Child friendly cafés: Butler’s Retreat, Chingford Plain Epping Forest

Remember the days when you could spend a few hours in a coffee shop reading the weekend papers over eggs and coffee? Well those pre-children days are a distant dream, now it’s all about child-friendly cafes that will take one, or god forbid two buggies and if you’re really lucky, not only welcome families but are actually enjoyable places for the little people too. These are surprisingly hard to find.

Butlers Retreat cafe Chingford Plain Epping Forest

One café that we return to time and time again is the child-friendly Butler’s Retreat café on Chingford Plain. The location is definitely the main draw on the edge of Epping Forest but the great coffee and yummy food keeps us coming back. We usually park by the lake at Connaught Water and walk up the hill or in the car park opposite Butler’s Retreat and even a small bit of walking in the forest gives me the perfect excuse to justify lots of cake.

THE FOOD
Butler’s Retreat is run independently by the same people who own The Larder in Wanstead (another very child-friendly café with a small kids play area) and another café in Bethnal Green. Like its other outlets, it focuses on organic and ethically produced produce where possible with things like fish pies, sandwiches, soups and breakfasts. As you’d expect from a place serving lots of homemade and organic food, it isn’t cheap but the cakes are divine (a recent passion fruit tart was amazing and my son loves the blueberry muffins stuffed with plenty of fruit). We like to go for brunch at the weekend and breakfast is served until 11.30am and I’d recommend the lovely smoky beans.

The children’s menu is small but a welcome departure from the ubiquitous chicken nuggets and chips. For breakfast, there is porridge with honey and fruit or a small fry up. Lunch is salmon and smoked haddock pie, lamb kebab with chickpea salad with humous and minted yoghurt, handmade sausages with peas and wedges or orecchitte pesto pasta and prices range from £2.90 – £6.50. There’s also a toddler section with cheese on toast (£2.90) or a mini fish pie with greens (£3.40). And they have a selection of child-friendly snacks and drinks, such as Bear fruit snacks and Pom Bear crisps.

boy on tree stumps Butlers Retreat Chingford Plain Epping Forest

CHILD-FRIENDLY FACILITIES
Obviously the forest is the real draw here and most of the seats are outside either at the front or benches around the back looking out over Chingford Plain. Personally, with kids I prefer the back as it is away from the road and most importantly they can play nearby while you sit and chat. While there is no traditional play equipment there are two mini hills with wooden steps and wooden logs for toddlers to run up and down on. Admittedly this doesn’t sound like much but it keeps my son amused for ages and he usually has to be dragged away. There are often older children playing nearby with balls, Frisbees or kites in windy weather.

boy on tree stumps Butlers Retreat Chingford Plain Epping Forest

For rainy or colder days there are seats inside and an area upstairs that I believe is available for private hire for christenings, parties etc.

There are a number of high chairs available both inside and out and a changing table in the female bathroom upstairs. If you’re outside there is loads of room for multiple buggies so it is a good place to congregate with other families to eat before or after a walk in Epping forest.

As I mentioned, there is a car park on the opposite side of the road to the café and an overflow is opened in the field next to it during busy periods.

boy on wooden steps Butlers Retreat Chingford Plain Epping Forest

The café is next to the Queen Elizabeth Hunting Lodge that was built by Henry VIII in the 16th century and is slice of local history worth a visit. Next door to that is The View visitor centre which has maps and staff on hand to give you information about the forest and local walks. There is also an interactive nature exhibition which little people will love. There are lots of buttons to press, natural soundscapes and stuffed animals that reside in the Forest and there’s even a little shop that has information about local events in the area. If your child is older it’s definitely worth picking up the guide leaflets as there are conservation days and craft events to encourage children to get closer to nature.

Opening times: Until 30th September open everyday from 9am – 6pm and kitchen closes at 4pm.
Breakfast is served daily until 11.30am and then lunch is from midday (so watch out for that half an hour gap!).
Note: The Lodge and the view will be closed on Mondays from 5 October 2015

More information: Butler’s Retreat website
Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge website
The View Visitor Centre website

Have you visited Butler’s Retreat? I’d love to know what you think so please add your comment below or tweet me @WestEssexMums.

I’ll be reviewing more child-friendly cafes and restaurants in the area soon, so let me know if you’d like to suggest one of your favourites.

