Saturday 28 August 2010

Brewers Fayre family-friendly dining

What a difference a couple of years can make ! In 2008, I wrote this rather nasty review about The Windmill restaurant in Hastings on the Trusted Places website and gave them one measly star :

"We chose this place as a cheap and cheerful family-oriented restaurant, with the main selling point being the play area incorporated in the restaurant complex. However, we were shocked to see that you had to pay entry to the play area and there were no re-entries (so we couldn't send the kids off to play in between courses as we'd planned). Also, while we were there, the girl supposedly supervising and taking the money was off on an extended cigarette break so the older kids were going loopy and making it dangerous for the younger kids. On top of that, the food wasn't great. We only had a main course and dessert but it took literally hours to arrive and when it finally did, it didn't all come at the same time so one member of the group sat watching us all eat and finally got his when we'd all finished. The fantastic-looking knickerbocker glories on the menu (in glass sundae dishes, with squirty cream etc) metamorphosed into tiny things straight out of the freezer in a plastic cone. Not impressed. Oh, and the kids' toys with their meal (colouring pencils) never materialised either ! We did complain on their comments cards so they may (hopefully) have made some improvements but we haven't been back to check (and probably won't !!!) ".

Well, I've just been back on there to change my review because we went back on Thursday night and it couldn't have been any more different to our original experience. We arrived as a big group (5 adults, 2 kids and a baby) with no reservation because our original booking in another restaurant had fallen through (they supposedly had no record of it but that's another story !). I sent my dad off to find out if they had any room before getting all the kids out of the car again - the woman apparently said "hmmm, not sure, give me a minute and I'll see what I can do". When we strolled back up from the car park minutes later, a big table in the bay window with a highchair had magically materialised ! Result !

We sat the kids down and headed off to the bar to get drinks. A round of drinks (admittedly mainly soft drinks, but they're not necessarily cheaper in most pubs) for all of us came to under a tenner which seemed very reasonable to me. We then started looking through the menu to see what everyone fancied eating. We couldn't see any mention of children's options or find a separate kids' menu so we set about ordering for everyone, kids and adults alike, from the standard menu. Had I done my homework (as I would have done if we'd been planning on eating here in the first place !), I'd have known that they do offer a comprehensive kids' menu too - in fact, their website makes a huge point of Brewers Fayre being family-friendly : "To truly enjoy a meal out, you have to keep the kids happy ! Happy is easy, but happy and healthy is more challenging ! Our kids menu is jam packed with all their favourites, many of which contribute to their five a day. To help you enjoy your visit, we've got activities and competitions to keep them busy once they've cleaned their plates ! A lot of our restaurants also have fantastic play zones to keep them occupied whilst you enjoy your meal. We've also got activities for you to download to keep them busy at home !"

Even without taking advantage of the kids' meals, we managed to find things that everyone, even the picky eaters, fancied. They have all the great British classics on the menu like steak and ale pie, roast dinners, fish and chips, sausage and mash, cottage pie, plus a choice of burgers and some spicier options like chicken tikka masala or vegetable tandoori masala for the more adventurous palates. It's sometimes difficult to find something that the kids will eat but this time, our only problem was narrowing it down to a final choice ! You have to go and order at the counter which is actually a really good thing if you've got kids - you can take your time deciding what to order without a waiter breathing down your neck trying to speed things up !

Between us, we covered most of the options on the menu and, when it all arrived about ten minutes later, everything was really well cooked, looked and smelt delicious and was piping hot. Judging by the silence that descended on the table as everyone tucked in, it tasted as good as it looked too ! The girls, despite having huge grown-up portions, still asked to taste the breaded mushrooms, garlic ciabatta and onion rings that were in the middle of the table as a shared extra and declared everything to be yummy. The adults agreed with them.

In the name of reviewing (and if you believe that, you'll believe anything !), we decided we had to try out the desserts too and sampled the strawberry sundaes (or "oh no, it's not Sunday, it must be strawberry Thursdays today", as Juliette declared !), the chocolate indulgence and the caramel apple crumble. Having been disappointed by the desserts in the past, we warned the girls that they wouldn't be very big ... so they were even more excited and happy when enormous strawberry sundaes with extra long spoons were brought to the table !

We were all so stuffed out that we decided against going to explore the play area this time because we were worried the girls would be sick if they jumped about too much ! I did have a sneaky look though and was pleased to see that it's now free and kids can come and go as they please.

I don't know if they took some of our comments into account after our original disastrous meal or whether it has been completely overhauled since changing to a Brewers Fayre restaurant but we all came out really pleased to have given it another chance. We had a fabulous relaxed evening out, everybody liked the food and we were also pleasantly surprised by the bill - despite not using the kids menu, it all came to just over £70 for the seven of us (admittedly we didn't order anything for Pierre, he just munched bits off our plates !). I would highly recommend it as a family-friendly, chilled-out dining experience and now give it top marks which is great turnaround from a couple of years ago.

star rating : 5/5

We ate at The Windmill Brewers Fayre/Premier Inn at 1 John Macadam Way, St Leonard's On Sea, Hastings, East Sussex TN37 7DB (Tel. 08701 977128 email

(I should point out that the face painting wasn't done at The Windmill - that was from Priory Meadow shopping centre that afternoon !)

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