Jun 12, 2015
London for cooks - Blog - Tasty London: Celebrating Childhood

Tasty London: Celebrating Childhood

In this interview, I am discussing the differences in British and Russian gastronomical upbringing with Julia Varshavskaya of "Russky London" and revealing my personal favourites for child-friendly restaurants in London. The original interview in Russian can be viewed here:


"The 1st of June is the international day of children. Who, if not Anna Schmidt - mother of three children - understands that it is the good right of every child to be fed proper, good quality nutritional diet. And a tasty one at that. And where possible more than once a day a day. Despite the fact that Kate Fox in her book “Watching the English” claims that the English care more about the dogs than the children, Anna Schmidt and me are absolutely sure, that London is one of the most child-friendly cities in the world. And especially where it concerns its gastronomical world", Julia Varshavskaya.

Anna, in which way, do you think Russian mums differ from British ones in their approach to feeding children? 

There is a big difference and you can spot it already in the first year. British mums try to  cook for their little ones when the food start to get introduced, but a lot of my friends in the UK turned to preprepared children meals quite soon - the choice of preprepared baby food is vast, with popular good quality brands available.  On the other hand, Russian mums can easily get ostracised for feeding “out of the glass”.  However, British mums switch from purees in glasses and in poaches to normal grown up diet quiet quickly. 

I think British mums are more relaxed than the Russian ones where it concerns feeding their children. And actually not only the Russian ones. When my first child was born in London my German friends immediately sent me a list of allergenic products and products not good while breastfeeding. None of my English friends has ever mentioned anything like this. In contrast some of the Russian mums eat buckwheat porridge and boiled turkey for months to prevent allergens passing through to the child through their milk.

Oh, I am exactly this type of mother - I ate only vegetable soups and steamed meatballs for a year.   

I am often surprised, when I read posts on the Russian speaking forums on Facebook. You often read questions like: “Is it ok to give a child of 1.5 years a radish?” May be I was too relaxed, but my children were eating everything  after their first birthday. 

The next thing, which a lot of our readers know about is what Russian grandmas used to repeat over and over again. You have to eat a soup and something warm at least once everyday - “it is good for your stomach”! I do not think a lot of people think too much about this here. A lot of children get just sandwiches for packed lunch at school and some fruit and veg. My children also sometimes get sandwiches, but always alongside a thermos with a warm meal, although not necessarily a soup. That would be to Russian Granny’s taste! And when friends from Russia peep into my fridge, there is always a question hanging on their lips: “...but, where is the soup?!”.

And what about the craze for healthy eating, vegetarian food and organic products? Or does it happen under the category 18+?

Interestingly the trends coexist. Although people eat a lot of junk food, vegetarianism and vegan eating is also very popular even with the children. Sometimes the vegetarian or even vegan diet is introduced on the initiative of the parents who adhere to the diet themselves. However, sometimes, children decide to not eat meat themselves.

In the vegetarian families I know in Russia, it is often the opposite and the children are still given meat. The widespread view in Russia is that without animal proteins, a child’s body cannot develop properly.   

People speak about this here as well, but in the UK, I think vegetarianism is much more widely spread than in Russia and it is possible to have a healthy and nutritional diet easily, substituting meat with other products. I think it is easier here, than in Russia. The parents of vegetarian children make sure that their diet is balanced. 

My children understand the differences in the diet and respect them. They always tell me before somebody comes for a playdate, what I should and should not cook. They call our family omnivours,  but know that there are also pescaterians,  vegetarians, vegans , etc. 

By the way, what about school lunches. My whole generation was traumatised by sleezy gulashes, watery potato purees and rubbery meat balls, which were served in our school canteens. Recently,  I became very envious, when I read the book by Pamela Druckerman “French children do not throw food”, where she describes, that in France children are presented with a variety of tastes and textures starting with the very early age, and learn to understand the fine differences in flavours. Where is the UK on this continuum? 

The UK is somewhere in the middle, I think. For the majority of the British school the accent is put on nutritional at best, rather than flavoursome food in my opinion and surely not on development the understanding of fine flavours.  Of course, Jamie Oliver endlessly talks on the TV about feeding children good quality organic products and educating children about what they eat. But in reality the school diet is far from ideal. 

