Tag Archives: eating out

Kids & Cafes

I am not one of those entitled mother-types who expects cafes in general to cater for children. I also have a particular dislike for the popular concept of what constitutes “child-friendly” (play gyms, play grounds, “kids eat free before 6” deals etc). In fact I believe that, as a general rule, children should be café-friendly rather than the other way round. I do not expect other people to enjoy eating in close proximity to my children and I, in turn, cringe pretty much every time I have to sit within sight or earshot of any OPCs in a café of my choosing, especially when I’m sans enfants myself.

However, realistically, human beings usually reproduce, meaning that, as a cafe owner, a large proportion of your clientele will have children. Those with adult children are heading towards the “old” category and belong in quiet old-people cafes, so I’m not talking about them. Those who are too young to have children generally belong in student cafes or nightclubs, so we don’t care about them either. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume, though, that many of your customers between the ages of 25 and 45 will have young children, so you’re losing out on business if you make your café completely soul-destroying for parents to bring their kids to. (NB I’m not referring to fine dining, fully licensed restaurants here, I’m talking about cafes.)

We recently had a short break to the South Island of NZ and stayed in Arrowtown. While we were there we were unlucky enough to eat at two completely child-unfriendly cafes.  We were also lucky/brave enough to venture into the coolest, hippest-looking café in town and it actually turned out to be the most child-friendly, funnily enough.

Whether the Chop Shop had observed the other two in action and taken a lesson in what not to do, I’m not sure. But if they did, they appeared to have learned the following:

  1. Serve children quickly. No one likes a restless child, let along its own parents. Especially not parents who are trying to eat their own meals simultaneously with their child. It is a fabulous idea to get the food, and even better, the kids’ food, out there early. The sooner they eat, the sooner they leave-everyone’s a winner.
  2. Have a noisy café. Background music, of any sort, is great for hiding child-related noise (yes this is mostly crying, but also shouting, banging cutlery, dropping cups and shrieking at random). Parents will also feel soothed and refreshed knowing there is more to popular music than The Wiggles and Nursery Rhymes for the Criminally Insane.
  3. Have clean toys, and just a few. We don’t need a whole basket of grimy, chewed, chipped, peeling, arm-less dolls, cars and the like. Just a few simple plastic or wooden toys which don’t look like they were rejected from a jumble sale or deliberately left behind by their owners’ parents. And ideally, non-sound-emitting ones are best.
  4. High chairs are handy, there’s no doubt about it. But I don’t routinely expect cafes to carry them, in fact our favourite breakfast café on the mainland didn’t have any. (The owner of the café commented on this to us once, and we assured him that highchairs would surely just attract more people with children so best not encourage them by getting any). But if you do equip your café with a highchair or 3, just get the basic $50 ones from IKEA [actually, having just inserted that link, I see they are only $20. Even better]. They stack. They are plastic. They don’t have loads of clips and straps and nooks and crannies, which get chewed, broken and clogged up with kiddy gunk. You can wipe them down in a flash.
  5. Kids’ menu. I can take or leave the kids’ menu. If I take it, though, it’s because it has real food on it. If I leave it, it’s because it has some awful set-menu of nuggets and chips or fish and chips or vegemite sandwiches and fruit juice poppers, which annoys me and patronises my children, who actually don’t really like chips all that much. The best thing (IMHO) is to have something that’s cheap and easy (like toast) that you can add extras to (upon leaving Sydney, Master L at 2 ½ years old was up to sausage, avocado, mushrooms AND eggs as his “extras”).
  6. Declutter the tables. Seriously, the sugar canisters, the vases, the menu tabards in plastic cases, the candles, even the salt and pepper. We don’t need the distraction and we do need the space, so get rid of this crap please!

Chop Shop, we will definitely be back. You made us feel welcome even (especially?) with our children. You ticked all the boxes. What’s more, you had lots of yummy menu items we want to try over a proper, adult, 10am breakfast. Who knows, we might even leave the kids at home next time, but if we can’t, at least you make us feel like it’s no big deal to bring them with us.

Cafes of Auckland- an introduction

 

The Store- Britomart

In Sydney I find myself categorising most eating establishments as places I’d either go to with my children or I places wouldn’t in a million years. It’s rare that a place can be both. Auckland, it seems, is different. We stumbled across this delightful eatery tired and weary… Up since 4am, we’d survived a 3 hour flight with 2 kids in tow, all 4 of us had had minimal sleep and this was the first non-aeroplane or airport food we’d consumed all day. Seriously, almost anything would have done. But The Store was far from an “anything will do” kind of establishment. A Kiwi friend of mine had told me that NZers in general are far more tolerant than Sydney-siders of the presence of children at the kind of cool café that as an adult you’d actually want to eat at in the absence of your children and, having spent a very pleasant hour here (well, ok maybe half an hour, the kids weren’t THAT good!) I now believe it. We ate in the bistro/restaurant section (where I must confess I enviously eyed a few locals drinking white wine with their lunches but feared I’d lose all capacity to cope with the afternoon ahead if I did the same) but I asked for a delicious-looking chicken pie from their bakery section, which didn’t disappoint. Mr L had a pulled pork sandwich (yum) and we ordered ricotta hotcakes for the kids to share. (They were too tired to really eat much, but Mr L and I enjoyed their hotcakes for dessert). Even the (non-alcoholic) drinks were cool- I had a delicious apple & cinnamon tisane-type drink- it was a little on the sugary side but would have been a perfect hot-chocolate substitute and Master L sank all of Mr L’s quince & malt milkshake before he got much of a look-in. Service was friendly and helpful. I’d happily go there again- avec or sans enfants, either alone, with Mr L, a girlfriend or parents (including in-law).

