thegrumblingtummy

"No love sincerer than the love of food"

State of Play

8 Comments

chips

The Grumbling Tummy does not often use this blog to actually grumble  …. but I am going to make an exception!

Before I had my beautiful daughter BC and I ate out regularly in a wide range of restaurants. Some were posh and some less so but  it was always a very adult affair.  Once ‘mini me’ came along I swore that we would continue to frequent the lovely restaurants and not a thing would change.  In the same breath I also swore that I would not set foot in the type of place that was full of screaming kids and substandard food.  I shall pause for a moment whilst parents of small children reading this recover from laughing at my naive delusions.

Ok so now we know that this is not how it works in the real world.  Often we have found that going to a really nice restaurant with toddler in tow involves you both indulging in the pretence that you are enjoying the experience whilst your two-year old lobs pasta across the room, attracting disapproving looks and tuts  (not totally unjustified either)  from other diners.  You never actually finish a conversation with your partner and when you pay your bill you both feel a little resentful about the entire experience.  Of course your kids may be angels – HA!

Don’t get me wrong there are lots of restaurants around that are really child friendly and I will be talking about some of them in a future blog for Visit St Andrews.  But my gripe today is not really about restaurants and whether they are child friendly or not,  it is specifically about soft play facilities and the large chain restaurants which house soft play areas –  the types of places ONLY frequented by parents and their offspring.

Lets face it soft play centres are a bloody godsend – they keep the kiddiewinks happy as sandmen and allow parents to actually talk in complete sentences.  The massive downside is that more often than not the environment is tired, uninspired and quite frankly a little mucky. The service is routinely dreadful and the food often deplorable.  I have been to three soft play centres in my local area and whilst the kids are in heaven, I find the experience more than a little challenging. The dining choices seem to centre around chips, pom bears, sausage rolls and chocolate (pack a sarnie!).  Sure you don’t have to go along at lunchtime but it is nice to have something decent to eat and drink whilst waiting for them to wear themselves out.

The restaurant chains that incorporate Soft Play are at least more attractive to sit in,  but to be honest the food still leaves a lot to be desired.  We recently took ‘mini me’ to Home View near Kirkcaldy which is actually really pleasant with a fantastic kids soft play area.  However I found myself sending my beef chilli back to the kitchen as I found  it hard to locate any beef in the sloppy gravy.  This is not unusual.  Sad thing is I won’t stop going there because I actually quite like talking to my husband sometimes, without a constant distraction – they have you by the short and curlies.

I find myself getting more and more frustrated.  Why should parents have to put up with this? For the love of the big man, can somebody not see this gap in the market and open a soft play facility which is totally child AND parent friendly.  Imagine the scene.  A clean and fresh soft play area where the wee ones can have fun with minimum supervision.  Now imagine if you will that alongside this is an attractive, tasteful seating area with nice lighting, waitress service (not compulsory) and a menu which includes HEALTHY and homemade kids choices and lovely seasonal home cooked choices for the adults ( perhaps wine is going too far but you can dream). I am not suggesting Michelin standards here just an environment which values the food and service as well as the soft play element.  Somewhere that is not drowning in chips would be nice.

The only exceptions I have found are the Ceramic Experience in Dunfermline, they have a tiny little soft play area (not their main objective really).  You can however have a decent toastie,  some healthy kids snacks and  hold an adult conversation.  The other is Clayton Caravan Park near St Andrews which has a small soft play area next to a very nice restaurant (but you can’t really supervise the kids and eat at the same time, unless they are a wee bit older).

You may say that it’s all about the kids and as long as they are having fun then we should just suck it up but I don’t really see why it is too much to ask to have a facility where you can have the best of both worlds.

So please if you have a pot of cash handy and are just looking for a great idea then open a nice clean soft play with a restaurant area that is fresh, tasteful and serves lovely food – pretty please!

Perhaps in your area such a mecca exists and you are outraged at my ranting – if so then please let me know where it is…

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8 thoughts on “State of Play

  1. There used to be such a place! Not sure if it’s still up to standard though. Not a big soft play but a supervised (yes supervised) playroom perfect for under 5s. Proper home cooked food too but haven’t been for years. Beancross in Grangemouth 🙂

    • Time twisters in Sighthill Industrial estate, Edinburgh, have a nice menu for both parents and children. Artificial lighting not so good, but play areas seem clean

  2. Well said Grumbling one. Think it’s a culture thing, maybe by the time our wee ones are taking their bundles out it will all be sorted, here’s hoping! It’s never an issue in Italy or Greece going out to eat with a small person, possibly because children are more welcome and not a colouring pad or soft play in sight….and it goes without saying that (in those countries) crappy food and service would not be acceptable just because you happen to want to eat out with your child!

  3. Not round the corner for you but maddy and marks in ocean terminal at leith is has fabulous soft play facilities and a good cafe too. View of Britannia too!

  4. Since we’re lucky enough not to have a junior Ken or Gill, have no experience of such places. But routinely enjoy mid-priced, good-quality restaurants in France and Belgium where there are lots of families with small children who are simply sitting at the table enjoying [or at least appearing to enjoy] their food.

    Smallest ones in high chairs, sometimes for the slightly older ones, booster cushions. Rarely do we hear shrieking or wailing, and I have never seen food being thrown.

    I am NOT talking fancy Michelin-starred, or even Michelin-listed places. Simply the sort of places where local people enjoy decent food and wine. Where I worked in my teens we had regular customers who dined en famille – including a couple who came 2-3 times a week with their three-year-old. She would have something like chopped veal or chicken with some mashed potato and a little mirepoix – and of course a glass of ice cream to follow.

    On which subject, of course, the early-teens will have a small glass of wine with water – and feel suitably “grown up” that they have graduated from le menu enfant. Last year in Caen we heard a 13? 14?-year-old girl having a very technical conversation about braising with the chef patron.

    Can’t think of any Scots restaurants that have mastered the trick, but in the North & Midlands of England, try Bistrot Pierre in Ilkley, Harrogate and elsewhere. Check out lebistrotpierre.co.uk.

  5. Some British Restaurants and cafes are just as good as France and Italy for being child friendly. I could name many – Craigies have great toys and a play area outside, Loch Levens Larder are similar and I just spend a pleasant time at the Vic in St Andrews, they have face painting on a weekend and a great kids menu plus toys. But restaurants who are child friendly are a different proposition from the whole soft play idea. Soft play is great and I wont ever stop going because Neavie loves it and has a freedom to go mad. Unlike a restaurant (even a child friendly one) all you need to do is keep one wee eye open but apart from that you are free for a bit of an adult chat. It is these soft play areas which are only targeting children and their guardians that are my bone of contention. By the way John – we love Craigies – brilliant place and so very child friendly. Doing a wee piece for Visit St Andrews on child friendly places up there but might do a general one in the future and your place would most definitely feature.

    To those who mentioned nice soft play areas with good food – wowzer – must give them a try one weekend when my chauffeur is around (aka husband)

    Thanks so much for the great response

    Hazel x

  6. Also as I have a child who doesnt’ actually eat very much at all (its a medical thing) we don’t have the half an hour whereby she is occupied by stuffing her wee face – it perhaps makes it even more of a challenge. She is bored very quickly!

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