As any reader of this blog, or person that knows me in real life (I know, can you believe real life people still exist?) will be aware, I love to go to cafes with Piglet. There’s nothing better than sitting back, relaxing and enjoying a warm latte and a slice of cake while Piglet wrecks the joint by squirting yoghurt across the table and flinging Pom Pom Bears at unsuspecting fellow patrons. So in honour of our love for all things caffeine-fuelled, I present to you a list of some of our favourite cafes in Bristol, so that should you find yourself in the city of Brunel, Banksy and eco-warriors in tie-dye, you will know exactly where you should be caking it up. So, in no particular order, here goes. You’re welcome.
Tucked away in a suburban area of North West Bristol that you are frankly unlikely to be visiting unless you are lucky enough to know people middle class enough to live in its immediate surrounding area, lies Venue 35, a large cafe which looks more like a bar from the front (and serves alcohol) but deceptively doesn’t seem to open at night. Piglet and I have spent many happy hours in here, mostly with me trying to down my coffee before he wakes up and has a meltdown, but it was only recently that I discovered that they have a whole other room out the back-a room dedicated to families, with a selection of toys and a play area for the children, leading out to a terrace at the back. No more would I have to chase Piglet out of the front door as he runs out into the rain for the sixtieth time. No more would I have to do an emergency breastfeed before he launches into full meltdown and ruins everyone’s quiet Sunday brunch. There is a room for actual children! With toys!
There are several branches of the Lounge chain in Bristol, including one in yummy mummies’ paradise North Street in Bedminster (a place I sometimes go to, and walk up and down with the pushchair, pretending I live there), but the one we visit most frequently is Grupo Lounge in Westbury-on-Trym. Located just a ten minute walk from the aforementioned Venue 35, Grupo is the King and Queen of all suburban cafes. Huge, packed to the rafters with buggies, and rocking a fabulous selection of lampshades and paintings your nan had on her wall, it is always full of children, which means it won’t be too embarrassing when the toddler kicks off, as countless others will be no doubt doing the same. Or maybe they’ll just be sat nicely eating their children’s meals, as they usually are when we go there, while my own offspring charges about carrying crayons and entire games of Connect 4 to grace the table while we eat. Either way, there is a toy selection which Piglet loves transporting across the room (admittedly putting it in next to the stairs isn’t necessarily the best location) and they sell tapas as well as a range of brunch dishes and the usual burgers, wraps, etc, and a children’s menu.
If I could only have access to one cafe in this list to visit with my toddler, it would be this one. If you are looking for the perfect cake, it’s probably not the place to go, but for toddlers, it’s unbeatable. It’s basically an under-fives play area with a cafe attached. Not really designed for older children, as there is no soft play and the toys are aimed squarely at pre-schoolers, but for toddlers and babies it is perfect. Oh, and the kids’ food selection is great. There is a 5 items for £2.50 deal and everything is baby-friendly-raisins, breadsticks, sandwiches that Piglet won’t eat but I understand that some children do; etc, etc.
Once upon a time, long long ago, I was a teenager, and THE place to go when you were a sixth former was Boston Tea Party, a veritable Bristol institution on Park Street. It probably still is, if you are sixteen, but the stairs render it out of bounds to most of the buggy brigade. Luckily, these days there are more Boston Tea Parties. They are literally popping up all over the place, and the one in Gloucester Road is both massive (perfect for finding a spot where the little ones won’t annoy other customers), and has a small selection of toys.
Most of the cafes in one-time village-turned-outer-suburb Shirehampton are of the mug of tea and bacon sarnie variety. Which I’m sure are great for kids in their own way, but perhaps don’t offer the range of culinary treats I was hoping for. However, recent addition The Little Teapot advertises itself as being a cafe for everyone, but with a little sweetener for parents in the form of a small enclosed play area for toddlers, and toys in the small garden at the back. There is always a decent selection of cake, and plenty of child-friendly treats available for small ones, and its cosy size means that the little one will never be far away.
