Heads poking out in turn from the window, lovely staff coming out to greet the 2 red curly haired little boys laughing in front of the door waiting to enter. This was the scene bystanders witnessed on the 16th of June outside Tickets, an amazing restaurant in Barcelona!
Whilst I was living in Italy, food was not one of my interests. In Italy food is usually good almost everywhere, as long as you avoid the tourist traps, so I never made deep research about where to eat. When I arrived in London I quickly learned that just because a Restaurant is full it doesn’t mean that the food is good. To avoid being frequently disappointed I started to research opinions and recommendations, and from there I started to discover the pleasure of food.
Testing new restaurants in London and selecting carefully where to eat while we are travelling, is now part of our life and I really love it. Travelling is now for me also about our food adventures trying local cuisine, from street food to Michelin star dining, and I want to educate our twins to eat different things, to appreciate food, and also to behave when sitting in a restaurant where other people want to enjoy their food in a peaceful atmosphere.
Now I can see you questioning how we can continue to go to nice places with 2 small kids. Naturally things have changed a bit, I’ll tell you my golden rule later, but we are still enjoying eating out and that’s why I want to share my Restaurant top list, and my golden rule to have a successful meal out not just in Family Friendly restaurants or a pubs, but also in many cool and good restaurants.
Let’s start with some of my favourite restaurants that we tried all with Liam and Santiago, I divided them for type of cuisine and starting from the more affordable up.
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-Starting with the British and mixed one:
- Aquashard: ok Aquashard is one of the restaurants at the Shard and it is an expensive restaurant, but it is on top of this section because we love to go there for one of the best breakfasts in London. In this case I’m judging not only the food but the total experience you get. You’re still looking at spending around £15/20, but the view is unbelievable even if you are only at the 31st floor (half way up). The design of the dining is stunning and breakfast is good. They have highchairs and are in general child friendly. If you are a tourist this is also a good alternative instead of buying the ticket to just go up for the view.
- Hawksmoor: is a steakhouse…an expensive and excellent steakhouse, BUT on Sundays you can get a delicious super traditional Sunday Roast with all the trimmings for only £22. This is an unbeatable price for the quality you get! There are several branches in London and we have visited two. We have been in the one in Air Street, a lovely art deco looking room beside Regent Street, and in the original in Spitalfields more relaxed and with a more rustic feeling. They have a lift and high chairs.
- Duck and waffle: the first time I’ve been there for brunch I didn’t believe I would have liked so much the combination of duck and waffle (you have to order the duck and waffle!). The first time, to be honest, I went more because it is in the Heron Tower where you get another amazing view of the of London. After that I went back because the food is good, atmosphere is really relaxed (at least at lunch time), the feeling is vibrant, young and a bit noisy so even if the kids are a bit loud it’s ok. They have high chairs and going up with the panoramic lift is amazing!
- German Gymnasium: this restaurant is situated in the now super trendy Kings Cross area, it is a beautiful restored listed building, with a spacious ground floor and a lovely mezzanine. Food is good and they also have a reasonably priced kids menu. They have high chairs and they even brought Liam and Santiago paper and colours when we were there. Try to go at Christmas time when they have it beautifully decorated for the season.
- Brat: what to say…the food is just divine, the place is super cool, and the atmosphere is at the same time relaxed but professional. When we arrived they made us and the boys feel really welcome in this space full of light . They have an open kitchen and most of the food is cooked on the big grill. Bread is made in-house and I couldn’t stop eating it; many plates are good for sharing so you have the possibility to taste even more things. It is located in Shoreditch, the entrance is a bit hidden and just above another restaurant in my list, the Smoking Goat. It has a Michelin star but kids are really welcome, when we went for lunch there were at least another 2 babies, and they have high chairs.
- The Ivy: we went to The Ivy, near Covent Garden, for Liam and Santiago’s first birthday. The people were really lovely, food was good, the place has a truly unique British feeling and they have high chairs! The staff were also very sweet in bringing, without asking, a little dessert for the boys with Happy Birthday written on it!
