Dixie Browns Devonport

Yesterday my mother-in-law finished her annual summer visit with us, and before she left for the airport we headed to Dixie Browns in Devonport for lunch. We’ve been there before with the kids and we know that it’s superbly child-friendly, so I was really pleased to have an opportunity to go there again and gather information for a review.

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Arrival and Entertainment

The staff seated us as soon as we arrived, and when they initially steered us towards a table they happily responded to our request for a booth instead (more space, and fewer escape routes for bored small children). There is a wide assortment of seating options available, which is great: tables and booths inside; tables on the sunny street outside; and more tables in a courtyard garden out the back.

We were given menus straight away, which included colour-in children’s menus and crayons. The kids got to work.

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Hattie had a lot on her plate: colouring; chatting; AND supervising her small squirrel child.

The booths are really comfortable, with a lot of upholstering. And it’s just as well, given that you’ll need some time to wade through the enormous menu…

Refreshments

I think the children’s menu is very good: lots of options; really good portion sizes; and great prices. I also really like that most of the meals come with fruit.

Hattie and Joe both chose the Herbivore Toastie, and a glass of apple juice.

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Hattie got stuck in, but Joe wasn’t feeling very well and only picked at his lunch. However, the staff were awesome, and offered it to us in a doggy bag to take home.

Choosing the grownups’ lunches was much harder – the menu was A3-sized, double-sided, and full of great-sounding options. My husband and my mother-in-law chose a chicken burger and a bagel respectively:

I had corn fritter so delicious that they deserved their own close-up shot:

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We all enjoyed our lunches, and really didn’t need dinner later – the portions are very generous.

To drink, my husband had apple juice, my mother-in-law had a cider, and I had a truly fantastic ginger beer by the Hawke’s Bay Brewing Company – highly recommended:

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The kids finished their lunch with some ice cream (yes, Joe was VERY lucky to have ice cream after barely touching his lunch, but the kids are wound up about starting school tomorrow, and we’re being fairly indulgent as a result). He wanted ice cream in a cone, and fortunately Dixie Browns also runs a gelato concession just next door to the restaurant, so he took Daddy out to get that organised, and brought it back in to enjoy in the booth:

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Hattie had the ‘Dixie the Clown’ option from the children’s menu. This is supposed to resemble a clown’s face, but to be honest it had obviously been done in a huge hurry, because it was a bit of a mess on this occasion. However, Hattie wasted no time in scoffing it, and when she was finished she declared “Boy, that was yummy!” (and yes, my children really do talk like that – sometimes it’s as if I’ve stumbled into a Famous Five plot)…

What I really enjoyed – other than the good food – was the attentive service, coupled with a total lack of pressure to finish our meal and get on with our day. We relaxed in the booth for a while…

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My husband rounded off his meal with what was apparently a good flat white, and I had a hot chocolate. Dixie Browns does fantastic hot chocolates, served as a mug of steamed milk into which you stir a wooden spoon with a huge chunk of chocolate stuck to it. SO GOOD! It was a good substitute to having pudding, and I felt very proud of myself for resisting the pudding options – there are a lot of them, and past experience has taught me that they’re worth leaving room for!

Other Amenities

This is a great café to visit with kids. Other than the good menu and the comfortable, child-friendly seating, there were plenty of high chairs – I spotted four, but there might be more – and a changing table in the disabled loo. There’s also a nice selection of cabinet food (mostly sweet), in case you just want to pop in for a quick visit.

The Kiwi Café Kids Verdict

Our repeated visits in recent months are a good indicator: Dixie Browns is a really nice place to take younger children, and the staff are a big reason why – they’re always friendly and helpful, and accommodating of little diners. It’s spacious inside, too, so I think you could find a few tables at which you could park a buggy if you had a really young baby with you. The huge menu also provides a wide variety of choices for kids who are old enough to leave the children’s menu and explore other options. And the food and atmosphere is nice enough for grownups, too. Dixie Browns is well located near the ferry terminal, a playground, and the Devonport Library, which is a wonderful place to while away some time with kids. I definitely recommend it for your next visit to this lovely suburb!

