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A new study of children’s menus at national chain restaurants has highlighted most of the nutritional horrors parents feared all along. But the good news is that many of Bristol and Bath’s independents are flying the flag for healthier kids’ meals – and a more interesting experience for younger diners, as MARK TAYLOR reports
It’s not until you have children of your own that you realise just what a minefield eating out with the family can be. Whether it’s finding restaurants with suitable high chairs, baby-changing and bottle-warming facilities, or choosing establishments with an endless supply of colouring sheets and pencils to keep the little darlings amused until the food arrives, it can be a stressful and challenging business.
The Out to Lunch campaign is now calling on all high-street restaurants and pubs to offer children’s portions of adult meals; to serve freshly prepared food, not ready meals; to offer free water to families on arrival; to offer children’s cutlery as standard; and to make breastfeeding mums feel welcome.
Although most of the big chains are getting a ‘must try harder’ on their end-of-term reports, the good news is that many of Bristol and Bath’s independent restaurants and cafés are offering far better children’s menus and family- friendly environments. Here are some of the best places to take children this summer.
River Cottage Canteen
As the author of the best-selling Family Cookbook, and with four children of his own, it comes as no surprise that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s river Cottage Canteen takes its children’s menus seriously.
A typical children’s menu at river Cottage Canteen might include Hugh’s herby bangers and mash (£5.50); grilled whiting with tomato salad (£5); and onion bhaji and flatbread (£4.50).
Alternatively, half portions of many items on the main menu are also available, and on Sunday there is the child’s mini-roast. To finish, children’s ice cream is just £1 and it’s Chew Moo’s luxury, handmade ice cream made at Dundry Hill, just outside Bristol.”
Floating BBQ restaurant Spyglass has been a popular choice with families and children for the past decade, and its Kids Pirate Club menu is excellent value at £5, which includes a main course and ice cream.
General manager Mark Thwaites says: “the most popular dish on our children’s menu is the homemade chicken dippers with fries and salad, although the hot dog is also very popular – especially as we have branded it the ‘Hot gromit’, as part of our involvement with the Gromit Unleashed trail.”
“As a promotion, we are also pushing ‘kids eat free with every main course purchased’, and we have a treasure chest with pirate fancy dress and a Gromit colouring competition.”
Since it opened its first café/bar in Bedminster in 2002, Loungers has expanded nationally and now has 36 sites, including eight in the Bristol/Bath area. Part of its huge and enduring success has been down to its family-friendly feel and making children feel so welcome.
A typical children’s meal might include poached egg and baked beans on toast; baked macaroni cheese; and a mezze plate comprising falafels, yogurt and cucumber dip, hummus and tossed salad.
Jake says: “the menu is split into two price levels to cater for ‘Little Loungers’ (£4.95 for main course and ‘Feel Good’ juice drink) and ‘Little bit bigger Loungers’ (£5.50), which has been great, as 11-year-olds eat very differently to five-year-olds.”
There may be more than 70 ciders for the adults to wash down the pizzas and pies on offer at The Stable, but this new waterfront restaurant also caters for younger diners. As well as offering children colouring sheets and pencils, there is a kids’ menu featuring three types of pizza, priced between £5 and £6.50, including a West Country Porker (with its topping of Bath Pig Co. chorizo, tomato, mozzarella and rocket). For toddlers, there is a plate of carrot sticks, cucumber and tomato for £1.50. There is also a deal of pizza, salad bites and apple juice for £7.50, or £10 if you include pud – you could try a pizza topped with hazelnut chocolate and mascarpone!
Jack Werner doesn’t have kids of his own, but the new owner of Somerset house in Clifton wants to encourage families to the pub and he has devised an appealing and well-priced menu for under-10s.
With no children’s meal costing more than £5, the menu lists an impressive ten items, from bread and butter (£1.50) and boiled egg and soldiers (£3) to salmon fishcakes with a green salad (£5) and a healthy pan-fried fish of the day with vegetables (£5). On Sundays, the kids’ roast (beef or pork) also costs £5 and two scoops of ice cream cost £3.
Part of Paintworks on the Bath Road in Brislington, Bocabar offers a spacious area for parents with children and newborns in their buggies. The café’s children’s menus recently won them a highly commended in the Bristol Good Food Awards 2013, and it has been a netmum’s favourite since 2011. The ‘Kiddies Menu’ is available from 10am until 10pm and includes a children’s deli bowl (£3.50), children’s mezze (£4) and seasonal salad (£4). There is also the option of a kid’s brunch, such as toasted Somerset Cheddar sandwich, children’s pizzas and a daily hot special. On Sundays there is a kid’s roast dinner and the current summer special is Boca Burger and chips for £5.
As well as colouring sheets depicting tuk-tuks, the five award-winning Thali Cafés dotted around Bristol offer diners under the age of eight two choices when it comes to lunch and dinner. For £4.75 (which includes dessert of organic kulfi ice cream), children can choose between fried white fish with Bombay potato chips or the ‘Tiny Thali’ of rice and dahl with a choice of fish pieces, chicken or pakora. All kids meals are served with fruit, yogurt and salad.
As a proud dad of a baby daughter himself, Zazu’s Kitchen owner Toby Bywater knows the importance of children’s menus. At the Southville and Gloucester Road restaurants, the emphasis is more on getting kids to eat smaller-size versions of adult dishes. The ‘little Ones for the little Ones’ menu includes Cornish fish fingers with sautéed potatoes and peas or beans, and veggie pasta with tomato and mushroom, all priced at £3.95.
Regular Crumbs contributor Kathie Auton is a Bristol-based mum of two children, aged three and five. Her Hungry Sauce blog specialises in recipes for children, and she helped the Soil Association with research for the Out to Lunch campaign. This is what she thinks...
"Personally, I like places that don’t have a kids’ menu because I hope that they just see children as diners, not a dull subset that needs boring, bland meals to induce them to eat. I’d like the kids’ menu to say ‘half portion, half price’ and leave it at that.
When I ask my daughter what she’d like for lunch, I know more often than not she’ll ask to go to the Lebanese. Her love of Golden Cedar on Gloucester Road is bordering on the obsessive. Perhaps it’s the beetroot-dyed pink pickles, or the rippable, dippable flatbreads.
If I do tempt her away, it’ll be for a Gozleme (stuffed savoury Turkish pastry) at Bristanbul or beans on toast in ‘the nice-man café’ AKA Café Ronak (another Gloucester Road café which does, indeed, have a very nice man running it).
And if we’re going to bother leaving the Gloucester Road, it’ll be for Pieminister in Stokes Croft.
We find the very best places to eat with the kids are independent, family run, local restaurants – the kind of places that treat children as discerning diners and don’t try to palm them off with a microwave ready meal."
"We find the very best places to eat with the kids are independent, family run, local restaurants – the kind of places that treat children as discerning diners and don’t try to palm them off with a microwave ready meal."
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