Best kids menus
Let’s face it: half the battle with taking the children to eat out is getting them to eat anything – anything at all. In terms of sheer choice, you can’t do better than the Hungry Horse. Its 21- item kids menu features a wide range of pizzas and burgers (25RMB) as well as a few less grease-heavy options, such as roast chicken salad (28RMB). If you’re looking for something novel, you’ll enjoy the superhero-themed dishes (from 20RMB) in the equally heroic surroundings of Smallville Café, or the sweet pizzas (with toppings including cinnamon, apple and banana, 38RMB) at Nasca Café. Healthier menus can be found at Argo (cod fillet, 32RMB) and Rumi (kebabs with green bean rice, 50RMB, and fresh fruit juices 15RMB). The latter, with its toy-filled side room designed by the owner’s daughter, could also be a contender in the ‘best kids corners’ category.
Best kids corners
Some of the best restaurants with play areas for kids are found in Shunyi. Elaine’s – a cute Chinese vegetarian eatery on the banks of Luoma Lake – is a veritable paradise for tots with a padded indoor jungle gym, rocking horses and an enclosed outdoor trampoline. At Mrs Shanen’s, mum and dad can tuck into New York-style bagels, salads and artisanal pizzas, while the children play chef in the mini toy kitchen. Teenagers and tweens are kept busy with a TV, DVD player and PlayStations at the Shunyi branch of Blue Frog. Meanwhile, the best thing about the play area in Little Italy is that it’s enclosed behind soundproof glass, leaving you – and the rest of the restaurant – to dine in peace. If you live more centrally, there’s no need to despair, for Annie’s has high chairs and toy corners in all seven of its branches, while Argo on Wudaoying Hutong by Yonghegong provides a good mixture of wooden and soft toys.
Best budget options
You don’t have to spend a fortune on treating the whole family to a meal. At American Steak & Eggs, children aged eight and under eat free Monday to Thursday. Otherwise, it offers a 29RMB kids meal deal for dishes such as spaghetti with salad, or chicken strips with fries, plus a fruit juice or soft drink. After hitting the shops at Solana, take your little ones to Veg-On’s buffet, where you can chow down for 39RMB, tenyear- olds and younger pay half-price, and three-year-olds and younger pay absolutely nothing. For a more extravagant Chinese and Western all-you-can-eat, including such goodies as H'agen-Dazs ice cream, try Golden Jaguar. Here, it’s height that counts, not years. A buffet lunch costs adults 198RMB, but kids under 120cm go half-price, and those under 70cm go free. Or head to Baoyuan Jiaozi Wu where dumplings cost 10RMB for six and come in a variety of bright colours that will tempt even the fussiest of eaters (but won’t worry mum since the dough is dyed with natural fruit and veg agents).
Best big family night out
Special occasions don’t have to be kid-free. Many of the swankiest establishments in town are more childfriendly than you’d think. While the sleek interior of The Opposite House’s Village Café doesn’t exactly scream ’family zone’, actually the servers are great with toddlers, provide high chairs, mini plastic cutlery and beakers on demand, plus you can get kids mains from as little as 28RMB. Alternatively, you can savour fine French cuisine at Brasserie Flo while the ayi oversees your children in Flo’s playroom (on weekends), or sample some of the world’s best dumplings at Din Tai Fung while the electronic ayi (aka the television) entertains them with cartoons on loop. The nightly performances of traditional Chinese music at Hua Jia Yi Yuan will keep all the family amused. And top off a family outing to Ritan Park with a meal at Xiao Wang Fu – if you order carefully, the size of the portions means you really needn’t break the bank.