Soljans Estate Winery Café

On a baking hot Sunday morning, what could be nicer than enjoying a lovely brunch on a shady terrace, in the picturesque setting of a vineyard? And let’s be honest, how often do parents get to do that kind of thing? Well, thanks to Soljans Estate Winery Café (which I’ll call ‘Soljans’ for the rest of this review, to save me some typing), it IS possible! Before we had kids we checked out Soljans for lunch a few times, and we visited when Hattie and Joe were young babies, but we haven’t been for at least four years. We decided that it was high time we checked it out again!

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Arrival and Entertainment

Soljans is about 15 minutes’ drive from the North Shore on a hot Sunday morning without much traffic. The café was open from 9am for breakfast, and it was around 10.30am when we arrived, so the huge car park was mostly empty. Soljans has plenty of indoor and outdoor seating, but we know from past visits that it is a popular place year-round, so if you don’t want to struggle for a table I’d suggest turning up early, or booking a table (which you can do online).

Because we were some of the first diners there today we had our choice of tables, and opted for one outside, on the terrace. I remember when we visited with our babies we sat there as well, because there was plenty of space for our enormous twin buggy. There are zip-down clear ‘walls’ around the terrace, for those inevitable rainy Auckland days. No fear of that today, though:

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Although Soljans refers to itself as a café, both its food and its service are on a par with some of the best restaurants we’ve visited in New Zealand, and the staff who helped us were lovely. We were given menus and water straight away. There was no sign of any colouring, toys, or other entertainment for the kids, but we’d brought our own bag of crayons, pens, and paper. And really, who needs entertainment when you’ve got this:

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This is only a small slice of the grassed area immediately adjacent to the outdoor seating, providing kids with plenty of space to tear around and burn off some energy while they wait for your food. Hattie loved this cute little play house:

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I also loved the fact that there are two petanque courts, so older children and teenagers who are bored with their parents’ conversations can teach themselves to play, thus ensuring that they can hold their own if they ever end up in a French town or city and need to integrate with the locals.

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Refreshments

The children’s menu was full of guaranteed child-friendly dishes. Here’s what was on offer:

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There were also children’s drinks: milk or a fluffy for $1; Ribena for $2; and child-sized juices for $2.50 – plus fizzy drinks (which my kids can’t abide: they call them ‘fuzzy drinks’ and don’t like the bubbles). The kids each opted for a glass of apple juice, and the serving was very generous – it would have been a big enough glass for me! My mother-in-law and I each had a mango smoothie – creamy, cold, and very welcome on such a hot morning – and my husband had a couple of flat whites.

We ordered the kids a temptingly-named ‘Funplatter’ each, and although it was certainly not a healthy option, it was very popular with our two. Each platter contained sandwiches, chips, biscuits, sweets, a juice box, raisins, strawberries, lollies, and cheese slice.

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We really appreciated that the kids’ food was served very swiftly. However, it would have been helpful if the staff member who took our order had reminded us that the platters came with a juice box, so we didn’t need to order the kids a glass of juice each (we hadn’t spotted that on the menu). But not to worry – the juice boxes came home with us to be used another day.

The grownups ordered off the breakfast menu, and our food also arrived very quickly. I had French toast (I’m on a bit of a French toast kick at the moment, and I really need to rein it in and start having eggs on toast or something)…

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My husband had ‘vine-smoked salmon and potato hash cake’, and my mother-in-law had ‘Kiwi favourite bacon and eggs’.

We were all very happy with our dishes, which arrived piping hot (I really hate it when hot food is lukewarm). One thing that marks out Soljan’s food is the extra touches – like the lemon aioli with the hash cake, and the caramelised red onion with the bacon and eggs. These things elevate a dish, and although this is a blog to discuss child-friendly places, it’s important that the adults enjoy their food too, right?

Other Amenities

Soljans is clearly set up to provide a high quality vineyard experience for local and international visitors alike, and when it comes to things like the loos you really notice it: they’re spacious, and spotless. The unisex disabled loo also contains a changing table, which is wonderful to see. My kids were stoked that there were paper hand towels, and not the dreaded air dryers.

Although I couldn’t see high chairs anywhere in the restaurant, when I asked a staff member if they had any available she opened a cupboard and showed me that there were eight of them standing by, ready for action. It just goes to show that you shouldn’t assume the worst when you visit a café or restaurant – it’s always worth checking if they’ve got a high chair, or something to help with entertaining your kids, because you never know what they might have stowed away.

