run out of womb

... learning how to be a mum from scratch

Saturday 3 September 2016

Review: the Rainforest Cafe in London

The Rainforest Cafe might just be the only restaurant in London to have buggy valet-parking. You stroll up to the red velvet rope at this Piccadilly Circus spot, hand over your wheels (removing the precious cargo inside who might just be inhaling excitement after walking through the cuddly animal-stuffed shop first), are handed a ticket and descend down, past an interior waterfall, into the jungle.

No navigating a buggy around the tables here - but then, the Rainforest Cafe is probably London's most child-friendly eatery. It's the sort of place I'd have mocked before I became a parent - I'd have thought the hairy, breathing, tree-tickling gorrillas tacky, and the prices - well I'd have reckoned that I eat at Nobu for about the same price as our family would munch at the Rainforest Cafe. 

But then I became a parent, and I just visited  - with my own tiny man and two nieces, aged 11 and 8 - and the cynicism's gone. They started grinning as soon as we walked in, when our khaki-clad 'safari guide' (the bloke who walks you to your table - you have to enter with a Disney-style belief in magic here) pointed out the parrots hanging from the ceiling, the enormous trump-waving elephant, the fish in the central aquarium, the big dangling gorillas. He remembered that I'd mentioned a special occasion (my oldest niece's starting Big School) on my booking, and asked her all about it. And all three kids beamed all lunch long - and tiny man is still talking about the giant frog who visited our table, of which more later. 

When we left, the older kids - who I've taken on trips including Legoland, press cinema trips, beach amusement parks, treasure hunts around London - exclaimed: "that was one of our best days out ever!"

So that's why I've lost my cynicism. That and the fact that the food was surprisingly good, so I was full and happy. Sure, you're unlikely to win at your diet here: there are salads and I did have one of the best fresh juices I've ever had (freshly-squeezed raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, blueberry & cranberry -  £6.30 and worth it, seriously). But nearly every table is gobbling sweet-smelling fries and so... you're likely to enter into said spirit.

We started with nachos, sharing cheddar-oozing and guacamole-loaded chips, then all went for juicy chargrilled burgers. They came loaded with chips and portions are big: the 11-year-old ordered from the adult menu and wouldn't have been able to finish even the kids' burger. I like the way the children's menu is split into one for under sevens, and tiny man demolished his salmon fish cakes from this section (really fishy and good, with steamed veg) - and bigger portions for under 11s. 

No salt is used in kids' meals, and either option is available for £13 (including a main course, drink, and dessert) or £17 (with those plus an extra side and an activity pack, with a pack of Snap, masks, stickers, puzzle book and more). It's fantastic for anyone with allergies too: there's an interactive menu-helper to work out meal choices in advance if you want to, and staff are super-clued up on gluten-free, allergen-free and other options.

They're generally really thoughtful too: there's a rainforest-style thunder storm (complete with singing animals) every so often. Our waiter came over to warn me in advance in case it scared tiny man; "it's every 30 minutes but only lasts 57 seconds," he knowlingly told me. We had the same warning before the restaurant's giant walking frog came to visit - "give me a thumbs up or down if he's scared and we'll leave" - but no need, he was a big hit.

Oh... and then it was time for dessert. A dessert so amazing I wondered if the husband and I would look weird swinging by the Rainforest Cafe without kids on a date night. Bigger Eyes Than Stomach syndrome saw us pick three options - a fruit salad for tiny man (well, someone had to be sensible), a delicious strawberry and lightly-toasted marshmallow set of kebabs (with a slightly odd chocolate sauce), and... The Sparkling Volcano. This is the one that saw the kids' eyes pop out of their heads. It's humungous. A bigger than an adult-sized head-kind of humungous sundae. There's strawberry and vanilla ice cream, cream, marshmallows, strawberry and banana chunks, caramel and chocolate sauces, chocolate brownie at the bottom and two jazzy sparklers setting the whole thing alight.

Stuffed and beaming, we basically rolled out of the Rainforest Cafe, auntie of the day award secured. It'll cost you more than a trip to the average family-friendly chain - but you'll probably enjoy it a lot more too: birthdays are a big thing here, with celebrating kids invited to stand on chairs as the whole room sings to them.

Winding our way out, we picked up the buggy from valet parking. There were no cleaning service on offer at this valet, but hey, every restaurant has to have some ideas for improvements... We'll be back.

* Run out of Womb was a guest of the Rainforest Cafe, but rest assured we're seriously gobby and only rave about things we really love.

1 comment

  1. Lucy ... great review, thanks!
    Launching our Santa's Grotto too so make sure you check it out ... London's only personalised visit to see the man in red.


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