Tag Archives: Menu

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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Giraffe

Giraffe is a chain known for its kid-friendliness, so it came as no surprise that on the day the Baberoo and I visited the central Oxford location (71 George Street, OX1 2BQ) there were kids or babies at almost every table. We were starving from doing so much Christmas shopping and we really needed lunch pronto, and Giraffe is one of the places that I know can be relied upon to get your order to you quickly.

Although Giraffe offers a very reasonably-priced £6.25 lunch special from Monday-Friday, I decided to go for the BBQ chicken and smoked cheddar quesadilla (£9.25) and a Coke (£2.45). The quesadilla was a very generous size and came with a salsa for dipping and a side of slaw. It didn’t press any buttons on my deliciousness barometer, but it was fine and filling and easy to eat while I was feeding the Baberoo.

Giraffe quesadilla

Although we’d brought some fruit from home it wasn’t enough for the Baberoo’s lunch, so I ordered her something from the kids’ menu. The entrees are all under £6 and there’s also a meal deal that includes a main plus a drink for £4.95, all day, any day of the week. I got the Baberoo the Italian pizza bites (£4.05), which come with a side of fries and a salad. It arrived in record time; she only did a little bit of screeching when I didn’t serve her pre-meal grapes as fast as she would have liked. The Baberoo enjoyed the pizza bites, which were made with nice fluffy focaccia bread, and had fun examining the salad leaves minutely before eating them. (Sorry, kiddo, but Mommy had to eat all your fries for you because you’re not allowed to have them yet. Ha ha ha!)

Giraffe pizza bites

Certainly Giraffe is kid-friendly and caters to a family audience. So how does it do when it comes to baby-friendliness? My ratings system (explained in full on my About page) takes into account menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding.

Menu: For parents, there’s plenty on the Giraffe menu that can be eaten one-handed if you need to hold your baby in the other arm. Breakfast/brunch items, salads, pastas and some of the Giraffe ‘favourites’ all give you good choices for one-handed eating. It’s nice that they have a whole kids’ menu, too, and the portions (for both adults and children) are generous.

Space: There’s ample space to move around the restaurant with your baby carriage, although you probably wouldn’t get to park more than one carriage at a table. Go for one of the circular tables rather than the booths because you’ll have more of a choice for where to put your buggy. One annoying thing is that it’s somewhat difficult to enter the restaurant; there are two heavy glass doors and you have to turn a corner. Usually a staff member will be able to help you but it’s too bad the doors don’t open more easily. It seems like a no-brainer to provide easy access in a kid-friendly place.

Giraffe interior

Ambiance: Colourful, festive, and global. The decor in the restaurant will be pleasing to children and babies; it’s bright and fun. The staff are very helpful and friendly to children. We were offered a high chair and a kids’ menu right away. On the day we went, it looked like there were only two members of staff taking care of all the tables, but they were in very good humour and seemed to be having fun despite being run off their feet. They also give out balloons to children, which is always nice (unless your baby is scared of them – I know I was as a child!).

Giraffe wall

Facilities: The bright orange baby-changing/disabled toilet is a fine size and has a good layout, although the bin should be closer to the changing table. On the day we visited it was clean and well-aired despite not having a window. It suffers from a narrow pull-down changing table without a shelf to put your bag on, but there’s space to hang your bag from the corner of the table. If you’re waiting in the corridor for someone to come out, you may have to back up quite a long way when they leave the changing room as it’s a very narrow corridor.

Giraffe baby-changing facilities

Feeding: No one minded that we had brought some of our own food for part of the Baberoo’s lunch. I’ve also fed her entirely with home-prepared food on a different visit and it didn’t raise any eyebrows. I haven’t breastfed her at Giraffe, but the ambiance suggests that it would be welcomed, and you can choose from tables with regular seats or bench seating, whichever is more comfortable for you.

In total, Giraffe gets an 8 out of 10 for baby-friendliness. It’s a reliable place to stop in with a young one and you won’t be kept waiting long for your meal.

