Eating out with small children isn’t for the faint-hearted. It requires military precision levels of organisation and a significantly blasé approach to the damage that Operation Eat Out might cause to the general surroundings. But there are some restaurants which not only cater for kids, but will actively welcome them too, and since half term is almost here, we have a pick of some of the best for you to try out.
The Rainforest Cafe
What: Piccadilly Circus Meets Amazon Rainforest
Why: Located in the heart of the West End, this exotic jungle-themed restaurant is a thrilling assault on all the senses as you and your little ones enjoy a meal surrounded by the sights and sounds of the Amazon rainforest. The kids’ imaginations will be running wild, thanks to the magnificent animatronic elephants, crocodiles and gorillas; and with extensive global menu options, such as rasta pasta and sparkling volcano dessert, a meal at the Rainforest Café is a day trip out in itself. There is also a cocktail menu, should any parents or guardians be in need of a sharpener amongst all of the jungle chaos.
Where: 20 Shaftesbury Avenue, Piccadilly Circus, London, W1D 7EU
Giraffe World Kitchen
What: International Menu With No Fuss and Excellent Service
Why: No animatronic giraffes here, but plenty for the children to get excited about. This is a cheerful and welcoming chain of family restaurants, where kids eat free all weekend, and flexible opening times mean that you can pop in at any time of the day to feed your hangry little monster. The menu features a huge variety of international dishes, from classic American burgers, to Asian-inspired salads. Service is slick and you can be sure you won’t be hanging around waiting for your katsu curry or cheese and tomato quesadilla.
Where: Venues across London
What: Fine Family Dining
Why: This upscale modern British bistro might not be the first place you’d think of that welcomes children, but here they are, bang in the centre of bustling Soho, catering for the family that would rather not eat their fish fingers amongst a herd of safari animals. Kids aged 10 and under eat for free at certain times and can choose from a delicious and exceedingly grown up menu, with options such eggs Benedict and Atlantic prawn cocktail.
Where: 66-70 Brewer Street, Soho, W1F 9UP
All Star Lanes
What: Retro Americana
Why: Who wouldn’t want their buttermilk fried chicken with a side order of skittles? This upmarket bowling alley and restaurant, which has four venues in London, is the quintessential retro American experience. Children are more than welcome and there’s a fingerlickin’ kids’ menu deal that includes food, milkshake and a game of bowling. There are also luxurious private rooms available for hire, should your little one want to get into the competitive spirit to celebrate their birthday!
Gordon Ramsay Restaurants
What: Michelin-Starred Kids' Food
Why: He may be ferocious in the kitchen, but he’s obviously a softie at heart: Gordon Ramsay not only welcomes children to most of his restaurants; he also lets those under 12 years old eat for free from the kids’ menus. In the West End, Heddon Street Kitchen features its own ice cream bar and a kids’ menu compiled by his daughter, Tilly; and at Bread Street Kitchen in St Paul’s, the weekends are packed with child-friendly entertainment, such as face painting, magic shows and pizza making classes.
Where: Various around London
What: Suburban Pub Fare
Why: If you’re looking for a casual Sunday roast en famille, you can’t go wrong with the Marlborough in Richmond. In the summer, settle in with a bottle of rosé, while the kids roam around the large garden at the back, and walk it all off afterwards on Richmond Hill or at Richmond Park, both of which are a five minute walk away.
Where: 46 Friars Stile Road, Richmond, TW10 6NQ
What: Old Faithful
Why: I couldn’t let a guide to eating out with children slide by without mentioning Pizza Express, which has saved many a parent’s sanity over the years. It may not be fine dining and the pizzas may have got suspiciously smaller (or maybe we’re all just bigger?), but you know when you walk through those doors without a reservation that you are probably going to get a table, the kids are going to get crayons, colouring paper and stickers, everyone’s going to get a decent pizza, and the staff are going to be remarkably patient when your little ones start charging up and down the gangways and throwing doughballs at one another.