Eating out with children can leave you with limited choices. Parents have to consider suitable menus, if the facilities are right and whether the ambiance can handle the behavior of a child. Luckily, Melbourne isn’t a city to disappoint when it comes to eating out en famille. Here’s our round-up of places that cater to kids’ needs whilst offering something for the grown-ups too.
This Carlton North spot is a culinary chameleon, shape-shifting as the crowds wax and wane. As evening falls, Green Park’s long wooden counter lights up as it morphs to an intimate Mediterranean-influenced den. In the day, it’s open for early coffees and kicking back with colorful brunches that stretch long into the afternoon. Despite grown-up interiors, awash with Hooker’s green and timber frames, it’s great for children. Ham and cheese toasties without crusts are the highlight of the kids’ menu. Parents can opt for more sophistication: scrambled tofu and kale, washed down with Small Batch coffee, while their brood explores the playground opposite.
Bridging the gap between grown-up dining out and catering to younger palettes can be tricky, especially if you’re trying to please adults without children. Italian restaurant Motorino does just that. Menus popping with authentic Italian dishes, from sugo all’amatriciana to Sicilian meatballs, are written on blackboard walls. Neatly appointed tables – not too close together, leaving space for high chairs – give a sense of formality that parents often miss out on when dining con la famiglia. Children can pick from a ‘bambinos’ menu (pizza, pasta) and are kept occupied with a ball of dough on a pizza tray.
Stroll 10 minutes from St Kilda Harbour and Cantani Gardens and you’ll find a brick building home to Cowderoy’s Dairy. It’s a milk bar with new life breathed into it, meaning you can take a seat outside, tuck into a ‘brekkie trifle’ (bircher muesli with poached pear and compote) and pick up groceries before you leave. Rustic – though vamped up with bright colors and modern fittings — this is a cozy home-style space serving frothy baby-cinos. It’s next to Jacoby Reserve playground, and in warm weather — when the outside tables are snapped up fast — borrow their picnic blankets, grab a cake from the counter and find a shady patch nearby.
If you’re south-east of the CBD with the kids in tow, stop here for a bite to eat. An unassuming beige and green exterior – previously the clubhouse of Malvern Tennis Center – has been given an injection of modernity inside. Technicolor bunting hangs from the ceiling, while walls have painted flora sprawling across. This community cafe is a diamond for children: dishes have whimsical names and bento boxes are available for the Happy Meal-craving little ones. There’s also an outside-facing serving hatch flanked by wooden steps so children are encouraged to go and order for themselves. Let the kids run free – tennis courts, a basketball hoop and enclosed adventure playground are all a hop, skip and jump away.
Leroy’s is ideal for late breakfasts on a slow Sunday, or a midweek lunch on the move whether you’re alone, or bringing the little people in your life. You can find a quiet spot and leave the children playing in the ‘Secret Garden’ courtyard. Kids can discover a massive chalkboard, play equipment and toys. Humble fare is inventive (‘Newport Hollan-Daze’ is a winning choice), and the ‘Lil Superheroes Menu will please young guests.
Another restaurant worth parking the pram in North Carlton is Birdie Num Nums. This former butchers — you can still see wall fittings and marble slabs from its previous incarnation — is now a favorite among those seeking space and amusement for toddlers. Toys are spread throughout, a covered sandpit is out back, and there’s plenty of space and full changing facilities. The whimsical name, a reference to Peter Sellers’ 1968 film The Party, is a nod to the carefree, children-always-welcome atmosphere. Food geared towards younger mouths aims to please, including pasta, chicken nuggets and mixed berry pancakes. Menus will hit the spot for adults too, whether you’re a Melbourne foodie hunting down smashed avocado on multigrain or a tired parent needing a latte.
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Brunswick – a suburb known for on-trend haunts – makes family cool with Miss Marmalade. Step through the well-worn doors and you’ll find a small stripped back space with exposed bricks, recycled wood and oversized, low-hanging bulbs. Don’t think these hipster essentials mean it’s not a place to bring even a raucous mob of children though. Head past the tempting cakes and through to a back room to find toys, games and a chalkboard. If that’s not parent-chic enough, perch outside in the flower-bordered pavement courtyard. No dedicated children’s menu but a perfect excuse to get them eating grown-up grub.
What’s better than a day out exploring the farm? Especially when that farm has a family-friendly eating joint nearby. The Farm Cafe is a place of countryside chic, filled with wonderful wooden textures from tables to floor. It’s open to nature as much as possible, with canvas hanging overhead in a shade of cornsilk – face the farm and you’ll feel as outside as you can when sat inside. It’s surrounded by Collingwood Children’s Farm, seven hectares of community-run land, so it’s not surprising you’re welcome to let kids loose. Produce for the menu – a rustic, truly seasonal offering of nourishing victuals – is all sourced from local suppliers. It’s proximity to the Yarra River Trail means walkers and cyclists can easily drop in for an organic juice even if you’re not visiting the farm animals – though wandering chickens are to be expected in this agrarian setting.
A spacious restaurant, sitting beside sloping banks of the Maribyrnong River and circled by gum trees, The Boathouse is a place that welcomes families but boasts serious culinary pedigree. Co-owned by Masterchef Australia judge Gary Mehigan, the award-winning pizzas have been lauded across the city. Main courses range from crispy pork belly to chicken curry, with Asian-inspired nuances that reflect Mehigan’s intercontinental travels. If pizzas don’t appeal to the kids, there’s a reliable children’s menu. Modern interiors are bright, with exposed stone wall and an open fireplace but the deck is the real draw. While kids complete the restaurant’s coloring sheets, or try out the nearby playground, sip Longboard Sauvignon Blanc as the sun sets.
If you’re looking for a beachside spot, somewhere to watch your kids play in the sand while you order, then NSHRY is the Albert Park essential. There’s a caveat though: expect a wait if you’re hoping for sought-after places on the deck. Pronounced ‘Noshery’, a large menu features many dishes with a contemporary Asian twist – a nod to the owner’s background. Most little ones will be happy with one of the breakfast dishes, or the seaside staple of fish and chips. Otherwise, burgers that are consistently ranked up with Melbourne’s best will keep a restless child, eager to get back to the ocean, satiated until dinner.