Picnic Café

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.

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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.

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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.

Refreshments

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!

Other Amenities

The nearest toilets were very close – just through the door to the Begonia House.

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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!

Boat Café

Happy New Year! Here’s to a year filled with peaceful café visits, delicious food, and non-whiny children.

Over the past few days we’ve been staying with friend in Wellington – our annual post-Christmas catch-up. I love Wellington, aside from all of the weather, and I knew that it was a perfect place to start checking out cafés with my brand new Kiwi Café Kids hat on.

On Friday morning the kids had great fun at Oriental Parade playground, and then we went straight to neighbouring Boat Café for an early lunch. It’s in such a convenient spot: it’s got parking right next door, and it’s very close to the CBD – it’s permanently moored behind Freyberg Pool, on Oriental Parade. According to its website Boat Café will take daytime bookings for parties of six or more, but we walked in off the dock and had no trouble getting a table (mind you, it’s lovely and quiet between Christmas and New Year). Apparently it’s also open for dinner from Thursday to Saturday.

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Arrival and Entertainment

Boat Café is nicely arranged inside with a bar/service area in the middle of the boat, booths on either side, and more tables and chairs in the front of the café (what nautical types would call the bow, I think). You could struggle to sit in a booth if you had a big buggy with you (speaking as an ex-twin buggy pusher), because you’d block the access, but we sat in the bow, and there was plenty of room there. There’s also outdoor seating, which could be even easier if the weather was nice and your baby or babies stayed in their buggy throughout:

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All in all, I doubt it’s a suitable place for an antenatal catch up, unless you’re all baby-wearers without toddlers to chase – more on that later.

As far as our nearly five-year-olds were concerned, the novelty of being on a boat AND in a café was brilliant. “I can’t believe we’re having lunch on a ship!!” one of them said, as soon as we sat down:

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The staff were friendly and efficient (and I should make a macro for that phrase, because I’m sure I’ll be typing it a lot in my Kiwi Café Kids reviews: Kiwi café staff are almost always amazing). Our waitress sat us at a nice, sunny table, and brought children’s menus with colouring pages and colouring pencils straight away:

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The pencils were a bit blunt, which tends to frustrate our budding artists, but when we asked for a pencil sharpener one was produced immediately, and peace fell on the table:

Refreshments

We ordered a child-sized hot chocolate for Hattie – she always opts for a hot chocolate if she can, so she’s going to provide us with a reliable barometer of drink sizes and prices. At Boat Café, the kids’ hot chocolate comes in a proper cup, which is great (I find it very annoying with kids’ hot drinks are served in flimsy takeaway cups, or in glasses that are too hot for them to hold, and liable to slip easily from little hands):

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However, at $3 for a kids’ hot chocolate I think a second marshmallow wouldn’t have been out of the question, especially as we had two kids at the table, one of whom had ordered a smoothie instead. Our favourite local café always puts an extra marshmallow on Hattie’s saucer if Joe orders something different, just to prevent any ‘life is so tough, I can’t believe I’ve been cruelly deprived a marshmallow while my sister guzzles hers’ angst. I know that this is only a minor quibble, but that kind of foresight can help a café to feel very child-friendly, in my opinion, because it means that totally predictable young child-related meltdowns are averted, and everybody is happy (and at virtually no extra cost to the café).

Our only other issue with the kids’ hot chocolate was the temperature: it was as hot as my hot chocolate (and yes, I begrudgingly donated my marshmallow to Joe). We asked for a little jug of cold milk and were given it immediately and with no hassles, but again: it’s really helpful when cafés anticipate the fact that young children are unlikely to want a piping-hot drink. We usually try to get this message across by asking for a ‘warm chocolate’ for Hattie, but it doesn’t always do the trick.

Anyway, Joe’s smoothie arrived:

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He’s a big smoothie fan, and pronounced this banana and honey smoothie “delicious – here, Mummy, try some!” So I did, and he was right: it was delicious. This was the standard smoothie portion, which he couldn’t finish, but that’s fine – I took care of it for him. I’m such a selfless mother, nobly finishing my children’s delicious leftovers.

I should add that our orders were taken quickly, everything arrived promptly, and we were given water as soon as we sat down.

I thought the children’s menu offered a pretty good range of options:

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My children are annoyingly fussy eaters at times, so I feel like any café that can offer at least a couple of things that they’d choose has done well on the menu front. Both children chose the pancakes, which – foolishly – I forgot to photograph before cutting up into child-friendly pieces:

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There were three blueberry pancakes, and half a griddled banana – a really good portion of food for $7.50. Joe wolfed his down (he eats like rugby player-like quantities of food at the moment), and Hattie was slightly put off by the presence of blueberries (she’s that rare child that doesn’t really like fruit), but she managed to finish at least half of her serving as well. A child at a nearby table ordered the ham and cheese toasted sandwich with shoestring fries, and received a plate of food that would have been enough for this 42 year old’s lunch. So Boat Café is definitely a good place to visit if your children have decent appetites, and if you appreciate value for money (what parent doesn’t?!)

The grownups at our table were also very happy with their lunches. My husband had poached eggs on toast, and a flat white (both very decent, he said), and I had delicious French toast, plus the hot chocolate:

Our meals were both off the breakfast menu. The lunch menu also had some good options, but I could eat breakfast and brunch food at any time of day and nearly always have breakfast for lunch if it’s available.

Other Amenities

Boat Café had separate men’s and women’s toilets, plus a unisex disabled toilet with baby changing facilities. And the toilets had paper towels, rather than air driers, which was great news for Hattie and Joe: like many younger children, they really dislike air driers and tend to dry their hands on whatever I’m wearing instead (so, paper towels are a big advantage for me, too).

I spied two immaculately clean plastic high chairs, albeit without restraints (but I used similar high chairs with my two when they babies, and also didn’t use restraints). And the basket of plastic toys shown below also looked very clean, which isn’t always guaranteed in cafés:

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The Kiwi Café Kids Verdict

I really liked Boat Café. This sign we passed on our way to the table seemed to sum up the owners’ attitude to junior diners:

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And I read another sign that asked for children to be reminded to use their ‘inside voices’. I think that’s fair enough: it’s a reasonably small space, and it wouldn’t be too pleasant if you had a couple of toddler meltdowns going on. We also remind our children on a regular basis that cafés are not playgrounds, and that other people don’t want to be bothered by young kids yelling and running around, so it’s helpful when the café itself makes that point in a good-humoured way. However, I’m not sure this is a suitable café for anything but the most calm and biddable toddler: there isn’t room for them to wander around without the risk of tripping up a staff member, and the toys are too junior for them, while the colouring in pages are a bit too advanced.

That aside, this is a lovely café to visit with preschool children or older: great food, nice staff, and the novelty value of dining on a boat. And I think it would be fine for babies, aside from that whole ‘not much space for big buggies’ issue I mentioned earlier.

So, if you’re near Oriental Parade and the kids are getting hungry, give them a go on the playground and then head to Boat Café to refuel. You’ll leave with well-fed kids!