When you’re expecting a baby, you say all kinds of crap. Things like “I won’t ever sit them in front of the TV”, “they will eat only wholefoods” and “the baby won’t stop us eating where we want to. We’ll just take it with us.” Your head is full of images of you and your partner enjoying a delicious and beautifully presented meal in a quiet, candlelit restaurant, gentle music in the background, the low hum of intellectual conversation, your baby sitting unobtrusively in the high chair sucking on a breadstick. Horseshit*. Unless you give birth to the most perfect angel child ever born you are going to spend the next 3 years at least eating only in places that have crayons on the table, a kids menu and probably a Wacky Warehouse attached. Believe me, I used to be a restaurant snob. I am a former chef and enjoy beautifully cooked food. I used to read restaurant reviews religiously when trying to decide where we could go to eat next. Now I glance twitchily around for 5 seconds before deciding on which place looks the most appropriate for two sleep deprived, highly strung parents and a grimy small boy who is perpetually on the wrong side of carnage. For those of you currently in this position, this is the first in a series of child friendly restaurant reviews.
Pizza Hut, an out of town retail park. One in Warrington.
Hunger strikes in the most miserable of places, and possibly one of the most miserable places one can be in Middle England is the car park of a retail park with a toddler throwing an almighty tantrum at your feet because you didn’t let him run into the path of a Range Rover and you bought him a travel potty that he took against in Mothercare. The temptation is to get in the car, strap his sob-wracked, heaving body into the car seat and flee this godforsaken place, but we are really seriously very hungry.
Pizza Hut it is then as that’s the only place to eat in the vicinity aside from McDonalds and we’re not quite that bad at parenting yet.** Wearily, we trudge through the door and sit ourselves down at a table. Rory is disproportionately delighted by some crayons and a cardboard hat and sets about colouring it in while I pick some dried on food off my fork.
Our waitress is about 16 and was possibly dumped by her boyfriend last night, although she cheers up when Rory draws something resembling male genitalia on the hat and insists that “mummy wear it”. We order some form of pizza with barbecue sauce on it and another unmemorable one while Rory shouts “WHAT ABOUT ME NOW? I LIKE PIZZA. I LIKE PIZZA.” We order him a little child sized pizza thing and I take him off to the salad bar to choose a selection of healthy vegetables to nibble on.
At the table behind ours, the parents haven’t ordered any food for their son, who looks about Rory’s age and is sitting quietly and sensibly in a highchair, and instead have seen fit to bring various little Tupperware pots filled with cucumber sticks, cheese and apple. I shift inadequately in my seat as Rory tucks into a ‘salad’ of croutons, bacon bits and thousand island dressing and feeds Richard the lettuce that I insisted he put in with it. Gratifyingly though, out of the corner of my eye I can see another child who is doing something revolting with a Fruit Shoot, so all is not lost.
The pizza arrives and Rory tucks in with gusto, as do we, parenthood having given us the skill of cramming as much food into our stomachs as possible in the short windows of time that our son is behaving himself. It all tastes of plastic; lovely, cheesey, barbecuey plastic, and I don’t care because for once Rory is sitting in his seat, chatting away happily and not climbing all over the table or causing an obstruction by lying in the middle of the floor in a mood. Even the waitress has warmed to us and brings Rory a green balloon, much to his delight and he thanks her beautifully and profusely. Little angel.
We leave the restaurant and all the way back to the car he uses his balloon to repeatedly smack his father and I in the face whilst shouting “I BASH YOU MUMMY, I BASH YOU DADDY” and laughing like an evil overlord. Back to the grindstone.
* Do excuse my French, but really…
** I lie. The child ate his way through most of a cheeseburger, many fries and the majority of a McFlurry just the other night.