you wouldn’t be able to manoeuvre one through the restaurant.

Banana Tree baby-changing facilities

Feeding: If you’re breastfeeding at your table, you’ll be sitting on either a wooden bench or a wood-and-steel chair, neither of which are the most comfortable when feeding, but the industrial decor means there are no padded chairs or squashy sofas to retire to. If your little one is older and is ordering from the kids’ menu, there’s a choice between two bases (rice or noodles) and then between two toppings (chicken or corn cakes). Not that many options, then, but most kids will like something there.

Out of a possible 10 points, Banana Tree scores a 7.25 for baby- and toddler-friendliness. The service is great and the food is well worth coming back for, but there’s less space than you might need to accommodate a stroller and all your baby accoutrements. I’d say that although it’s a real contender for one of my top places to go on the busy George Street restaurant circuit, it’s better for little ones who are past the baby stage.

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

Partyman World of Play

When your little ones have got ants in their pants and need to let all their tremendous wish-I-could-bottle-it energy loose in a place where they can’t damage anything (or themselves), they are in need of a soft play area. Preferably a massive one, where parents can sit and have a coffee while watching their darlings go nuts on trampolines and slides.

The Partyman World of Play (3A/3B Grenoble Road, Ozone Leisure Park, OX4 4XP), located right next to the Kassam Stadium, is a gigantic soft play area with themed play sections, an interactive stage, a ball room, private party areas, bumper cars, a two-storey slippy slide, and a toddler area for under-3s. We have visited on several occasions, and the Baberoo has had so much fun she has released all her pent-up energy and exhausted herself so thoroughly she’s fallen asleep on the way home.

Partyman World of Play - slide

We have always visited on a weekday morning during term time, which means it’s very quiet and there’s plenty of space for kids to run around without waiting to take turns in any of the spaces. I shudder to think what it might be like during weekends or parties – but that’s precisely the advantage of having a child under school age! We can choose to come whenever we like during the week. The disadvantage is that not all of the areas are open. The bumper cars and interactive stage have never been in use when we’ve been there, for example. But the fun of the trampolines, ballroom, and slide are always available, and that’s what the Baberoo gravitates to anyway.

To participate, you must pay a one-off fee of £5 to become a member. After that, admission isn’t terribly expensive during non-peak times – babies under age 1 are charged £2, age 1-3 are charged £5, 4-12 year olds are charged £6.95, and adults are free. During peak times prices are higher and adults pay an entry fee as well, but there are also discounts available for booking in advance online, and a range of annual passes or monthly direct debit schemes that make the cost considerably lower if you know your kids love it and want to return several times a month.

When you go, especially if it is summer and your kids are in sandals, remember to bring a pair of socks. The play areas are strictly no-shoes-allowed, but you need to wear hosiery of some kind. This includes parents, so remember to bring your own as well. Preferably black ones – otherwise the bottoms of your socks will quickly become black anyway. It must be a huge job to clean all those play structures, and you can imagine all the little hands (and noses) that touch all of the areas soon cause a lot of buildup. Pro tip: apparently Monday evenings are when cleaning happens, so Tuesday mornings are the best time to go.

I hope that hasn’t put you off, because it’s a fantastic and safe place to play. We will return whenever the Baberoo’s got a surfeit of energy that is best worked off by climbing up to the super-slide a dozen times. Now, here’s how the Partyman World of Play rates for baby- and toddler-friendliness according to the Oxford Mommy rating scheme.

Menu: If you are holding a baby or little one in one arm, you need to be able to eat with only one hand. The menu at Partyman World of Play offers all-day breakfasts, paninis, baguettes, wraps, pizza, jacket potatoes, and a few main meals – nothing out of the ordinary or super-healthy. Not all of them are easily eaten one-handed, although you can probably manage some of them. But chances are your little ones will be having enough fun that hopefully they won’t need to be held unless they are very small.

Space: There’s a huge amount of space at Partyman World of Play, which means strollers of every size will fit in the thoroughfares and seating area. You’ll be able to park your buggy at a table without worrying that it’s in anyone’s way. There’s also lots of parking if you come by car.

