Restaurant reviews generate mixed emotions in people with small children: there's nostalgia for a time when keeping up with the latest gastronomic trends was part of your life mixed with horror at recent memories of disastrous date nights when you were too knackered to talk about anything other than nappies and schools.
After a few half-hearted attempts at eating in "proper" restaurants with their off-spring, most parents admit defeat and settle for a lifetime of chain restaurants, museum cafés and sandwiches on a bench with bruised bananas.
But...if you know where to go there are a few genuinely exciting, family-friendly places to eat in London. Here are my favourites, all of which are roomy, noisy, fun and serve delicious food:
1) Roka, Canary Wharf at the weekend is awesome - not only do they have an all you can eat buffet of sushi, robata grill and a roasted suckling pig, unlimited wine and make your own (as many as you like) Bloody Mary's, but they also have a child's play area with toys and games. The restaurant is usually empty by the time my son gets fed up with it and by that time we've drunk so much wine, it's party-central on the way home. Children get a free delicious Bento box and the staff are incredibly accommodating.
2) The Electric Diner, next to the Electric Cinema on the Portobello Road is totally relaxed and noisy enough to drown out babies screaming, toddlers crying and grown-ups shouting. The food is French - American, which translates as fried house-made bologna sandwich, roasted bone marrow with beef cheek marmalade, cheeseburger, and honey-fried chicken with chilli and sesame seeds and the like. There's a dedicated eggs section on the menu, with enormous desserts whichinclude toffee date cake and a pie of the day. The staff were totally unfazed by the amount of mess our child decided to make and made us feel very welcome, infant and all.
3) The Wolseley - not a place to take energetic toddlers because there are lots of "real" people having business meetings and the like, but if you've got reasonably well-behaved children who've passed the age of random tantrums and flailing limbs and you want a real treat, the Wolesley is superb. The staff are professional and calm and the afternoon tea is a real treat with lots of finger-sized bites to tempt even the fussiest of eaters.
4) The Mad Hatter's Tea Party at The Sanderson Hotel is a must especially for Alice-lovers. Menus are hidden inside vintage books, napkins wrapped with riddles, teapots are adorned with kings and queens and sandwich plates feature zebras, birdcages, carousels and ticking clocks.
5) The Hawkesmoor - OK so it's a chain, but what a chain - it's grown-up, sophisticated and serves steak and burgers to die for. They don't have a kids menu as such, but when I phoned to book and mentioned my 18 month old toddler they said, and I quote "we love children" and proceeded to prove it by bringing him small helpings of things, helping me with my buggy and generally charming the life out of us all.
6) The Freemasons Arms, Hampstead - the pub itself is noisy with decent rather than outstanding food, but gets a mention because of its location right next to Hampstead Heath. That means your kids can enjoy the great outdoors, burn off lots of energy and get really hungry so that they're angelic and well-behaved once lunch time comes around.
7) Gordon Ramsey's Bread Street Kitchen in the City of London is not an obvious choice but like a lot of restaurants in the City this is much less packed at the weekends making it more attractive to families. The staff are totally unfazed by children and were happy for my one year old to peer in to the kitchen and watch the fire. It's noisy and spacious, so plenty of room for a buggy with a sleeping baby and for older ones not to get too claustrophobic.
I'd love to hear your suggestions...
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