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Jacobs Inn

Like all the food-related bloggers in and around Oxford, it was only a matter of time before I reviewed Jacobs Inn (130 Godstow Road, Wolvercote, OX2 8PG), the new(ish – they opened in July) dining room and public house by the people who brought you Jacobs and Field. I had been looking forward to the day with great anticipation.

The Baberoo, her Gran and I visited the restaurant for a weekday lunch, having booked the day before, and boy was I glad we had. It was jam-packed in there; the Jacobs Inn guys do a great job at PR and they have an almost cult-like following already.  They even have a Twitter account for their chickens (@jacobschickens), which they keep in the back garden along with their pigs. Talk about locally-sourced eating!

To tide us over before our lunch arrived I ordered some pork crackling with apple relish (£3.50). The apple relish was delicious, but the crackling had been overdone to a hardness that was no longer edible – really too bad, since I had been hoping for a crispy treat.

Jacobs Inn pork crackling

It was hard to decide on my main, given all the delicious-sounding meats on the menu. The venison and bacon ragu sounded tempting, but in the end I went with the Blythburg free range pork belly (£13). It was tender and succulent, with a lovely, almost jammy, seared exterior. I offered some to the Baberoo – big mistake, because she liked it so much that she clamoured for more and ended up eating half of it!

Jacobs Inn pork belly

Despite the pork cracklings not turning out well, I enjoyed the meal and the relaxed atmosphere, and would certainly go back to Jacobs Inn. So, how did it fare on the baby-friendliness scale? My ratings system (explained fully on my About page) encompasses five criteria: menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding.

Menu: For a restaurant that revolves mainly around meat, Jacobs Inn has a surprising number of dishes that can be eaten with one hand while you hold a baby in the other arm. Although the big cuts of meat that require both knife and fork aren’t a possibility, a pie, pasta dish, stew, and lots of starter and brunch plates are easily enjoyed one-handed.

Space: The restaurant area is in the back of the inn, easily accessible with a pushchair (although we didn’t have one on the day since we came in a car). There’s not too much room between tables, so groups of parents with babies in carriages might have a hard time, although there were a few nooks and crannies in the dining room where more than one pushchair might fit, if you can get it through a somewhat narrow space in the middle of the restaurant area. Jacobs Inn also has parking – always handy if you have a car and would prefer to make the trip out to Wolvercote without braving public transport, although the number 6 bus does go right by the inn. But be warned: the parking lot can be a pretty tight squeeze, as we learned on our way out (no thanks to the obstinate lady in a Porsche).

Jacobs Inn interior 3

Ambiance: Quintessential laid-back gastropub, complete with roaring fire. It’s a beautiful interior. Staff were very friendly and helpful with the Baberoo. We were offered a high chair immediately and shown the way to the facilities when we needed them. Staff didn’t even blink at the amount of food that the Baberoo threw on the nice cowhide rug underneath our table and told me to leave the mess for them to clean up (I did clean it myself, though – who wants to pick up half-eaten cucumber and muffin?) The Baberoo also received lots of attention from a nearby table of friendly lunching ladies, which tickled us no end.

Jacobs Inn interior 1

Facilities: The baby-changing table at Jacobs Inn is somewhat of a puzzler. It’s a wooden shelf that folds down from the wall and has one leg supporting it. It’s easy to accidentally kick the leg and dislodge it (which I did), and although I could see that the table had supports at the wall, I was still nonplussed at the idea that the leg could be so out of place. I knew the table wasn’t going to fall, but it still didn’t inspire confidence. Otherwise, the bathroom was clean and fresh-smelling and had enough room for a pushchair to fit comfortably. No shelf or area to put your changing bag, though.

Jacobs Inn baby-changing facilities

Feeding: The Baberoo ate a lunch brought from home (along with half of my pork belly); our table was on the small side so if you’re planning on seating your baby in a high chair and feeding them, see if you can get a table with enough surface area for the baby’s lunch (which always turns out to take up twice as much space as you think it will). If you’re breastfeeding, there are some tables with soft bench seating that might be more comfortable than the wooden chairs.

