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London with Child in Tow

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My family (me, husband, 10 month old daughter) is traveling through London en route to and from Paris in August. On the way to, we'll be staying 1 night in Bloomsbury, and on the way from, we'll be staying near Trafalgar Square. Can anyone recommend a reasonably affordable (for London) place for dinner for both nights? We'll eat just about anything, kidlet is reasonably well behaved in restaurants (goes out all the time in L.A.) and we're willing to travel a reasonable distance (ie, we'll take the tube, but we're not changing trains). We love good pubs and good pub food, but can we take the baby in with us?

Also, we'd love to have breakfast on Sunday in Hampstead (despite spending quite a bit of time in London, we've never been up to Hampstead, and since most things are closed Sunday morning before our train to Paris, I thought the Heath would be a nice walk). Any suggestions?

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  1. Sorry if this is a little negative, but I think your little girl will be a problem for many London places in the evening. You are probably better with a chain (Cafe Rouge, Chez Gerrard, Pizza Express etc.) than an owner-managed restaurant, but this may not be what you have in mind. Covent Garden is a bit busy, but contains pretty much the whole range, from pizza and pub through to top end, and you can walk there from both Bloomsbury and Traf. Sq.

    8 Replies
    1. re: Robin Joy

      There's no place at all where we can bring a well-behaved child other than Pizza Express or its equivalents? I find that difficult to believe. We live in Los Angeles, and she has been with us to bistros, izakaya, Mario Batali's more casual restaurant, dim sum, and even the more formal restaurant at the Getty Center. I prefer not to take her to places where the dining room is hushed, since she does chatter, and I have no plans to take her to Gordon Ramsay or the like, but I can't believe there is nothing in London which would be the formality equivalent of a Parisian bistro or less (Not even an Indian restaurant?) that isn't a chain.

      1. re: Amuse Bouches

        My school reports usually said "Should try harder"!........So:

        The Boxwood Cafe which is G. Ramsay's excellent take on a child friendly restaurant. Located in a side entrance to the uberswish Berkeley Hotel just near Harrods.

        Lovely, creaky old Langan's Brasserie, Stratton Street, near The Ritz.

        Pub suggestion: The Star Tavern, Belgrave Mews West. My local, and you're unlikely to find a nicer pub in central London. Good food from a place which has not gone gastropub.

        Wild Card: Kettner's, Romilly St. Soho. Actually Pizza Express's flagship but has a wider menu too. Good spot.

        This might help: http://www.london-eating.co.uk/

        1. re: Robin Joy

          The Star Tavern was our favorite pub back when my husband and I were studying there in college (we met in London, and here we are, ten years later ...) I think we might have to work that in.

        2. re: Amuse Bouches

          I can't see it being a problem in most restaurants to be honest. We don't have kids but we recently took friends and their 4-year daughter to Hibiscus which is one of London's best restaurants and they were more than happy to have her as a guest, they worked really hard to make her feel comfortable, even to the point of toning down one of the dishes to her taste. We did ring and ask before we booked though, which is worth doing. It's quite expensive for dinner though so may not be what you're after.

          Another place that we've found to be kid-friendly is La Porchetta. It's a Pizzeria and it is a mini-chain but it's pretty good food. There's a branch in Holborn (http://trustedplaces.com/review/uk/lo...).

          You'll be fine in gastropubs if you go fairly early, again check. Some of them don't allow kids after a certain time, like 9pm, but with the no-smoking laws it seems to be the norm to take kids to the pub now.

          Time out (http://timeout.com/london) is a good place to check as well.

          1. re: spli

            agree re La Porchetta-you can watch the chefs throwing the dough around and my nephews were given bits of raw dough to play with while we waited for their pizza. This was in Stroud Green Road but I imagine it's the same in Holborn.

            1. re: Robin Joy

              I usually find 10-month olds better dining companions than 4-year-olds, and most parents I know have a plan for dealing with "buggies, nappies, crying, etc." when they take a child to a restaurant.

              I doubt if many Londoners consider it bad manners to take a child to a gastropub or pub, which was the requested recommendation.

              1. re: summerUWS2008

                Gastropub/pub - it may not be an issue of manners as you also need to be conscious of the law. Children under 14 are not allowed in a bar area unless the pub has a children's certificate (which the pub needs to apply for) and only then as long as they are having a meal and they must be out by 8:00pm.

                It gets a bit confusing when a pub has a separate restaurant as the law is more relaxed for proper restaurants. However just because it looks like a restaurant it doesn't mean it is one. Most gastropubs serve food in the bar areas that feel like restaurants, but they are still pub bar areas, and so the under 14 law applies.

                1. re: PhilD

                  thanks for the clarification regarding the separate areas!

        3. Try the Wolsey near the Ritz. It's open for breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner. Stunning interior. It's definitely not quiet. There's usually a famous person or two having a nosh.

          1. Further to my previous reply, it's the Wolseley, not Wolsey, although that it how it is pronounced.

            If you want to go to Hampstead for breakfast may I recommend the restaurants on Swains Lane, NW5, across the road from the Heath. There are two cafes next to each other, the owner of one used to manage the other, the one on the right. There are tables out and inside. There is also another Italian place across the road, alongside the Heath, which has great pizzas and panninis. The Heath is a great place to go for people, dog and nature watching. It is huge, about 800 acres. There are many entrances. If you go to Hampstead Underground Station you can walk up the hill towards the Heath. Louis Patisserie on Heath Street has good pastries, croissants, tea, coffee. Or you could eat at Kenwood House, which is a bit of a hike from the tube station. You could also go to Belsize Park station and walk to the Heath from there. Many restaurants in the vicinity. I always recommend that people use the TFL website (Transport for London) to see about getting around London. Buses are the cheapest way, and to me the most interesting. The downstairs parts have places for strollers. You can get a one day bus pass from most newsagents or zoned travel cards which is much cheaper than paying for an individual journey. If you need a cab, then use a mini-cab to save money, instead of the typical London black cab. A mini-cab is bookable in advance, and they will quote the price up-front when you tell them where you are going. You must tell them how much luggage you have in case they need an estate car.

