We’ve only got one more Wellington café to review from our recent trip. We didn’t get a chance to eat at famed child-friendly places like the Southern Cross, but we already know how fabulous it is from past visits – and, as per the conversation with my kids that inspired me to start Kiwi Café Kids in the first place, we wanted to try new places where possible.
For lunch on Sunday we decided to try Picnic Café, which is in the Botanic Garden. The Mummies had been out for a swift child-free shopping trip, and on our way home we decided that it would be lovely to visit the Gardens. I checked the cafe’s website and found that they accept bookings (although, with 70 seats inside and 80 seats outside, you can probably chance it most of the time), so we gave them a call and got things organised. As far as I’m concerned, it’s very child-friendly of a café to accept bookings: there’s few things more annoying than having tired and hungry children with you, and discovering that there’s a 40 minute wait for a table.
Picnic Café is easy to reach: you drive in at the Tinakori Road entrance of the Botanic Garden, and there’s parking available on site. We crossed the beautiful the Lady Norwood Rose Garden to reach it, and the kids were delighted to find a fountain nearby, and managed to stand very close to it without actually falling in, which is a big win as far as I’m concerned.
Although it was a lovely sunny day, the wind was crazy, so we were thankful for an indoor table booking (although plenty of hearty Wellingtonians were happily eating outside, and probably scoffing at the soft Aucklanders who couldn’t handle the brisk local climate). Eating in Picnic Café is like eating in a conservatory: it’s attached to the Begonia House, so it’s nice and light.
Arrival and Entertainment
The staff were awesome and instantly took us to our table, gave us water, and furnished us with plenty of felt tip pens, and four pads of blank paper for our junior artists. This kept the kids busy while we decided what to eat, and ordered and paid at the counter.
I liked this children’s menu. I loved that there were a few smaller options, like soup and toast, and the prices were very reasonable. We ordered four picnic boxes, which sounded like a great deal at $10 a pop. All of the food arrived really quickly, largely because the staff were only seating people and delivering food, and not taking orders as well.
We customised one of the toasted sandwiches by asking for it to be ham-free, and this wasn’t a problem – I’m sure they’d be happy to make other substitutions on fillings as required. The kids were all delighted with the food, which was definitely child-friendly: toasted sandwiches on white bread, a fruit and marshmallow skewer, a small chocolate brownie, and a juice drink (juice is considered a HUGE treat by my kids, so they were very excited about getting this instead of water).
Because we’re on holiday, we weren’t too strict about eating sandwiches before brownies…
The adults’ food was similarly well-received. My husband and I both had potato and feta hash cakes with bacon; one friend had smoked fish cakes; and our other friend had a smoked salmon Niçoise salad. It was all delicious!
Three of the four grownups had coffees and reported that they were excellent (I had a ginger beer out of a bottle). We didn’t order extra drinks for the kids, given that they had that juice drink as part of their picnic box, but according to the drinks menu you can get a ‘kids’ warm hot chocolate’ for $4.50, or a fluffy for $2.50. I’m glad to see the acknowledgement that kids’ hot chocolates should be warm, but those are both fairly steep prices for children’s hot drinks, and seemed a bit of out step with the very affordable prices of the children’s menu options. Perhaps the drinks come with numerous additions that justify the premium price? I’d love to hear from anybody who can confirm or deny!
The nearest toilets were very close – just through the door to the Begonia House.
None of us used the loo, so I can’t report on the state of them (or the hand drying options), but the signs on the doors suggested they were all unisex. However, the news wasn’t so great for anybody looking for disabled loos, or baby changing facilities: according to the signs, you had to go out another door of the Begonia House and across an internal courtyard.
Picnic Café has five high chairs, so you’re unlikely to run into trouble finding somewhere to park your baby unless your visit coincides with a multiple birth club antenatal catch-up.
The Kiwi Café Kids Verdict
We had a great lunch at Picnic Café, and it was lovely to combine our visit with a bit of nature appreciation in the Botanic Garden itself. I loved the children’s food options, and the adults’ food was delicious. Everything arrived really promptly, and the instant supply of pens and paper were just the thing to keep the kids occupied before and after their meals.
One mild complaint I’d offer is that the volume inside the café itself is seriously loud: it has an open kitchen, plus hard surfaces everywhere, so there’s nothing to absorb any noise and the combination of kitchen noises and diners’ chat made it hard to hear the kids’ voices at times. However, this is a minor issue, and let’s face it: with children, a noisy café can be a blessing if it means that your children’s own noise is simply one component of the overall commotion. Also, when I was struggling to hear the kids’ voices they were mostly complaining about not being given permission to roam the Begonia House without an adult, so I was quite happy not to hear them!
I’d suggest that few people come to a busy café in a popular tourist spot expecting peace and quiet, and if they really need to eat without disturbance there are plenty of sedate restaurants in nearby Thorndon to cater to their appetites.
The plethora of high chairs made Picnic Café seem like an excellent choice for those of you with babies, and the extensive outdoor seating would mean that you could easily keep them in the buggy if necessary. The proximity of the Rose Garden would make this a good choice for toddlers, too, if you had more than one adult available to make sure that your child didn’t shoot off towards the car access points, or take an unscheduled dive into the fountain. You could definitely despatch your partner and the toddler away for a game of tag amongst the flower beds, while you read the paper and waited for the food.
I think the children’s menu would cater to kids of most ages, and it was definitely appropriate for our table of four- to six-year-olds. Having the picnic box meal is an inspired child-friendly move as far as I’m concerned: you could easily pick it up and take it with you as you ventured further up the hill to find the playground – or you could take it home if your little one was a reluctant eater, or if a screaming meltdown from one of your juniors cut short your lunch.
As far as entertaining your little one is concerned, the colouring in provisions are excellent, but I didn’t spot any children’s books or café toys to keep non-artists occupied.
For future visits to the Botanic Garden we’ll start with a morning playground at the top of the hill, and then wander down to Picnic Café for lunch. Highly recommended!