By my ratings scale, Jacobs Inn earns a 7.5 out of 10 for baby-friendliness. It’s best to reserve a table, even for a weekday lunch. Go and relax by the fire and remember not to let your baby eat half your meal.

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Byron

I’ll never be known as the world’s biggest meat eater, but from time to time I feel like I simply must have a big, juicy hamburger RIGHT AWAY. This was one of those days, so the Baberoo and I headed to Byron (33-35 George Street, OX1 2AY) so I could treat myself while she napped.

I ordered the limited-time-only Le Smokey (£9.75, available until 31 October), which comes with basically everything I most want on a burger: crispy bacon, smoked Cheddar, crispy fried onions, pickles, and smoked chilli barbecue sauce. I waited a while to get it (the restaurant was not particularly full but it still took 20 minutes to get to my table), but then again, you can’t rush a good burger and Byron is not a fast-food joint. It was also cooked truly medium-rare, exactly as I had requested. It was delicious in every way. I gobbled it down like there was no tomorrow.

Byron Le Smokey burger

Even though I already had crispy onions on my burger, I made the gluttonous decision to order a side of onion rings (£3.25). I am a huge fan of onion rings and I already know that Byron does them the way I like: huge pieces of onion in with a nicely spiced batter that’s crispy but not overdone. Having practically inhaled the burger before the Baberoo woke up, I took my time with the rings while feeding her. I washed it all down with an A&W root beer (£2.95); oh, the memories of high school that beverage invokes! I haven’t found it served anywhere else in Oxford yet, so for me it is a rare treat.

Byron onion rings

I truly enjoyed my meal and will always go back to Byron, which I’ve loved since my London days. Now, how does Byron rate on the baby-friendliness scale? My five criteria (which are explained further on my About page) are menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding.

Menu: Byron’s hamburgers are big and messy and that’s the way it should be. But they aren’t easy to eat with one hand while holding a squealing baby, as I can attest from today’s experience. The Baberoo woke up from her nap and absolutely refused to sit anywhere but my lap, so I had to hold her while eating. Luckily I had devoured most of the burger already, which meant I could use a fork for the rest, but there is no way you could start on one of these without the use of both hands. There are salads on the menu. The salads look good. But come on, who goes to a place that makes such good burgers and then orders the salad? Do yourself a favour and go when your baby is either napping or in a good enough mood to sit in a high chair so you can use both hands to pick up your burger.

Space: There’s a fair amount of space in the restaurant at lunchtime; you can definitely fit a baby carriage next to a table with no problem. The staff were helpful in selecting a table for me close to the baby-changing facilities and in a location where I wouldn’t be blocking anyone’s way with the buggy. It wouldn’t be suitable for more than one pram at a table, though, and if there are more people in the restaurant it could begin to be a tight squeeze.

Byron restaurant interior

Ambiance: The staff were extremely friendly and helpful with both the baby-changing and the high chair. The restaurant itself is open and welcoming. There are skylights but the general ambiance, especially in the back, is slightly dim, which is great if your baby is napping. There is catchy music playing in the background but not loud enough to wake a sleeping baby.

Facilities: The baby-changing facility requires a key to get in, but the staff will let you know where that is so you can use the room at any time. It’s clean and large enough to manoeuvre your stroller inside. There’s a pull-down changing table, although no shelf for your bag.

Byron baby-changing facilities

Feeding: Byron has several types of chairs at its tables so you can request a table that has chairs that look comfy to you. There’s also bench seating and padded booth seats. I was in a booth but the table was a little close to the seat so it might have been difficult to hold the Baberoo while breastfeeding; however, I didn’t breastfeed her on this occasion so I can’t say for sure. There are high chairs for babies who are eating food, although the Baberoo rejected the chair and made me sit her on my lap while she dropped mango and rice cakes all over me. We did not look elegant while we ate; thank goodness Byron isn’t the kind of place where that’s necessary.

In total, Byron rates a 7.0 out of 10 on the baby-friendliness scale. Because of the messiness of burgers in general, make sure you will have both hands free or go with someone else so you can swap the baby back and forth while you enjoy your meal.