Another great amenity is the vineyard shop, which sells a selection of souvenirs, and a lot of wine (unsurprisingly). So, if you’re a sober driver, or if it’s 11am and you feel like it isn’t socially acceptable to work your way through the wine list during your brunch, you can always grab a bottle or two for later.

The Kiwi Café Kids Verdict

We had a delicious brunch at Soljans, and it was a great place to visit with the kids – I’d definitely recommend it if you feel like getting away from the rest of the city. With space outside, a changing table, and plenty of high chairs, there’s plenty to make your visit comfortable and enjoyable. The only suggestion we have is to perhaps offer something for kids to do at their tables while waiting for their food, for those rainy days where the outdoor space isn’t an option – paper and crayons would suffice. It might also be helpful to mention somewhere on the menu that high chairs are available on request, so parents of babies and toddlers don’t have to soldier on without them.

I only hope that, whenever we visit again, I’m not driving and can have a glass or two of wine with my food!

 

caféwindsor

Last Friday I met some mum friends and their kids at the legendary caféwindsor – easily the most child-friendly café on Auckland’s North Shore (and probably one of the most child-friendly cafés in the whole city – although I’ll be in a better position to make that call in a few months’ time). This café is a beloved location for coffee group catch-ups and casual get-togethers with friends, so it was a perfect place for morning tea with a group of kids ranging in age from two to nine. Because we only really ordered cabinet food, I’m calling this a mini review (but caféwindsor does offer an all-day breakfast and lunch menu as well).

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Kiwi Café Kids Mini Review

The first thing you need to know about caféwindsor is that it’s fenced. If you’ve spent time with small children recently you’ll immediately know how awesome this news is – particularly as the café is affiliated with a church and also near a local sports ground, so there is a lot of parking and associated car traffic throughout the day.

That fenced outdoor space is fairly huge, so it’s great if things are too busy inside. It also includes a small fenced playground, enabling parents to sit inside and enjoy their coffee, safe in the knowledge that their preschoolers can wander in and out without coming to any harm.

And your eyes aren’t deceiving you: there’s a shade sail above most of the play equipment. Amazing!

Inside, caféwindsor is huge. You can be there with a party of ten mums, all with buggies, and you still won’t feel like you’re dominating the space. There are so many tables and so much space that several coffee groups can meet at a time. It’s hands down the biggest café space I’ve ever visited. Of course, when it is full of mums and young children the noise levels can be very high, but if you’re used to hanging out with toddlers that won’t be a surprise (and you can always retreat to the outside space if necessary).

There’s a play corner for younger children, but it’s very much for toddlers – even a four year old looks too old. The inside play equipment is starting to look a little tired (it’s remained unchanged since my two started playing there, four years ago), but it’s a good way to keep your restless two year old from going feral. And it’s lovely to see that children’s books have been added to the mix.

Onto our visit! Of the brilliant and amazing mums I was meeting, only one had a child young enough for the inside play space, so my kids and the other children at our table occupied themselves with colouring in and sticker books that we’d collectively brought with us.

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Hattie, Joe, and I ordered morning tea. Joe opted for a smoothie, Hattie had her ‘warm chocolate’, and I had a hot chocolate and a lovely savoury scone. It was good to see that there were two smaller hot chocolate options: Hattie had the ‘midi’ hot chocolate, for $3.50, and it was a decent-sized drink for five year old. The ‘mini’ version was $2, so I’m guessing that it’s a chocolate version of the fluffy, which is the same price. I loved that Joe’s smoothie came in a child-sized serving, for $4.50 – there was also an option for a child-sized milkshake for $3.50. It’s great to be able to order child-sized portions, rather than spending $8 for a full-sized smoothie, or $6 for a big milkshake, only to have him leave half of it. I mean, I am happy to drink what he leaves behind, but do I really need to drink a hot chocolate AND half a smoothie? No.

