My adventures into Motherhood
Last Sunday my little family took a punt on an untried kid-friendly cafe that had a fairly nice write up on Clapham Mums called Wonderland of Wishes. Sounds promising….. We were meeting James and Neena who have a baby aged 6 months and we were all meeting for lunch, halfway between our respective homes, so a little online research later, and I decided that this place sounded ideal for a toddler and a baby to socialise with their parents in tow. How wrong I was! The cafe has only been open for about three months, and with service like we experienced on Sunday, I don’t expect them to last the year unless they seriously pick up their game!
The review on Clapham Mums stated a buggy-friendly entrance on Thirsk Road, but there was no signage for the gate so we couldn’t find it and ended up carrying Sof up the stairs to the front entrance. Lucky we took Sofia in her smart trike that day, which is significantly lighter and smaller than taking the whole pram. (This was to come in handy when it came to parking.) My first impression was “It’s tiny!” but luckily this was just the adults only section with a few antique-looking chairs in what I think was supposed to be an Alice in Wonderland tea party style. Onwards to the back section where a flimsy kiddilock gate was installed at the top of the ramp, and we rolled on down to the diner-looking section that was much more utilitarian. A long thin room of white plastic tables and chairs and long bench seats of the ‘wipe-down’ variety with a big stack of high chairs. Phew! This was a bit more like it! Next quandry….where to park? The review stated buggy parking for 5-6 prams….are they joking?? Perhaps if they were all umbrella-fold strollers, that were all folded down and stacked up on top of each other you could get that many into the limited space next to the tables, but when we arrived there was already a Phil&Ted’s tandem buggy, a Bugaboo Chameleon and then us, plus we knew there would shortly be another buggy arriving with our friends! The Phil&Teds owners had the table next to the play area, but couldn’t fit their buggy next to their table without blocking either the ramp, or the toilet/baby change, or the play area, so it was parked alongside the spare table we were hoping to sit at. By pushing the table and chairs all the way into the bench seat, we glided the trike past their buggy, with apologies, and parked it next to the door which I guessed was the hidden back entrance leading to Thirsk Road. Thinking about when our friends arrived, I deduced the only free space left for their buggy was alongside the table next to us, and I hoped that would be alright seeing as the end table already had their Chameleon wedged in between the two tables and this would kinda box in the third table. Just as I was wiping down our grubby empty table with a baby wipe and musing upon that parking plan, the Phil&Teds owners started packing up! Hallelujah!
More argy bargy sidestepping and apologetic maneuvering later, they had one of their kids in the pram and made for the Thirsk Road exit after negotiating with the Chameleon for some turning circle space to get out the door. We quickly moved to their prime table spot next to the play area, because this is the only table where you can remain seated and still see your child to monitor that they’re playing nicely. After clearing the dishes and wiping down yet another table with a baby wipe, we let Sofia roam free who then promptly banged her head and started screaming the cafe down just as our friends arrived. Perfect. Once they had settled in and shoved their Bugaboo Bee into a cupboard nook next to the toilet (good thing it’s a small pram) we found a stray menu and perused the offerings. By this stage we’d already been there for about 15 mins before our friends arrived and seen no sign of staff. After our friends arrived we had finished looking at the menu another 15 mins later and still no sign of staff. James went to the counter to place an urgent order for a drink for the breastfeeding Neena who was parched. He was duly sent back with the promise of prompt table service in just a minute. About 20 mins later, still no sign of staff, so I headed up to the counter to harangue…..NOBODY. There were no staff. Having no idea where else they could hide in such a tiny cafe, I decided to wait and hope for their return. This gave me time to peruse the ‘array of quality toys’ stacked up on the small shelf next to the ramp. A sad small collection, not very well stocked and nothing with any WOW factor that I hadn’t seen before. I usually love to buy Sofia new toys, but there wasn’t anything on the shelf that took my fancy – when, finally! Could this person work here?? Yes, she turned to stand behind the counter space, so I pounced and asked if she might like to come and take our order anytime soon?
Eventually, our orders were all taken down. The menu looked like it was printed from a home computer where someone had gotten creative trying out all the different fonts, then given it to their 9 year old to bind together at a craft table. It held simplistic options, club sandwiches, all-day breakfasts, and some deep fried options on the kids menu, so we decided to order Sofia a lunchbox – ham & cheese sandwich (normally it’s only one choice of filling, but apparently we could have two if I raised my eyebrow and glared like The Rock doing his really? expression) with sides and a juicebox. Neena and I both thought a BLAT would come out quickly and the boys ordered a full english brekkie and one eggs florentine, plus toast for Isaac who’s only just started on finger food. The waitress duly informed us that she would bring the kids meals out first ASAP, and that the rest of our orders would be ten minutes with the full english breakfast taking more like 15 mins. Success and relief! We were on the way to having some lunch and Neena hadn’t fainted yet!
