My children have discovered cookery programmes and it’s like living with Gordon Ramsay round our house. In a good way. Sort of.
From Masterchef to Come Dine With Me, they can't get enough of watching other people making food on television and then being critiqued when their scallops end up being too rubbery or their beef wellington is cooked "under" or – god forbid – "over".
Now when I serve any meal – even if I’ve just poached or boiled an egg – they announce, knives poised, that this is “the moment of truth”.
If they cut into the egg and the yolk is not exactly as Ramsay would expect, the sighs are loud and the looks withering. I knew things had gone too far when in a restaurant recently one of them took a look at the menu and declared it “a bit pub-grubby”.
I suppose it could be worse: there are children who can’t stop watching people taking things out of boxes on YouTube.
Anyway, the upshot of all this culinary TV is that we’ve had to up our game when it comes to restaurant outings. And over Christmas we’ll be out a good bit more so I made a list of our family’s favourite spots – and took to Twitter to ask people what restaurants do a bit more in terms of their children’s menu and are welcoming to small people in general.
My own three top tips when dining out with kids:
1: If you are not feeling particularly flush, soup with loads of bread and butter is always a great and filling option available in most restaurants.
2: These days many restaurants will do kid-sized versions of the adult menu, so do ask.
3: Just like society in general, you can judge a restaurant by how it treats the oldest and the youngest visitors, so choose your eatery wisely.
And now the – highly unscientific but very helpful, I hope – results of my Twitter research are in:
Basil, Ringsend Road, Dublin
This is a little pizza place on the Ringsend Road and one of our favourites to visit with the children. The pizzas are proper wood-fired concoctions, with crispy bases and the tiramisu here is a beaut. We haven’t been in a while but we speak/dream of it often.
Cost: From €7 for a small margarita
L’Atmosphere, Henrietta Street, Waterford
I love the sound of this French bistro which comes highly recommended by Brian O’Connell. He says it caters really well for children offering mini-stews and duck dishes. Not many kids’ menus feature beef bourguignon but it’s here and apparently delicious. Ooh la la!
Cost: Children's menu: 10.50 includes main course and dessert
Boco, North King Street, Dublin
The person who recommended this had high praise for the pizzas – which come in kids’ sizes – but also for the staff who had no problem with a birthday cake being brought in. You would think no restaurant would have a problem with that but apparently there is such a thing as “cakeage” – it’s like corkage but with cake instead of wine. Plus, there is Jenga available here. Enough said.
Cost: Children's pizza €7
Moloughney’s, Clontarf, Dublin
This restaurant does child-sized steaks, which is not something you see on a menu very often. It comes highly recommended for family meals and was mentioned a number of times when I put the shout-out on Twitter.
Cost: From tuna pasta at €6 to "junior fillet steak" €12.50
Market Lane, Cork
So many people name-checked this restaurant it had to be included. I love that they serve raw veg with hummus and bread for €4.50, a good call for smaller children. The kids’ menu also includes a tasty-sounding roast chicken dinner with mash and gravy.
Cost: From €4.50 to €7
The Marker Hotel, Grand Canal Basin, Dublin
We were in the bar area of this hotel recently for a special occasion and both children went for the steamed salmon with mash and green beans. The kids’ menus come with colouring pencils and a booklet containing little puzzles and jokes which entertained us all through dinner. When the food arrived there were little pots of crunchy raw vegetables – including celeriac – which impressed the little masterchefs no end. If you are looking for a great Christmas dinner not cooked by you, we would also recommend the very grown-up turkey and ham Christmas special cooked by talented Marker chef Gareth Mullins.
