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!

 

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.

 

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!

 

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!

 

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!