A kindergarten kitchen

Egon Ronay is supporting a new culinary trend: enfants cuisine

Colin Noble does not seem surprised when one of his customers scoops up some cauliflower cheese from another customer's plate. Nor does he look unduly worried when a third falls asleep over his dessert. He does confess, however, to feeling a little relieved that none of the salmon fish cakes has ended up splattered over his curtains.

As Jordan helps himself to yet more of Alice's mouth-watering main course, Katrina, Alice's mum, buzzes with excitement: "It's great, really great." She has never taken her 15-month-old daughter to a place with a baby menu before. Debbie says it makes a nice change for her Jordan, a month younger than Alice, to feel welcome. "We're trying to be different," says Noble. "We're trying to be interesting." Different? Interesting? These are kids we're talking about. Second-class citizens. Beryl the Perils and Dennis the Menaces. "Oh no: important little customers," Noble insists.

His Number 9 restaurant, an end-of-terrace house in Newmarket, is at the forefront of a new trend, one that recognises the existence of children's palettes and challenges the notion that restaurants are adult preserves.

Until recently, only brewery-owned family pubs and McDonald's catered specifically for youngsters. But the gospel of child-friendliness and "enfants cuisine" is spreading far and wide from pubs to brasseries, motorway service stations to hotels.

Less enlightened hosts still sport "No children" signs. One landlord's view, reproduced in Egon Ronay's 1996 And Children Come Too guide, is typical of such residual ageism: "Our pub is a peaceful retreat which I will not allow to be ruined by children.

There is no music, no jukebox, no darts, no draught lager, no yobbos - a pub for discreet dining, not burgers, ketchup and karaoke."

"I love the word `no'," says Colin Noble. "In all customer service things it's not meant to be a word you use. It's ridiculous, a stupid state of affairs."

More and more parents are consulting family welcome guides before dining out; next February, the 1997 And Children Come Too (ACTT) will be published, announcing another crop of Henry the Duck and Young Customer Care awards. The Osh-Kosh-Big-Nosh age is upon us, with parents demanding their offspring be seen, heard and - shock, horror - be fed in public.

ACCT editor Nigel Edmund-Jones believes proprietors are finally "getting real", wising up to the change in the market. "I'm 42 and I was part of the generation that was left in the car with a bottle of pop and a bag of crisps," he says. "But social mores have changed. Kids are no longer treated as pariahs."

Belinda Mitchell, whose Original Fresh Babyfood Company is supplying Waitrose stores with "natural and delicious products", thinks babies' taste buds should be stimulated so as to more readily accept adult food later in life. Her recipes for four-month-old babies include sweet potato and carrot, and courgette risotto with banana; babies of seven months and up can enjoy fish with fennel and potato, or mushroom and sweet pepper risotto.

Children are not just being catered for in the culinary sense. Good facilities are considered as important as good food: restaurateurs realise that they need to keep small children interested from the start of a meal. ACCT recommends balloons tied to the back of seats, bread and butter or other nibbles, colouring menus, placemats, indoor or outdoor safe play areas and speedy service.

Colin Noble proudly quotes the two sentences at the bottom of his baby menu: "Britax high chairs, special cutlery, trainer cups, baby dishes and bibs can be provided. Baby changing and nursing facilities are available with a baby-changing table and baby-wipes etc."

But isn't there a danger of over-stepping the mark? One customer's child- friendly haven might be another's idea of hell. How can you enjoy a nice, quiet, possibly romantic evening when spoiled brats are screaming their heads off at the next table?

Noble does not recognise this scenario. With the right approach, he argues, children behave responsibly. Admittedly, some try to wind up their mums and dads, but these are usually the eating-out novices. "You can pick out those who regularly go to restaurants and those who don't. The wind- up merchants don't. But, generally, kids are relaxed because their parents are. It used to be a British taboo that you never took your kids out because they'd misbehave. But we try not to be over-formal; we don't like the hallowed-hall-of-gastronomy style of service here."

Regis Crepy, French owner of The Great House in Lavenham, Suffolk, has noticed a sea-change in attitudes during the 12 years he has been living in Britain. "Parents are now proud to be seen out with their children. It's so important that families get together, it creates respect in youngsters. It brings life to a restaurant."

Regis, an ACCT Henry the Duck award-winner, is nevertheless sceptical of marketing puffery. "There is no point doing it unless it's from the heart. Just promoting for money is very bad. I love children, so I do it naturally. But just looking at it as a new market is not so good."

Back at Number 9, Alice is merrily chomping away on her finely chopped roast chicken served with a white sauce, Jordan has nearly finished his tiny-diced cauliflower cheese and Zac has eaten up his forest fruits and fromage frais mousse.

The big-hearted restaurateur waves off all the babies, toddlers and mums, sighs loudly and declares that the first day of his baby menu launch has gone swimmingly. "Of course, it could be viewed cynically," says Noble. "But it's a commercial business. I want them to come back when they're older. If they have a relaxed, enjoyable time, they will come back."

The kids certainly seemed to have enjoyed the food. "Not kids," he reminds me. "Important little customers" n

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event
filmBut why were Back to the Future screenings cancelled?
News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
News
i100
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

    £35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

    Employment Solicitor

    Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

    Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

    £600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

    Commercial Litigation Associate

    Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

    Day In a Page

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride