Spent a great afternoon at a new kid’s cafe in Dalston a couple of weeks ago. No, you are right, Dalston is not in West London. However, this is something completely different, so it was worth the trip across the capital. And it’s perfectly placed for the multitudes of hip young families who do live out East.
Having been to my fair share of family-friendly restaurants, I admit I was a little skeptical as to how different this could actually be. Different brand of colouring pencils perhaps? Staff with never-ending patience and wider than average smiles? But I was curious what more they might have on offer and I’m glad I was.
Nancy’s Pantry is a cafe that is designed round children – rather than a cafe where they try to fit children in. It’s a big modern space with no steps, fake grass paths running between tables and the layout allows one long activity bench to run along the ends of each “eating” table – if you get me! So that your children are still next to you but can draw or play on their own table and also interact with other children.
At one end of the cafe, there is a small gated area for under twos to run around safely – sensibly placed away from the main door. But it is the other end of the restaurant where the fun really takes place. It is there you will find the children’s science lab! Yes. Really. It is a science lab. There’s a water table – not just for splashing each other, but for carrying out experiments like blowing your boat across the water and seeing what method makes it travel fastest. There are overhead projectors that children can use with natural objects to make huge colourful pictures on the wall. There are microscopes, boxes of leaves, twigs and pebbles. And although you can drop in there’s also a proper timetable so you can see what kind of classes are on during the week.
It’s the brain-child of Gemma Timms and named after her five year old daughter. It’s very much a family affair with Gemma’s dad in charge in the kitchen and a friend from University, Alexis, is in charge of the science workshops. Alexis is an artist rather than lab technician and Gemma is not from a catering background – her career to date has been with the treasury. But like many new parents they despaired of finding places that were truly family friendly rather than just claiming to be – and also resented paying too much for a few fishfingers or chicken nuggets (her background with the treasury perhaps!).
The children’s food at Nancy’s is very nice and I have to say exceptionally good value – (I know, I sound like an advert for Iceland or something – sorry!) While we were there my two both tried the home made mini fish pies – they told me they were delicious and I was amazed that they only cost £2 and came with a portion of vegetables.
I stuck to the tea ( white, green, black or herbal – I think there were 17 types on the menu) and cake – which the kids also sampled and found equally delicious. The idea is that the adult fare should be good quality and interesting too – that neither adults norchildren should have to compromise on what they are eating and that the children should be properly entertained and even learn something if you sign up to the classes. Focussing on science as well as art and music gives the place a real USP.
I think it’s a great concept and definitely worth checking out – wherever you live – if it was in West London I would definitely hang out there. And if it catches on in Dalston Square maybe it soon will be – perhaps named after Gemma’s baby son!