Traditionally, a food outing with kids in tow has involved a jumbo pack of wipes, stale nuggets and worn-out parents who wished more than anything that they had booked an expensive babysitter while they indulged their passion for food.
Well, times have changed. Now more than ever, restaurants have parents in mind. So we've teamed up with Holden Equinox, the SUV for parents with nothing to prove, to find Sydney's top ten kid-friendly cafe and restaurants. These places offer some of the best, most exciting food offerings in the city — with a little extra somethin' somethin' to make family outings a delight.
Now you can save the babysitter for when you actually need the alone time, not just a great feed someone else has cooked.
Acre at Camperdown Commons is where paddock-to-plate enthusiasts can indulge their foodie dreams while educating their ankle-biters on where those edible nasturtiums really come from. Almost a quarter of Acre's fresh produce comes from the adjoining Pocket City Farms. Take a seat in the indoor Hamptons-style dining room to enjoy its refined menu — including pan-roasted sustainable barramundi or melt-in-your mouth slow-cooked lamb shoulder — or the outdoor garden terrace, which has all the appeal of a country fair on a summer's day, with a more relaxed bar menu to suit. Plenty of room for the sprogs to run around, too.
31a Mallett Street, Camperdown
Hankering for authentic Thai but can't fit your Bugaboo into the inner city's hole-in-the-wall eateries? Head to Thai Pothong, a Newtown stalwart that was expanded several years ago, making room to swing a pram or two. Friday and Saturday nights can be louder, with groups and families descending en masse, but all the better for drowning out the noise of a toddler (or parent) tantrum. It also boasts an outstanding kids' menu of mild-flavoured classics chicken pad Thai and satay skewers take centre stage. A pail of coloured pencils for doodling on the paper tablecloths, balloons handed out like they're going out of fashion, and friendly waitstaff cooing over your offspring like they're the next Dalai Lama make this one of the best eateries for parents.
Think Michelin-starred dining is off the menu with your wee ones? Think again. Tim Ho Wan is where sophisticated yum cha lovers and their equally discerning offspring can get their fix of silky prawn and pork gow gee, century egg congee and, for the more adventurous, braised chicken feet. Dim sum-sized serves, meant for sharing, mean kids' can get their pick of whatever the grown-ups are having without the the need for a dedicated kids' menu. Once they've had their fill, the surrounding Blade Runner-esque Asian food court of lotus-like lights and Ginza-style installations makes a good backdrop for a game of spot the artwork. Or hide-and-seek. Whatever takes your fancy.
Chatswood Interchange, 75a and 76a/436 Victoria Avenue
There's a games room with giant Scrabble, a sprawling outdoor area channelling the Hamptons meets Club Med, live musicians and DJs in the evening, yoga in the morning and even local markets on the weekend. An unbeknownst resort on Pittwater? Nope, it's just the former Newport Arms Hotel, reincarnated under Merivale as The Newport. It may seem like a juggernaut of spaces, but for Northern Beaches parents and their progeny, this is where to come to soak in the laidback local vibe. Food options range from fresh seafood to pulled pork burgers, woodfired pizzas and every pub-style meal in-between. Start the day with a superfood smoothie for you and a Banana Rama version for your little one, and end with a watermelon margarita (for you, of course) as the sun sets over Pittwater.
A kids' ball pit in the back, craft beers behind the bar and a killer lamington espresso martini — what's not to love about this unashamedly family-friendly bolthole? The Asian-inspired menu at this inner-west stalwart could see you tucking into a Szechuan fish taco, karaage chicken burger, or salmon fillet baked in banana leaf, lemongrass and coconut if you feel like something more fancy. For littlies, there's the usual assortment of kids' nosh (think fish and chips and burgers) along with some cool vegetarian offerings including veg spring rolls. Tables in the beer garden are in high demand, especially with pram-accessible entry, so get in early.
When it opened in 2012 this 1800-square-metre garden/restaurant was the talk of the town — not least because inner-city mums had a new place for their offspring to run wild. Five years on and The Grounds is still the place to be. Pull up a stool under the courtyard's dripping grapevines and select from an Insta-worthy menu that spans everything from avo toast to tender beef ragout and healthy "bowls" that can be served chilled just in time for Summer. Try not to drool over the show-stopper cakes – the Black Forest and Polenta and Pistachio cakes will have you whipping out your phone camera in a heart beat – and if you're in a rush, grab your coffee fix courtesy of their signature Grounds Single Origin Blend. Want more? There are weekend green thumb workshops for the ankle biters and yoga and coffee cupping sessions for you.
With a name that means "market" in Hebrew but also alludes to the venue's specialty dish, Israeli cafe Shuk is known for offering some of the best breakfasts in town. Its famous shakshuka comes in either the traditional spicy tomato-based sauce or a fetching green version, with its poached eggs sitting in a mix of zucchini, kale and spinach. But breakfast food is not the only area where Shuk is a deadset overachiever. Its dedication to accommodating kids stretches to including a substantial shaded play area with toys and a chalkboard in the back courtyard. Several tables are within watchful distance of it, and there's room to pull up a pram to them besides. Shuk is also open at night from Thursday to Saturday, for the true gourmands hankering after Baharat roast chicken or slow-cooked beef cheeks.
The Tramsheds Harold Park is generally a winner for kids-inclusive outings, whether its grab-and-go pastries while you roam the revamped heritage-listed tram depot or a proper sit-down dinner where parental palettes come first. But only at one of the venue's 13 eateries can you actually dine inside a restored tram, with all the novelty value that serves. That venue is Butcher and the Farmer, a paddock-to-plate restaurant where meat is given particular love and attention, with the provenance and farmer listed for every cut. The emphasis on premium produce extends to the kids' menu of mini steak, house-made pork sausage, chicken tenderloin or pan-fried salmon. While you're here, don't miss Tramsheds' parents' room. It's basically five-star luxury — a destination in itself.
Shop 7, Tramsheds Harold Park, 1 Dalgal Way, Forest Lodge
Located at the eastern end of Centennial Park at the foot of a playground and sporting field, Queens Park Shed is a no-brainer for Sydney parents with children busting to run around off-leash. The cafe's kids' menu is wider than most, including soft-boiled eggs and soldiers for breakfast, toasties for lunch and a picnic box for when you just can't tear them away from the jungle gym. Amazingly, you get a kids' meal free with every adult meal on Fridays during NSW school holidays. Another cause for excitement among grown-ups is the recent addition of a South American barbecue following the venue's full revamp. Take your pick of proteins and add sides like chipotle coleslaw or quinoa and kale salad.
31 Darley Road, Queens Park
ARMORY WHARF CAFE
There's solid cafe food at the Parramatta River-adjacent and family-friendly Armory Wharf Cafe — home in on really good huevos ranchos or a sweet potato cake piled high with grilled bacon and smashed avocado. Still, the real draw is the activity-packed surroundings of Blaxland Riverside Park and the Newington Armory, a former naval site dotted with historic buildings. Your little regiment can take a train tour over the heritage railway, visit the BirdLife Discovery Centre, hire bikes, play something called Disc Golf (think golf, with a Frisbee), climb over playgrounds and forts, and honestly, that's just scratching the surface.
Blaxland Riverside Park, Jamieson Street (off Holker Street), Newington
Drive your family on adventures in and outside of town in the Holden Equinox, the SUV for parents with nothing to prove. Find out more on the Holden website.