- Orangerie: If you want to feel like a Royal, on a budget, this is the place. Located in the Kensington Gardens near Kensington Palace, it was a conservatory and the baroque building is not just in a stunning location, but it also offers a lovely afternoon tea. You will still spend £30+ but the afternoon tea experience is worth the money from my point of view. (actually to be honest we haven’t brought the boys here, but I like it so much that I really wanted to include it so you can try it too!)UPDATE MARCH 2019: unfortunately the Orangerie is going through a big refurbishment so at the moment is closed. I found the website a bit misleading because you can still book but it isn’t clear that you will have your afternoon tea in a sort of wedding pavilion, really underwhelming…how do I know? because I booked it last week and discovered this only when I arrived there!!!
- Smoking Goat: we were really fond of this restaurant even when it was just a small characterful room on the back of Tottenham Court road. Now they moved into a much nicer place in Shoreditch and the food has even improved if possible! They offer a thai barbeque menu, based on small sharing plates all just mouth-watering! They don’t have high chairs but they are really accommodating and you can ask to be seated at one of the tables along the wall with benches. Try it for Brunch on the weekends.
- Kiln: thai grill restaurant. This is a sister restaurant of the Smoking Goat, so again Thai with a twist. Food is incredible, place is relaxed, informal and affordable, definitely an experience to not miss. When going with kids ask to get one of the few tables downstairs, otherwise stay at the counter and watch the chefs!. No high chairs.
- Patara: this is a contemporary Thai restaurant. If you want to stay under £40 you need to choose carefully but it’s possible. They have some signature dishes that really stand out and shouldn’t be missed like the violet dumpling or the coconut beef, but in general all food is excellent although though the service can be hit and miss. They also have a kids menu.
- Barrafina: I discovered this place in Soho a few months after I arrived in London in 2010. I didn’t know anything about it, I walked in front of it, I looked inside and decided to queue (This is the only place in this list that doesn’t take bookings)…I loved it… a few years later it also got a Michelin star. It is a “bar de tapas”, it is tiny, no tables only high seats along the bar where you can see the chefs cooking so of course this would work only for a little bit older kids or in summer when you can sit at one of the 2-3 seats outside, but I couldn’t miss to mention it! I believe some of the newer branches may have regular height tables and chairs as well as the counter seating.
- Jamon jamon: is a family restaurant, they now have 4 restaurants and I visited the one in Belsize park and the one in Camden town. My Spanish friends always appreciate the home cooking style. It is affordable but the food is full of flavor. They have high chairs and friendly staff.
- Ippudo: this is an original Japanese chain specialising in Ramen plates. There are three in London and we have been few times to the one close to Tottenham Court Road. Food is really good and bowl of Ramen would be enough as a meal, but it is difficult to resist all the different starters.The atmosphere is relaxed and the interior is nicely done, they are really child friendly, and have high chairs and set for kids. When we have been in Japan we tried Ippudo there and we can confirm that they managed to keep it authentic!
- Roka: This is the latest addition to my list: I found out about it by chance. I was reading something about something else when the writer, a mum, referred to this place mentioning the fact that they have a play area…of course I needed to check it out. We went to the branch in Canary Wharf for dinner. It is quite a posh place but people were really nice. Food was delicious, I had a rice pot different than anything I tried before and it was full of flavor but still so well balanced!!!
We then discovered that the little play area is organized during Saturday and Sunday brunch…so we will go back to try it out.
- UPDATE MARCH 2019: we went back for brunch so I thought to update my impression. there are 3 price level for the brunch: £49, £59, £69. The starter is form the counter buffet then there are some variation on the main course you can order, the drink on arrival and the unlimited wine. The counter buffet is extensive and offer from veggie option to fish and meat, sushi and soup. Overall the food on the counter is good but I founded much tastier when we went there and dine a la carte. We also spent less money a la carte. I believe that this is a good option if you are going there with friends and you can spend some leisure time drinking and eating. As you know we enjoy eating out and we always go even with Liam and Santiago, but we try to have meal that don’t last forever so not ideal for us in this case.
