There is no shortage of restaurants in the city serving all kinds of cuisine, but where can you take the kids for a family meal? Moscow City Hall has recently approved an ambitious project to set up a chain of children's cafes across the capital over the next two years. The emphasis will be on healthy eating at modest prices and on placing cafes in parks and museum reserves. To many parents, this sounds almost too good to be true, since it is precisely a lack of facilities that often makes days out in the city so challenging. "I would love there to be more kids' cafes in Moscow," says Lena Calmes, a Moscow mother of three. "Places with some outside space are perfect so the kids can run around while you sit and enjoy your coffee or beer." While we wait for this utopian plan to materialise, here are some recommendations from Moscow residents for child-friendly dining. Topping many people's lists is "Ogo-gorod," whose two cafes in the "family centre" near Tulskaya Metro have been setting the standard for some years now. The imaginative interiors of "Kafeshka" on the first floor and "Home of the Orange Cow" on the second are specially designed to appeal to children, with bright primary colors, giant tables and chairs, and a soft play area. Add to this a healthy menu with fresh juices and homemade pizzas, and you have a dream solution to what can be the nightmare process of dining out with small children.
Barbara Claessens, who has two young daughters and has lived in Moscow for four years, commented: "The food is great and there are craft tables and face painting. The only problem is, it all adds up, and it can get a bit pricey." The menu includes basic snacks and blinis for under a hundred rubles, but a "Raspberry Dream" fruit cocktail (fresh raspberry, pineapple, and orange juice) will set you back 180 rubles, and there are extra charges for most of the activities.
Weekend brunches at Hard Rock Cafe on the Old Arbat near Smo lenskaya Metro were, at one point, a magnet for expat parents. "When we first arrived, it was a bit of a godsend," says Claessens. "Recently, though, they've started doing the brunch less regularly and the clowns have gone off a bit." The Hard Rock offers a bouncy castle, big screen cartoons, "cherry merry clowns," face painting, and balloons, but this can cost up to 360 rubles, not including the overpriced, poor quality food.
Starlite Diner has re-opened in the scenic Aquarium Gardens, close to Mayakovskaya Metro. The food is better, although still not cheap, and kids can get an English-language children's menu and pencils for colouring. This branch's advantage is the relatively safe outdoor area to run around in. Yolanda Borden, another Moscow parent, comments that the main trouble with taking kids anywhere other than Macdonalds is getting them to sit still and wait for their food. "At Starlite Diner," she says, "I find the atmosphere more relaxed, and I don't have to worry about them as much as I do in other restaurants." Also close to Maya kovskaya Metro is B2, which brands itself "the biggest musical club in Europe" and throws weekend children's parties from October 1, organised by veteran kids' animator Marina Geogievna. She boasts "degrees in painting, acting, psychology, and teaching, books on developing creativity in children, and nineteen years' experience working with children."
The Rosinter Restaurant group, owners of Il Patio, American Bar and Grill, and TGI Fridays, among others, offer the usual highchair/coloring me nu/crayons/fancy finger food/balloon combo in many of their outlets. The Bar and Grill near Taganskaya Metro also has a children's theater, ball pond, and afternoon clown. The real plus for mum and dad might be that these restaurants are licensed and, unlike some of the competition, are able to serve something stronger than beer. For a good kids' menu side by side with a full wine and cocktail list, frazzled parents could head to Apshu on pedestrianised Klimentovsky Pereulok near Tretyakovskaya Metro. They have children's entertainment on Saturday afternoons for 150 rubles, a summer terrace, and funky décor.
The list of places cashing in on the well-to-do parents' market goes on. Most of the major hotels offer some kind of kids' entertainment to accompany weekend brunches - at a price. Cafe Landrin, near Novoslobodskaya Metro, even offers a Saturday "Aca demy of Sweets" for 450 rubles, where young bakers can learn to cook pies and cakes. Theme restaurants are also popular. But cheap, nutritious food is still relatively hard to come by, especially near the city's parks and forests. Whether the proposed new initiative will fill this gap remains to be seen. In the meantime, visitors to Moscow's green spaces mainly have to rely on shashlik and blini stalls or kiosks selling hotdogs and jacket potatoes. "We've developed quite a ‘Kar toshka' habit", says Claessens, referring to the ubiquitous chain of potato kiosks. "If you want the ultimate al fresco experience, a do-it-yourself picnic might be the best bet: Uzbek flat bread, cottage cheese, local cucumbers, and wild strawberries. The new cafes will have to work hard to beat that."