Friday, March 31, 2006

The Kate/Eloise Project’s Top London Restaurant Picks

I picked up Eloise from school at noon brimming with enthusiasm. “How about a quick trip to the Natural History Museum or the Science Museum in South Ken?” Not knowing that she was now part of an important project, Eloise replied politely, “Not today, Mom. Today, I would like to go to Pizza Express.”

Which got me thinking. Let’s start the Kate/Eloise Project (KEP) with food. Food is huge. To some extent, travelling with children always involves the management of their having to eat new stuff away from home. Helping to solve the problem of dining well with children in a foreign city was a great place to start.

“OK, Pizza Express it is”. Over lunch, Eloise and I went over what we thought were the best “compromise” London restaurants, where parents and children could both have a good time, which were centrally located and easy to find. Here is what we chose.

Wagamama – A super hip, high tech chain of noodle bars that appeal to everyone. Lots of locations around London including Covent Garden, Bloomsbury and the City. Eloise likes it because “ the food tastes great and its fun to watch the people cook. It’s good for you too so you don’t have to argue with your parents about what you order”. I like it because it’s fast, delicious and appeals to my (limited) sense of design. By London standards, it’s also inexpensive. Order carefully and you can have a great meal for as little as £10 per person, £15 if you’re more extravagant. They have a special children’s menu where both the portions and prices are downsized. Eloise and I agree. If you like noodles and cool restaurants, you’ll love Wagamama’s.

Pizza Express – Nice pizzas in stylish surroundings. Good value for money too. Eloise likes this chain of restaurants “because the pizzas are good but they have other things too.” I like it because it’s reliable, attractive and always delivers a good experience, despite the fact that I’ve never met a waiter or waitress who could speak English. Still, there is always a nice Manager around who straightens out the orders and keeps the customers sweet. Numerous locations around London. About £10 to £15 a head.

Tootsies - Tootsies claims to have the best burgers and the most child-friendly atmosphere of any restaurant chain in London. They may be right on both scores. Eloise likes it “because there are crayons and balloons and there’s never a problem if you spill something”. I like it because the hamburgers are excellent, staff is cheerful and there is a really good “value for money” menu for children. If you need a burger fix and a fun time, head for Tootsies.

Yo Sushi - Conveyor belt sushi and other Japanese fare for westerners and small westerners. Not the best conveyor belt sushi in town (for that go to Moshi Moshi Sushi at various locations in the City) but a good compromise for children and parents. The expanded menu provides choice for those who like the idea of food going by on a belt but don’t like the raw fish. Eloise likes it “because you can choose what you like as it goes around” and I like it because the sushi is a nice change of pace from noodles/pizza/hamburgers. Various locations around London. The colour coded plates help you keep track of what you spend which is on average £20 a head.

We also have some “one-off” recommendations by neighborhoods:

In South Kensington – the Pizza Organic near the tube serves good pizzas at a fair price and provides crayons and art projects for children.
20 Old Brompton Road
London, SW7 3DL
020 7589 9613

For some of the best ice cream in London head for Oddono’s Gelati at 14 Bute Street which claims to be exactly like a real Italian gelateria, all the ingredients and even the cups and little spoons have been imported.

In Notting Hill – Try the Hummingbird Bakery who makes the most charming cupcakes in London right on the premises. They also offer brownies and chocolate chunk cookies whose chunks, this being Notting Hill, are made from the finest Belgian chocolate.
133 Portobello Road
London W11 20Y
020 7229 6446

In Fulham – You will find the best kebabs in London at Kebab Kid on a stretch of the Kings Road, a five minute walk from Parson’s Green.
90 New Kings Road
London, SW6 4LT
020 7731 0427

For a movie set Thai experience which includes carp swimming by your table, wooden bridges, melon carving and a souvenir orchid, you can try The Blue Elephant. It’s expensive, about £45 a head, and a bit over-the-top, but children love the exotic surroundings and parents like the quality of the food if not the size of the bill.

Photo of Eloise enjoying herself at Pizza Express