Macaroni Penguin: a land of Scandi-chic play and T4 tea

What?: One of the best play cafes we’ve ever seen, and we must have been to at least 700 by now. Macaroni Penguin is a stylish, Scandinavian dream of a play cafe; the play cafe I’ve waited six long years of childrearing for. It’s so good I almost don’t mind that it’s practically in Woolwich, close to London City Airport (the worst London airport – oweing entirely to its absurdly short runway, which makes landing there a veritable vomfest) and pretty much nothing else. I don’t even really mind that it only serves bubble tea and waffles, since the bubble tea is so good – and besides, I rely far more on the quality of the play element at these places than the cafe bit (though I’ve spoken to a fair few people who would much prefer a more traditional menu).

Let’s focus on the play bit for now though, because Macaroni Penguin does it far, far better than most, with a custom-designed, multi-level wooden play strucure and sensory pod that are as alluring to grown-ups as they are to small children thanks to their arresting good looks and eco credentials; as well as a toy market stall, a small reading corner and lots more, with not a whiff of gaudy plastic naffness in sight. There’s no age limit on the play frame, which features tunnels, a slide and a sort of wooden observatory situation, though older children will likely tire of it pretty quickly (my nearly six year old loves it but I don’t think it’ll be long before she’s too lanky not to get stuck and we have to call the fire brigade to winch her out). The absolutely best bit about this place though is how ridiculously lovely the owner, Daisy, is. Seriously, what a woman. And the worst bit? Unless you’re Docklands-based it’s a hell of long way to go for a such a short session.

Where?: Find Macaroni Penguin at 28 Royal Crest Avenue, E16 2TE – a five-minute walk from Pontoon Dock DLR station.

When?: Weekdays: 10.30-11.30am, 12-1pm, 1.30-2.30pm and 3-4pm. Saturdays 10.30-11.30am and 12-1pm. The cafe also hosts a variety of children’s classes in its studio throughout the week and is available for party hire on Sundays.

Cost?: One-hour soft-play sessions cost £7.50 for one child, £12 for two and £18 for three. Class prices vary.

Where to next?: Thames Barrier Park (doesn’t have the best playground in the world but it’s an interesting place nonetheless), Emirates Cable Car, NOW Gallery, Charlton Park (for Squeaky Clean play sculpture), Under1Roof.

Roma explores the play structure at Macaroni Penguin, Royal Docks.