What is definitely great is the little play area they organize in the smaller area of the restaurant with nice toy to entertain the kids.
- A.Wong: this could easily be my favorite of all the restaurants on the list, they offer a Chinese menu covering many different areas of China. We have been coming here from before the kids were born, and from before they received their ludicrously delayed Michelin Star. I love coming for lunch when they offer their full range of dim sum. Most of the dim sum menu is offered by single pieces, so you can try a lot of these tasty treats…just delicious!
They don’t have high chairs but they are really welcoming. The Owner/Chef Andrew Wong, has recently opened a new Restaurant called Kym’s in Bloomberg Arcade which we’re looking forward to try soon!
- Dishoom: before arriving in the UK I thought I didn’t really like Indian food…until I discovered some superb restaurants and Dishoom is one of them. Inspired from old Bombay cafes where people socialized with food and drinks (like we do in Italy), it is another place where they serve medium size portions good to share. We usually go to the branch in Kings Cross that is quite big (on 3 level) and it is beautifully decorated. It is also not a quiet place so not to worry if your child can’t whisper yet!
- Gunpowder: we went to both branches. The one in Shoreditch is super tiny and they only have benches, so that was a little tricky with the kids, but the one near Tower Bridge is bigger and with more comfortable seating arrangements. Food is delicious, plates are small but big enough to enjoy sharing to try more things. The space is vibrant and trendy, relaxed and informal. A little gem!
Of course there isn’t always a need to bring kids to restaurants if you can leave them with friends or family, but unfortunately our families live abroad so we rarely have this opportunity, so here is my advice or rules to make it work:
First rule: do not go if the kids are tired, that’s the first element that will turn the meal into a disaster, so we always make sure Liam and Santiago had a good nap in the afternoon if we have a dinner booked…or we go for lunch.
Second rule: unless your child really eats everything, then feed them before to go or bring some food they love. We are lucky here because the boys top list of favorite foods contains avocado, most types of fruit, and bread, all easy to bring around. When you are there if they want they can eat more, but at least they will not get grumpy because they are hungry. If we haven’t fed them we ALWAYS bring some food with us.
Third rule: until the boys were around 10 months it wasn’t difficult to hold them and entertain them with some bread while having our meal, after that we always made sure to check if the restaurant had high chairs, if they don’t , no problem we had our life saver Polar Gear 5 Point Harness Travel Booster Seat This small foldable seat worked perfectly for us until 3-4 months ago, now the boys are happy to sit on a normal chair and they are also really tall which makes it easy, a smaller child would still benefit from this great kit. We brought them with us on all our travels even to Japan! I can’t recommend it more!
Forth rule: be prepared with some entertaining system, sticker books, colouring books, or youtube video…here we are entering difficult territory: for us youtube and videos we download from BBC iPlayer have been life savers. I know many people will disapprove of this, and once I also shared with Mark how I was feeling guilty to put two young toddlers in front of the phone screen so I could enjoy a nice meal, but he made me reflect on how much energy, time, and love we dedicate to the boys daily, so if once a month after a while we let the phone babysit them for a bit then maybe it’s ok! Having said that, we do keep videos as the last resort for when colouring pencils and books have lost their fascination.
Fifth rule: if you are concerned about your child’s behavior (Mark gets uncomfortable as soon as the boys start to speak a bit loud) then book the nice restaurant you want to try for lunch instead of dinner, the atmosphere is usually much more relaxed than at dinner time, and you can often get the meal with a much cheaper price too!
And then don’t forget if really everything goes wrong you can just pay and leave, it happen to us once when on holiday in Madeira while they were 6 months old.
Liam and Santiago are now 2 years and 7 months old and we go out for our foodie adventures often, many times just in a place around the corner or in one of the lovely pubs we have around us, but we have been in many cool and tasty restaurants with them in London and abroad rarely with any great challenge.
Do your homework, research what you would like to try, book in advance (this is key in London if you don’t want to be disappointed, sometimes you need to book a month or even 2 in advance) and ENJOY IT!!!…and don’t forget to let me know in the comment if I need to try other restaurants!