Top restaurants catering to the family market

Esther Han
Slice of the action: Juliet Potter and Dan Toomey eating with children, from left, Lola, Ashley and Gia at Hugos in ...
Slice of the action: Juliet Potter and Dan Toomey eating with children, from left, Lola, Ashley and Gia at Hugos in Manly, a child-friendly restaurant. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Not everyone wants to dine out with children. Not even, sometimes, their parents. But some restaurants are capitalising on the increasingly sophisticated taste of children - and their parents' deep pockets - by embracing the tyke dollar.

At Catalina in Rose Bay, owner Judy McMahon said her attitude to customers with children ''dramatically'' changed when she became a grandmother, soon adding high chairs and a baby-change table in the toilet.

''Once upon a time, most restaurateurs expected people to come to their restaurants without their children; some said no children. It's not the way things are done any more,'' she said.

While mains hover around the $50 mark for an adult, children can have a small and simple main and a dessert for $25.

At Sepia in the city centre last week, however, a four-year-old girl ate the full degustation menu and was charged the adult price, owner Vicki Wild said.

Children were rarely seen on weeknights and were mostly towed along to Saturday lunches.

Rojo Rocket, a Mexican restaurant and bar near Avoca Beach, has introduced a child policy requesting all children under 12 be off the premises by 8.30pm. ''[We are] an art gallery and it is very fragile, not a playground,'' the policy reads.

Rojo Rocket marketing manager Chris Lapa said it was simply a guideline and reflected the trend of parents opting for earlier booking times when dining with their children.

''It's more relating to our upstairs bar area. Kids shouldn't be around that late in the evening anyway,'' he said.


But at the Italian two-hatted Ormeggio at the Spit, children are often seen eating desserts at 10pm. ''What sort of Italian restaurant would you be if you don't have children?'' co-owner Anna Pavoni said.

While the restaurant welcomed children, providing high chairs and children's menus, she considered it to be a fully-fledged fine diner.

''We are about the glamour of fine dining, with the linen, the memorable crockery, the thought that goes into everything, the details, the quality, the uniqueness,'' she said. ''There is no issue with kids being out late at night, it's about them being well-behaved.''

And at Quay, at the peak of Sydney's fine-dining scene, executive chef Peter Gilmore said he will always say hello when a child requests to meet him.

''With shows like MasterChef, they're informed now. They want to come here for their birthdays and they beam all night. They know about the snow egg,'' he said. ''My first fine dining was at 12 at Manor House in Balmain. That's where I ended up doing the first three years of my apprenticeship.''

Juliet Potter is the first to admit her two-year-old daughter's scream is ''horrible'', and a big serving of it at a fancy restaurant could sour anyone's meal.

''Gia's tipping point is at the one hour mark once we sit down. Gia has this shrill and obnoxious scream,'' the mother of three from Paddington said. ''So when you come in with children, a good waiter knows you need fast service upfront.''

But with many young families using trial and error to locate child-friendly restaurants, the founder of online community decided to launch the mobile app Kid-Friendly. It replaces an earlier national sticker system involving 300 restaurants which welcomed young children. ''They're usually places where there's lots of noise, have a kids' menu and high chairs and offer activities like colouring books,'' she said.

For her, the trendy waterfront Hugos in Manly ticks every box. Co-owner Dave Evans said it will be listed as a child-friendly eatery, unlike the Kings Cross venue.

"At Kings Cross the seating style doesn't allow for it, and usually as the parents with the kids leave as the younger crowd with no kids arrive," he said. "With kids and restaurants it comes down to common sense – just control your kid."

While Juliet Potter hopes to see the stickers adopted by a spectrum of restaurants, she hopes some fine dining restaurants will remain kid-free zones.

"Catalina is lovely, Chiswick is lovely. But there are some restaurants you just don't take children to. Nothing annoys me more than having to go through organising baby sitters to have time out with your partner, and then someone walking in with kids who start screaming," she said. "The app will help eliminate that too."

During Good Food Month, restaurants Catalina, Signorelli Gastronomia, the Woods and Antoine's Grill will offer family meals at special prices for adults and children.

Here are five tips on eating out with kids from mother-of-two Joanna Savill, editor of the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide and director of Good Food Month

1) Do book ahead and advise that you are bringing children

2) Do go at family friendly hours - not at peak restaurant times, that is, after 7pm

3) Do order quickly - perhaps even just drinks and shared entrees as kids don't like to sit around

4) Do engage in conversation about the experience - maybe even ask questions of the waiter, you might even get a peek into the kitchen or meet the chef

5) Don't expect the kids to sit still for hours - visits to the toilets are a good way of stretching their legs (I used to ask my kids to score the loos as a way of keeping them entertained)

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