Circus Circus- Mt Eden

I don’t think I would have gone into this place had Mr L not had it recommended to him, it looked a bit gimmicky. Although I have, on previous occasions, observed that the busiest-looking café is usually the best, so if I’d gone by that rule I may have ended up there after all, as everywhere else was deserted. I’ll have to withhold the superlative for the time being, but only because I have nothing nearby to compare it to: I was pleasantly surprised. Despite the gimmicky exterior, the service was incredibly helpful and friendly and the food and coffee were definitely worth going back for. Again, child-friendly without being (seeing-hearing-feeling) adult unfriendly, the menu offered a few different choices to the standard Sydney breakfast fare (which consists of bacon & egg rolls, eggs bene, bircher muesli). Mr L and I baulked at the bowls of coffee they served us (you can get cups instead if you want) but the coffee was really good and I had no trouble finishing mine. He had home-made hash-browns (I would have called them potato cakes or gallettes, as I was totally put-off by the term hash-brown) with smoked salmon & poached eggs and I had an omelette with salsa verde, which I don’t often do, as they are usually enormous and I just feel full and sick afterwards. This omelette was indeed quite large, but very nice, although to my great sorrow I set the pot of salsa aside to butter my toast and forgot to try it until I was full of omelette. I’m often wary of salsa verde, I often find it a bit too grass-like but this was more like a subtle pesto: delicious! We ordered the kids toast although Master L demanded most of Mr L’s smoked salmon, and a berry smoothie, which was perfectly yoghurty & un-sugary. I also spied the rolls and sandwiches they had on display as well as some amazing-looking desserts and thought, I’d happily eat here again… how long till lunch?

Zarbo- Newmarket

I realised as soon as I walked in that I’d actually been here before. It appealed to me this time for the same reason as last time- a big central counter with a vast array of breakfast, lunch and in-between choices that looked like they’d been cooked on-site at this café-cum-deli. Great coffee (again) and I like the touch of the mini chocolate-brownie bite that came with it. I’m a big fan of those little biscuits you sometimes get with a coffee when you’re not ordering food. When you are ordering food, I find it a little unnecessary, but I ate it nonetheless. I made a poor choice with my breakfast, however, mostly my own fault. I almost never order the muesli-yoghurt-fruit combo: I am fussy about my fruit, fussy about my yoghurt and I make muesli at home to my own individual taste and rarely find anything that measures up in my book. So the odds were against Zarbo being able to give me a dish that I’d be happy with. Indeed, I was unfortunate enough to end up with thin blobby yoghurt, toasted muesli riddled with banana chips (shudder) and a plate full of pineapple, pear and either papaya or melon, I wasn’t sure which. Given that my 3 least favourite fruits are, in fact, melon, papaya and pear, this was not an ideal breakfast. Like I said, poor choice on my part, really. Mr L had a lovely eggs benedict (with a potato cake instead of the boring old English muffin) and the poached eggs looked absolutely perfectly cooked. Master L had a boiled egg with bacon & toast soldiers, which he devoured. Service was pleasant and I’d go there again, although the menu didn’t enthrall me like The Store’s did, and the attention to detail didn’t impress me like Circus Circus had. Still, not a bad place to have up your sleeve.

Café Lava- Parnell

I chose this café on the basis that I was flying solo with two kids and there were no other customers in it to a) steer the stroller around or b) annoy. This blatantly disregards my advice re the busiest café being the best and Kiwis being tolerant of children etc but hey, I didn’t have the mental fortitude to test either theory. I walked past the first time having turned my nose up on approach, but on glancing inside it actually looked ok- funky white sofa and otherwise unremarkable décor, I thought perhaps I had judged it too harshly. So on the way back we stopped, I was desperate for a coffee and Master L was asking for a smoothie. Both of which they did quite nicely, I must say. So Café Lava served its purpose. I can’t say I’d rush back there- among the songs played (I think it was a radio station they had playing- although I’m not sure that’s much of an excuse) were You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling and John Farnham’s “Two Strong Hearts”…. Ok ok, so yes, they are both on my ipod and yes, alright, they are two of my favourite songs, but decidedly more appropriate for singing along to in the car than drinking coffee to. What I couldn’t get past, however, were the uninspiring photos of various dishes (do we really need an A4 snapshot of the eggs benedict?), laminated, blu-tacked to the wall… Thanks for your hospitality, you may see us again, but not in a hurry…