Partyman World of Play - space

Ambiance: The staff are extremely friendly, which means kids feel like they’re very welcome – which they should be, since it’s a place created just for them. The bright colours are really attractive to young ones, and the variety of activities create a sense of excitement. One of the drawbacks is that the lighting in the areas under the giant slide is very dim indeed, and makes those areas look very dark and much less inviting than some of the other sections, and can make them even feel claustrophobic. Also, you have to be able to accept the faint odour of gymnasium.

Facilities: Unfortunately, I can’t say anything good about the toilet facilities at Partyman World of Play. Every time we have been there the bathrooms have been smelly, some of the sinks have been out of order, and there has been water on the floor – not a great ambiance for little ones who are trying to find a dry place to put their potty, or for the ones who are slightly bigger and can use the toilets. There is a baby-changing table in one of the stalls, but it doesn’t have much room in it and the bins have been overflowing whenever we have gone. This particular facility needs to be given more care, because it detracts from the entire experience.

Feeding: If you’re a breastfeeding mother, the seating area is fine for breastfeeding, although the chairs aren’t terribly comfortable. It would be great if some sofas or soft chairs were added so that there was a choice of seating. For those who have kids who can order from the menu, there are a few healthy options along the deep-fried stuff and sweets. The best choice is the Children’s Platter (£3.99), which offers either chicken, ham, or sausages accompanied by four different fruits and vegetables of your choice. They really do heap the fruits and vegetables on the plate, so your little one will get some good nutritious food into them. But there will always be the temptation of crisps, ice creams, and sweets, which are prominently on display.

In total, Partyman World of Play gets a 6.75 out of 10 for baby- and toddler-friendliness. If it had nicer toilets and better lighting it would rate much higher, but even with these drawbacks it’s one of the best places to go with kids who need to play hard and shake their sillies out.

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

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.

 

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

Wildwood Kitchen, Wantage

We are often in Wantage to visit the Baberoo’s grandparents, so we like to go out and discover its activities and eateries. Fairly new to town is the 8th branch of the Wildwood Kitchen (43 Market Place, OX12 8AW), which has claimed a prime location in the town centre. On a recent trip to Wantage we thought we’d give it a try along with the Baberoo’s Gran and see how it rated for baby- and toddler-friendliness.

I was feeling virtuous so ordered three salads as a selection from the deli menu. All were delicious, with the grains cooked al dente and the greens very fresh. There were no dressings at all on them – which I appreciated since I rarely like dressings – but it would have been nice to have several slices of lemon available if I’d wished to season them.

Wildwood Kitchen salads

For the Baberoo I ordered the sausages, chips and peas from the kids’ menu (£4.75 for main and dessert, with 80p supplement for a drink). Although she didn’t eat much of the sausages, she wolfed down the chips (which always seem to take priority over everything else!).

Wildwood Kitchen kids' meal

Service was a bit choppy – we had at least five different staff members approach our table for various reasons, which made it seem like they weren’t coordinating with each other very well. It didn’t affect our enjoyment of the meal, but it did give the restaurant a greenhorn kind of feel which didn’t match with the swishness of the surroundings.

So, how did Wildwood Kitchen rate for baby- and toddler-friendliness? Here’s how it stacked up against my five criteria:

Menu: The menu at Wildwood includes many pastas and risottos, most of which can be eaten with one hand if you’re holding a baby in the other arm. The pizzas and meat dishes would be more difficult. If you’re looking for a salad, order from their deli menu – it’s got a rotating selection and the salads are all certainly possible to eat with only one hand free.

Space: This is one restaurant where you’ll never have trouble manoeuvring or parking your baby carriage, even if it’s enormous. There’s so much space between tables that you could still wheel your buggy through the aisles even if all the seats are taken. There are also several useful corners, cubbyholes, and niches in which to park your pushchair. When we visited, only about half the tables were full, but I counted seven parked strollers (including ours), all of which were ensconced safely without blocking or impeding anyone’s path through the restaurant. The only small niggle is that getting into the place requires opening a fairly heavy door and then pushing your carriage up a short incline.