Cost: About €8 for a children's main course
Kuraudo Sushi and Bento, Townsend Street, Dublin
My daughters are mad into sushi even though it is very far from sushi I was reared. Specifically they like sushi with avocado, salmon and roe aka "the orange stuff". They've also never met a gyoza they didn't like. This tiny restaurant is very close to The Irish Times building and has the loveliest staff ever, so when it's sushi time this is where we often end up. (It's BYO, just for any parents who might fancy a glass of wine with their bento)
Cost: If they share sushi and gyozas it will work out around €8 per head
Chez Max, beside Dublin Castle, Dame Street, Dublin
Sit out the back of this bistro with your little foodies and if they are into mussels, order a giant pot for them all to share with frites. Our daughters love everything about this place, from the French accents of the staff to the fact that after the mussels are devoured it’s time for *The Best Creme Brulee in Ireland. (*Source: us, so there).
Cost: Huge pot of mussels with frites – would feed a few kids – €17.50, creme brulee €6.
Vaughan’s Anchor Inn, Liscannor, Co Clare
In terms of entertainment you cannot beat the massive fish tank that takes up the whole wall at the back of this popular restaurant in which the entire cast of Finding Nemo can be spotted swimming. The children's menu also features a fish option (sorry, Nemo) that is not covered in batter. We love this place.
Cost: €2.95 for a half portion of soup or chowder, €7.95 for a main course of fish or – ooh, fancy! – confit of duck leg
Contact: 065-708 1548
The Market Bar, Fade Street, Dublin
When they were much younger we brought them to this place and here's why: there is room for them to run around without causing too much of a health and safety issue. Also, the tapas menu is perfect for children and the staff, well used to harried parents and their offspring, don't make you feel like a failure if one of your kids goes temporarily missing. Always helpful.
Cost: From about €8 to €13 for sizeable portions of tapas
Da Mimmo, North Strand, Dublin
I’d be persona non grata on the northside if I didn’t do a shout-out for my local restaurant which, as well as serving gorgeous Italian food is always great for children. Very friendly owner Tino can be spotted eating here with his own kids sometimes. The only non-child-friendly bit of a visit here is having to explain the origins of the Bunga Bunga pizza. I’ll leave that one to you.
Cost: Generous portions of pizza and pasta from about €10
In 2016 this restaurant took the best kids’ menu gong at the Irish Restaurant Awards and when I rang up to ask about the menu, I realised why. Momos do a three-, two- or one-course meal for children. The starters are soup or garlic bread, the main courses include lamb meatballs with cous cous, homemade chicken burgers with a homemade bun and a vegetable risotto. They also do half portions of everything on the adult menu. Brilliant.
Cost: three courses:€11.50; two course: €9.50; mains €7
Contact: 051-581 509
Milano, Dawson Street, Dublin
Is this the holy grail of good value children's eating out experiences? It's definitely up there. The four-course "Piccolo" kids meals have starters of dough balls and crudités, main courses are mini-versions of pizza and pasta dishes, dessert is a sundae or an ice lolly and they get a "bambinoccino". It's just great.
Cost: Dough balls, pizza, pasta or salad, dessert and bambinoccino for €8.50
Wagamama, South King Street, Dublin
You just can’t go wrong with this Japanese/Asian reliable. The kids love the buzzy atmosphere, the communal seating and the big heaping bowls of steaming spicy goodness. And the gyoza. They love their gyoza. (Even though it’s far from gyoza they were etc.)
Cost: Main course, with fresh juice and dessert: €8.25
Contact: 01 4782152
We got loads more recommendations including ...
Kennedy's Food Store, Fairview, Dublin 01 833 1400
The Draft House, Strandhill, Co Sligo(071) 912 2222
Fallon & Byrne, People's Park, Dún Laoghaire (01) 230 3300
Greenacres, Wexford town (053) 912 2975
The Riverbank Hotel, Wexford (053) 912 3611
Dooks Fine Foods, Spitalfield, Co Tipperary (052) 613 0828
Mancini's, Ashbourne, Co Meath (01) 9690864
Jamie's Italian, Dundrum, Dublin (01) 298 0600
Saba, Dublin (01) 6792000
No 9, Barron Strand, Waterford (051) 857 706
If you know of great free stuff to do with children around the country or really good value experiences and events that are coming up, or excellent family friendly restaurants, email me on email@example.com. You can also find me on Twitter @roisiningle.