A friend has a rule about taking children to restaurants: don't do it, even if the place seems positively to welcome them. Indeed, "child- friendliness", he says, is often counter-productive. Indulge the little buggers (party-poppers going off, toys all over the table), and adult enjoyment of the occasion is impaired all the more.
For those who share this somewhat Victorian view - and even the most progressive parent must have had cause to once or twice - I may have the solution to the family outing problem. The children are not pandered to, but they still think it's great, and may even emerge from the experience more civilised. The food will be eaten, and liked, by all ages. It's cheaper than lunch at your average restaurant. And it's undeniably special.
I refer to tea at the Savoy - one of those London institutions that those of us who live here have long been aware of but may have thought was mainly for tourists. Tea at the Savoy is one of the glories of eating out - and an attainable one.
It all starts as you approach the hotel's magnificent art deco facade and are ushered by a flunky through the swing-doors and into the quiet opulence of the foyer. Of course, you've dressed up for this one, which, if your daughters are like mine, is an end in itself. Then it's off to the cloakroom to hand in coats and scarves, and down the thickly carpeted stairs to the stately Thames Foyer, where an impeccably courteous waiter shows you to your table.
It's the sound of the place as much as the look of it that appeals - a warm conversational buzz, with a sprinkling of cocktail-bar piano on top. The effect on us all was both uplifting and soothing. The Savoy knows how to make you feel good.
Tea is all you would wish for: cakes, pastries, scones with cream and jam, and exquisitely cut sandwiches - all delicious. This is doll's house food, which, I suspect, is why children love it so much. Miniaturisation is often the answer if children get fussy about what they're eating; mine sat back in their comfy armchairs and tucked in contentedly. And there wasn't a party-popper to be seen or heard.
Tea for adults is pounds 18.50, for children under 10, pounds 9 - not bad, we thought, for something memorable. At a place like the Savoy, even a trip to the loo is an event.
Savoy Hotel, The Strand, London WC2 (0171-836 4343)
150 Piccadilly, London W1 (0171-493 8181)
Adults pounds 24.50, under-12s half price.
Aldwych, London WC2 (0171-836 2400)
Adults pounds 18 (weekends pounds 25), children half price.
53 Park Lane, London W1 (0171-629 8888)
Adults pounds 19.50, children charged according to how much they eat.