Wildwood Kitchen space

Ambiance: Industrial decor tempered with wood and leather. The high ceilings and beautiful lighting really make this open space seem welcoming and the heavy wooden table of goodies/deli items at the front definitely draws the eye in from outside. Staff are generally friendly and some of the servers we encountered took the time to talk to the Baberoo. There’s also a colouring book with stickers for kids to amuse themselves with before the meal arrives.

Wildwood Kitchen kids' menu

Facilities: The baby-changing/disabled toilet is well located on the ground floor, and is spacious enough to fit a pushchair in with you. The pull-down table is the narrow variety. It doesn’t have windows and the lighting seems a bit dim, but the pretty wallpaper and cleanliness make it quite a pleasant bathroom to use for a diaper change.

Wildwood Kitchen baby-changing facilities

Feeding: If you’re breastfeeding, you have a choice of leather-upholstered booth seats, which are extremely well-padded (almost too well-padded! I had to move several pillows away so that I could actually sit comfortably) or fabric-covered chairs without arms. With the booth seats you don’t get much wiggle room before you’re right up against the table, so it might only work for smaller babes-in-arms. With the chairs you might have more comfort with an older breastfeeder. If your child needs a high chair, it looks like the restaurant has plenty in supply – there were at least 7 kids using them when we were there. The kids’ menu is good value at £4.75 for a main and dessert; the offerings are all the usual favourites. It’s 80p extra for a kids’ drink.

In total, Wildwood Kitchen gets a 7.75 out of 10 for baby- and toddler-friendliness. Let’s hope they can smooth out their service, and then it’ll be a great addition to Wantage’s places to go with kids.

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

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.

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

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.

 

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

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!

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

Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens

I’ve never been much of an animal lover. Zoos and wildlife parks have never held any appeal for me; I prefer cultural and culinary adventures rather than getting up close to nature in all its glory. So I very nearly didn’t go along when the Baberoo’s Gran and Oxford Daddy planned a trip to Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens (near Burford, Oxfordshire, OX18 4JP; £14.50 for adults, £10 for children 3-16 and seniors, free for under-3s). And that would have been a shame – because as it turned out, it was more fun than a barrel full of monkeys.

And there sure were monkeys. Monkeys, marmosets, lemurs, tamarins, and gibbons! They were all so interesting up close – I never thought I would enjoy observing  small primates so much. The Baberoo loved the smaller animals, especially the meerkats and the squirrel monkeys. She also enjoyed seeing the penguins and tropical birds as well as the larger mammals (although I’m not quite sure she can distinguish between most of them yet: the wolves, warty pigs, and capybaras all elicited a ‘woof woof’ sound).

Cotswold Wildlife Park penguin

What struck me most about the Cotswold Wildlife Park was how nicely it was laid out and how beautiful the vegetation was – both in the animals’ habitats and in the landscaped gardens. The gardens are as finely and professionally cultivated as any botanical garden, although they prefer to refer to their style of horticulture as ‘theatre with plants’. We were lucky enough to go on a beautiful sunny day that was not too hot, but I imagine that the gardens are equally lovely in different seasons. Since nearly everything is outdoors, make sure you plan accordingly with umbrellas, stroller covers, sweaters, jackets, and/or sunscreen, depending on the weather forecast.

Cotswold Wildlife Park landscaped gardens

The Cotswold Wildlife Park is an easily walkable size, and for those who don’t want to walk the whole time there’s a narrow-gauge railway (£1, free for under-3s) that will take you around the park. (Unfortunately, you wouldn’t be able to fit a stroller onto the train, so it’s not suitable for babies or toddlers.) If you have an older toddler or child who likes crafts, you can also visit the Brass Rubbing Centre, located in the Victorian Manor House in the centre of the Park (open school holidays and summer weekends; £1-£2.50). There’s a Children’s Farmyard where young ones can pet the animals and an Adventure Playground so they can run around, and a new ‘Skymaze’ adventure playground is set to open on July 19th.

