Mother Nature has been very good to us Sydney folk of late - the weather has been nothing short of spectacular, so what better way to spend a lazy Sunday than wandering around a lovely garden and having an equally lovely lunch in said garden - oh if only I had packed a picnic basket........
Our little family ventured far from the Hills on sunny Sunday, down some very very busy roads to a place called The Shire. Now The Shire is a place we don't visit very often, basically because we know of no one to visit down there. I know this is a lame excuse as The Shire is such a lovely spot and there is also an amazing food scene burgeoning in the area which I need to check out.
So as I've been promising to find some child friendly cafes out of my comfort zone for a wee while, I decided that we should head south and satisfy two passions of mine - food and gardening - I made my three boys come along for the ride (cause I'm in charge) - the little bulls could road test the playgrounds and Mr Munch - well I needed him to pay the bill....
I had made a booking for Sunday lunch at the Tea House in the National Camellia Gardens in Caringbah. From looking at their website I thought I had stumbled on a little gem - they had a dedicated childrens menu - they even offered a "little cherubs" high tea and they were the winner of the 2012 best cafe in The Shire. Add to this lovely gardens and playgrounds to explore - it was sounding lovely, oh so lovely. But sadly it wasn't.
When we arrived we could see that the cafe as well as its take-away section was busy - super busy. After a wee wait we were seated at our "reserved" table near the kitchen door. We spent some time - actually a very long time, people watching and taking in the very dated interior of the Japanese style tea house when at last a wee waitress asked if we had been served. We replied no to which she apologised and then disappeared through the kitchen door. She came back after another wee while and told us that our table had been reserved and that we would have to move to another table. I replied that yes the table was reserved - for us. She went to check with the manager to make sure that we should have been sitting at our table. By this stage my little bulls were beginning to get restless and so were we. The very friendly manager then came and said that we were actually on the right table and gave us some crayons for the boys to use and finally some menus.
So the Tea House ticks most of the child friendly boxes in that they have crayons and colouring sheets, they have a decent childrens menu, they serve their milkshakes in take away coffee cups, they have high chairs, there is a loo with a baby change table - but golly gosh the service is bad - friendly bad if you know what I mean.
We then waited at least 50 minutes for our meals and even with colouring in for kids, they can't wait so long for food - especially when they know there are playgrounds waiting outside. Also they could spy the ice cream menu from the table that we were sitting at, so of course they believed that's all they needed for lunch.
When our meals finally arrived at first glance I was impressed - nice big serves and for the prices that we were paying it was reasonable value - sadly my BLT was stone cold and cold bacon is no where as good as the hot stuff right? Mr Munch had no complaints about his burger and the boys with minds on the playground only ate the chips ($5.50) that came with their home made mini pie and sausage roll ($2 each).
So all in all the Tea House was sadly disappointing - maybe it would have been better if we went for coffee and cake midweek? I'm not sure. The potential is there most definitely for it to be a wonderful little gem. Maybe give it a miss on weekends or just pack a lovely picnic for the lovely Camellia Gardens.
Now the Camellia Gardens were definitely worth the trek to The Shire. They are beautifully maintained and there are two playgrounds - one right near the Tea House and the second one is on the other side of the gardens near the car park (which has a fab old wooden train) and it is a delightful wander between the two. The little bulls pretended they were big brave explorers wandering through a jungle as the gardens were so lush and dense. It's also the perfect place to play hide and seek.
There were pathways and steps leading off in all directions, cute little bridges crossing this way and that over a duck pond and lovely areas to picnic or have a BBQ. There were lots of little nooks and crannies where those without offspring were hidden away - maybe contemplating whether to spring or not?
So Mother Nature fulfilled our expectations on this sunny Sunday but alas the Tea House didn't. Should I come back one day to The Shire I will definitely be bringing the picnic basket x
Cnr President AVe & Kareen Rd Caringbah NSW
02 9540 2018