            2 Replies
            1. re: cathodetube

              The meringues at Louis are great (and super sweet)!

              1. re: limster

                I agree about the meringues. I was taken to Louis originally by friends who loved the cream-filled meringues when I first arrived in London. Had never had one before. They are very decadent.

            2. I think a really nice place for brunch in Hampstead is The Wells

              http://www.qype.co.uk/place/60060-The...

              Kenwood House is a beautiful destination, but it is more than a "bit of a hike" from the tube station (more like a 40 minute hike!) and were one to go up that far, The Spaniards Inn might be the ticket for a sit-down brunch, since the tea room at Kenwood House is only self-service, as I recall.

              1. You've gotten some great advice on this thread. We have two small children (ages 3 and 10 mos) and have found that as long as we get a very early seating and are mindful of the mess that babies can sometimes make, there are few places at which we have not felt welcome. We do love eating at pubs, but that can be hard during the week since we have to leave by 7pm.

                Boxwood Cafe is great for kids, the trattoria at 15 is kid-friendly, and supposedly Locanda Locatelli is very pro-children. I believe he has small ones himself and is passionate about the idea that children should be brought up eating proper food in real establishments. No doubt an idea he brought with him from his native Italy.
                http://www.locandalocatelli.com/

                Enjoy your trip!

                1. Thanks for everyone's help. We ended up eating in a (very reasonable, OK to good food) gastropub in Bloomsbury called the Norfolk Arms and a pub down in Belgravia called the Nag's Head (food of the somewhat awful Brit traditional variety, but bangers and mash and mushy peas kind of hit the spot after 2 weeks in Paris). Ended up not having time to stop in Hampstead (NEVER EVER buy food on the Eurostar train), but hit Portobello Road on the way back and had a lovely breakfast at Gail's.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Amuse Bouches

                    You got to within 300 yards of the Star Tavern, Salloo's or Boxwood and you went to the Nags Head? To eat? Noooooooooooooooooooooooooo! It's a lovely pub for drinking lots of beer and Kevin is a fine landlord (cellphones are banned) but after a terrible meal there last year I'll eat elsewhere.

                    1. re: Robin Joy

                      The food at the nag's head is undoubtedly shocking , but as an experience of one of the finest ,traditional public houses in the land it is far superior than the sum of the star , salloo' s and boxwood together . And i actually think the star is a fine pub .

                  2. Jumping on this thread- We have a 6 y.o. and would like to go to a few pubs this summer when we are visiting. I used to live in London years ago, but did not have a child then. We would especially like pubs where we can sit outside. But, from my reading of the above posts, do we always need to order a meal when we go due to the child laws? We'll have a kitchen and were planning to cook in often. Is there nowhere we can just sit outside and have an early evening drink?

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: Kat

                      Where are you staying please?

                      1. re: Robin Joy

                        Near Waterloo.

                        1. re: Kat

                          Right. Pubs with outside bits. This is an area which, for reasons of weather and space, central London's not strong on.

                          The Windmill, Clapham Common.
                          The Sun, The Polygon, Clapham Old Town.
                          The Ship, at the southern end of Wandsworth Bridge.
                          The Hollywood, Hollywood Rd. off Fulham Rd. near Redcliffe Gardens.
                          The Duke of Wellington, Eaton Terrace (only pavement tables).
                          Henry J. Bean's, Kings Rd. (American style grill/restaurant with lovely garden)
                          Oriel Bar, Sloane Sq. (busy pavement seating)

                          Hope nothing's too outdated. Probably loads I've neglected, and all a hike from Waterloo. Can't think of anything good near Waterloo I'm afraid, but the whole Southbank, from Westminster to Tower Bridge, may well be fruitful.

                          1. re: Kat

                            There's always the George Inn on Borough High St - it probably gets a bit touristy and busy with people having drinks after work, but it is a lovely old pub with a courtyard - just over a mile from Waterloo.

                            There must be others around there - I remember when I was much younger, we used to walk along the river through the old wharfs from Southwark to Greenwich, and there were a couple of nice pubs with outdoor seating along there, looking over to the Isle of Dogs. It maybe a bit far from Waterloo, but if you're looking for early evening drinks, it's probably worth looking in the areas you'll be visiting during the day, or along the routes back to Waterloo. So if you've spent the day in Greenwich, the river walk would be ideal. I can't remember where the path starts though - although it's probably been extended all the way to the south bank by now!

                            More central areas worth exploring include Lambs Conduit St in Bloomsbury and Exmouth Market - both areas have several pubs with outdoor seating and have lots of places to eat too. They also both have a nice "neighbourhoody" feel, even though they are very central.

                            I imagine that places like Camden Lock and Islington will have decent pubs with outside space too.

                            Good luck

                        2. re: Kat

                          Outside generally isn't in the bar so children are fine. The restrictions only apply to children in bar areas where alcohol is being served.

                        3. Many thanks to everyone for your thoughts and advice - I printed out the responses and will take them with us.