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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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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.

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Baby College

Last week the Baberoo and I attended a session of Baby College, a baby and parent development course that includes physical, multi-sensory, and cognitive games and activities to enjoy together. Baby College runs classes in eight different areas of Oxford and the surrounding area. Note that this review is only for the session at St Anthony of Padua Church Hall in Headington/Marston (115 Headley Way, OX3 7SS); it doesn’t comment on any of the other venues or sessions.

The name Baby College is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but the course certainly boasts a varied curriculum. Each session includes movement, singing, exploration, and baby sign language, plus an emailed handout for parents to read which includes details of a different aspect of a baby’s development each week. It’s generally advisable to sign up for the full 12-week course (£72) because places are limited, but you can book a single session for £6.50 if there are spaces available.

We signed up for a trial of the 9-18 month age group since the Baberoo is 10 months old (there’s also an infant session for 0-9 months and a junior session for 18 months-3 years). It was a real change for her to be in a group of babies older than her rather than the same age or younger. I think she might have felt a little daunted by the fact that everyone else was a proficient crawler, while she had only just learned how to crawl a few days before the class. However, she braved most of the activities, and particularly enjoyed the touch-and-feel cards, the parent-baby dancing, and the coloured balls.The Baberoo plays at Baby College

The session we attended focussed on textures, and I have found myself looking at and commenting on more textures at home with the Baberoo as a result – so clearly, it has had an impact! Unfortunately – and this is in no way the fault of the course content – the timing of the course had an unwelcome impact on the Baberoo’s naptimes (why, oh why, must all baby activities be scheduled during morning naptime??), which means that despite enjoying ourselves we’re going to be cutting down on attending most activities until the nap schedule has righted itself.

How did Baby College rate for baby-friendliness? My ratings system for activities is on an 8-point scale, looking at space, ambiance, facilities, and feeding. For more about these, see my About page.

Space: The church hall at St Anthony’s is one huge room that is divided into two for the Baby College sessions. The outer area is a waiting room, with a few chairs and a table and plenty of room for parking your baby carriage. The classroom area is large enough to comfortably fit at least fifteen parents and their babies as well as the assortment of toys, objects, and props that are used in the classes. The high ceilings and large windows ensure a bright, well-lit area. But there’s not much in the way of interesting details in the building; it’s a very new-looking church hall and it’s somehow devoid of personality.

Baby College waiting area

Ambiance: Donna, our instructor (and one of the co-founders of Baby College Oxford), was very welcoming and led the session with aplomb, considering the chaos that can ensue when a dozen toddlers are presented with fun toys and objects to explore. The parents were friendly and welcomed us as newcomers. All the babies and parents were clearly aficionados of the course and had been attending for the whole term (we joined in on week 7 of 12). In general there was a lovely ambiance from the class attendees – especially the babies, who were really enjoying themselves.

Facilities: Surprisingly, there are no baby-changing facilities in the church hall, just regular bathrooms – which is really a shame, and bad planning on the part of the building designers.  Parents can change their babies on the floor in the classroom or in the waiting area, and there’s also a table in the waiting area that can be used, but there isn’t a sink or garbage pail nearby so it’s not very useful if you have a major change to do.

Feeding: If you’re breastfeeding you can sit on one of the chairs in the waiting area. We didn’t do a breastfeed on the day and I didn’t see anyone else using the room for that purpose, but I would have felt fine doing so, although perhaps it wouldn’t have been the most comfortable of seating.

By my ratings system, the Baby College session at St Anthony’s in Headington/Marston scores a 5.5 out of 8 for baby-friendliness. It’s the venue’s lack of facilities, rather than the class content itself, that results in this score. The session itself was a pleasure, and when the Baberoo is back on track with her nap times I may venture back with her again.

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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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