What?: “People don’t agree on much these days, but there are some things we can all find common ground on, like coffee and alcohol. That’s why a cafe that also serves drinks is an ideal solution.” Forest Hill-based cafe/bar The Moustache’s ethos on what constitutes the perfect hangout pretty much exactly matches my own, so I knew I’d like it here. But one thing its website fails to mention is that it’s not just the ideal solution for hungry, alcoholic caffeine addicts, it’s the ideal solution for hungry, alcoholic caffeine addicts with children, thanks to its well-stocked basement play area complete with ubiquitous IKEA Duktig play kitchen, piles of books, and crates stuffed with toys.
So what actually is this place? A cafe-bar? A play cafe? A play bar? Well yes, sort of all of those… but not just those. It’s also a shop that sells alcohol, preserves, vintage furniture and homewares; a gallery that displays and sells the owner’s amazing ‘imaginary portraits’; and an all-round Aladdin’s cave of delights notable for its eclectic furniture, chilled vibes and amusing idiosyncrasies. Think dark corners piled with antique treasures, mad retro table lamps and yellowing vintage blueprints pasted on the walls. Think chairs on the ceiling, mismatched chairs, comfortingly creaky floorboards and perfectly worn-in sofas.
It’s like visiting some mad, boozy French professor’s house, except he’s not actually French, he’s Polish, and he’s nice to your children and makes a mean chai latte (seriously – the nicest chai I’ve ever had in my life). I can’t say much about the food because we didn’t have any, but other people’s lunches looked dreamy and the menu is filled with things like Greek-style toasties with feta-stuffed apricots, and all-day Mexican breakfast with black beans and avocado. Plus there’s a kids’ menu that lists pasta and pesto – something that cafes very rarely offer and yet it’s basically the only thing my kids will eat.
Having said all that, one of the oddest things about this place is that they really don’t shout about any of this stuff. The front door – a wooden affair of the sort you’d be much more likely to find on a house than a cafe – was closed when we arrived, and I’d have assumed the cafe was shut were there not someone sitting in the window. There’s no mention of the play area anywhere, and I had to check with the server/owner that there actually was one before we descended into the cafe’s bowels to find it.
I guess the owners just don’t want a million kids turning up, which is fair enough. I rarely want a million kids turning up either. In fact it was just Roma and I in the kids’ corner on the day we visited and at one point we were the only ones on the entire floor, and it was absolute heaven. When you think about it, the clue is in the name, because – quirks and silliness aside – The Moustache has a distinctly grown-up feel. It just happens to cater to grown ups who have children. And frankly, that’s the best kind of cafe I can think of.
When and where?: Find The Moustache at 99 Kirkdale, SE26 4BL – around a 12-minute walk from both Forest Hill and Sydenham Overground stations. The Moustache is currently open Friday 9am-10pm, Saturday 10am-10pm and Sunday 10am-6pm (closed Monday-Thursday).
Facilities: I actually have no idea toilet-wise because we didn’t go, but there are lots of steps down to the play area and there’s no buggy park.
Best bits: I love that this is very much a place for adults but incidentally has a play area and kids’ menu. It also has that inexplicable ‘nice vibe’. Honestly, I could have stayed here all day.
Worst bits: We had to leave the buggy outside, which I wasn’t thrilled about given that we were nine miles from home and I would have had to fork out about £50 for a taxi if it had got nicked.
Would we come back? I definitely want to come back for lunch and a glass of wine with a mum friend, if we’re ever allowed to do that again.
Roro investigates the play area at The Moustache, Forest Hill.