Mink- Parnell

We had hoped to check out Casetta for Saturday morning breakfast but it was closed. Instead, we chose Mink, partly because it was directly opposite and partly because we were in a bit of a hurry and it was the only café in which we could see people inside getting ready to open (just before 8am, apparently Kiwis sleep late- or perhaps they are all out early doing crazy adventure stuff and so don’t get to breakfast till a bit later).  We had a pleasant but not mind-blowing breakfast, the food was reasonably priced and nicely cooked- I went for poached eggs on toast with spinach which is a bit of a staple for me. The eggs were lovely (I always feel I’m taking a risk ordering poached eggs at a new café, but they were done perfectly) as was the spinach (not sure how they did it but it was hot and tasty, not watery and boring which happens often with cooked spinach) and even the toast (dark and grainy) was lovely. Good coffee, Mr L enjoyed his French toast and Master L wolfed down his sausage (which doesn’t mean much, he’s not terribly picky when it comes to sausages.) The service was pleasant and inoffensive, but I just felt there was something lacking… maybe it was the young waitress wearing running tights (interesting) who hovered, looking awkward, clearly looking for something to do, or perhaps it was the bad soundtrack (again!) or perhaps it was simply the fact that we were at the end of a big week and knew we had to haul two kids and a hundred bags back across the Tasman, so my breakfast mojo was lacking. I’d go back, faced with similar circumstances but next time I’m in Parnell, I’d do my best to try somewhere else first.

 

 

Date night- the inception

A couple of months ago Mr L and I started “date night”. I always thought this was a slightly bizarre practice when I saw other couples doing it. I’m not really sure why, it’s not so much that I felt we were one of those “smug married” (thanks Bridget) couples who didn’t need to designate a special date night because we revelled in each other’s company at home every night- sort of an “every night is date night in our relationship” attitude, no it wasn’t that. I think I thought it was a bit self-indulgent or irresponsible or something- kind of like “What did you expect being married with kids- of course you’re going to be at home watching TV after 7pm every night for the rest of your lives, silly you.” I think I also dismissed the possibility that going out for dinner with someone with whom you spend most evenings bathing children and getting on with dinner in a more pragmatic fashion (ie to satisfy hunger) could possibly be romantic.

And then a few months ago I went out for dinner with 3 of my girlfriends (go Carrie!) in the city at Bistro Felix. It’s a nice (not ridiculously fancy, but nice) restaurant with good food at what I consider to be reasonable prices (but high enough to remind you that you wouldn’t take your kids there- in case you needed another reason). The fact that I had never even heard of the place and one of our group had been there several times already reminded me that I just don’t go to anywhere remotely cool or grown-up any more. I got to dress up (slightly traumatic but I coped) and I also got to limp the 100m from the carpark to the restaurant in high heels for the first time in several months, strengthening my resolve that I refuse become one of those permanent-flat-shoes-don’t-you-know-I’m-a-mother tragics (no offence to any mothers out there who don’t wear heels, ever.)

We had such a lovely night and much as I was stoked to get out with my friends, I couldn’t help but get excited about the idea of going out for a nice grown-up dinner with Mr L. The menu is sort of French Bistro and as I read through it I noticed all the things I knew he’d go for- the steak tartare, the chicken liver terrine, the duck confit, the oysters, in fact I wondered how he’d choose what to order at all. And suddenly I thought, “well why don’t we come here?” In fact, why don’t we go to more of the places we used to go to, or hear about from friends but save for a special occasion or tell ourselves we’ll be able to go to once the kids are older (like what, 21???)

Fortunately we have a regular babysitter we know and trust and Master L loves her (Miss L loves everyone, she’s still too young to be particularly discerning). We are also in a position where we’re able to splash out semi-regularly for 2 or 3 hours of babysitting in the evening. I know not everyone has this luxury but we thought “bugger it, we may as well enjoy it” -“it” being life as well as a bank balance in the black (well if you don’t count the mortgage, that is).

So we made a list of restaurants we wanted to go to. Actually no, I made a list of the nice restaurants I’d heard of and when I ran out of ideas after number 3, I looked up the hat winners from this year’s SMH Good Food Guide and copied down anything that didn’t look too trendy, too expensive or too much hassle to get to (ie find a parking space near).

I must say Mr L was quite enthusiastic about the whole idea and we’ve really enjoyed the 3 dates we’ve had (we’ve managed a monthly regime so far). I’d be lying if I said it was terribly romantic but then I’m not a huge believer in all that at the best of times (when he proposed I was quite relieved he waited until after dinner instead of doing it at the restaurant in front of other people). No, but it’s nice to actually have a couple of hours to enjoy a conversation that’s not interrupted by a) children b) internet c) TV or d) falling asleep. (Having said that, 1 of the 3 dates has been at the movies- but we had noodles beforehand and the car ride to and from the movie to enjoy each other’s conversation).

So, I admit, I am now a fan of the date night.