Anyway, here are the kids’ drinks, and a brownie – they had one each, at $3 per serving (I thought this serving size was slightly meagre for the price, to be honest, but they said the brownies themselves were yummy, and Hattie would know – she’s a keen brownie devotee):

And here’s my delicious savoury scone:

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Other friends ordered a sweet scone, a soy flat white, a caramel milkshake, and other things I didn’t manage to photograph, and everybody seemed happy with what they received:

A friend’s daughter ordered the mini hot chocolate, and it was a bit of a shame that it came in a disposable cup – it was clear that we were eating in, so presumably this is the standard vessel for the mini size. The environmentally conscious mums at our table were not too impressed, and I agree with them – it seems unnecessarily wasteful to use disposable cups instead of real cups.

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One great feature of caféwindsor – and something that was utilised by my friends, but not by me, was the children’s menu:

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This was the boat meal, with a ham and cheese toasted sandwich:

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Nearly everything we ordered was delivered very quickly, except for Joe’s smoothie, and when I popped back to the counter to check that it hadn’t been forgotten everybody was very apologetic, and we received it very soon afterwards. The service was fantastic.

Because the kids were all happy, we stayed at caféwindsor for a while, and as my two became hungry with lunch time approaching I revisited the counter to see what other food was available. These Kids’ Packs were just perfect, particularly given that we’re still in holiday mode and are therefore fairly relaxed about eating habits right now. Each pack contained a mini juice box, a muesli bar, a little box of raisins, and a bag of potato chips. My two fell on their Kids’ Packs like famished vultures. And it was good to see parents with younger children could also buy emergency baby food rations at $3.50 per item – things like fruit and vegetable purée pouches.

The Kiwi Café Kids Verdict

caféwindsor is phenomenally child-friendly, particularly if you’ve got babies, toddlers, or preschoolers. There is so much space inside and outside, and knowing that the entire site is secure makes for a much more relaxed café visits. And for parents with babies there are six pristine high chairs, and two changing mats situated between the men’s and women’s loos, so Code Browns can be an equal-opportunity endeavour. Hooray!

However, the one thing I’d suggest is that there isn’t much for slightly older children to do, if the weather is wet and the playground isn’t an option (and really, even if the weather is dry it’s not a playground designed for school-aged kids – my two were under strict instructions not to hurtle down the slide and knee-cap any toddlers). So, it would be fantastic if caféwindsor could think about supplying a few things to entertain the over-fives – maybe some paper and drawing equipment, or even a wee library of books to keep them occupied. We always tend to bring our own colouring in stuff these days, but if we hadn’t remembered it for this catch-up I know my kids would have been agitating to leave a lot sooner, which would have been a shame. And like I mentioned earlier, that indoor toddler play equipment is possibly due for a bit of a revamp. Also, it would be good to use proper crockery for the fluffies and mini hot chocolates.

However, these are minor quibbles! Overall caféwindsor is a superb place to take young children, both because of the refreshments on offer, and because the café space is of such great quality. Its child-friendliness has been widely recognised: it’s won a national award for being New Zealand’s best breast feeding café!

As a parent of young children it is so lovely to go somewhere that doesn’t merely tolerate your kids, but actually welcomes them and actively accommodates them. More cafés should follow suit! And I suggest following caféwindsor on Facebook to keep track of their activities, because they’ve offered children’s birthday party packages in the past and intend to launch these again soon.

Matakana Market Kitchen

We’ve come to the end of our last proper holiday weekend: my husband is back to work tomorrow. And things are about to get seriously busy in our house, with the kids turning five on Tuesday, their party being held next Saturday, and various other things planned before school starts in early February.

We tried our best to find a great new café to review this week, but I’m sorry to say that things didn’t work out. We did try a new (to us) café in Browns Bay, here on Auckland’s North Shore, but it wasn’t child-friendly enough to justify its own blog post. However, we were very lucky and managed to have a second café visit (which won’t be a regular occurrence – we’re feeling very grateful to my mother-in-law, who tries to fit in a year’s worth of treats during each summer visit). We decided to stick with what we know, and went to one of our all-time favourite brunch spots, the magnificent Matakana Market Kitchen. This is the first café that my husband and I fell in love with when we moved to Auckland in 2011. It’s never let us down when it comes to service, good times, and deliciousness, so we were delighted to use this blog as an excuse to visit once again!

