My criteria for where to eat out or stop for a cuppa has undergone radical change since having a toddler. My interest in the quality of the food and drink has all but gone. All I want to know now is – ‘Is there a toy box?’
It happens every time. Any toy or sticker book I bring from home only ever offers about 5 minutes’ respite. But anything that’s already in the cafe/restaurant – however dirty and battered – is in comparison captivating.
Only toddlers know why.
Here are five places locally (to Bow, east London) that have a toy box and more – in fact they all have a toy corner. Find a seat next to it and, bliss, there’s a chance you might be able to sit and enjoy a cup of tea or even eat something without also having to entertain your toddler.
Of course, if you’re anything like me, you’ll still wolf down your food so fast you get indigestion and drink a gulp of your tea so fast it scalds you – then only get round to the rest when it’s stone cold. Those mum habits don’t go away easily…
If you know of any more places to eat or drink that have a toy box or toy area, please feel free to share your recommendations – I need a longer list!
One: Paper and Cup
There are now two branches of Paper and Cup, but the one I visited is the one on St Paul’s Way not far from Mile End Leisure Centre. This is a place where you can easily get something for both you and your toddler to eat – there are sandwiches, salads, soups and cakes. There are some little chairs and tables for younger customers as well as toys to play with. As an added bonus, the cafe looks out onto a small park at the back, so on a nice day, you can take your food outside or head out after eating. There’s a slide etc. on the far side.
What’s great is that Paper and Cup is a social enterprise run by a local charity, SCT, and provides training and work experience to people who’ve been homeless.
Two: Mudchute Farm Cafe
This is my favourite place to eat right now. I can get a toddler-sized beans on toast (with added sausage) for my little girl and she’ll happily eat it, while there’s plenty of things mum can tuck into too. And the prices are really good.
The toy area has recently moved from by the till to the other end of the cafe and that means there are tables nearby where you can sit and watch as they play.
Just one thing to flag – the farm is open on Mondays, but the cafe isn’t. Try any day but Monday.
Three: Vu-Viet (formally Namo), Victoria Park Village
There’s a seated area when you come in where you’ll find a couple of boxes of toys and books. We’ve been here two or three times and now know to get the first table, which looks onto that area.
I’m a big fan of Pho, so I haven’t explored much more of the menu. My toddler surprised me by trying some rice and some noodles, but she’ll normally have a sandwich I’ve brought with me and hold out for an ice cream and banana fritter from the dessert menu.
Four: Moka East (the View Tube cafe on the Greenway, edge of the Olympic Par)
The toys are all at the far end of the glass-fronted entry area (on the way out to the garden which is another relatively relaxing place to eat with a toddler). There’s a tasty breakfast style menu, plus sandwiches, salads etc. Plus, it’s licensed and you can buy nice bottled craft beers to take outside into the garden on a sunny day.
Five: The Chesterfield, Roman Road
I’ve only been here once with my toddler, but she’s been with her dad too. On my visit, I only had a mint tea so I can’t tell you much about the food. But there’s a good-sized toy area, with a kitchen for small cooks.
This place doesn’t seem to have its own website but opening times and address are here.
Where else can we go? Your recommendations will be gratefully received in the comments section below!