What?: Transformed at the beginning of this year from its previous incarnation as a rather grim-looking soft-play-and-a-cuppa situation known as Jelly Tots, Apple Tree has blossomed into one of London’s most parent-friendly play cafes thanks to its stylishly revamped interior, delicious coffee and cakes, and embarrassment of ever-changing amusements for under-fives.
Owner Emily Ajasa has really tapped in to what adults are looking for in a tot-friendly cafe – i.e. not garishly hued plastic crap – and we loved her resourceful upcycling of the cafe’s existing primary-coloured climbing frame to create a woodland-themed wonderland complete with squashy toadstools. This soft-play area might be the one that toddlers make a beeline for on arrival but play across the whole of the bright and airy cafe space is encouraged, with a reading area and a role-play corner with a rotating activity (on our visit we were playing doctors and nurses) on the other side of the tables.
Coffee is roasted just around the corner by small-batch Brixton-based brewer Volcano Coffee Works, and the food menu is packed with delicious snacks and lunchy bits for visitors big and small. Choose from ‘tapas’ finger food, sourdough sandwiches and classic comfort food, as well as a large range of baby-weaning foods, healthy toddler snacks and a variety of somewhat less healthy but stupidly tasty homemade cakes.
Apple Tree might not be as hip as some of the competition – in particular Tufnell Park-based Bear & Wolf, the benchmark by which I measure all play cafes and whose combination of minimalist decor and unusually good food manages to continually attract childless laptop workers, despite having an enormous playroom appendage – but hip is not the objective. Apple Tree is unashamedly a children’s cafe (it says it in big letters above the door) and it’s a great one; it just happens to be a really lovely hangout for their adults too.
Where?: Apple Tree is located at 27-29 Norwood Road and is a three-minute walk from Herne Hill station.
Best Bits: Succeeds in being a haven for both toddlers and their carers, which really is no mean feat.
Worst Bits: A bit off the beaten track. Unless you live in Herne Hill, in which case go ahead and feel smug.
Facilities: Buggy park, step-free access, baby changing, highchairs.
Price: £5 per play for 1-5s.
Would We Come Back?: Yes.
Bab hangs out by the activity table at Apple Tree Children’s Cafe, Herne Hill.