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Fishers Restaurant

The Baberoo’s Gran took us out for lunch this week at Fishers Restaurant (36/37 St Clements Street, OX4 1AB). Oxford is a landlocked city so it’s not the first place you’d think of for a fish restaurant, but Fishers has its own carriage company which delivers fish from Cornwall on the day of catch. The lunch and early evening menu is served from 12-2:30 and 6-7 pm every day of the week and is £8.95 for two courses or £11.50 for three, which is cheap as chips (or should I say fish and chips?).

I had two courses because I can never manage three, although I wished I could have because the starters looked lovely. My mother-in-law enjoyed her starter of crispy squid with roasted garlic mayonnaise. For our mains we both ordered the hake fillet with roasted root vegetables and basil pesto. The fish was succulent and moist and paired well with the pesto.

Fishers Restaurant hake

My choice for dessert was the sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce. The pudding was light and spongy, all the better with which to soak up the deliciously sticky sauce. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal and would certainly go back again.

Fishers Restaurant sticky toffee pudding

Rated against my scoring system for baby-friendliness, which encompasses the five elements of menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding (more details about each of these are available on my About page), here’s how Fishers fares:

Menu: The lunch and early evening menu has three options for each course; it’s a constantly changing menu so there’s no guarantee of which dishes you’ll get to choose from, but the starters and desserts on the day we went would all have been easy to eat with one hand while holding a baby in the other arm. One of the mains will always be fish, so it’s likely that it can be eaten using only one hand as well. Other mains may include a seafood or meat dish that might not be as easily eaten with one hand. But given the tight menu, it’s got quite a lot to choose from with regards to ease of eating while holding a baby.

Space: One of the reasons I’d never ventured into Fishers before was because of the revolving door. I needn’t have worried, because as soon as they saw me trying to get in the staff were very helpful and pushed the door slowly so I could navigate the space. Even my very large baby carriage fit through just fine, although there wouldn’t be enough space for a twin pushchair. The interior of the restaurant has plenty of tables with regular chairs and bench seating; there’s enough space in most areas to put a pram at a table, although I don’t think a group of parents with baby carriages would be able to fit comfortably.

Fishers Restaurant interior

Ambiance: Cheerily nautical: fishing ropes, lifebuoys, nets, and other fish-related paraphernalia adorn the restaurant; the kitchen even has portholes for windows. The staff were extremely helpful and friendly with the Baberoo and service was top-notch. We were offered the choice of two different kinds of high chairs and the Baberoo enjoyed sitting in hers and ripping up the paper tablecloth covers. There are also crayons available so toddlers and older children can amuse themselves.

Facilities: Fishers doesn’t have any baby-changing facilities, but staff did offer me a space on a bench to change the Baberoo (although we waited until we got home). They are currently looking into installing a changing table in one of the bathrooms, but – as with many Oxford buildings of a certain age – the toilets are extremely small and there aren’t many changing tables that can fit into the space. Still, it’s great that they are looking into it. If they manage to find one that fits into the space, you still won’t be able to bring your baby carriage in with you because of the size of the entry to the toilets, so you’ll have to leave it at your table.

Fishers Restaurant toilets

Feeding: The Baberoo ate a meal sitting in her high chair and had a whale of a time throwing oatcakes and peaches on the floor. If I had wanted to breastfeed her I would have been able to choose between a regular chair or a bench. Both would have been fine, although they are unpadded so they wouldn’t be as comfortable as in some other places.

Fishers Restaurant scores a 6.75 out of 10 for baby-friendliness and would have scored higher if they’d had baby-changing facilities. This number is no reflection on the food, which I rate much more highly. If you are a fish lover this is a great place to visit, and the lunch deal simply can’t be beat.

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Ashmolean Dining Room

I am a museum lover. I’ve worked in the sector for 12 years (although I’m currently on hiatus while I work as a stay-at-home mom) and I have always thought bringing children to museums is a great thing to do from even the earliest age. The Baberoo has enjoyed several visits to the Ashmolean already, and on our last visit I decided to try out the Dining Room while she napped.

