Eating out with children
Hey, mum, let's go gourmet
Sunday 19 March 2006
Ever since Jamie Oliver revealed the precise ingredients of chicken nuggets in all their gory detail, our house has been a nugget-free zone. It hasn't exactly been hard - even my kids turn green at the thought of scoffing hens' private parts - but eating out has been trickier. Those pesky nuggets still appear on pretty much every kids' menu. You have to cross the Channel to escape them, and that isn't always convenient.
It's not just kids' food that's bad, but restaurant attitudes towards the children themselves. A survey by Tommy's, the baby charity, found that one in four parents in the UK has had trouble with restaurants' unwelcoming attitudes to children. High chairs and even smiles are often non-existent at decent eateries, and even people with older children or teenagers can have a tough time finding a welcome outside the usual burger and pizza joints.
When you compare Britain with the rest of Europe, you can't help wondering why we're still so bad at catering for kids. And why, when we do manage it, do we insist on feeding our offspring nothing more exotic than pizza and chips, while the grown-ups tuck in to cordon bleu cuisine?
A Michelin-starred restaurant in Pimlico, London - right on the doorstep of Tate Britain - seems to have been asking the same question. From 19 April, Roussillon (020-7730 5550; roussillon .co.uk) is launching a Mini-Gastronome programme in an attempt not only to encourage parents to bring their kids when they eat out, but to get them eating the same kind of food. This may come as a shock, so prepare yourself: this is a child-friendly restaurant without a kid's menu! On two Wednesdays a month (and on prior request at other times), children under the age of 11 get to eat for free from a special seven-course selection, in a courageous attempt by the chef to "excite their palate and their eyes".
Thankfully, a growing number of restaurants are now joining the anti-nugget brigade. Take the Scottish restaurant Henderson's (0131-225 2131; hendersonsofedinburgh.co.uk), just a stone's throw from Edinburgh Castle, which aims to provide a relaxed atmosphere for parents dining with their children as well as healthy food - there's not a you-know-what in sight. Children simply eat a half portion of any dish (vegetable crumbles, lasagne), and as if that weren't enough, colouring sheets and crayons are also supplied.
Another child-friendly restaurant is Morocco Red, at the Eden Project in Cornwall (01726 811911; edenproject.com). Again, the aim is to provide tasty healthy food. Even some of the chains are rallying round: Fishworks (fishworks.co.uk), winner of several awards, has just introduced a "kids eat free" policy during the daytime and early evening. Look out for them in Bath and Primrose Hill, near London Zoo. Children dining out here can try anything from roasted skate with black butter and capers to freshly caught Dartmouth crab, absolutely free.
Whether they will eat this food, of course, is another thing. My younger son laughed when I served him feta cheese for the first time "because it tastes funny". Perhaps he's not quite ripe for cordon bleu, but I'll keep trying.
The Star Inn (01439 770397; thestarat harome.co.uk) in North Yorkshire is a Michelin-starred pub-with-rooms that is brilliant for families. Kids are even welcomed into the kitchen to see how their food is prepared.
Katy's top tip
Katy Holland is deputy editor of 'Mother and Baby' and motherand babymagazine.com. She has written several books on childcare
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