If anyone has ever dined with young guests, and when I say young we are talking under five, then you’ll know that it can rarely be described as a pleasurable experience.
There are tantrums, there’s mess, fidgeting, insistent talking – in our case questions such as ‘what’s that mummy?’ and ‘where’s it from?’ – and a general unwillingness to sit in one spot for more than five minutes.
If you see a restaurant touting itself as ‘family-friendly’ it’s usually a synonym for a pot of crayons and some fish fingers on the menu. If you’re really lucky, there might be a piece of knackered play equipment in the garden.
I’d heard a rumour on the playgroup grapevine that there was a magical venue where you could eat a decent adult restaurant meal in a place kids don’t half mind going to. And it wasn’t the Hungry Horse or McDonald’s.
Spoken about in hushed tones so as not to encourage others to try it and take up the best tables they were talking about Wildwood.
We find ourself in a wet and windswept Whiteley on a Saturday lunchtime. Diving into Wildwood, we are pleasantly surprised by its decor. It looks like a nice place to eat. Our feet are not sticking to the floor.
Our family of four – two adults, two kids – is seated near to the main attraction and Wildwood’s secret gem – the playroom.
It’s a room packed full of toys with a TV playing Disney. Perfect to keep little people occupied, meaning adults can eat a hot meal.
We are made to feel welcome, and note the many other tables with small people near to us, and as it’s a huge restaurant we are seated far enough away from the child-free groups who are all seemingly enjoying lunch without questions.
The kids menu is great, with a good selection to choose from. For £6.95 you get a drink, main and desert. There is pizza, pasta, a mini burger, sausages and chicken on offer – not a fish finger in sight.
For dessert, there is a choice of brownie, ice lolly, jelly or ice cream. A small person’s heaven. We opt for the pasta and jelly. The pasta is a large portion, but is enjoyed with a few of our chips. It’s simple food, but it’s a hit.
For our meals we pick a classic cheeseburger (£11.75) which comes with Monterey Jack cheese, relish, baby gem lettuce, beef tomato, Wildwood burger sauce and fries, and a large mushroom and grilled sweetcorn pizza, which comes with cherry bell peppers, red onion, thyme (£12.95) and a couple of sides of fries (£3.95).
But it’s no ordinary pizza. It’s a vegan pizza – and it’s delicious. It’s huge and has a wonderful ratio of toppings. You wouldn’t even notice it’s vegan cheese. It turns out that another thing Wildwood does well is cater for all, and its vegan menu is excellent. It also offers a gluten-free menu. Top marks Wildwood.
A few days later we find ourselves in Port Solent, but this time it’s two adults with four kids. We are truly outnumbered but everyone needs feeding so we dive into Wildwood. It’s almost identical to Whiteley, nice decor and friendly staff, however the playroom is a little tidier and it’s next to the playground.
Again the adults eat a decent hot meal in peace. As it’s a weekday we take advantage of an online voucher through the chain’s website, giving us 40 per cent off our food. It’s a winning combination.
If I have one negative thing to say about the two restaurants it’s that the playrooms could do with a clean, and there needs to be a proper toy inventory done as some of the toys are broken, but given the battering these rooms must take then it’s easy to see why this gets overlooked.
Parents can be a picky bunch, but I think I speak for us all when I say thank you Wildwood for giving us the option to eat out.