What?: I’ll never understand small children’s obsession with pretending to be an adult. I remember age five dragging my baby doll everywhere we went in a sodding Zapf Creations baby carrier because she “couldn’t be left on her own”. Then when I was about seven I went through a phase of deriving great joy from pretending to iron things. By the time I was 10 I was basically convinced I was an adult and had bought an actual handbag and taken to hanging out in the local cheapo cosmetics shop with my friend, trying on all the lipsticks because we were so grown up. Twenty three years down the line and I rarely wear lipstick anymore for fear of the baby smearing it all over my chin, I hate ironing so much I’ve made it Adam’s job and he can’t be arsed either so we just sort of deal with being creased, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t toyed with the idea of leaving the baby sleeping while I pop down the corner shop for a packet of Minstrels.
Alas, ours kids inexplicably continue to cheerfully glorify adulthood like it’s something to look forward to. They just want to be like us I guess, the poor, clueless bastards. So we find ourselves in an under-5s activity landscape filled with “pretending to be an adult”-themed play centres, whether it’s a post sorting office, an army base or an entire town complete with shops and doctor’s surgeries where little ones can come as close to being a grownup as they’re ever going to get (of course until they turn 18, move out and the horrible reality finally dawns on them after a week of surviving on pesto pasta because they spent all their disposable income on cheeky Vimtos). Picnic, like Walthamstow’s Role2Play, falls into the latter category, with its role-play area consisting of a small but perfectly formed play street featuring police and fire stations (the police station actually has a cell that a former inmate appears to have dug their way out of, Shawshank Redemption style), a grocer’s, a theatre, a beauty salon, an NHS walk-in centre and a cafe.
Picnic itself is open-plan, with a large cafe in the centre where you can grab a table and either dump your stuff or settle down while older kids head to the play village. The menu is filled with brunchy dishes, substantial lunches and paninis, as well as cakes and pastries. Most things are available in child-sized portions, including the soup of the day, which Babu asked for and then predictably rejected it on arrival because it had “green bits in”, despite my reassurances that green bits are quite common in leek and potato soup, given the presence of leeks.
While obviously the play village, though dinky, is the main attraction here, two additional play areas more suited to babies surround the cafe space. These include a small carpeted area covered with play mats and baby toys; and a larger space featuring a construction zone complete with toy diggers and foam bricks, as well as a play picnic zone with a barbecue, picnic blankets and play food. I found this second area particularly useful since it was suitable for both Babu and Roro, while the baby-focused area would be a great place to plonk a pre-crawler while you eat since it’s right next to some of the tables. That said, we spent 75% of our visit all hanging out in the play village, which was fine for the most part although, since play sessions are timed and everyone in the session enters together, there was a bit of a mad rush to get into the village at the beginning and I had to hold Roro to make sure she didn’t get trampled by the bigger kids.
Overall we absolutely loved this. Two hours is the perfect session length – enough to make it worth it and to wear them out, and with a very definite sense of it being time to go once the session’s finished since everyone else is leaving too. The village has been really beautifully constructed – with a highlight being the theatre where kids can dress up in a variety of very cool costumes and act out their own plays in front of their families – and with such amazing attention to detail. I tend to find the actual cafe bit of a lot of play cafes and role-play centres to be a bit of an afterthought, but here that absolutely wasn’t the case. The cafe was genuinely so cool and stylish, with lots of plywood and nice little touches like rainbow-coloured hanging light fixtures and old-school alphabet magnets on the menu board, plus lots of (albeit fake) greenery. Good coffee too.
Where and When?: Picnic can be found at Unit 3, The Rotunda, Clarence Street, Kingston and is a minute’s walk from Kingston mainline station. It’s open every day with pre-bookable two-hour sessions starting at 9am, 11.15am, 1.30pm and 2.45pm.
Best Bits: Just one of those really rare places that knows how to satisfy both kids’ and adults’ needs and make parenting feel like – well, a picnic.
Worst Bits: Obviously not the cafe’s fault but the worst bit of our visit was probably the lingering presence of a much older girl who’d installed herself in the play theatre and insisted on “directing” the younger children in her own performances for the entire two hours. Babu had a proper moan about it later, although to be fair the girl was insanely good at improv.
Facilities: step-free access, buggy parking, baby-changing, cafe with kids’ menu.
Cost: pre-walkers £4, babies free (literally no idea how you make the distinction between a baby and a pre-walker but I paid £4 for my pre-walking baby anyway), one free adult per child, additional adults £3.
Would We Come Back?: Absolutely. Kingston is a mission and a half for us but I still think it’s totally worth it.
Babu and Roro play in the village shop at Picnic, Kingston.