What?: Soft play meets ice cream parlour, only less messy than that sounds. Bella Boos is the only soft play I’ve ever been to that’s reminded me of going clubbing, although to be fair I haven’t been clubbing for about 10 years so my memory of what that entailed is probably a bit hazy at this point. Anyway, I’d become aware that this place had popped up in the same spot as Cafe Floral, an equally random soft-play-meets-florist situation that I’d never fancied because the soft play looked pretty generic and definitely not worth traipsing to Hammersmith for. A subterranean PVC candyland though – that was absolutely worth the trip.
I’ll be honest, I spent most of our visit here feeling anxious because, bar me and one other parent, nobody – not even the staff – was wearing a mask, which didn’t exactly fill me with confidence. On the plus side, the soft play seemed pretty clean and managed to pass the ‘sock test’ (i.e. we didn’t walk out of here with filthy ones). But come on, we’re now NINE MONTHS into this virus and honestly I’m baffled by the number of people still merrily wandering around London refusing to wear masks indoors – it’s gross enough in supermarkets, let alone soft-play centres. And I find it even more baffling that venues are welcoming unmasked strangers into their premises. If the government had ordered us all to get ejaculating penises tattooed across our foreheads I might understand the lack of compliance a bit more, but this is literally a rectangle of cotton that might stop a bunch of people dying, you know?
Anyway, lack of masks aside (and it’s a difficult thing to put aside), I’ll admit I thought this place was kind of cool. I liked that it was small enough that even tiny toddlers could pretty much be left to their own devices while their adults sat on the periphery eating sundaes (except mine, obviously, who shouts “HAND” at me until I follow her), and it was pretty quiet when we visited on a cold Monday morning, which was just as well given the mask situation. Decor-wise it’s deeply kitsch and if underground gingerbread grotto vibes aren’t your thing you might want to give this one a miss. The basement setting, revolving floor feature and rainbow colour scheme really up the Flares feels, but you’ve got to hand it to the owners for essentially recreating The Nutcracker’s Land of Sweets using nothing but printed vinyl.
We didn’t try the ice cream because, like I said, it was a cold Monday morning, but I like that that’s an option and it’s one that probably pairs better with soft play than flowers. I actually didn’t order anything because I was so taken aback by the mask situation I totally forgot – plus once we were down in the bowels of the soft play I didn’t particularly fancy dragging Roma back up the stairs to ask for coffee. It would have been great if they’d offered when we’d arrived and maybe said they’d bring it down, or if a member of staff had been on hand downstairs to take orders. As it was I was only asked how I’d like to pay for the session (which I’d booked via Instagram) and told I could leave my buggy upstairs, and that was the extent of my interaction with the staff.
All in all it’s a good little soft play, and one that West London was crying out for following the departure of Brook Green’s The Corner House two years ago and the more recent closure of Childsplay (formerly Cuckoo Hibou) in Parsons Green. I love the sweetie-land concept, the perfectly proportioned play area and the bonus ice cream parlour. I even kind of liked feeling like we were hanging out in some kind of weird toddler nightclub at 11am on a Monday. We had a lovely time, Roma loved it and I’m sure Babu would have been a big fan too. I just felt really gross about the masks.
When and where?: Find Bella Boo’s at 152 Fulham Palace Rd, Hammersmith, London W6 9ER – it’s an eight-minute walk from Hammersmith tube. Normal opening hours are 9am-6pm daily and there are four daily sessions available.
Facilities: Cafe, baby change, step-free buggy parking (no step-free access to soft play).
Best bits: We’re always on the lookout for something a bit different when it comes to play spaces, and this place definitely delivered on that front.
Worst bits: A mandatory mask policy for everyone not sitting at their own table (staff included) would make it feel much safer.
Would we come back? Not until the pandemic has buggered off, although I don’t think any of us are going anywhere until that’s happened now.
Roro sits on a giant Campino at Bella Boos, Hammersmith.