Cotswold Manor House

Judging by the number of strollers and small children, Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens is no secret to families around Oxfordshire. We loved it and will definitely be back. Here’s how it rates for baby- and toddler-friendliness according to my five criteria of menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding.

Menu: The Oak Tree Restaurant is the main eatery at the Wildlife Park; it offers standard cafeteria-type dishes such as chilli con carne, jacket potatoes, burgers, or chicken nuggets, with chips as a side for most meals. A few of the dishes can be eaten one-handed if you are holding a baby in one arm. The restaurant offers children’s portions as well as baby-sized portions of most of the main meals. There are also three kiosks serving ice cream and snacks. But frankly, your best bet, for price as well as for ambiance, is to bring a picnic and eat in the gardens or at one of the picnic shelters or picnic tables around the park. We laid our blanket out on the Anniversary Lawn and ate a lovely picnic while we watched the train circling the park.

Space: There’s plenty of space in the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens, and even double strollers – of which we saw plenty – will fit comfortably into all the entrances, paths, and facilities (although pushchairs are not allowed in the Madagascar exhibit, so you’ll have to take your little one out if you’d like to visit that one). The hard part is getting there: the Park is two miles south of Burford on the A361, about 20 miles west of Oxford. Coming by car is by far the best (some might say it’s the only) option, as buses to Burford are few and far between. The bus route from Oxford is the Swanbrook No. 853, operating three times daily on weekdays, four times on Saturdays, and once on Sunday, and you need to get a taxi from Burford to the Wildlife Park after getting off the bus. If you don’t have a car, it might be an idea to hire one for the day. Parking is excellent, with staff directing drivers to the next available space in the grass car park.

Ambiance: This is definitely a place for kids and it’s geared towards their enjoyment, from the signage to the Adventure Playground. Whoops of delight and happy faces everywhere made it clear that families were enjoying themselves, and the commercial aspects of the Park were kept very clearly within the shop and the eateries. The animals we saw looked like they were thriving and happy in their surroundings. All the staff we saw were pleasant and knowledgeable.

Facilities: There are four toilet blocks around the park, one of which is in the restaurant. All of them have baby-changing and disabled facilities. The baby-changing in the large block of toilets nearest the shop (shown at left in the picture below) is bigger than the one in the restaurant (shown at right). All of the baby-changing facilities I saw were clean and well-aired.

Cotswold Wildlife Park baby-changing facilities

Feeding: If your little one is eating solid food, you can get a child- or baby-sized meal at the restaurant. If you’re breastfeeding, there are many places to sit around the park, including picnic tables and garden benches, or just on the grass. If you’d like a secluded area for breastfeeding, you’ll be able to find one somewhere around the park.

In total the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens gets an 8.25 out of 10 for baby- and toddler-friendliness. Although it’s much more geared towards school-aged kids than towards babies or toddlers, I’d highly recommend it as a great day out for even the youngest of babies. Most little ones will be thrilled to get a close-up look at the real-life counterparts of the toys they snuggle with and the animals they read about in books.

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

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.

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

Brookes Restaurant

Oxford Mommy turned 40 today. Yup, FORTY. I thought I’d be dreading it but actually I was quite gleeful. I had a great decade in my 30s and I’m looking forward to another one as I enter my 40s. To celebrate, the Baberoo, her Daddy, Gran, Grandpa and I all went out to Brookes Restaurant (Oxford Brookes University, Headington Campus, Gipsy Lane, OX3 0BP). I’ve been wanting to try this place for ages, especially since Oxford Daddy is a lecturer at Brookes and I’ve passed the restaurant countless times on the way to visit him at his office.

The Brookes Restaurant is part of the university’s School of Hospitality Management, so the students work alongside professionals in the restaurant as part of their training. The menu changes monthly to reflect the seasons and the dishes showcase British ingredients from artisan producers. Because it’s part of the hospitality course, Brookes Restaurant is only open on weekdays from 12 to 2 pm. It’s also one of the only restaurants in the area – it’s in Headington but not near any of the other eateries or main shopping area. But if you enjoy fine dining it is definitely worth going.

