Tag Archives: lunch

It’s Oxford Mommy’s second birthday!

Two years ago I started this blog in order to help parents – including myself! – to find the most baby-friendly places in and around Oxford. I’m constantly amazed at how many people are viewing this site, and I thank every one of my readers for taking the time to look through my reviews. I hope that I’ve been helpful and encouraging, especially to those who are a little bit wary of venturing forth into town with a new baby. I still remember the trepidation I felt when the Baberoo was very small and I had no experience of being a parent. I hope, equally, that families with lots of experience with little ones are also finding these reviews helpful, no matter whether their littlest one is teeny-tiny or nearly ready for school.

I’ve been posting reviews less often this year for a reason that may be familiar to some of you: when the Baberoo consolidated all her naps into one (very long) long nap during the day, it turned out to be at lunchtime, so I could no longer go out to restaurants in the way that I had become accustomed! I decided to honour her naptime (especially since when I didn’t I was faced with a very cranky toddler indeed), so we ended up going out a lot less often than we had done the year before.

Now that we have entered the realm of no naps at all, we are planning to head out for more lunches, activities, and events in the next little while! We are also in the midst of potty-training, so the portion of my reviews that deals with baby-changing facilities will also take into account how well the facilities work when you are lugging around a potty and all the accompanying paraphernalia!

Thanks so much for being part of my readership. I am so pleased to be your guide to Oxford’s best baby- and toddler-friendly venues. If you have any comments, questions, or ideas for future reviews, please get in touch at oxfordmommy@gmail.com.

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Branca

This past Saturday we had a family outing downtown to do some shopping, take care of some errands, and most importantly, go out to eat. We found ourselves in Jericho at the magic hour of noon, when – on weekends – one is faced with the delightful conundrum of whether one will go for brunch or for lunch. We chose Branca (111 Walton Street, OX2 6AJ), which had both brunch and lunch menus available simultaneously between 12 and 1.

I was in the mood for French toast with maple syrup and smoked bacon (£4.95). The husband ordered the full breakfast (£7.45). We looked briefly at the kids’ menu but decided to order the half-size penne with tomato and Tuscan sausage sauce (£7.65) for the Baberoo, since she has really been enjoying sausage lately (usually filching it from my plate).

The penne arrived along with the full breakfast, but there was no sign of the French toast so I continued sipping my tea (China pai mu tan white, £2.40). The Baberoo started in on her pasta, but unfortunately it was woefully underdone to the point of crunchiness. We pulled out the ol’ backup snack bag for her and gave her some food from home, supplementing it with some of the full breakfast – which, according to my husband, was fine but not exceptional.

Branca pasta

My French toast seemed to have been forgotten, so we asked for it again and it arrived a few minutes later with apologies from the staff. The bacon was very good; the toast was also tasty and, fortunately, not too eggy (too eggy always ruins it for me) but I wanted more maple syrup to pour over it. What can I say? As a Canadian I believe that whenever maple syrup is part of a dish there ought to be a giant vat of it available for extra helpings.

Branca french toast with bacon

The dining experience at Branca was all right, although undercooked pasta shouldn’t be happening at an Italian restaurant. Now, how does Branca stack up against my five criteria (menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding) for baby-friendliness? (You can find out more about my ratings system on my About page.)

Menu: If you have only one hand available to eat while you hold a baby, the brunch menu has more options for you than the regular lunch menu. About half of the brunch menu is easy to eat with one hand; the lunch menu has a few good starters, salads, risotti, and pasta, but you’d be hard pressed to eat any of the meat mains using only one hand.

Space: Branca is easy to get into with a pushchair, but there’s a bit of a bottleneck near the front where the bar juts out. Depending on how many people are waiting in that area, it may be hard to get past into the main dining space. The tables at the back of the restaurant are further apart than the ones near the front, so they’re definitely your best bet if you have a stroller. The first time I came to Branca there were five of us NCT buddies, all with prams, and we fit at the back just fine, and during this visit there were plenty of parents with strollers and/or young children. There’s a garden terrace with loads of space that is open in both colder and warmer months, if you prefer to sit outside.

Branca interior

Ambiance: Light and airy, the place gives off an aura of being simultaneously cool and welcoming. There’s a tree growing at the back, and a lovely view of the garden terrace. The staff are friendly, and although we had to ask for a high chair (they are the nice Stokke Tripp Trapp ones) and a children’s menu, they were helpful with our requests (which makes me kick myself for not asking for more maple syrup).

Facilities: The disabled/baby-change toilet at Branca is at the back of the ground floor, and although there are regular toilets downstairs sometimes customers use this one because it’s more conveniently located, so it’s quite busy. It is a lovely bathroom with a window giving lots of natural light, and it smells fresh and clean. The pull-down table is close to the door, where there is a hook to hang your diaper bag. The room is on the small side. I left the stroller at the table, but if I’d brought it in with us we’d have been rather cramped.

Branca baby-changing facilities

Feeding: Although the Baberoo didn’t enjoy her pasta, Branca gets marks for having a children’s menu (mains range from £3.45 to £5.25) with a selection that has plenty of kid appeal. They also apparently have a baby menu, but although I asked for this I got the children’s one instead. If you were breastfeeding at Branca (which I have done in the past) you might find the chairs small and awkward; they have arms that curve right around so that if your baby is larger than infant-sized it might be hard to get into a comfortable position. There are a few cushy armchairs and sofas right at the front of the restaurant, but be warned: the front façade of the building is entirely glass so you’d be on display for passers-by to see. Bring a shawl or cover-up if you want to retain some privacy (nothing wrong with baring it all, though!).

Overall Branca gets a 7.5 out of 10 for baby-friendliness. From the number of babies and children in the place, parents already know that this is a nice and spacious restaurant that is baby- and kid-friendly.

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Barefoot Books

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

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

Brownie from Barefoot Books

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

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

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

Barefoot Books Storyteller's Cafe

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

Activity Station at Barefoot Books

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

Barefoot Books baby-changing facilities

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

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

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