With the weight of ordering off our shoulders, we settled our kids into the play area and I took a good look at all the toys. A rickety puppet theatre with some old hand puppets strewn around, two cupcake stools, a wooden activity cube, tool box and hammer & pegs on a foam mat. And some old raisins some other kid had left behind. I noticed none of the supposedly awesome toys from the shop shelf had made it into the the play area. I braced the puppet theatre against the wall so it couldn’t fall on my child who can be a bit of a ruffian, and she happily played with the activity cube. Luckily the conversation was exceptional, Sofia was pacified by all the snacks we had brought and there was room for her to crawl around, because we didn’t end up eating our lunch until 3pm. We had arrived at the cafe at 1pm. About 30 mins after ordering, Sofia had her kiddie’s plate with the saddest-looking ham and cheese sandwich triangles, (the bread looked like it had been buttered violently into flat submission and one side was dry from sitting under a heat lamp presumably) six grapes, a tiny little cupcake and her juice box. She wisely ate the cupcake first as this was the most appetising-looking item on her thrown together plate. Isaac’s toast was seemingly harder to locate, as we received drinks first and horror upon horrors – the waitress passed hot tea over little Isaac’s head, then proceeded to place milk and other glasses directly in front of him within his easy grasp. There was a reason we left a big blank section of table in front of the baby! Then his toast turned up and we sighed relief as our babies were fed. Conversation continued full tilt while we eagerly eyed every plate of food that was brought up by a waiter in cook’s uniform. An excuse was given that they were two people down on their usual kitchen staff number and that things would be out asap. So much for the 10 mins and 15 mins we were led to believe. Turns out the other two tables had been waiting even longer than we had and were all served their food ahead of our order which probably meant that waiter/cook felt like a zookeeper being eyed up by hungry lions each time he came up with two plates. When the BLATs arrived, they were demolished within minutes. James enquired as to how they were, and my reply was “At this late stage, this is the best sandwich ever.” Bar a rogue slimy spinach leaf which I just couldn’t bring myself to eat despite my intense hunger, the BLAT was very nicely made and tasty, albeit served weirdly in a wide rimmed soup plate as opposed to a normal plate. Nathan’s eggs florentine turned up next, which he really enjoyed with nicely soft poached eggs and good amount of hollandaise. Except for the rubbery section of egg white which I think was probably from remaining under a heat lamp for an ordinate amount of time. BLATs were long gone when James’ full english arrived, it didn’t look too greasy and he looked pleased to eat it, so I guess the food all round wasn’t bad. Our side of chips turned up last, left in the deep fryer a touch too long, they were hard and dry. Quite a feat for such chunky chips! And the aioli was merely mayo with some crushed garlic mixed into it, served complete with the teaspoon used to mix said garlic in, still in the ramekin. Our waitress turned up again, with a plate of toast….again…. Upon hearing that Isaac had actually already received his toast, she looked confused mixed with embarrassed as she said we could have it anyway, and then flustered as she struggled to find a place to put it on the table. Good thing she had the idea to clear some of our plates after we’d helped her along with it.
By now it was late afternoon and Sofia was whinging for her milk, so she had her bottle while we attempted to get the bill. Apologies were given for the slow service (understatement of the day) and the emphasis put on being minus two kitchen staff. Given the easy peasy nature of the menu offerings, it still shouldn’t have taken two hours to feed such a small cafe, and perhaps with more savvy wait staff our meals could have been brought to us by someone other than the person who made them, giving the cook more time in the actual kitchen. Our bill arrived with two ‘golden tickets’ for a raffle draw to win a kids party in their party room, which Neena and I were invited to view. Our waitress, who turned out to be the owner (oh dear I hear Gordon Ramsay groaning), excitedly led us back to the front of the cafe and down some very steep stairs that led to the kitchen (on the right) via a mound of untidy promotional guff and then the kiddies party playroom. Imagine a small windowless basement interrogation room that has been painted wall to ceiling with fairies in a woodland scene and has fake toadstools planted around. The adults are supposedly corralled into the back corner nook (penned in 1m x 1m) and an ‘entertainer’ can be accommodated up the front for about 14 children if I heard correctly?? This room is about half of Sofia’s usual lounge play space and I’ve only had 4 kids around for a playdate. I think I could stretch to 6 if each kid only came with one parent. I don’t see 14 children plus parents and an entertainer fitting into that small room, but hey, maybe I just like my personal space too much. After viewing the wonderland dungeon, I thought “I’ve spent enough time here.” And we collected our kids and husbands and left. Finally.