6. The Cafe on the Square
At one time, in the not so distant past, the bus stop slash public toilets on Sea Mills Square was famous for being a urine-soaked hell-hole that you had to stand in for up to 45 minutes at a time if it rained while you were unlucky enough to be waiting for the number 40 bus, reading such literary gems as “Gemma 4 Stu 4EVA” and other, less complimentary slogans. However, several years ago someone came up with the genius idea of gentrifying it into an actual cafe, an idea that I admit I was somewhat sceptical about. A cafe? In a building that once housed the eating area for the world’s most unhygenic-looking kebab van that stood opposite like a dreary sentinel for Broken Britain? Well, reader, I am converted. And so is the bus stop. The kebab van has long since departed, and the cafe shines like a beacon, calling the middle classes from miles around to partake of its very reasonably priced paninis, jacket potatoes and homemade cakes. There is even a selection of books for children (including some brilliant Enid Blyton versions of Bible stories) and a Fun Five offer including Pom Bears, yoghurt and all the other toddler delicacies. AND there’s a brand new park opposite. It has literally become my second home. I now propose that all bus stops start serving lattes and Victoria sponge. The world would surely be a better place.
In the style of a belligerent London cabbie, I don’t do “South of the river.” This has nothing to do with any kind of class-based distaste or fear of what might be lurking beyond the muddy banks of the Avon, and everything to do with the slightly inconvenient routes taken by public transport, meaning that a trip “over there” requires TWO buses. However, upon hearing that things are nice over there; there are theatres, delis and artisan bread and coffee served by men with abundant beards who probably spend their spare time learning the lost art of Victorian masonry, I ventured over there to have a look. It may have taken two buses, and one of those involved Piglet becoming engaged in a bizarre game of one-upmanship with an OAP who growled at him from across his zimmer frame, “That’s a nice toy car. Not as nice as mine though,” before holding up an enormous remote-controlled car still in its box; but once there, we did find the Hungry Caterpillar waiting for us. Unfortunately they had stopped serving food at 2pm, and we were still on a bus then, but we did manage to get some toast for Piglet and I was able to enjoy a latte on a comfortable sofa, whilst watching him play in the enormous play area. Looks like I may have to brave the journey again.
Well, it isn’t the quietest cafe on this list, but then the cafe at @Bristol (too many ats?) is attached to Bristol’s foremost (only) science museum (and a great place it is too) and located in Millennium Square, site of a) an enormous water feature where on summer days you cannot move for barefoot children running about and b) several carousels and one of those bungee trampoline thingys. There’s plenty to do for kids of all ages here. The selection of children’s food is second to none, and there is a small soft play area, although when we went it was mostly being commandeered by children older than Piglet, so we avoided. Worth a look if you are in the City Centre, but if you are intending to go to the museum too, buy your ticket beforehand-we didn’t and then realised the ticket offered a discount for the cafe.
When I was a wee nipper Bristol Museum was mostly the home of stuffed animals, the occasional Roman coin and the amazing replica aeroplane hanging from the roof. The sort of place where you could imagine an actual Night At The Museum, with the exhibits climbing out of their glass cases and wandering around. Nowadays, it is still that, but with the addition of loads more stuff for kids (or maybe I just didn’t notice it before?) including an amazing play area for under 8s in the main atrium, next to the fantastic cafe, which serves salads, a fantastic selection of cake and the obligatory cheese rolls, plastic cups of cut grapes and Pom Bears. Just don’t tell anyone that Piglet tried to climb on the 16th century fireplace at the back.
10. Cafe Nest, Mothercare Cribbs Causeway (website unavailable).
My late grandmother believed that the pinnacle of sophistication was a “bit of dinner in BHS.” She would, of course, have been heartbroken had she lived to see its undignified demise, but I am sure that she would have been heartened by the inclusion of a cafe in a shop to this list. Probably. If she had understood these here Interwebs. Anyway, I was astonished to find this gem, tucked away at the back, not of John Lewis, where you might expect a fine dining experience, but Mothercare Cribbs Causeway. Back in my day (1984) there was a Mothercare with a slide which had (brace yourselves children, for ye have not known such delight) TRAFFIC LIGHTS ON IT, so you could see when it was clear at the bottom. Nowadays of course, times have changed, and although I cannot claim a traffic light (they turned the old Mothercare into an H&M, and for some reason didn’t keep the slide?) this here new one does have (wait for it) a soft play. Yes, right next to the cafe. Piglet could hardly contain his Pom Bears. And they have the full range of Little Bird clothing too. Ten out of ten Mothercare. All is forgiven for the loss of those traffic lights.
And so concludes my happy list of fantastic cafes in the Bristol area. There are others I haven’t included, I am sure. Feel free to mention in comments if I have missed one of your faves. As we say in Bristoland, GERT LUSH.