Describe your area in three words: Green, calm, community.
Coolest coffee spot: We love Karma Bread on South End Green for a coffee and one of their legendary cheese toasties, or GAIL’s (Haverstock Hill or Hampstead High Street) for hot chocolate on chilly days.
Best family-friendly restaurant: Franco Manca on Haverstock Hill always welcomes us warmly and its reasonable pricing means that I can legitimately order Bab her own full-sized pizza (obviously I’ll finish what she doesn’t want of that as well).
Favourite park or green space: We’re spoilt for choice with the expanse of Hampstead Heath. I particularly like the extension towards Golders Green with its open zoo and leafy trails, though it’s more manageable now Bab is up and walking since the bumpy tracks can be a bit of a nightmare with a buggy. The larger play park on Hampstead Heath (entrance over the train tracks off Agincourt Road) has plenty for kids of all ages but does get really busy at the usual times. There’s also a smaller park between East Heath Road and Willow Road that has swings and a small slide, which is usually all Bab wants.
Best local museum or gallery: Camden Arts Centre off Finchley Road rotates exhibitions regularly and has a lovely cafe with a tranquil garden. The staff there are really tolerant of tiny terrors and each new show upstairs is accompanied by a ‘family box’ with exhibition-specific activities for little ones. Their shop is small but so much less pushy than other gallery shops. They also have regular grown-up workshops, although we’ve never been. Although it’s not a museum, Kenwood House at the northern end of Hampstead Heath is a picturesque, restored country house with plentiful artworks. It’s another place with small play areas to entertain little ones who might want to dress up while you take in the 17th-century architecture and decor.
Coolest kids’ shops: Heath Street’s Maison Auguste is a small store offering a large collection of hand-picked kids’ clothes and toys, many of which are sourced from its owner’s native France. Most of the stock is made by small businesses so there’s a real charm, both in every individual piece and in the shop as a whole. We can’t go past it without popping in and inevitably spending a tenner, but it’s always worth it.
Favourite under-5s class/activity: The National Portrait Gallery hosts holiday Messy Monday sessions for small people and Bab and I can’t get enough. Each visit starts with a short, focused tour of key paintings before we all sit in front of a single piece of art and talk about it at a level that even I, as a scientist, can understand. The facilitator gets the kids to identify colours and objects and talk about what they think the painting means before we head to the play rooms. Of course there’s the ritual singing of the obligatory nursery rhymes, but once you’ve done that you can unleash your tiny disaster into the art room (paint the walls, paint the floors, paint your dad’s face) or the chill-out room (sprawl on a bean bag, read a book). My favourite bit is sitting in a coffee shop afterwards watching everyone stare at your paint-covered family drinking babyccinos and lattes.
What makes your area great? Hampstead is quiet enough to be relaxing but not so quiet that it’s boring. Many of the shops are independents and most places we frequent do remember us, giving it a real village feel. Obviously the Heath is wonderful throughout the year and is the main reason I’m happy without a garden at home.
What’s the best thing about living in London?: The plethora of activities, cultures and attitudes. Both me and my partner are from a fairly societally isolated corner of the world but we couldn’t be happier bringing up Babu in the world’s best city. Not a week passes where we haven’t discovered something new or experienced a different view of the world and that can only have a positive influence on our child’s development.
And the worst?: Aside from the cost? I think the design of much of London ignores the needs of anyone who uses buggies or prams. Fortunately there’s a real drive to retro-fit most tube stations to be wheelchair (and therefore pushchair) accessible, but we do sometimes feel like an inconvenience in our own town.
Follow Adam at @rowyourgoat