The Ashmolean Dining Room (Beaumont Street, OX1 2PH) is the swankier of the two eateries at the museum; I’ll review the downstairs café separately sometime in the future. The Dining Room is on the top floor of the museum and boasts an outdoor terrace with views of Oxford’s dreaming spires. It has a menu of fresh seasonal ingredients, using local suppliers where possible. I ordered the guinea fowl with cavolo nero (black cabbage) and sauteed potatoes (£14.50) along with a Fentiman’s Lemonade (£2.95). The guinea fowl was moist and tender, as were the vegetables. Sitting on the rooftop was a thrilling experience – not necessarily for the views, which were partially obscured by potted plants, but because it’s October and it was still warm enough to sit outside and enjoy the sun.

Ashmolean Dining Room guinea fowl

For dessert I ordered the chilli and caramel roasted pineapple with sweet ginger crème anglaise (£5). While the pineapple was nice, it didn’t have the truly caramelized flavour I was hoping for, and the caramel sauce itself was too thin. The chilli, caramel, and ginger were competing rather than complementing each other. I should have gone for the salted caramel cheesecake instead. Still, I had an enjoyable meal and the Baberoo only woke up as I was finishing my dessert, so I had a little time to myself.

Ashmolean Dining Room roasted pineapple

Let me digress a little and talk about the museum in regards to babies for a moment before I get down to reviewing the baby-friendliness of the Dining Room. The Ashmolean has quite a comprehensive family programme, encompassing downloadable museum trails, free summer activities for kids, an Activity Station near the entrance to the museum, and free year-round drop-in creative sessions, as well as free entry to special exhibitions for kids under 18. More information is available on the Family Events page. There are several choices for under-5s (so it’s great if you’re bringing a toddler or pre-schooler along with your babe-in-arms), although I don’t think babies would be old enough to enjoy any of the activities. I would say the museum is mainly kid-friendly rather than baby-friendly. Still, even babies can enjoy the spectacular art and archaeology collections if you take them round the museum.

Now, how does the Ashmolean Dining Room rate on the baby-friendliness scale? In my reviews of eateries I look at five elements: menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding, all of which are explained in detail on my About page.

Menu: The menu is quite small and changes regularly, so I can’t predict how many dishes will be available for you to eat with one hand while you hold a baby in the other arm – but going by the menu on the day I visited, there were a few options (charcuterie platter, fish, soup, salad) that could be eaten with one hand. The mains, however, generally require both hands to be free.

Space: The terrace is quite large and has lots of space between tables. The dining room itself has less space, although certainly you could fit a baby carriage at a table. More than one parent with a baby carriage, though, and you’re probably out of luck. This is not necessarily because of the amount of space in the restaurant, but because of the inconvenience of getting in and out. Unfortunately, only one lift in the museum goes to the fourth floor where the restaurant is located, and this lift is in constant use. I got off on the wrong floor on the way down and then had to wait – I kid you not – 10 minutes for the lift to come back again without having too many people or trolleys in it. There was a wheelchair user waiting behind me and luckily we both managed to squeeze in, otherwise she’d have been waiting even longer. The museum is accessible, but it’s not necessarily easily accessible.

Ashmolean Dining Room terrace

Ambiance: The Ashmolean Dining Room has beautiful tables and seating; it’s a very pleasant place to be, as is the rooftop terrace. The staff are friendly and offer high chairs for babies. I didn’t see any other babies or children there during my visit; I think probably parents who bring their kids to the museum choose the downstairs cafe instead because it’s cheaper and easier to get to. That said, there is a kid-friendly menu at the Dining Room.

Ashmolean Dining Room interior

Facilities: There’s a baby-changing facility in the disabled toilet right outside the entrance to the Dining Room. The room is clean and bright and the pull-down changing table is a good size. There’s no shelf to put your changing bag near the changing table, but there’s a low ledge behind you which might do for a place to set your bag down.

Ashmolean Dining Room baby-changing facilities

Feeding: I didn’t do any feeding on this occasion because the Baberoo was napping for most of it. I would have felt more comfortable on an indoor seat than an outdoor one if I’d been breastfeeding, but if I had been using a high chair for her it wouldn’t have mattered whether it was inside or outside. There are regular chairs and bench seating (and a few comfy chairs right at the entrance to the restaurant) so there are different choices for breastfeeding in comfort.

