Get into a conversation about London’s best restaurants and, chances are, Theo Randall at the InterContinental gets a mention – but we bet you didn’t know they do a great kids menu? With a flair for authentic Italian cooking, Theo has had a passion for this way of eating from a young age, ever since family holidays involved driving round rural Italy, stopping off at trattorie and panetterie along the way. Given this, it makes sense that Theo wants to share this experience with other families so has just launched a kids menu at his rustic Kensington restaurant, Theo’s Simple Italian. We caught up with Theo to find out why he’s so passionate and why kids should sit with the adults from the very start…
Why do you feel so passionately that children should be able to dine in restaurants alongside their parents?
When I was growing up my parents would always take us to restaurants, I loved the experience and it is a great way for children and their parents to spend quality time together. It taught me to treat the occasion as being special so my sisters and I were always very well behaved.
What inspired the kids menu at Theo’s Simple Italian?
The Kids menu was inspired by the success of our menu at Theo Randall at the InterContinental. When creating the menu I wanted to give the children an experience that used the same ingredients we used on the a la carte menu. Children have very sensitive palates so when cooking for them it is important to stick to primary flavours so not to complicate their idea of what they are eating.
Do you think schools are doing enough to instil healthy eating into kids?
Having spent time cooking for children in schools I think the schools are trying much harder to cook good food but unfortunately the children have been exposed to lots of fast food that is not necessarily good for them and may contain large amounts of saturated fats, so they have grown to like a certain taste. A school meal is so important as it might be the most nutritious meal of the day. I think having something like raw vegetables – peeled carrots cucumber and crispy lettuce quarters dipped in something like hummus is a great way for kids to start a meal. Carbohydrates are always seen as being fattening but are really important to a healthy diet especially for growing children, so a simple plate of pasta with fresh tomato sauce is a delicious and healthy meal.
How important do you think the social aspect of eating out is to kids?
From my upbringing it gives the children an important understanding of food being part of a social experience.
Which other restaurants or chefs have inspired you with this concept?
There are lots of restaurants doing children’s menus but what has inspired me is my children and how they have grown up appreciating good food because of their early years of having had food cooked for them and the experience of being taken out to restaurants from an early age.
Why do you think Italian food is so popular in the UK?
Italian food is a cuisine that we have adopted in Britain – it is the cuisine that we cook more than any other, sometimes not even realising it. How often do you cook pasta at home, how many times do you crave some really fresh mozzarella with tomatoes, fresh basil and focaccia, or a pizza cooked in a wood oven? Good Italian produce is so much easier to find these days with delis and supermarkets selling great Italian produce that takes little time to prepare. A simple meal that might consist of some anti-pasti followed by a plate of pasta or risotto and some fresh fruit or cheese is a very social and healthy way of eating.
Did you find a demand for child-specific menus before creating your own or is this to try and encourage the demand?
I just think that children should enjoy good food from an early age as this will make them less fussy with food in later life and appreciate good produce.
Best dish to make at home for kids?
There are so many but one that my children loved from an early age was a tomato risotto.
If children are well behaved do you think they should be able to dine at any London restaurant? Or is there a time and a place to have kids at the table?
If you take your children out from an early age and start at less formal places then your children will adapt to the surroundings. If you want to have a very formal experience that might consist of a multi-course tasting menu, I would probably not take my kids as it might take too long and the children will lose interest and get tired as they are used to going to bed at this time. Keep it simple and eat with the kids. We always serve the children’s food at the same time as the adults so everyone is eating together, this is important because there is a familiarity to eating at home.
We’ve often seen kids in restaurants occupied by iPads or phones, do you think this defeats the point of eating out?
No, I think we are so accepting of technology as part of our everyday life that we have to understand that are children are also equally accustomed to it. Sometimes it can be too much but simply talking to your children can instigate a conversation which will distract them from being on their phones.
Which dish on the menu are you most excited about?
I love the sea bream with courgette fritti because I think children should try fish from an early age and fresh fish will give them an experience that will make them more adventurous and therefore less likely to dislike fish when they are older. Also, the combination of the juicy sea bream fillet with crispy courgettes is delicious!
Do you think you’d ever roll this out to your other restaurants or does the concept suit Theo’s Simple Italian the best?
We do a great children’s menu at Theo Randall at the InterContinental so this menu has been inspired from what we have served there. Theo’s Simple Italian is a very relaxed restaurant so I can see the menu going down very well with young families.
Theo Randall at the InterContinental is doing amazingly, as is Theo’s Simple Italian so what’s next for you?
It’s all about keeping up standards and being consistent, so the future is to continue making people happy!