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Easy peasy chocolate flapjack recipe for children

I’m not even going to pretend that these flapjacks are healthy. But they are great fun to make together with children as they are super simple, and kids can get involved in the stirring as well as choosing what tasty extras they want to add.

homemade flapjack recipe

The basic flapjack mixture that I have used here can be adapted any way you want. You could add dried fruits like dates, apricots and raisins or even mashed bananas which would mean you could reduce the amount of sugar needed. I usually throw in whatever I have in the cupboard so they are different every time. For this latest flapjack, I decided to use up some leftover Easter eggs melted down on top and added some sunflower and pumpkin seeds as well as some chopped nuts. But feel free to just use whatever you fancy.

YOU WILL NEED:

One baking or roasting tray – I use a brownie tin A little helper

INGREDIENTS

Flapjack mix:

250 g (8oz) butter

180g (6oz) golden syrup

180g (6oz) light brown sugar

500g (16g) rolled or porridge oats

For the topping:

50g each of whatever nuts or seeds you want

100-300g chocolate depending on how thick you want your topping (or 1 large leftover Easter egg)

WHAT TO DO

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius (350 F, Gas 4).

2. Measure out the oats and put them in a large mixing bowl.

oats to create homemade flapjacks 3. Grease the roasting tin well with butter so that the flapjacks won’t stick.

4. Put the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a saucepan on a low heat. Warm it up gently, stirring until everything has melted and dissolved.

Butter, sugar and golden syrup melting in saucepan

5. Take the pan off the heat and pour the mixture over the oats. Get your young assistant to help you stir the oats until they are evenly coated by the buttery, sugary mixture.

6. Add any fruit pieces at this stage or you could even mix in some nuts or desiccated coconuts.

7. Put the mixture in the tin and push it down and into the edges so that the mixture is spread evenly. Little hands can help with this bit.

8. I like to add any nuts or seeds at this point, pressing them into the top. I often use a mix of things like sunflower or pumpkin seed and whatever nuts I have in the cupboard like almond flakes or chopped hazelnuts.

seeds and nut topping for flapjacks

9. Put the tray in the oven for 20-30 minutes just until the mixture had gone a light golden brown. Keep a close eye on it because it can easily start to brown too much around the edges and you don’t want to overcook the flapjacks as they will become dry and hard. You want them slightly chewy.

10. If you’re adding chocolate, melt the chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water on a low heat. Stir the chocolate until it has all melted and then remove it from the heat to cool slightly. Then spread the chocolate on top or use a spoon to make a pretty – or very messy – pattern depending on how keen the children are to help.

white chocolate on top of homemade oat flapjacks

And then enjoy! I’d love to hear how you get on and your favourite ways to personalise this or any other flapjack recipe.

 

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Seven reasons why Victoria Park is so good for families

Victoria Park (or Vicky Park as it’s know to locals) is one of my favourite parks in London and after a £12million refurbishment in 2012 for the Olympics, it now boasts some fantastic family-friendly facilities.  It is genuinely beautiful throughout the year and has loads to entertain the kids. The children’s playgrounds are some of the best around and it’s only a 20 minute drive down the A12 from my new home in Woodford, so definitely worth the trip if you haven’t checked it out. Boy playing in autumn leaves Before Christmas, I spent almost the whole day in the park on a Saturday with the Little One and catching up with some old friends. Admittedly it was a stunning autumn day – all crisp leaves, red and yellow trees and warm sunshine – but I realised just how family-friendly it is, so I thought I’d share some reasons why I think you should visit. climbing frame in Victoria park children's playground 1. THE PLAYGROUNDS ARE EPIC

Yes playgrounds, plural. There is not one but two large, well-built playgrounds in the park constructed out of solid wood with really interesting swings and slides. Playgrounds definitely weren’t this good when I was a child. The playground in the larger East side of the park has some truly stunning, extra-long slides that older kids will adore (and adults will wish they could slide down). And next to that is a brilliant water play area, the Pools park, with fountains and jets which is full of shrieking kids in the summer. The playground in the West side of the park is probably more suitable for younger kids. With toddler swings, slides, climbing frames as well as lots of imaginative swings and climbing frames. There is also another smaller water play area with water flowing through levers and pipes – again usually only running in the summer.

