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.

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!

 

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!