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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What’s on in West Essex this bank holiday weekend: Friday 28 – Monday 31 August

ALL WEEKEND

BEACH EAST, OLYMPIC PARK STRATFORD

Beach East at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford near Westfield shopping centre

It’s your final chance to visit the UK’s largest urban beach if you haven’t done so already, as Beach East closes on Monday. The kids will love the sand, paddling pool and fairground rides all within the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford and close to Westfield. Read my full review of Beach East here and my advice is to get there early and bring you own picnic to avoid the expensive food on site.

Price: Entrance is free and rides are £2-£4
Opening times: 10am – 10pm
Address: Stratford Waterfront, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, next to Westfield E15 2DU
More information: West Essexs Mums review or Beach East website.

OLIVER JEFFERS EXHIBITION, DISCOVER CHILDREN’S STORY CENTRE STRATFORD

Oliver Jeffers real life rocket at Discover Centre Stratford

If the weather is true to bank holiday form, there may be some rain to contend with this weekend. If so, it’s the final few weeks of the current interactive exhibition at the Discover Centre in Stratford featuring the work of the brilliant children’s author and illustrator Oliver Jeffers. My son loves his ‘How To Catch a Star’ book so I’m feeling bad I haven’t taken him yet so I’m keen to get down there before it closes on the 6th September as friends have told me it’s great. The magical worlds of his books are brought to life and you can take a trip to the seaside, row a boat and make friends with an alien and a penguin. There are also activities for children aged 0-11 years old.

Price: Free for under 2s, £5 for adults and children, £18 for a family of 4
Opening Times: 11am – 5pm
Address: 383-387 High Street, Stratford, London E15 4QZ
More information: Discover Children’s Story Centre website

SUNDAY 30 AUGUST & MONDAY 31 AUGUST

MINIATURE STEAM & ELECTRIC TRAIN RIDES, RIDEGWAY PARK CHINGFORD

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 15.26.15All aboard! On Sunday and Monday afternoons you’ll be able to take a miniature steam train ride at the back of Ridgeway Park. A friend of mine takes her little boy quite regularly but we’ve yet to give it a go so this could be  good option for Monday. It’s run by the Chingford & District Model Engineering Club and prices are pretty reasonable with free parking in the park and on local streets.

Price: Kids under 3 are free with a fare paying adult, costs depend on the track in use but are 60p or £1.50.
Opening times: From 2pm – 5.30pm
Address: back of Ridgeway Park, Chingford. E4 6XU. (Near the Green Man pub near the top of Chingford Mount)
More information: Chingford & District Model Engineering Club website

SUNDAY 30 AUGUST

FUN DAY SUNDAY FEATURING MINI BEASTS, VALENTINE’S MANSION AND GARDENS

ladybirdAs part of their regular Fun Day Sunday, this weekend the family-friendly drop in session will focus on mini beasts. You’ll be able to make bee finger puppets, rocking snails, butterfly masks and ladybird crowns. You’ll also be able to explore the Valentine’s gardens to see how many mini beasts you can find living there.

Price: free entry, no need to book you can just turn up
Opening Times: 11am-3pm
Address: Valentine’s Mansion and Gardens, Emerson Road, Ilford, Essex, IG1 4XA,UK
More Information: Valentine’s Mansion and Gardens website

MONDAY 31 AUGUST

THEYDON BOIS FAMILY FUN DAY, ST MARY’S CHURCH

Part of the flower festival that is on all weekend at the church, the family fun day will involve children’s games, a bouncy castle, a BBQ and other refreshments as well as stalls.

Opening Times: 10.30am-4.30am
Address: Between Coppice Row and Piercing Hill, Theydon Bois, CM16 7DN.
More information: St Mary’s Church website

What’s on in West Essex this weekend: Friday 10 July – Sunday 12 July

SATURDAY 11 JULY

BEACH EAST AT THE PARK, STRATFORD

I’m really excited about this. We already love going to the sandpit at the Olympic Park near Westfield Stratford and were commenting just the other day how great it would be if there was a paddling pool. And then I find out they’re going one better with an urban beach! Opening this weekend and open until the end of August, it will be the largest one in the UK with a huge kid’s paddling pool overlooking the canal, one thousand tons of sand as well as funfair rides, beach bars and lots of events and activities. So grab your bucket and spade and we’ll see you there.

