Last Sunday we wanted to be tourists for the day and have a little explore of the CBD of Sydney as I had read about some cool, free family events that were on. Of course we needed to eat as well but when it comes to child friendly cafes, the CBD of Sydney is a bit of a wasteland. This is fair enough because the city is basically a Monday - Friday kind of place where people in smart suits go around looking very important. There are a plethora of cafes in the CBD but most of them shut up shop on the weekend.
To try and find somewhere to eat, I did a search on my "go to" eating out website - Urbanspoon, searching for child friendly cafes in the CBD, in an attempt to find somewhere to go to for breakfast. Loads of places popped up but let me tell you, just cause a cafe has high chairs does not make that cafe child friendly! So I moved my search to the city fringe and that is how I found the Gardener's Lodge Cafe.
This delightful cafe is situated in Victoria Park at Broadway. Now this part of Sydney is where I called home for quite a few years of my misspent youth. It is up near Sydney Uni and right opposite the Broadway Shopping Centre. I had walked past the building that houses the cafe so many times all those years ago, always thinking it would be the perfect spot for a cafe as the historic building is fabulous and Victoria Park is equally as fabulous. The building was originally the home of the groundskeeper for Sydney Uni. It has also been a public loo! But since last year it has been a cafe and lets hope it stays that way for ever more.
Gardener's Lodge Cafe is a feel good cafe, by that I mean when you dine there you are supporting a good cause. Sydney City Council owns the building, however it is run by an Aboriginal Elder called Aunty Beryl Van-Oploo. Aunty Beryl is one amazing woman. It seems she had a belief similar to me in that she knew that the Lodge would be a great space for a cafe - she wanted to convert the building into her "little house on the prairie." Aunty Beryl wished to open a bush tucker cafe, so that Sydneysiders could experience the beautiful flavours of bush tucker in beautiful food and she wanted a place for her Aboriginal and Torres Strait students from her Hospitality School that she also runs, to have a place where they could get paid work experience. So lucky for all of us that her wish came true!
Now back to this cafe being child friendly - like really child friendly - they have a dedicated children's menu ($7.50 -$9.50); they have high chairs; they served cheap babycinos ($1) which come with a marshmallow and are served at the perfect temperature; there is loads of room for prams; the staff are kid friendly and Victoria Park is huge so your kids can run free chasing birds, each other and uni students who will be sauntering by. There is also a delightful little lake that the cafe looks over so you can take some bread to feed the ducks, just keep an eye on the kiddliwinks as if they wander off, you may discover them about to duck in for a swim!
On to my favourite things - food and coffee. The Bacon and Egg Roll for $11.95 was huge and oozing with all sorts of goodness - egg, bacon, caramelised onion and rocket. The healthier Poached Eggs and Tomato on Sourdough ($12.50) were perfectly cooked. We only ordered the little bulls toast as we have found of late that when a park is near a cafe all they do is run around like feral animals and not eat, so we try not to waste our money on food that they waste. The sourdough toast with condiments for $5.95 was very crunchy, as was the toast served with the poached eggs and therefore it was a bit difficult to eat.
Lunch time is when most of the bush food flavours are used. Items such as a Kangaroo and Stout Pie with garlic mash and bush tomato sauce or a Seafood Linguine served with a rainforest lime confit are only a couple examples of the delicious sounding menu.
The coffee we had was brilliant. One of my favourite coffee houses in Sydney is Tobys Estate and they have a cool cafe just across the road from Gardener's Lodge Cafe. We skipped across the road after brekkie to do a comparison between the two and I have to say that Gardener's Lodge is definitely the winner in the caffeine stakes!
At the Lodge you can choose to sit outside in the sunshine or inside the lovely old building. Outside is probably best when dining with children as there is loads of room for them to run around, however on a really hot day or if it is raining, the light and bright interior space would be absolutely fine. Some fantastic Aboriginal art adorns the walls and you can watch the Barista in action (just remember to pack some paper and crayons to occupy the kids).
Just a little tip - the cafe is open from 8.00am - 4.00pm each day. If you are going for breakfast maybe leave your arrival until about 8.30am. We arrived bang on 8am and they were still setting the cafe up outside, so we were left twiddling our thumbs for a bit before we were served.
The best parking for the Gardener's Lodge is across the road in the Broadway Shopping Centre. They offer 3 hours of free parking every day, so make the most of the 3 hours and check out all of Victoria Park after you have dined. Besides all of the green space, there are beautiful gardens and the walk up to Sydney Uni is quite breathtaking. There is also a playground that I'm sure your kids would have spied. It is a fair distance from the cafe so I suggest you go up there after you have eaten as well, as it would be very hard to keep an eye on your kids from that distance. There is a great pool in Victoria Park which would be perfect to utilise on a hot day. They have both the 50m pool as well as a splash pool for toddlers - the pool costs $14.00 for a family to enter.
So there you have it. A child friendly Sydney "city" cafe in a perfect park setting, supporting a good cause - does it get any better? I'm sure there are other child friendly cafes in and around the Sydney CBD, so if you are in the know, please let me know!
Victoria Park, Cnr City Rd & Broadway
Camperdown NSW 2050
Open Daily - 8.00am - 4.00pm