Winning tip: Axminster, Devon
Holidaying in Dorset two years ago, we hopped across the county line to the River Cottage Kitchen and Deli in Axminster. The bright, airy dining room amply accommodated the racket and mess that accompanied our family of four and we enjoyed a decent meal. What stood out was how accommodating they were of our daughter’s severe allergies – to dairy, eggs and peanuts. Despite these restrictions, she was served a full three-courses without the compromises to which we have become accustomed. A dairy- and egg-free chocolate brownie was a treat rarely found outside our own kitchen.
We regularly visit Owd Nell’s at Billsborrow as a family. It’s super-friendly, reasonable and caters for kids and dogs. On a pretty stretch of canal between Preston and Garstang, close to the M6 junction for Blackpool, it’s wonderful outside in summer and, with a roaring fire, cosy indoors in winter. Kids meals cost from £2 to £5, adult mains from £9 to £17. It serves huge portions, and there’s regular free entertainment, like a balloon animal guy who makes his way from table to table, and owl displays. In season, mother ducks potter around the grounds with their ducklings, which the kids love. You can stay the night in one of the rooms in their thatched hamlet (from £55).
Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire
The Red Hart Inn has a fab play area, suitable for all ages, including a paddling pool in summer. It provides children’s activities in school holidays such as Easter egg painting, rock painting and letters to Santa. The children’s menu is basic (£5.50 for main course) but they’ve always been happy to offer a smaller portion of the main menu when I’ve asked. It serves children good pastas, pizza, lightly battered plaice goujons (all £5.50) and for toddlers, mini plates of cheesy mash and beans for just £2.50. Dishes are adaptable with seasonal veg added where requested and staff have always been happy to give an extra plate for sharing. The place is really family – and dog –friendly.
Pizzatipi in Cardigan, west Wales, is a great place to relax. In a courtyard overlooking the Teifi estuary are two fire pits, covered by a large canopy. Families sit at wooden benches in the sunshine or around the fire on chillier evenings. There’s plenty of space for children to play safely, and adults to chat. The stone-baked pizzas are all around £10, using local ingredients, along with focaccia, olives and brownies. It also serves Welsh craft beers, wine and local gin. Does great coffee too.
West End, Glasgow
The Dumpling Monkey in Glasgow is a great spot to take the kids. The handmade dumplings (£5 for bowl of 10 – vegetarian options and choice of fillings) are a must, and the kids particularly enjoy the self-service approach with chopsticks, little bowls and being able to use their own dips. The staff are very helpful, it has high chairs/change facilities and the service is fast.
Although hipster Whitstable draws the crowds, neighbouring Tankerton is no less inviting. It boasts an enticing spot that the little ones can call a den of their own. On the High Street, the Bears Trading Company beckons with toy bears of all sizes and persuasions. The cafe brims with whimsy, from its cheeky cards and wall hangings, delicious ice-creams, cakes and shakes, a small but tasty home-style savoury menu (fish finger sandwiches, ploughman’s lunch, soups) and a surprisingly spacious interior, with a pretty patio in back. The friendly, helpful staff welcome all ages, and dogs. Prices range from £2 for a piece of cake to around £5 for sandwiches.
The Jolly Fisherman was a great find during a recent holiday. The staff in the dining room overlooking the sea were so welcoming and helpful when we arrived with a one-year-old. Although there is not a children’s menu, they will do half- portions of all their main meals and were more than happy to create a meal that our son would eat. The food is superb, with lots of locally sourced produce on the menu so the adults came away as well-fed as the children. Evening mains from £12-£18, lunch sandwiches/soup from £5.95, mains from £7.95.
A the Clachaig Inn , the food is heavenly, the views are stunning and there’s a great area for the children to play outside. Local ingredients are used and the quality, whenever I’ve been, is superb. Staff appear very aware of allergies, so you know you are in safe hands. There’s not only the typical children’s menu, but also a vegetarian children’s menu and children’s desserts. The pub is dog-friendly (that includes the bedrooms), which is good to know if you are travelling with the complete family.
Wessex Downs, Berkshire
Saddleback Farm Café, between Wantage and Newbury, is on the glorious North Wessex Downs. Sunday brunch is a particular favourite with our young boys. The cafe’s Piglets menu uses the same local, fresh produce as the adults, no compromises, while the cakes and biscuits produced on the Aga are loved by all generations. The outside play area, with ride-on miniature tractors, is a big draw. Welcoming, patient staff often provide a free drink for breastfeeding mums and can suggest buggy-friendly walks from the door, perhaps to meet deer and partridges. The cafe hosts regular family events throughout the year.
Southbank Centre, London
Families headed to London’s South Bank don’t need to restrict themselves to one of its many chain restaurants. Instead, pick something up from the Southbank Centre Food Market, on Belvedere Road behind Royal Festival Hall, which has dishes from all over the world. Then head to the Southbank Centre and the river: there’s always something interesting for kids to see – fountains, boats on the sailing by, live music – and there are plenty of tables to sit at. At weekends there tend to be loads of kids running around and generally having a ball in the downstairs stage area of the Royal Festival Hall. There’s even a lift directly up to the hall from the market for families with buggies. Lunch dishes at the market start from around £5.
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