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We arrived at Matakana Market Kitchen just before 11.30am, and tables were filling up fast, but we got lucky and landed a table near the French doors that open onto the outdoor terrace. This is such a beautiful restaurant, by the way: full of natural materials, lovely artwork, and cool cushions and light shades, with fresh flowers everywhere. The colour of the art and the flowers is nicely off-set by the black chairs and brown paper-covered tables. Joe loved that the flowers on our table coordinated well with his outfit (he’d dressed as Skye from Paw Patrol today).

We had a great waiter – we think he was Dutch – who was very attentive and efficient. The other staff who brought us various things throughout our meal were also really friendly and helpful, but we weren’t surprised: we’ve never had anything other than fantastic service at Matakana Market Kitchen, and we’ve been there dozens of times over the past seven years.

The kids love this place because of the brown paper on the tables, which they can decorate while waiting for their meals. Matakana Market Kitchen provides our favourite Crayola Twistables crayons, but we’d brought our own Twistables, plus some fab Lego felt pens that the kids were given by Danish friends for their birthday last year. The junior artists got to work…

I think this ‘paper everywhere and unbreakable crayons’ option is such an excellent child-friendly approach. Everybody from toddlers onwards can scribble on a paper-covered table, and it really helps to keep the kids occupied. Hattie drew a witch with a claw for a hand, who was using a big rope to try to tie up her (in the centre of this picture, not at all scared by the witch), and somebody else (who did look a bit concerned):

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Joe drew a picture of our au pair, Laura, who just left a couple of days ago – we all miss her very much!

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And I drew a few things as well, because who can resist a blank piece of paper and some lovely crayons and pens?

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Refreshments

As per usual, Hattie wanted a ‘warm chocolate’. The waiter queried if we meant a fluffy, and I explained that she’d basically like a chocolate version of a fluffy. I was expecting a fairly small drink – fluffies aren’t usually very big – but Hattie’s drink was pretty much a full-sized hot chocolate (and only slightly too hot – nothing that couldn’t be sorted after waiting for a couple of minutes). And we were only charged $1! Brilliant value for money.

(Hattie is becoming very fond of posing for photos, in case you haven’t noticed).

My husband had a flat white, and my mother-in-law, Joe, and I ordered a Green Goddess smoothie (avocado, mango, kiwifruit, kale, and aloe vera), a strawberry smoothie, and a mango smoothie respectively. We all loved them!

I really liked the children’s menu. Our waiter explained that, although it was presented as a three-course meal, the different courses could also be ordered for $3 each for starters, $10 each for main courses, and $3 each for puddings. Very reasonable prices, and interesting food choices that should appeal to a lot of kids, but are a bit more exciting than what a lot of cafés offer their younger diners.

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Joe couldn’t resist the sound of the iced berry soup, and he and Hattie decided to abandon the kids’ menu and split an order of chips off the grownups’ menu. The iced berry soup was pretty much a smoothie in a different form – Joe loved it. And the chips were really yummy: golden and crunchy, and served with tomato sauce, aioli, and vinegar in a little glass stopper bottle. So cute!

The grownups ordered off the brunch/lunch menu, and chose: Cheesy Bacon Pancakes (me – I didn’t let the fact that they were listed as ‘something teenage’ slow me down); Eggs on Toast (my mother-in-law); and Welsh Rarebit (my husband).

Once again, everything was delicious. I really recommend the Welsh Rarebit, by the way – I’ve had it several times, and it’s so good.

Excitement mounted during brunch, when a duck from the nearby river wandered in to join us:

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If you’ve spent any time with nearly five-year-olds you won’t be surprised to hear that this was probably the highlight of their day.

We didn’t have space for any cakes afterwards, and I’m sad about that because they all looked amazing, nicely arranged near the cash register. Every time we go to Matakana Market Kitchen I wish I had room for the cakes. I need to go there one day and just eat cake and drink delicious wine.

Other Amenities

I saw three high chairs inside Matakana Market Kitchen, and it’s also spacious enough inside to park a large double buggy at several of the tables (speaking from past experience) – plus, there’s even more room if you sit outside on the terrace.