Beach East at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park Stratford

TIME: Open daily 10am-10pm from 11 July to 31st August

PRICE: Free

ADDRESS: Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

MORE INFO: Olympic Park website

FAIRY-TALE FINDERS A TEATRO VIVO ADVENTURE, VALENTINE”S MANSION

Teatro Vivo Valentine's Mansion

This looks like a really interesting immersive theatre experience at Valentine’s Mansion. It promises that families can meet famous characters from fairytales and listen to their version of the stories we know and love in some unusual places and inventive spaces. Look out for the hungry wolf, a wet Frog Prince and Snow White’s wicked stepmother. Suitable for children 6 years and older

TIME: 11am, 3pm & 7pm (60 minute performance)

PRICE: £8 adults, £5 children and concessions, £20 Family ticket. Booking advised via Redbridge website

ADDRESS: Valentine’s Mansion & Gardens, Emerson Road, Ilford, Essex, IG1 4XA

MORE INFO: Redbridge website

FREE FILM SCREENING, LEYTONSTONE

My Neighbor Totoro film poster

As part of a Free Film Day, the Leytonstone Film Club is showing the wonderful children’s film My Neighbor Totoro by brilliant Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki. The award-winning film follows the two young daughters of a professor and their interactions with friendly wood spirits in postwar rural Japan. If you want to expand your children’s horizons beyond Disney, this is a great introduction to the films of Studio Ghibli.

TIME: 2.30pm

PRICE: Free but seats are limited and will be allocated ona first come, first served basis

ADDRESS: Leytonstone Children’s Centre (Former Harrow Green Library, ground floor), 8 Cathall Road, E11 4LF

SUMMER FETE & SPORTS DAY, ST JOHNS SCHOOL CHIGWELL

After a weekend full of school fete’s last weekend, there are a few more going on this week before all the schools break up. So check your local one and if you’re near Chigwell, this one at St John’s school looks like a traditional offering with a BBQ, raffle, home produce, stalls and refreshments.

TIME: 12- 3PM

PRICE: £1 adults & 50p children (free for school students)

ADDRESS: St John’s RC School, Turpins Lane, Chigwell, IG8 8AX

MORE INFO: Ring 0208 504 1818

SUNDAY 12th JULY

COMMUNITY OPEN DAY, NORTH WEALD AIRFIELD

Aeroplanes at North Weald Airfield

My Little One is obsessed with aeroplanes and helicopters so we are already regular visitors to the North Weald Airfield and the great child-friendly café they have there. It was on a visit a few weeks ago that I saw posters for their open day and air display and I know our son will love it. It is being put on to celebrate the75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain and will feature Second World War fighter planes, military vehicles and classic cars. An air display will begin at 2pm featuring Spitfires and Hurricanes plus aerobatic displays. Plus there will be helicopter pleasure rides, family friendly activities with magic tricks, fairground rides and a bouncy castle in the children’s adventure corner. And the day will end with a parade at 4pm by the Royal Air Forces Association.

TIME: Gates open 10am

PRICE: £5 per person available on the day, babies 12 months and under free

ADDRESS: Merlin Way, North Weald, Essex CM16 6HR

MORE INFO: North Weald Airfield Facebook page 

PAWS AT THE VIEW, CHINGFORD

There’s four-legged friends at The View on the edge of Epping forest in Chingford. There’ll be have-a-go agility, displays, stalls, tombola and a companion dog show. Visitors can also take in ‘Tudor Stuff’ at Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge between 2pm and 4pm.Costumed guides will bring The Hunting Lodge to life and there will be Tudor art and craft activities on offer.

TIME: 11am – 4pm

PRICE: Free entry, £1 entry to the dog show and £1 for craft activities

ADDRESS: The View, Rangers Road, Chingford E4 7QH

MORE INFO: Ring 020 7332 1991 or visit www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/eppingforest