On Christmas Eve we went out for a nice meal with loads of our friends, and our assorted brood of toddlers. It was a family event in a bar that I love, there were activities for the kids and they even got to meet Santa. It should have been great. But it really, really wasn't. Toddlers and grown up venues don't mix. Well ours don't, if it's just our feral rabble, and you can enjoy a cocktail and a thrice cooked chip in the company of your toddler without having to peel them off stages, pen them in at tables and breaking out in the parenting sweats, then stop reading this post. Go and make the most of your sociable and well-behaved toddlers before it all goes wrong. Although it might not for you, in which case I'm ......happy for you (and also a touch jealous!)
For us the nice bars, even when they put on family events are just a bit too much work at the moment. It isn't fun trying to stop my two year old from doing what he wants to do, which is run around generally create havoc. So where does that leave us. Well eating at home a lot of the time, and then when we want to eat out, foraying into the world of kids' restaurants. So when we were invited to the opening of The Cinder Path, the new Brewers Fayre in South Shields we were keen to try it out. I'm not sure that I've ever been to a Brewers Fayre before, to me they fit well and truly into the realm of family dining and until recently - as described above - I was still fighting my destiny and trying to stick with our usual haunts. But now that I have kids I find myself doing a whole host of things I didn't envisage when I saw those little lines on the pregnancy test, including wiping my offsprings' noses with my hand (I know its minging - I apologise for what I've become) so I was up for giving family restaurants a try.
The Cinder Path has been really well designed. They have thought of everything possible to make it as great for kids. The opening event was being held in the soft play room at the back of the restaurant. It was accessed through a set double doors, which immediately won brownie points from me, as enclosed areas are definitely a bonus for us, as our toddler is a runner - and a fast one at that. This meant we could relax a bit. There were proper tables so you could order a meal and eat it comfortably. All of the walls were just higher than waist height, so if your kids were a bit older than mine you'd be able to let them go off by themselves, and sit down at the table whilst still keeping an eye on them. The soft play wasn't huge, so probably best suited to pre-schoolers, or maybe kids up to about 6. But older kids could be entertained in the craft and TV room where there were colouring in pages, and other crafting bits as well as showing some kids shows on the TV.
The soft play area was great for babies and toddlers, with a flat area that my crawling baby could explore, as well as a little walker that she could sit in. My toddler loved the couple of Cozy Coupe cars they had, as well as the motion ride which you could pay for. Cruel and stingy mother that I am, I didn't let him know that if I stumped up some cash it would actually be a lot more interesting, and instead just let him play (for free) with the steering wheel.
Now when it comes to food I'm no restaurant reviewer (if you are looking for one though I recommend Canny Food) so I won't go into loads of detail. The mains were much as I expected. My husband's fish and chips (7.99) were pretty good. My sweet potato and feta lasagne (£7.79) was okay, I couldn't particularly taste the feta and it was a bit bland, but certainly palatable and not too expensive either. The kids meals (£3.99 for one course, an extra 75p for an additional course) were decent sizes. Both of my kids devoured them, apart from the vegetable crudités which they didn't touch - typical they'll avoid veggies whenever they can, but I think it's really positive that they are served with main meals, and hopefully if we persevere eventually they will come around to the idea that a bit of carrot isn't so bad.
I was really impressed with both the adult and kids desserts. I had the caramel apple betty (£3.49), served with loads custard which was very tasty, and my toddler had a slice of chocolate pizza (75p if bought with a kids main meal) which we all tried and was lush. My baby had a fruit salad, which again I thought was great that they offered a healthier option. I was a bit disappointed to see that the grapes were served whole, and I'd spotted another of the kids desserts were served with full sized marshmallows, both of which I would consider a choking hazard and not serve to my children without cutting them up. We still had a knife at our table so I was able to quickly halve the grapes, and after our visit I contacted the restaurant to ask whether they would normally be served whole. They advised that Brewers Fayre had only recently implemented a policy where all grapes would be halved so I guess it was just a mistake that day. They said that they was no such policy for marshmallows, but in all fairness to them the picture on the kids menu shows the marshmallows so at least parents are aware of them when ordering dessert and can make a choice as to whether they want to get them for their kids.
As you can see from the photos my kids thoroughly enjoyed their trip to The Cinder Path, and their meals. As The Cinder Path has a large play structure (some Brewers Fayre's offer a much smaller, free, play corner), there is a charge to use the soft play, which is £3 for 90 minutes, which is pretty comparable to most of the soft plays that I have visited, and this one has the bonus of offering a large menu of 'proper meals' as opposed to the usual more cafe style options that you'll find in soft plays. Whilst I wasn't wowed by the food, the actual dining experience was so much more relaxed than when we've been non-family designed restaurants. We were able to play with the kids with the toys and in the soft play, and it felt good not to be constantly trying to stop them from what they want to do, which is move about and explore.
It's open Sunday to Thursday 9.30am - 8pm and Friday to Saturday 9.30am - 9pm, so great to have an option to be out a bit later with kids, than traditional soft play venues.
Full details about The Cinder Path, including the menus and soft play information can be accessed here
Have you visited The Cinder Path yet? Where are your recommendations for great places to eat with toddlers? We love reader recommendations, leave us a comment below.
Disclosure Policy - We received complimentary meals during the open event in return for an honest review. Unsurprising all of the random blabber and chuntering on in this post is my own. See the about us section of this website for the full corporate speak disclosure policy.