What?: It’s the PU hellscape from your nightmares, the paralysing workout you didn’t sign up for and probably the fastest way to contract threadworm… iiiiiiit’s SOFT PLAY! Everyone hates soft play. It’s smelly, ugly, loud, weirdly uncomfortable considering it’s made out of foam, and the coffee always tastes like shit. It’s basically an attack on every one of your senses, with some judgy mums, snotty toddlers and obnoxious 10 year olds thrown in. Annoyingly, it’s all your kids ever really want to do. BUT IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE LIKE THIS.
For the most part though, it is. Which is why I generally deprive my children of the pleasure. I’ve had precisely five positive soft-play experiences in my parenting career: two at two separate outposts of the same private family club, one at a totally different family club (all free trials – I’m not that fancy), one at a play cafe in Windsor and one at a play cafe in Stamford. Basically what I’m saying is, I’ve never quite managed to find a public soft-play centre in London that doesn’t make me want to kill myself… until now.
Alright so Rainbow is in Cockfosters, which is almost not-London and an absolute bastard to get to, but I will take it because it’s actually rather lovely. Lovely because it’s aesthetically a million times more pleasing than every other generic soft-play centre we’ve been to. Lovely because the cafe is actually good and can stretch to a decent cup of coffee. Lovely because it has windows – big ones – so you don’t feel like you’re being held hostage in some kind of weird technicolour torture chamber. And, crucially, lovely because it’s CLEAN. Like, really clean.
I mean to be honest if it wasn’t really clean I’d massively judge them. They only opened in September, which means they’ve only ever existed during a pandemic, so clean is frankly the least they can manage. That said, we all know how low the bar is when it comes to soft-play hygiene, so kudos to Rainbow – not only for creating a play environment that we walked out of with our socks unblackened by filth, but for its insistence on masks and hand gel, for placing perspex screens between every table and for bringing out the heavy-duty fog sanitiser towards the end of our session. This stuff shouldn’t come as a nice surprise right now but in a world where so few places seem to give a shit it did, and it remains one of the most visibly COVID-secure venues we’ve visited.
Size-wise it’s not the most challenging soft-play structure in the world, so if you’re the owner of older or particularly daring children this might not be the one for you. Roma had mastered the bigger kids’ zone and was whizzing down the three-storey-high helter-skelter within minutes, but to be honest the difficulty of soft play isn’t something that’s ever really bothered me (in fact the less taxing the better since Roma insists on dragging me behind her and my fitness level is akin to that of an elderly tortoise). If you are looking for soft play that’s particularly suited to babies then Rainbow is a good bet since it boasts both a baby sensory zone and a dedicated toddler area, in addition to the pretty little-person-friendly main structure. Just make sure you head there on a term-time weekday and everything will be fine.
When and where?: Find Rainbow on Bramley Road, N14 6AB. Cockfosters tube is a 12-minute walk. Normal opening hours are 9am-6pm daily. Check the site for session times and to book.
Facilities: Baby change, step-free access, decent cafe.
Best bits: Clean, attractive soft play with a brilliant cafe attached. Nice staff. Good COVID-proofing. Strong Christmas decoration game.
Worst bits: There’s only one baby-change table and I had to wait outside it with an increasingly angry Roma for about five minutes while a member of staff (presumably) did a poo.
Would we come back? Absolutely.
Roro chills out next to the swirly thing at Rainbow Soft Play & Cafe, Cockfosters.