There’s also this amazing large table towards the back, which would be wonderful if you were meeting friends for lunch and had a squad of little kids to keep in place:

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One huge child-friendly gold star for Matakana Market Kitchen is the bathroom situation: there are male and female toilets in the building, which are shared by the shops and cinema also on the premises, and … wait for it… the women’s AND the men’s toilets have a changing table each! This was an absolute lifesaver when we had twin babies and simultaneous Code Browns. But be aware that the only hand-drying facilities are super-loud Dyson hand-driers, which my children detest – so be prepared for your clothing to be used as a towel if you take your kids for a wee there.

The Kiwi Café Kids Verdict

In case you haven’t guessed, we LOVE Matakana Market Kitchen! We’ve never had a bad meal or a bad time there, and we’ve been visiting with Hattie and Joe since they were still in baby capsules. Matakana is a lovely place to visit as a day out from Auckland, and there are other great cafés there as well, but we never get around to checking them out because this place is great. If you’re visiting on a Saturday (farmers’ market day) you would definitely want to book a table for brunch or lunch, and we were really lucky to get a table quickly today. However, even if you have to wait for a table it’s not a disaster: if it’s market day there is plenty to see, and if it isn’t there are some great shops in Matakana, so you could keep yourself occupied for a while.

I can’t wait for Hattie and Joe to grow a wee bit older, so we can start heading to Matakana Market Kitchen for dinner as well!

 

Bean Grinding Café

The weather is terrible in Auckland today, and I’m flat out with some university work, so my husband took the kids for a swim at a local pool, and then I met them at one of the kids’ favourite cafés: Bean Grinding Café. They call it ‘Armabillo’ (to differentiate it from Armadillo Café across the road – another favourite). A big drawcard at Bean Grinding Café is the fish tank inside, but we’ve also found that the coffee and cabinet food is reliably good, so I thought it was time for a…

Kiwi Café Kids Mini Review

Bean Grinding Café doesn’t seem to have a dedicated website or Facebook page, but you can find its feed on Instagram. The café itself in is Rothesay Bay on Auckland’s North Shore, in the very fancy 585 Rothesay Bay apartment complex.

It’s bright and spacious inside Bean Grinding Café, but today we sat in the communal space provided as part of the building’s atrium – the café has its own dedicated tables out there. This is a huge and fairly empty space, with access to a spray tan shop, a hair salon, a health food kiosk, and a pilates studio, and a large commercial premises that hasn’t yet been filled – in other words, it’s a great place for small children to have a wander around while they wait for their drinks to arrive:

The bathrooms that serve the entire ground floor are located nearby, and include baby changing facilities in the unisex disabled loo. I also saw one high chair inside the café.

We ordered drinks for everybody. Hattie’s ‘warm chocolate’ was a perfect temperature and came with two marshmallows, one of which she sacrificed to her brother. There wasn’t a specific children’s hot chocolate on the drinks menu – this was a small hot chocolate, for $4. For some reason it was served in a takeaway cup, which is a) a bit wasteful, environmentally, and b) not always ideal with small children – those cups can tip over easily. But Hattie was very careful, as befits an almost-five year old soon-to-be school kid.

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Joe’s not much of a warm chocolate drinker, so he opted for a blueberry and banana smoothie, for $7, and a cheese scone for morning tea (he seems to be in the middle of a six-month-long growth spurt). Both were delicious (I sampled them for investigative journalism purposes).

Hattie followed up her warm chocolate with a chocolate brownie for morning tea, because – apparently – there’s no such thing as too much chocolate. She said it was delicious, even though she couldn’t finish it. Here’s her official wink of approval:

The grownups had smoothies, a flat white, and a chai latte (that was mine, and it was nice, and not too spicy).

Bean Grinding Café offers a brief children’s menu, although we’ve never had hot food here and can’t personally vouch for it. I’m happy to see a cheese toastie there, though – that tends to be a reliable choice for little kids. A pancake option would also be nice, as most kids love pancakes.

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The Kiwi Café Kids Verdict

Bean Grinding Café is a reliable place for good drinks and cabinet food, and I’m sure we’ll sample the menu food one day as well. The staff are welcoming, and the whole place is lovely and new. There’s no entertainment on offer for the kids, but the fish tank inside is a big source of fascination for our two.