boy on swing in children's playground in Victoria park

2. YOU CAN HIRE ROWING BOATS

The West Boating lake has an impressive fountain and sculptures as well as residents swans and ducks keeping guard. These birds are obviously a great attraction for all children, but slightly older kids will love a trip in one of the rowing boats which you can take around the restored Chinese Pagoda.

boy watching ducks on lake in Victoria Park Hackney

3. THERE’S GREAT FOOD AND DRINK

My favourite place for food is the Pavilion Cafe, right next to the West Boating lake, which has lots of outdoor seating which means children can watch the ducks as they eat. They serve locally sourced food, lots of it from artisan producers at Borough market and serve a brilliant all day breakfast. There’s a great veggie breakfast option, eggs benedict and daily lunch specials. It’s not cheap but you’re paying for good food, it’s delicious and definitely worth visiting for brunch and a delicious coffee. When we visited on Saturday they were also serving delicious warm, spiced apple juice which was like Christmas in a mug. There’s a large stack of high chairs for the little ones and being outside means you can worry less about the crumbs on the floor. The dogs taking a rest from their walks provide lots of entertainment for little people and the people watching is pretty good for adults if the fab view of the lake isn’t enough. The People’s Park Tavern (formerly The Britannia pub) in the East section of the park has a great, fenced off garden which is perfect for the little ones to run off steam in a secure space. I haven’t been since it was taken over by new management but the food looks good and the garden has been given a bit of a revamp. The Royal Inn on the Park on Grove Road is also child-friendly and has a smaller outdoor terrace but there are much more tables, so I’d recommend the People’s Park Tavern if you want the kids to have some room to play.

4. THE PARK LANDSCAPE KEEPS CHANGING

While The Little One took a nap in his buggy, my friends and I were so busy chatting that we actually walked around the total perimeter of the park several times. But what is what is so lovely about this park, is the variety; you have the more manicured flower beds and beds in the West park and but if you walk right to the far reaches of the East Park it feels much more wild and wooded. Theres’s also the memorial and lots of hidden spaces to discover such as the Old English Garden, Rose Garden, East Fishing Lake as well as a bowling green and tennis courts. Another huge bonus is that paths are paved all the way around the park which means walking with a buggy is easy. I used to come here a lot when my son was very young, as it was an easy place to have a long but relatively easy walk and, as the paths are in full view, you can even walk around on your own and feel safe. Once the Little One woke up and wanted to toddle on his own for a bit, the paved paths meant he got a lot less muddy than usual.

5. YOU CAN MAKE A DAY OF IT

As you’re so close, it would be a shame not to take the short 15 minute walk along the canal to Broadway Market which is bustling with food and vintage stalls on a Saturday. Or on a Sunday, why not combine the park with a trip to Columbia Road Flower Market to stock up on beautiful blooms? (Although, I’d suggest heading to the flower market super early if you have a buggy as it gets super busy later on.) Or if you’re visiting by tube, you could stop off at the excellent V&A Museum of Childhood which is right next to Bethnal Green tube.

boy walking in playground in Victoria Park Hackney

6. IT’S EASY TO GET TO

As I said, it’s only a short drive down the A12 and once you turn on to Victoria Park Road, you can turn left at the roundabout onto Grove Road that cuts through the park. You can then park for free (most of the time) in the surrounding roads. Check the parking restrictions but some roads right next to the park are free at the weekends and after midday in the week. You can also obviously visit by bus or Mile End tube. Or get the central line to Bethnal Green which is a 10-15 minute walk away, although I don’t think there is a lift and there’s quite a few stairs which may be an issue with prams and buggies. Or you can walk over the canals from the Olympic park.  The official address is Victoria Park, Grove Road, Bow, London E3 5TB. In terms of other practical points, there are public toilets next to both cafes with baby changing facilities.

7. A VISIT MIGHT INSPIRE YOU TO CREATE A HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL CHILDREN’S TV SHOW!

If, like me, you now watch more children’s programmes than adult ones you will already be familiar with the lovely, wistful animation The Adventures of Abney and Teal on Cbeebies. It’s based on the works and writings of illustrator Joel Stewart and follows two friends who live on small islands in a park. And in an interview, Joel confirmed that the original idea came to him during a walk in Victoria Park. Find out more at the Victoria Park website. Find out more at the Victoria Park website.