Paper Moon

I had hoped to write two reviews this week, but one of the places we visited over the weekend wasn’t up to par. However – luckily – the other place was great! It’s a big favourite with our family, so it certainly isn’t new to us (the other place we tried was new from the kids’ perspective), but it certainly justifies a review. Paper Moon is very well known on the North Shore, and it was New Zealand’s Café of the Year in 2012. It comprises both a restaurant (open from 7.30am – 11pm), and a café (open from 7.30am – 3pm). The café is usually where we stop for coffees and cabinet food, and delicious Kapiti ice cream. The two locations work together, though: you can sit in the restaurant and order cabinet food from the café, or order off the restaurant menu while in the café.

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Arrival and Entertainment

We arrived at Paper Moon just after 10am and were warmly welcomed into the restaurant. We were quickly shown to a nice table for our party of six (the four of us, plus a visiting friend, Dave, and our new au pair, Rieke). The kids were brought colouring supplies straight away – colouring sheets and Crayola Twistables crayons – and we were given water for the table. We were not in the mood to dawdle because Dave and I had tickets for the Takapuna Food, Wine & Music Festival (which was amazing), so it was great to get everything sorted quickly. Here’s Hattie, hard at work (Joe was there too, of course, but for some reason every photo I took of him turned out blurry).

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Refreshments

Paper Moon has a reasonably short children’s menu, but I think it provides enough  good options for most younger kids.

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I really like the way that they’ve included a few children’s drink options – and I was quite tempted by a Spider, and had to remind myself that a) I’m 43 years old, and b) it was only 10 o’clock in the morning. Hattie had a kids’ hot chocolate, and Joe had a child-sized berry smoothie.

Hattie and Joe had eaten a big breakfast at home, so we ordered them one serving of hotcakes to share. The Paper Moon kitchen made this very easy for us, plating up the dish so all of the components were presented separately for easy serving – I’m sure that the typical plating-up of this dish is slightly less basic!

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The grownups ordered hot chocolates and flat whites to drink…

The breakfast menu offers a nice combination of café classics and new, inventive dishes.  Dave and I stayed traditional with Eggs Benedict, which is such a great option when it’s done well. My poached eggs were slightly undercooked, but it certainly wasn’t a deal-breaker. The hollandaise was excellent.

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Rieke ordered the Granola & Acai, which came with all sorts of goodies, including an acai sorbet. She rated it very highly.

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We all enjoyed our brunch very much. And on Sunday afternoon, after a hugely disappointing lunch elsewhere (which was actually my birthday lunch, disappointingly), we returned to Paper Moon for coffee, and ice creams for the kids. We sat in the restaurant again, and the kids had the ‘ice cream and lollies’ off the children’s menu, which were very happily received. As Joe remarked, “This is definitely a child-friendly café, Mummy!”

Other Amenities

Although there isn’t a changing table available (to my knowledge), there are three high chairs in the café side of Paper Moon, and I’m sure they can be brought into the restaurant as required.

The Kiwi Café Kids Verdict

The food at Paper Moon is really good, but it’s our favourite local café primarily because the service is fantastic. It’s had a couple of ups and downs over the past few years, but the current owners have built both the café and the restaurant into a real asset for our local community. Paper Moon has waiting staff that stick around, so they really feel like part of our neighbourhood, and they obviously get to know their regulars (which is always nice, particularly when you’ve got kids). And the food really is delicious!

Paper Moon is a great choice for people with pre-schoolers and primary-aged kids. And the staff in both the café and the restaurant do an excellent job of catering for children: tailoring dishes as required, or providing extra marshmallows to quell any riots. It’s also perfect for coffees during the day, when you’re dealing with babies in buggies: there’s plenty of outdoor seating, and all-day sun.

I absolutely recommend Paper Moon for a daytime visit with smaller people – and given that there’s a fantastic fenced playground a minute’s walk away, and a beautiful beach a couple of minutes further on, there are a lot of good reasons to check out this fantastic café and restaurant!

 

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!

Melba Takapuna

Last Sunday we were in recovery mode after Hattie and Joe’s fifth birthday party the day before, so I took my parents to the airport first thing in the morning, and then I met the rest of the family in Takapuna. We were after a tasty brunch, and we headed to one of the first cafés we frequented when we first moved to the North Shore: Melba, on Hurstmere Road. It’s also the first café Hattie and Joe ever visited, as two-week-olds in capsules! And they cried in the car for the entire ten-minute journey to get there, back in 2013. Ahhh, happy memories of babies!

Anyway, Melba Takapuna is one of eight Melba cafés in Auckland, and from what I can see online it appears that each one has its own menu, so this review is specific to the Takapuna café only.

