Five-year-olds are funny creatures when to comes to food, aren’t they?
On the one hand, my eldest eats his school hot dinners without any complaints, counts mussels as one of his favourite things to eat, and gets excited at the thought of trying out a new restaurant.
On the other, he has days when all he wants for dinner is plain white bread, he won’t eat a potato unless it’s so crispy it’s basically a crisp, and he knows the McDonald’s menu far better than any five-year-old should.
Basically, it can go one way or the other.
So when a local pub – The Knife & Cleaver in Houghton Conquest – got in touch to see if we’d like to try out their new children’s menu, I wasn’t sure what to expect. They’ve partnered up with kids’ food expert Dotty’s Kitchin to create ‘a menu that nourishes and excites little people’, which sounded great if we were having a mussels kind of day, but less so if it was more of a plain-white-crispy-McDonalds day.
Factor in my youngest, who’s three and only ever really grazes on anything, ever, and I wondered if a posh children’s menu might be a bit wasted on us.
The Knife & Cleaver’s new children’s menu
In the end, I figured mine wouldn’t be the first fussy eaters to walk through the pub’s doors, and we booked in for lunch a few Saturdays later. When we got there, I was surprised to see quite how stylish it was – all mustard metro tiles, plush soft-furnishings and grown-up accessories, it was about as far from the smash-proof, crash-proof, wipe-clean environments I’ve come to associate with kids’ menus as it gets.
It looked a lot like the kind of place I’d come to for a grown-up meal, post 7PM, when the sticky finger brigade were in bed. And if the lovely decor was anything to go by, I was pretty much certain the menu was going to be far too fancy for my two fish-finger-loving friends.
From nachos to nuggets (and some GIANT pizzas)
Fortunately, I was wrong. So wrong. When I scanned the menu, it was full of normal, everyday things my kids will happily eat. The starters ticked off mini corn on the cob, soup of the day (probably the only no-go – too wet, apparently), hummus and crudites (oh wait, that one too) and and nachos.
With the kids being so little, I ordered one starter to share, and I knew I’d be safe with the nachos. I begrudgingly asked the waitress if we could have them without the sour cream and guacamole on top, knowing the 5-year-old wouldn’t touch them with a bargepole if they had ‘wet stuff’ on. She explained that all the extras came separately in little pots, so that kids could dip to their heart’s content or have them dry if they preferred. And that’s when I understood where the thought had gone in to this menu.
The food itself is familiar territory – the options for mains are fishcakes, chicken nuggets, a steak, meatballs and pasta, a stone-baked pizza (they’re so huge we took most of ours home in a box) and a Sunday roast. Because what kid wants to be confronted with a whole list of foods they’ve never heard of in a restaurant? (Not mine, on a McNugget day, anyway).
The difference is, all those foods are homemade with children in mind – for example the meatballs are in a secret (veg-packed) sauce, and come with separate garlic crumbs and cheese to sprinkle on top. The puddings are the same, with lots of ‘healthy’ ingredients disguised as goodies, and sticky fingers are positively encouraged.
My littlest chose a strawberry and banana milkshake lolly that came with a little pot of chocolate sauce and a separate one of coconut sprinkles, to dip her lolly in. The eldest chose the ‘build your own pancake’, which came with ice-cream, chocolate sauce and fruit – again in separate pots. It was messy (bring baby wipes, and sit them on the chairs rather than the sofas – trust me) but my goodness they enjoyed it.
Price-wise, it’s £5 for one course, £8 for two, or £10 for three, and the mains come with a choice of side, veg and sauce. Drinks are extra on top.
Fancy and family-friendly
The menu aside, the pub has struck just the right balance with the child-friendly extras, too. We gratefully accepted plastic cups for the kids, for example, but their meals were served up on proper plates – a detail that wasn’t lost on the three-year-old, who loved the ‘swirly sauce’ artfully drizzled on her huge white pudding dish.
We appreciated the colouring pencils and pictures on the back of the kids’ menu, too – it gave us time to tuck in to starters of arancini with red pepper sauce and mussels with chorizo, and two beautifully-cooked burgers (mine came loaded with pulled pork on top and I can’t decide which bit I liked best).
The food at the Knife & Cleaver really is first rate, and the new children’s menu turned out to be right up our street, despite what I originally thought. In fact, I’ll try never to judge a pub by its decor again, because this place manages to be fancy and family-friendly – all at the same time.
The Knife & Cleaver celebrated its first birthday in November. The pub is in the Bedfordshire village of Houghton Conquest, about 15 minutes out from Bedford, and less than 10 minutes from Center Parcs Woburn Forest. You can download the new children’s menu from the website, and to book, call 01234 930789.
Disclosure: we weren’t paid for this post, but The Knife & Cleaver provided us with a free meal in return for an honest review – thank you, it was delish!