For my starter, I chose the Oxfordshire asparagus trifle, which was a mousse topped with a brilliant green jelly, fresh asparagus pieces, pea shoots, and a Spenwood cheese straw. It was refreshing and springy, a perfect beginning to the meal.

Brookes restaurant asparagus trifle

My main was the Gloucestershire rump of lamb, which was meltingly tender and juicy. It was served with roast onion puree, spinach and wild garlic, turnips glazed in red wine, and a mystery croquette that was tasty but didn’t appear on the menu, and I forgot to ask what it was! The whole dish was delicious and also nicely presented.

Brookes restaurant lamb

With giddy disregard for our waistlines, we ordered dessert too – since a 3-course lunch is an unbelievably cheap £15.95 (it’s £13.95 for two courses if you are being more restrained). I chose the brioche bread and butter pudding with apricot ice cream, which was unlike any other bread and butter pudding I’ve had. It was much less stodgy, but it was extremely sweet because it contained so many apricots. It was a nice finish to the meal, but if I’d had it on its own I think it would have been too sweet for me. Sorry, I forgot to take a picture of it before I started eating!

The Baberoo had her own lunch brought from home, since we had checked out the menu before and we didn’t think that any of the options would appeal to her toddler palate, but she did eat quite a good amount of the pre-meal bread and some of the vegetables we passed her from our plates, without too much landing on the floor. I think we did try her patience by having a leisurely lunch of three courses, but she did pretty well while we were there and then immediately conked out in the stroller on the way home. Be warned that it does take a while between courses, so do try to engineer your lunch to coincide with naptime or plan ahead with snacks to stave off a baby-boredom crisis.

We enjoyed the food and I had a lovely birthday celebration. Now, how does Brookes Restaurant rate for baby-friendliness? My criteria, as explained on my About page, are menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding.

Menu: The Brookes Restaurant menu changes monthly and is clearly posted on their website, so you can have a look at the options in advance and see if there is anything that you are able to eat one-handed in case your baby needs to be held. Sometimes there may not be anything that’s suitable for one-handed eating. On the May menu there was one starter and one main that I would say could be eaten if you were holding a baby in the other arm, but for the most part the dishes will require both knife and fork.

Space: There is a huge amount of space between tables – more than I’ve ever seen at any other restaurant. This is fantastic for getting through the restaurant with a stroller. There is plenty of space to park a buggy anywhere around most tables and there’s also lots of space elsewhere; we parked ours under the specials board. The Baberoo enjoyed toddling around the restaurant exploring some of the vacant tables and looking out the plate-glass windows.

Brookes restaurant interior

Ambiance: There is certainly a fine-dining vibe in the restaurant, but it’s definitely not a snooty one. Staff were pleasant and helpful and spent a long time chatting to our party about how the restaurant works and some of the cooking techniques that were used for our meals. They were friendly with the Baberoo, who was really enjoying flashing her toothy grin at everyone who passed by our table.

Brookes restaurant interior 2

Facilities: Brookes Restaurant doesn’t have a baby-changing facility yet. They are in the process of ordering a baby-changing table, which will be installed in the disabled toilet. They did offer us a private space for baby-changing, but as it was within earshot of the restaurant diners and the Baberoo sometimes loudly protests any changing session, I thought it wiser to wait until we were home.

Feeding: The restaurant was quite happy to have us bring our own food for the Baberoo. We were also asked if we would like anything for her (in the way of side vegetables, etc), but we decided that we would just give her some of ours. Her high chair was already set up before we arrived; it was a nice wooden one with a higher back than usual, which gave extra support. If you’re breastfeeding, there are some comfy-looking bucket chairs at the entrance. The chairs at the dining tables are also padded and comfortable, and there are also some bench seats if you prefer.

For baby-friendliness, Brookes Restaurant gets a 6.75 out of 10. That score will improve once they get a baby-changing table installed, and it certainly is no reflection upon the food, which was excellent. If you are interested in fine dining at a reasonable price this is one of Oxford’s top places to go.

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