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Arrival and Entertainment

I reached Melba Takapuna at 9.30ish, before the rest of the family, and the staff couldn’t have been more helpful: pushing together two tables to accommodate the five of us, and checking whether we needed kids’ menus. By the time the rest of the family arrived we already had water on the table as well. We grabbed some colouring supplies for the kids: communal colouring books, and coloured pencils. There were a few blank colouring pages left in the books, so I’m guessing these get replaced on a reasonably regular basis. The coloured pencils were also fine, and I’m sure the staff would have happily supplied a sharpener if required. The kids got to work!

I didn’t spot any toys to occupy children too young to colour (and these were colouring books for slightly older kids – at least kindy age).

It’s a nice, light café, with plate glass windows onto Hurstmere Road, and also onto the glass-covered arcade next door, in which it shares outdoor table space with Frankie’s Argentinian BBQ (a restaurant I really must check out soon). When we came with the kids as newborns we sat outside in the arcade, and it was a perfect spot for parking a buggy next to the table, especially as space for buggies is more limited inside. Now that our two are older, we find that the arcade is a great spot for them to have a little wander around in our sight, while we’re eating. And it’s outstanding in the winter, or in Auckland’s frequently rainy weather. However, it’s a popular spot for people to stop for brunch or lunch with their dogs, so if you’ve got nervous kids you might be better off inside. There are also a couple of outside tables on Hurstmere Road, if you really want to see and be seen.

Refreshments

Melba Takapuna has a short and sweet children’s menu:

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Hattie ordered her typical hot chocolate – at $3, which is a decent price for a kids’ drink – and Joe ordered a Berry & Banana Smoothie (raspberry, strawberry, blackberry, blueberry, banana, honey, and milk), for $8.50. My mother-in-law ordered a veggie-filled Lean Green Smoothie ($9), and I had an Island Breeze Smoothie (mango, pineapple, lime, vanilla bean, and coconut water), also $8.50. My husband had a flat white – he’s as predictable as Hattie when it comes to café drinks.

Joe decided to try his luck and scam for one of his sister’s marshmallows:

Hattie was unimpressed initially, but gave him one in the end.

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I know I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: cafés that cater to kids, it would be so helpful if you could fling an extra marshmallow on a saucer when only one child at the table has ordered a drink that includes them, so the child who ordered a different type of drink can have it without their sibling being forced to tap into wells of sibling benevolence that, let’s face it, can be hard to access in your typical preschooler or young school child. I know it’s definitely not necessary, but it’s this kind of little thing that make parents across the land bless you and think fondly of your establishment, and recommend it to others.

Anyway. The three smoothies were delicious, but the Island Breeze was fairly tart, so don’t order that one for kids unless you know for sure that they’re fans of the kind of thing.

To eat, we decided to see if we could split a chocolate waffles order between the two kids. They’d already eaten breakfast, so we didn’t want to order food that would be wasted (my waistline can’t stand much more leftover-eating, given that I have a slinky dress to wear for a niece’s wedding in a month’s time).

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This was a good choice: just the right size for our two – and the full portion would have been perfect if it had been closer to lunchtime and they’d been hungrier. Basically, it’s a straightforward waffle with chocolate chunks scattered on top, served with whipped cream and fruit (and you can get it with ice cream as well, if you’re feeling fancy).

The grownups’ food was really good – Melba Takapuna is reliably excellent. My husband had smashed avocado with feta, with a side order of halloumi (there’s no such thing as too much cheese); my mother-in-law had eggs on toast, her go-to café dish; and I had a very yummy muesli, which was extra good because it was served with a wee honey and passionfruit panna cotta nestled in the middle. SO GOOD! I highly recommend it.

I should also tell you that Melba Takapuna has superb-looking cabinet food, although I haven’t yet tasted any of it, because I’m always too greedy when I go there and prefer to have a proper meal.

Other Amenities

I only spotted one high chair at Melba Takapuna, but there may be others? I’m not sure – we tended to travel with portable chair-top high chairs when our kids were tiny, given that it’s hard to secure two high chairs at many cafés, so we often didn’t rely on what cafés had to offer, even at places we visited regularly. But it would be great if there was at least two high chairs available.

There are no changing facilities in the loos – there’s one smaller unisex loo and one larger disabled one. There’s definitely space to install a wall-mounted fold-down changing table in the larger loo, so this would be a great addition.

The Kiwi Café Kids Verdict

Melba Takapuna is a lovely café, and it’s great to see that it can accommodate children so well. The staff were faultlessly pleasant, helpful, prompt, and attentive, and we all really enjoyed our brunch. We’ve been there many times in the past, and we’ll no doubt be back many times in the future!

There are three fairly minor things I’d suggest to make Melba Takapuna in Takapuna even more child-friendly:

  • Adding another high chair to the mix;
  • Installing a changing table in the larger loo; and
  • Including a few toys for younger children as part of the in-café entertainment.

 

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!

 

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!

 

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!