Plenty of parents think taking their kids to a restaurant for dinner is self-inflicted torture, and plenty of kids prove the point many times. The usual refrain is "kids ruin the atmosphere".
Since we believe that going out to eat is one of the pleasures that come with life in Dubai, I set out with my husband and our 8-year-old daughter, Anasuya, to find restaurants that actually like kids, and kids can like in return.
Here's what these three places have going for them: absorbency. So what if your kids get up to roam around, so what if they spill, so what if they talk at the top of their voices? These places have the space and the background noise to cushion the inevitable outburst of childish behaviour, and wait staff that aren't offended by it — at least from children.
Spice Island, Crowne Plaza Deira
From the moment you walk in, you feel part of an impromptu party. With several cooking stations, including Indian, Thai, Mexican and Italian as well as seafood at your disposal, you have to arrive absolutely ravenous here. Three hours is definitely not enough to try it all.
The staff greet you as if you have come to their home. Mums and dads will love the novelty of tucking in uninterrupted while the kids get entertained by a performing clown with face-painting, foodie crafts, watching their favourite cartoons and their very own mini-buffet.
Burgers, sausages, chicken nuggets, pasta, waffles, fresh fruit, ice cream and those great fries adorn the giant heaping plates of food. There's plenty to share with your kids on the adult menu as well.
If you are weight-conscious (you have no business here), you can go for salad and sushi, and then eat food off your kids' plates. But don't pass up the killer crisp tempura prawns and barbecued lobster.
A top on my list is stir-fried beef with vegetables of your choice. Chicken butter masala was another sumptuous dish. Here the food is less about show-stopping technique and more about delicious, easy-going food with bright flavours.
Alternatively, if you are one of those who likes to do things differently and want to have a memorable weekend with your kids then pack your bags, stay at the hotel and get set to have fun. Check in on a Thursday evening, relax at the pool and dine at Sails. The next day make the best of the Spice Island family brunch and then head for a summer adventure to Dubai Dolphinarium or Aquaventure. It's an experience beyond just eating, an occasion you'll remember past Sunday morning.
Ana says: "It's a blast. I loved garnishing plain cakes while watching Tom and Jerry, with my favourite sweet nuts, chocos and cream. I brought home two slices of cake for my nanny and my best friend. Two thumbs up."
Price: Dh149 and Dh199, including selected house beverages. Dh69 for children aged six to 12.
This summer splash promotion runs until August 31. For bookings call 04-2625555, or send e-mail to email@example.com.
Mango Tree Bistro
It's natural, when you plan to take your kids out to eat, to think of the big rooms, with the butcher paper and crayons on the table and underage crowd-pleasers' menu. Situated on a bustling corner in Mirdif City Centre, Mango Tree Bistro is a place to find all of these.
If you are up for Thai food, try its family brunch and let your kids have the run of the place. The setting is swell, service is attentive and it's quiet enough to talk.
The kids' menu features chicken noodles (Dh22), my daughter polished off the entire plate, chicken fingers (Dh18) and sweet-and-sour chicken (Dh22), among many others. Activities include face painting and balloon modelling. For the more adventurous child, there's plenty to choose from the adult menu without worrying about sensitive taste buds.
The set brunch menu caters to adult tastes — you can choose four items from breakfast, starter, mains and dessert lists, each with five options. Discovering my enthusiasm for breakfast, I went for smoked salmon and eggs Benedict — eggs impeccably poached and the salmon was luscious.
Another clear winner is the omnipresent tom yum goong — excellent clear consomme with a perfect balance of spice and fresh prawns. Tod mun goong (prawn cakes), served with sweet sauce, is a must-try, which your kid will love too.
The highlight was my bountiful bowl of tofu and bean sprouts, perfectly spiced. It's a summer classic.
There's a decent selection of desserts, including ice cream and fruit salad.
The afternoon we were there, I spied a waitress sorting through the crayons to make sure that none of the tables got stuck with too many of the same colour. You have to love that kind of dedication. The vibe is relaxed and festive. How can it not be when Thai spices and fish sauce are calling?
Ana says: "Loved their chicken noodles. The waiters were polite and didn't mind me running around with the new friends I made that day. They painted a beautiful butterfly on my face. I wish I had wings!"
Price: Family Weekend Brunch Dh99
Focaccia, Hyatt Regency
Walking into Focaccia feels as though you are walking into an Italian villa. With its warm and inviting ambience, it's a fine place to reconnect with a family that's been a blur all week.
Ask for a table on the terrace and you'll be treated to views of the Creek, while the live band belts out some old hits and the little ones dance to their tunes. This winning venue serves up comfort food for kids and creative fare for adults.
The kids' menu covers the regulars, with a few innovations. When you've got great fries, you are halfway to kid's heart. Marshmallows, chocolate fondue, burgers, pastas, sausages and dessert selection for the little foodies are aplenty. With a dedicated kids' room, which is well supervised, complete with cartoons, toys, crayons, colouring paper, chalk board and cookie baking classes, you can easily forget your child's survival kit (puzzle books etc) at home.
The adult menu is endlessly inventive — a blend of Italian, Iranian and everything in between — and enticing with specials such as baked hammour and smoked salmon served with horseradish sauce, freshly made pastas and breads, prawn curry, shawarmas, deep-fried gnocchi and pizzas, among others. Seriously, grown-ups won't know what to eat. Even the bowl of buttered steamed broccoli sang out.
What a relief that no one feels obligated to indulge in waiter-speak. I didn't hear "how is everything tasting?" even once. Tell your kids whatever they do there will be no vicious, darting eyes coming from the guests of neighbouring tables, while you can have multi-sentenced conversation with your spouse.
Ana says: "It's place where I'd like to spend every Friday. The kids' room had everything I wanted. I learnt a new craft — I am baking cookies this Christmas."
Price: Dh199 including soft beverages, Dh249 including select beverages or Dh399 including free-flowing premium beverages. Children under 12 eat for free; maximum of two children per couple.
And some more...
Friday brunch at Sheraton Jumeirah Beach Resort and Towers is now back with kids' activities and a live Cuban band at the terrace of the Palm Garden restaurant. There's a separate supervised area for kids, which means they don't have to stay in their seats for most of the meal, with buffet, popcorn and cotton candy booths. Face painting, bouncing castle and puzzle games are some of the things that will keep your child entertained. Price: Dh375, inclusive of your favourite beverages.Phone: 04-3995533
Treat your family at The Meydan Friday Brunch. As you enjoy stunning views of the Meydan Racecourse, there's a fun-filled programme for your little ones, including a special kids' buffet, T-shirt and face painting, balloon animations, games, bouncing castle and much more. Price: Dh495 with house beverages, Dh296 with soft drinks, Dh195 for 12-16-year-olds, and kids under 12 eat for free. Phone: 04-3813333