In my book the Ashmolean Dining Room gets a 7.25 out of 10 for baby-friendliness. It’s not necessarily easy to get to, and it’s not inexpensive, but if you’re feeling like treating yourself to something fancy you’ll enjoy yourself here.

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Las Iguanas

Now that the Baberoo is over her two-week cold (it was her first one, and it was a doozy!), we’ve resumed our usual schedule of going out, having fun, and generally swanning around town. Our first stop today was Las Iguanas (40-41 Park End Street, OX1 1JD) for a Latin-inspired lunch.

The Baberoo ate rice cakes from home (while sitting in a restaurant high chair for the very first time! I don’t know why I waited so long to try her in one; it worked great!) and I ordered the Gringas, a bean and cheese quesadilla with smoked chicken topping (£5.50). It was spicy and cheesy, and paired well with my Apple Mojo-less (£3.10), a sweet and refreshing version of a mojito. Those of you who have read my reviews so far know that I’m an aficionado of the virgin mojito, so I order it everywhere I can. The one at Las Iguanas is quite sweet compared to others, but I like it that way. It was a very satisfying lunch.

Las Iguanas Chicken Gringas

But I didn’t stop there, because I saw the Creamy Caramel Cake (£5) on the menu. Even more than I love a mojito I love a Tres Leches cake, so I ordered it. Reader, I gobbled it down so fast that I forgot to take a picture! Many apologies. It was a lovely and delicious cake, steeped in creamy, milky sauce, and it didn’t go overboard on sweetness, which this type of cake sometimes does. I think it was gone in 20 seconds.

So, I definitely enjoyed my meal – but how did Las Iguanas rate on the baby-friendliness scale? I rate eateries on five points: menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding (for more details about my system please see my About page.)

Menu: A lot of Latin American food is somewhat messy to eat and requires both hands (enchiladas and burritos, for example), but there are several things on the lunch menu that can be eaten one-handed if you’re holding a baby. Salads and starters are good choices, but the meatballs and chilli would also work. Now that the Baberoo is big enough and less fussy than she was when she was an infant, I’ll be seating her in a high chair so I have both hands free – but for those with younger babies or those who need a parent’s comforting arms, there’s enough here for you to be able to order something.

Space: Las Iguanas is a large restaurant with many sections, including an outdoor terrace overlooking Castle Mill Stream. We arrived just after it opened so there was plenty of space between tables to manoeuvre the baby carriage; when it’s fuller I think it would still have enough space to manage getting through without any problems. However, I think that at lunchtimes there’s generally a lot of space available; it’s much more crowded on evenings and weekends. I’ve been here before on a weekday with my NCT friends and we sat four strollers around an area with sofas and had plenty of room to ourselves.

Las Iguanas interior

Ambiance: We had a wonderful staff member serve us – she immediately offered a high chair for the Baberoo and chatted to her every time she came to our table. Staff were also considerate enough to come warn us that they were going to test the fire alarm system. It ended up making no difference to the Baberoo; she hardly registered it at all, perhaps because it was masked by the restaurant’s cheery stream of Latin music, which we were both happily bopping along to during our lunch. (Don’t expect your baby to nap – the volume isn’t deafening but the music is catchy!)

Facilities: The baby-changing facilities at Las Iguanas are clean and tidy, and the bright red walls make for a change from the usual dull white bathroom. The lighting is too dim, though, and makes it difficult to see what you’re doing. There’s a pull-down changing table, but no counter to put your bag on. The room is narrow, so although there’s a lot of space it might be tricky to manoeuvre a bigger pram.

Las Iguanas baby-changing facilities

Feeding: I didn’t breastfeed the Baberoo this time but I have in the past and it was fine. There are many types of seating to choose from: regular chairs, higher stools, bench seating, and sofas, so if you’re breastfeeding you can take your pick of what would be most comfortable for you.