The real bonus is that atrium space, though – how perfect for antenatal groups with a lot of buggies to park, or for parents with restless toddlers who don’t want to sit still while their parents sip coffee. The easy access to changing facilities in the nearby bathrooms is a big additional bonus. It might not always be appropriate for children to place in the atrium as the site slowly gets busier (we wouldn’t have let our two climb on those seats if anybody else had been there to be bothered by it), so this could be a good one to check out while it’s still reasonably quiet.

Bean Grinding Café could be even more child-friendly by:

  • Offering a children’s warm chocolate or fluffy, at a slightly lower price (more in keeping with the very reasonably priced children’s menu items);
  • Serving children’s hot drinks in proper cups;
  • Adding a pancake-related option to the children’s menu; and
  • Providing a few children’s books or toys, to entertain younger visitors.

Good Union

We’re back in Auckland after nearly two weeks away. It was an epic drive home – we left Feilding by 8.30am and made it to Auckland just after 6pm. We did stop a couple of times on the way: once for a coffee in Taihape (at a café that doesn’t really warrant much of a mention, sadly), and once for a late lunch at Good Union in Cambridge – a restaurant that  absolutely deserves the glowing review I’m about to write! We’d also stopped at Good Union for dinner on our way to Feilding on 21 December, so we’ve definitely had a good opportunity to test out its child-friendliness. I also stopped there for dinner with friends while on my way to Taupō earlier in 2017, and I had a delicious dinner then.

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Arrival and Entertainment

We reached Good Union at 1.30pm, which was towards the tail-end of the lunch time rush, but we were seated within a minute or so. We were right next to one of the serving stations, so we helped ourselves to copies of the children’s menu, which doubles as a colouring-in page, and the kids got to work with the Crayola Twistables crayons that were provided.

Refreshments

The kids’ menu is fairly straightforward, but there are plenty of smaller meal options on the main lunch and dinner menus if your child’s tastes are broader than the cheesy pasta, popcorn chicken, or fish and chips provided in the bento boxes. The bento box is cool, though – it comes with chips, vegetable sticks and hummus, and fruit. The $15 cost also covers pudding: either a chocolate brownie (sadly unavailable today), or an ice cream sundae with either chocolate or berry sauce. I think this is good value for money, given the size of the meal that comes out, and I like the portion size of the children’s servings of fruit juice, as well (honestly, it’s like Christmas every day for our kids at the moment, what with all of the meals out and juice-drinking – I assure you that normal meals at home and water as the beverage of choice will resume from tomorrow, much to the children’s chagrin!).

Now, we had two very tired children dining with us today, so it was a struggle to get them to eat much, but this wasn’t a reflection on the quality of the food: Hattie did manage to finish nearly all of her cheesy pasta in the end, and Joe made good inroads into his chips. And I scoffed their fruit and vegetables, which was a nice addition to my own lunch of a delicious pulled pork burger. My husband had a fried chicken burger, which he rated highly. Good Union does fantastic chips, by the way. I also had a lovely tart pulpy grapefruit juice, which is one of my favoured juices – largely because the kids detest it and don’t badger me to drink it with me.

Despite being melodramatically full while they were trying to eat their lunches, the kids miraculously found space in their tummies for their ice cream sundaes:

And I finished Hattie’s chocolate sundae, so I can vouch for the high quality of the chocolate sauce. I also rounded off my dinner with a yummy hot chocolate (and yes, I’m starting my New Year healthy eating habits as of tomorrow!)

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We were both being sober drivers today, so it was non-alcoholic beverages all the way, but if you’re a lucky local, or you can cajole somebody else into driving, Good Union would be a fantastic place to eat – it’s a Good George establishment, with plenty of great beers and ciders available.

Other Amenities

I spotted two high chairs inside Good Union, and there may have been more in the covered outside seating area, which is at least as big as the indoor space – this photo shows just half of it. You can see that it’s really well fenced off, making it a great place to dine on a nice day, even if you’ve got small children and don’t want to see them under a car on the nearby roads.

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It was also good to see a large basket of toys for babies and toddlers, so there’s something available for children too young to get stuck into the colouring in.

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There was a changing table in the disabled loo, and plenty of stalls in the women’s loo – and both paper towels and air driers, so all of your hand-laundering needs will be met.

