To tell you the truth I was really nervous going to the Pop Up and Play Co café. My experiences of dining out with Monkey have been either going somewhere nice and having other diners stare as I try to persuade her she doesn’t want to throw herself out of her highchair head first and that they really don’t appreciate her running around saying ‘hiya’, however cute she does it. Or going to somewhere with a soft play, where I have only found them to serve the usual pub style food.
So the promise of cool surroundings (formerly Google Garage), good food from The Rare Breed Chef, Tom Cockerill, and a relaxed child friendly environment all just seemed too good to be true.
But this is exactly what the Pop Up and Play Company Café was offering at Leeds Indie Food Festival. Inspired by the kinder café culture found in Germany and across Scandinavia, it allows parents dine out with kids without compromising their own experience of setting, decor or food.
We started our brunch experience by catching the Leeds Docks South Bank free water taxi from Granary Wharfe. It’s a great way to see some of this ever developing and changing city from a different perspective. Monkey liked pointing to the water and signing ‘water’ in Makaton. When we pulled up in Leeds Dock she was very excited by all the house boats, but not as excited as when she saw the Pop Up and Play balloons after we had disembarked.
We were greeted very warmly and shown up stairs by Caitlin. On emerging from the spiral staircase Monkey’s face was a picture, one that I am very disappointed I didn’t capture. Huge blow up pizza and donuts hung from the roof, fairly lights wrapped around the stair case and in the centre of the room were two play house that her eyes immediately fell upon.
Before Caitlin could show us to our table and introduce us to Joe, our server, Monkey was off to explore. First she was into the play houses, where there was play ice cream in one and a play sushi kit in the other. Then it was over to the craft table where shaped chalked boards and coloured chalk pens were on offer along with brightly coloured plastic shapes.
At first Mr TH and I followed her around nervously, worried she might be intimidated by some of the bigger kids or scared if we left on her own. It didn’t take long before we were comfortable enough to take a seat and watch her from a little distance. She certainly wasn’t intimidated and seemed more than happy to go and toddler babble at the other children, who in turn were very caring and patient with her, even if they couldn’t understand a word she was saying.
After exploring the activities near to us Monkey was quite content to sit at the table colouring in with the activity sheet and felt tips that were thoughtfully provided, while we ordered drinks. We were very impressed at the drink list, both choice and price. I was rather tempted by a glass of Prosecco (who wouldn’t be at £5.50 a glass?) but I decided to be ‘good’ and went for a fresh orange juice and a bottomless coffee instead.
While waiting for our food we took a wander to explore a bit more and have a go at the vegetable monster competition. Unfortunately Monkey decided the vegetables and the prize hamper were there to eat, so rather than making monster faces we spent the time removing items from heading towards her mouth.
On returning to our table we were soon presented with the children’s bento brunch tray, which at this point I was rather jealous of. Consisting of muesli, yogurt, cheese, fruit and a pancake there was an excellent choice for her to be able to dip in and out of.
I didn’t stay jealous of her tray for too long though when our food arrived. Mr TH and I decided to order two dishes and share them as we couldn’t decide between the citrus cured trout and the Yorkshire fettle. They were both a good choice. The trout was melt in the mouth in contrast to the crisp sourdough toast it sat on, while the avocado and horseradish worked wonderfully well together. The Yorkshire fettle was just brunch perfection with a soft poached Bancroft duck egg, cooked to just the right crispness free range bacon and potato croquette all dipped into the ‘HP’ hollandaise.
The best part of all of this was that we actually managed to not only eat and enjoy our food but talk to each other about it, while Monkey could go away and play when she had finished what she wanted to eat. It also meant we didn’t have the usual whining that accompanies us so often when we dine out because she isn’t allowed to leave the table to play and at 18 months doesn’t understand why just yet.
After another play session and Monkey deciding that trying to hurl herself down the spiral stair case was the most appealing activity, our family waffle was served. Left to Monkey, Mr TH and I would not have been given a look in, but to minimise the inevitable sugar crash of too much chocolate sauce and ice cream and the fact we really wanted some too, we managed to share it out between us. I don’t think it needs many words, the image below sums up what we all thought about the waffle, delicious!
We didn’t make it to the reading corner or to the photo booth for a family snap as nap time was imminent and we decided to quit while we were all happy (well almost in Monkey’s case, she was getting to the grumpy, tired stage)
Mr TH and I then had a blissful afternoon wandering around the Leeds Armouries Museum while Monkey napped in her buggy and we finished off the morning with a water taxi back to Granary Wharfe where we had parked our car.
Overall, a great time was had by all, my worries were completely unfounded and it was a real surprise that the combination of good food and child friendly can work. The waiting staff were all helpful, friendly and attentive, in particular Joe who took care of us. My only complaint is that the Pop Up and Play Café isn’t a permanent feature in Leeds.
Our brunch would have cost us £12 per adult and £8 per child, which for the quality of food and length of time we stayed was great value for money. Our drinks bill came to £9 for 2 orange juices and 2 bottomless coffees (as sleep deprived parents to a toddler, we definitely drank £9 worth of coffee)
Pop Up and Play Company offer family inspired creative spaces for private and corporate events, brand awareness for family related businesses and visual merchandising. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to find out when their next event will be.
Leeds Dock Water Taxis offer a free service running every 20 minutes between Granary Wharfe and Leeds Dock.
Leeds Indie Food Festival has returned for its second year with over 80 vendors offering a diverse showcase of independent food and drink providers from across the area. The festival runs until the 29th May at venues across Leeds.