All in all, Las Iguanas scores an 8.0 out of 10 for baby-friendliness. It’s a good choice for an inexpensive weekday lunch with Latin American flavour, and you’ll have plenty of room for your stroller.

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Browns Bar & Brasserie

This week the Baberoo and I went to Browns Bar & Brasserie (5-11 Woodstock Road, OX2 6HA) to meet up with our NCT group. The first time the group went to Browns was in May, and our babies have doubled in age (and grown tenfold in cuteness) since that time. It’s amazing that they were ever so small back then!

Our meeting was in the late afternoon in order to work around various naptimes (oh, for a baby whose naptimes were predictable!), so it was high time for a sweet treat of some sort. I ordered the Chocolate Marquise (£3), which was described as a rich chocolate mousse, and rich it was. Extremely rich. I’d say it was more like a solid ganache than a mousse. I would probably order it as an after-dinner dessert than an afternoon pick-me-up. Luckily, my Nojito (non-alcoholic mojito) provided a refreshing counterpoint to the chocolate.

Browns Bar & Brasserie Chocolate Marquise

So, how does Brown’s stack up against my five criteria for baby-friendliness? In my reviews I look at menu, space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding. For more information on how I rate eateries, see my About page.

Menu: The food is mainly British favourites and brasserie fare, which includes a fair number of dishes that require both hands free to eat, such as meat mains and substantial sandwiches. However, if you’re holding a baby and need to eat with one hand, try the salads or the flatbreads (although you’ll need to pre-cut those).

Space: We didn’t make a reservation this time as we did the first time we visited, so it was a bit of a surprise for the staff to find four baby carriages that needed to be seated at the same table. However, they were gracious enough to open up a closed section of the restaurant just for us so that we had room for our strollers. It also helped that it was a quiet time of day. I can imagine that at busier times there is a lot less room available; the tables aren’t squashed together but they aren’t that far apart either. Certainly you wouldn’t be able to get several prams in at one table during a busy time, but if you’re by yourself with the baby carriage it should be fine.

Browns Bar & Brasserie Seating Area

Ambiance: Whenever staff actually attended to us, they were friendly and one of them also chatted to the babies. However, it was quite a while between times when we saw any staff; I wasn’t sure whether this was because we were in a section that was closed, or whether they were very busy, or whether they had gauged (correctly, may I add) that we didn’t really need that much attention (although I’d have felt differently if I’d wanted to order lunch). The brasserie is full of potted plants and ferns, which were visually interesting for the babies. At one point two of the babies were playing on the floor, which shows how comfortable we felt putting them down in this space.

Browns Bar & Brasserie

Facilities: The baby-changing and disabled toilet has a pull-down changing table, but nowhere to put your bag. There’s enough room to get a stroller in, although it’s not huge. The lighting is a little dim and the room isn’t as fresh-smelling as one might hope. Too bad they don’t have one of their potted plants in there to add a little visual interest.

Browns Bar & Brasserie Baby-Changing Facilities

Feeding: We had breastfeeding, bottle-feeding, and food meals going on for our babies, and all were just fine. The chairs are the standard brasserie kind, which means they’re on the small side and maybe not terribly comfortable for breastfeeding, but there is also some bench seating if you prefer.

On my ratings scale Browns gets a 7.0 out of 10. Go during a non-busy time; if you have a whole group of babies and parents getting together definitely ring ahead so that they can make space to accommodate you.

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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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Turl Street Kitchen

Turl Street Kitchen (16-17 Turl Street, OX1 3DH) is one of those places I’ve wanted to visit for a while; every time I’ve passed it I’ve peered through the window enviously at the diners and promised myself I’d try it the next time I was downtown. Today my husband and I went there for lunch with the Baberoo to sample the restaurant’s locally-sourced delights.

Since I was in an autumnal mood (despite the day having warmed up already; I’m just loving these cooler mornings and can’t wait until fall is here again!) I ordered the braised free-range chicken with smoked bacon, carrots, onions, celery, white wine, and split peas (£10.50). My husband had the Provençal fish soup with aïoli and croutons (£6.50). The Baberoo ate some of the banana oat biscuits I made for her – the first time she’s eaten at a restaurant, even though it was food from home. (I’m pleased to say spillage was minimal.)

