On a baking hot Sunday morning, what could be nicer than enjoying a lovely brunch on a shady terrace, in the picturesque setting of a vineyard? And let’s be honest, how often do parents get to do that kind of thing? Well, thanks to Soljans Estate Winery Café (which I’ll call ‘Soljans’ for the rest of this review, to save me some typing), it IS possible! Before we had kids we checked out Soljans for lunch a few times, and we visited when Hattie and Joe were young babies, but we haven’t been for at least four years. We decided that it was high time we checked it out again!
Arrival and Entertainment
Soljans is about 15 minutes’ drive from the North Shore on a hot Sunday morning without much traffic. The café was open from 9am for breakfast, and it was around 10.30am when we arrived, so the huge car park was mostly empty. Soljans has plenty of indoor and outdoor seating, but we know from past visits that it is a popular place year-round, so if you don’t want to struggle for a table I’d suggest turning up early, or booking a table (which you can do online).
Because we were some of the first diners there today we had our choice of tables, and opted for one outside, on the terrace. I remember when we visited with our babies we sat there as well, because there was plenty of space for our enormous twin buggy. There are zip-down clear ‘walls’ around the terrace, for those inevitable rainy Auckland days. No fear of that today, though:
Although Soljans refers to itself as a café, both its food and its service are on a par with some of the best restaurants we’ve visited in New Zealand, and the staff who helped us were lovely. We were given menus and water straight away. There was no sign of any colouring, toys, or other entertainment for the kids, but we’d brought our own bag of crayons, pens, and paper. And really, who needs entertainment when you’ve got this:
This is only a small slice of the grassed area immediately adjacent to the outdoor seating, providing kids with plenty of space to tear around and burn off some energy while they wait for your food. Hattie loved this cute little play house:
I also loved the fact that there are two petanque courts, so older children and teenagers who are bored with their parents’ conversations can teach themselves to play, thus ensuring that they can hold their own if they ever end up in a French town or city and need to integrate with the locals.
The children’s menu was full of guaranteed child-friendly dishes. Here’s what was on offer:
There were also children’s drinks: milk or a fluffy for $1; Ribena for $2; and child-sized juices for $2.50 – plus fizzy drinks (which my kids can’t abide: they call them ‘fuzzy drinks’ and don’t like the bubbles). The kids each opted for a glass of apple juice, and the serving was very generous – it would have been a big enough glass for me! My mother-in-law and I each had a mango smoothie – creamy, cold, and very welcome on such a hot morning – and my husband had a couple of flat whites.
We ordered the kids a temptingly-named ‘Funplatter’ each, and although it was certainly not a healthy option, it was very popular with our two. Each platter contained sandwiches, chips, biscuits, sweets, a juice box, raisins, strawberries, lollies, and cheese slice.
We really appreciated that the kids’ food was served very swiftly. However, it would have been helpful if the staff member who took our order had reminded us that the platters came with a juice box, so we didn’t need to order the kids a glass of juice each (we hadn’t spotted that on the menu). But not to worry – the juice boxes came home with us to be used another day.
The grownups ordered off the breakfast menu, and our food also arrived very quickly. I had French toast (I’m on a bit of a French toast kick at the moment, and I really need to rein it in and start having eggs on toast or something)…
My husband had ‘vine-smoked salmon and potato hash cake’, and my mother-in-law had ‘Kiwi favourite bacon and eggs’.
We were all very happy with our dishes, which arrived piping hot (I really hate it when hot food is lukewarm). One thing that marks out Soljan’s food is the extra touches – like the lemon aioli with the hash cake, and the caramelised red onion with the bacon and eggs. These things elevate a dish, and although this is a blog to discuss child-friendly places, it’s important that the adults enjoy their food too, right?
Soljans is clearly set up to provide a high quality vineyard experience for local and international visitors alike, and when it comes to things like the loos you really notice it: they’re spacious, and spotless. The unisex disabled loo also contains a changing table, which is wonderful to see. My kids were stoked that there were paper hand towels, and not the dreaded air dryers.
Although I couldn’t see high chairs anywhere in the restaurant, when I asked a staff member if they had any available she opened a cupboard and showed me that there were eight of them standing by, ready for action. It just goes to show that you shouldn’t assume the worst when you visit a café or restaurant – it’s always worth checking if they’ve got a high chair, or something to help with entertaining your kids, because you never know what they might have stowed away.
Another great amenity is the vineyard shop, which sells a selection of souvenirs, and a lot of wine (unsurprisingly). So, if you’re a sober driver, or if it’s 11am and you feel like it isn’t socially acceptable to work your way through the wine list during your brunch, you can always grab a bottle or two for later.
The Kiwi Café Kids Verdict
We had a delicious brunch at Soljans, and it was a great place to visit with the kids – I’d definitely recommend it if you feel like getting away from the rest of the city. With space outside, a changing table, and plenty of high chairs, there’s plenty to make your visit comfortable and enjoyable. The only suggestion we have is to perhaps offer something for kids to do at their tables while waiting for their food, for those rainy days where the outdoor space isn’t an option – paper and crayons would suffice. It might also be helpful to mention somewhere on the menu that high chairs are available on request, so parents of babies and toddlers don’t have to soldier on without them.
I only hope that, whenever we visit again, I’m not driving and can have a glass or two of wine with my food!