To be honest, I do not let my children eat school lunches, although our school does actually very good lunches,  and spend some time every morning to give them a packed lunch. But I think my views are quiet radical views of a chef-mother, who is very picky.

However, I must say that the schools here do make an effort to make school food better. One interesting moment is that “ethnic food” is introduced. For example, an average daily menu will consist of a vegetarian dish, a meat-containing dish and an asian or indian dish. I think people in the UK try to pass respect to ethnic foods to their children and educate them to respect different culinary traditions existing in London, be it asian, indian, arabic, jewish, etc. They try to be PC, which is good.

Apart from that, a trip to a supermarket and local greengrocers is often included in the curriculum. The children are taught to choose products themselves. They have cookery classes, and what is important  - while in Russia boys would be busy sawing legs for chairs, here all children learn to cook, irrespective of their gender. This is the feministic side of the British society  for you. 

This is an important moment! Later, these boys will grow up and cook for their wives.

Absolutely, this is part of the culture. I think, boys’ parents would be very surprised and appalled if they were told, that their children were not taught to cook at school just because they were boys. 

Also you can go shopping for food with your child in a way, which makes it interesting for them. One important feature of the British upbringing is encouraging children’s independence and their involvement into all adult processes  - and it starts quite early. In a lot of shops there are big trolleys for the adults and small ones for little customers beside them. Obviously you can shop for veg and fruit online, as for example you can do on the organic shop Planet Organic. I think shopping for food with your children is an important part of children’s upbringing. 

Are there a lot of  culinary classes for children in the restaurants? In Russia quite a lot of restaurants offer cookery classes for children. In Moscow it is ”in” for mum and dad to quietly enjoy their dinner, whilst their offspring learn to bake a pizza or buns supervised by a chef.

There is a number  of cookery classes, but I have not heard of the classes held, whilst you eat at the restaurant. I can recommend Ruby Violet - where children make ice-creams in the real ice-cream kitchen. You can learn to roll sushi in the Asian restaurant Inamo or bake biscuits or even a proper cake in Konditor and Cook and a pizza in Cucina Caldesi.

Do you ever go with your children to specialised child-friendly cafes or restaurants? Which ones could you recommend?

There is a very popular chain Giraffe here, where they have a large kid’s menu and everything is adapted for children needs. Sometimes you even don’t understand which dish is for the kids and what it for the adults! They are quite a young chain, but are extremely popular with parents. 

Another way to go out with the kids is going to normal cafes or restaurants, equipped with a special children’s room. I love That Place On The Corner and Bear And Wolf Cafe.

In some places there is not only a room, but a trained child-minder, who plays with the kids, whilst you enjoy your lunch or dinner. For example The Commander and Julie's.

So what would happen if you take a child into a normal “adult” restaurant. Would you get strange glances?

By no means! London restaurants are extremely child-friendly! You will straight away get a high-chair, pencils, colouring books and will be excused for broken glasses and damaged table cloths. They will  even find it sweet. In Germany it is different for example, they are much more strict. 

To be honest, I try not to go to “children” cafes with the whole family. They serve good food with good quality ingredients, but I try to get my children accustomed to more grown up places and prefer not be restricted in the choice of a restaurant for dinner. 

Also almost every good restaurant in London would have a kid’s menu or will try their best to cook something for the child. And will be happy to do this at that. For a very special dinner with kids I would recommend either Mad Hatter's Tea Party in Sanderson Hotel or try the Saturday brunch at the Сonnaught Hotel.

So you do choose food from the main menu or ask for kid’s menu? Which restaurants have a good choice of kid’s food?

I love Tom’s Kitchen - it is extremely tasty! And I like that the kid’s menu there is not just boring meatballs or pasta with tomato sauce. They serve “adult” dishes slightly smaller and slightly adapted. 

Moreover, even the Michelin starred restaurants have kid’s menu! When my first child was around 3 month’s old I went to Locanda Locatelli, and was very anxious as to how people would react to seeing a baby in the restaurant. But, it so happened that they had no problem of having little kids in at all. Georgio Locatelli’s daughter is allergic to a wider range of products - so he is a real specialist in hypoallergenic products. Obviously, they won’t cook broccoli puree for you, but will do everything so you can enjoy your time in the restaurant. And for those you wants to have a posh dinner with kids outside of London, I can recommend Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons in Oxford. Despite of the Michelin stars they also offer a wonderful kid’s menu.

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