Chicken

My chicken was delicious; I am a huge fan of anything smoky-tasting and the bacon added just the right flavour. The meat was so tender it was falling off the bone. My carrots were slightly overdone and some of the split peas were slightly underdone, but as a taste combination it was a winner. My husband thought his soup was fine although more tomatoey than fishy, and he had expected chunks of fish rather than a purée.

The food at Turl Street Kitchen is locally sourced and seasonal, and it’s also a social enterprise whose profits go to their sister charity, the Oxford Hub – all big plus points for me. It’s priced very reasonably too. But how did it rate against my criteria for baby-friendliness? There are five points: menu, ambiance, space, facilities, and feeding; for a fuller explanation of each, see my About page.

Menu: The menu changes every day according to what’s in season and locally available. Usually there are six to eight savoury dishes and two desserts. Several of the dishes revolve around meat and require both knife and fork, so may be difficult to eat one-handed if you’re holding a baby in one arm. However, my chicken was so tender that I could eat it with just my fork while holding the baby. There are also cakes, pastries, and breakfast items that might be easier to eat one-handed.

Ambiance: Equal parts rustic wooden tables and tessellated tiles, with very welcoming and friendly staff (who admired the Baberoo) and huge windows that let in a lot of light. They have high chairs for little ones and the staff were happy to help with the baby carriage.

Counter

Space: The space, as in many old Oxford buildings, is a bit of a rabbit warren in layout; there’s a room at the very front (with a closed door; you might not even notice it), then a half-flight up some stairs to the counter, then a half-flight down to the main restaurant area. Since there are two flights of stairs, you’re better off sitting in the front room, which is at street level, but it was full today and I imagine it’s full all the time since it has the most comfy-looking seats and tables. On the Turl Street Kitchen website, it says that the restaurant has a ramp available for wheelchair access that they can bring out on request, so in a pinch I’m sure they could bring it out for a baby carriage too.  Although they probably wouldn’t have to: the staff were more than willing to help me up and down the stairs with the carriage before my husband joined us, and a few patrons offered help as well. There’s plenty of space between the tables and it’s easy enough to get through once you’re in the restaurant area. Still, I wouldn’t recommend coming with a whole group of mothers and babies in buggies.

Facilities: Unfortunately, during my visit I failed to spot the accessible baby-changing facilities; I went down to the basement to use the ladies’ loo myself (which is beautiful and clean), and mistakenly thought that there were no baby-changing facilities since the rest of the toilets were downstairs – so when I first posted this review I said there were no baby-changing facilities. However, the good folks at @turlstkitchen sent me a Tweet telling me I’d missed the baby-changing room! (From now on I will make sure to ask at every place I review so I can avoid making the same mistake again.) I went back the day after I posted this review to check it out and to add the picture below. The facility is indeed on the ground floor, although you do still have to go up and down the half-flights of stairs that I mention above. There’s a sign on the door, but the door is invisible to most of the dining area because of the direction it faces, which is why I didn’t spot it. The baby-changing table is the very small pull-down kind; the bathroom is also small (and may not fit all prams), but clean and tidy. There is a very narrow hallway leading to the room and if there’s anything stored in the hallway it may block your way.

Turl Street baby-changing

Feeding: I didn’t feed the Baberoo on this occasion but I’d have felt just fine doing so; the ambiance is so welcoming that I wouldn’t have even minded doing it at the table we were sharing with two university students at the other end. Some tables have bench seating and some have chairs; take your pick of whichever is more comfortable for you.

Before I corrected my mistake about the baby-changing facilities (which do indeed exist, even though I thought they didn’t!), I only gave Turl Street Kitchen a 6.0 out of 10 on my baby-friendliness ratings scale – but now their updated score is 7.25 out of 10. While it’s still somewhat difficult to get around the restaurant without help and the baby-changing facility is small and not well signposted, the new score is a fairer assessment. Since I think very highly of both the food and the restaurant’s very commendable social values, I’ll definitely be going back again.

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