The Kiwi Café Kids Verdict

I’m jealous of people who live in Cambridge and get to go to Good Union on a regular basis! It’s a great place to take kids, with plenty to entertain them at all ages, and good food for every diner. The staff are reliably helpful and efficient, the venue itself is beautiful – a big, airy, renovated church, painted in restful duck-egg shades with cool shocking-pink doors – and I’d very happily while away a child-free afternoon with friends in the outdoor area, sampling the beers.

And if you are a local and haven’t been there yet – or if you can time your trip through Cambridge appropriately – how cool does this monthly Kids’ Night event sound?

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Good Union has a great mezzanine floor, so what a cool idea to corral all the kids up there to be fed and entertained while their parents relax downstairs. I wish there was a place near us in Auckland that offered that kind of regular event – we’d be there!

 

Focal Point Café

Have I mentioned that our children wake up early? Our children wake up so early, so don’t be surprised if a few of the reviews we write feature trips to uncrowded cafés: it’s often easy to get a table when you turn up before 9am…

Yesterday was the last day of our Christmas trip home, so by 8.15am we walked and scooted down town to see if we could find a place to while away half an hour with a tasty beverage.

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Focal Point was open, which was wonderful news! We parked the scooters and ventured inside. Focal Point is Feilding’s only cinema, and it’s brilliant: super comfortable, with lovely sofas to lounge around on while watching. It shows a good mixture of independent and mainstream films, and from what I gather from my Feilding family, it’s very popular. And it has a café, which is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and movie snacks.

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Kiwi Café Kids Mini Review

The kids had already eaten (you have breakfast early when you’re always up by 6.30am), so we just opted for drinks – hence this being a mini review. The all-day breakfast menu offers the only child-specific options, but there is a lot of food to choose from in the cabinets, so junior visitors would be likely to find something they like.

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Anyway, we ordered the kids a $2 fluffy each, and asked for them to be chocolatey. They looked great when they came out:

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They tasted great too, with a good ratio of fluff to liquid (a cup 90% full of fluffy, with no actual drink, tends to be a bit of a let-down). The kids got stuck in:

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Later, Joe decided that his drink was a bit too hot (I think it was probably fine, but that’s four year olds for you…), so we asked for cold milk and were given a large jug of it for free – enough to just about give the kids another drink each.

I had a hot chocolate, my husband had a flat white, and my mother-in-law had a cappuccino, and everybody was happy.

I did a swift recce of Focal Point during our visit, and didn’t spot any high chairs, but there were a couple of the kind of cushion-based booster seat things that enable small children to sit comfortably (and relatively securely) on a grownups’ chair. There are two seating areas: one near the entrance, by the counter (where we sat); and one further in the cinema, near the actual screening rooms. Of the two, I’d say that the second space is probably a good spot if you’re visiting with babies or toddlers – less chance of them causing mayhem (although very loud babies and toddlers might disturb film-watchers), and more space to park your buggy. Both spaces had boxes of children’s books, but I didn’t see any toys.

There were two unisex loos, one of which was a disabled loo, but no changing table. This is a bit of a shame – there’s definitely enough space for a fold-down wall-mounted table in the disabled loo. There were paper towels in the loos – hurrah!

After I’d scoped the joint and we’d all finished our drinks, we happily walked and scooted home.

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The Kiwi Café Kids Verdict

Focal Point was the perfect spot for a quick visit on a sunny Feilding morning. Although the child-friendly elements are fairly limited at the moment, it would be easy to remedy this, by:

  • Installing a changing table in the loo;
  • Providing one or two high chairs (or putting them in a more prominent position, if there are some available already); and
  • Adding one or two child-oriented lunch options to the menu.

Feedback from Focal Point

After publishing this review it was wonderful to receive feedback from Megan at Focal Point, addressing the points I’d raised above! I can now confirm the following:

  • There is a changing table available: just ask one of the friendly staff members for help to access it as required;
  • Those strap-in cushion-based booster seats I mentioned earlier in the review serve as a substitute to high chairs, and work well for even the wriggliest of babies (and we did use similar strap-in seats for our kids when they were big babies/young toddlers, so I can vouch for this approach); and
  • There is a separate children’s menu – again, just ask the staff members for help!