Stratford chef Paul Foster shares his recipe for success when dining out with kids

As a chef and restaurateur, I think restaurant meals are very important for children, as they learn many key social skills at public tables.

It has always horrified me to see children in any restaurant on tablets and phones with headphones on, totally in their own world and not absorbing the environment around them. How will children learn patience and good table manners if everything is done to appease them?

Salt restaurant dishes. Photo: Mark Williamson. (58765364)

I am a father and fully understand the challenges of taking my children to eat at any establishment. I’m not perfect and I had to learn along the way. I think the key is to initiate the establishment and duration. Of course, young children will be bored if they have to sit down to a fancy tasting menu in the same way that most adults will not appreciate a restaurant designed 100% with children’s needs in mind. I think it’s a key part of their growth and learning; how to make compromises and understand that every experience isn’t just about kids or just about adults.

I take my children (nine and five) to restaurants where I know there is food they will eat and things they can do as well as food I will eat and an environment where it won’t be full of screaming children. It’s the trade off as I would never expect them to enjoy a four hour tasting menu experience like I do. Even if I took them, I couldn’t relax and enjoy them, I would be too worried about how they will behave. None of them are allowed to have a screen to watch when we dine, but while they wait for their food we can chat, color or play games and do things that increase their engagement and interaction human.

At Salt we allow children of all ages, but obviously only allow well behaved children to sit at the table. We don’t offer a children’s menu and that works well for us – we’ve had children as young as seven who were able to enjoy a full eight course tasting menu with their parents.

At the start of Salt, we got a mix of groups where parents let their kids go wild and some even rushed into the kitchen, unbeknownst to the adults. Although we are a very relaxed restaurant, we have zero tolerance for this type of behavior as I consider the experiences of all customers.

When I dine anywhere, one of my biggest pets is kids running around restaurants or treating chairs like a gym in the jungle. Fortunately, now that we have these policies in place, we no longer have these issues, but the first year several guests complained because they could not control their own children.

A guest wrote a long review on TripAdvisor about the long wait times for his Saturday lunch. After investigating the situation via CCTV I realized that there was no problem on our end, the father spent most of the lunch with the children and tried to stop them from climbing on our fixed seats .

Time is relative and from experiences of eating out with young children, I understood his problem. When you’re not relaxed, feeling stressed and anxious, a five-minute wait for your main course can feel like 20.

Often in these cases, it’s the restaurant staff who suffer the most frustration, or the owners like me who have to deal with unfair complaints.

So if your child isn’t a food connoisseur, hire a babysitter, dine out when they’re at school, or wait until they’re old enough to enjoy it. Because at the end of the day, if your kids don’t like it, you won’t like it, the team won’t like serving them, and I certainly won’t like dealing with the consequences.

Salt restaurant dishes.  Photo: Mark Williamson.  (58489470)
Salt restaurant dishes. Photo: Mark Williamson. (58489470)

Spatchcock chicken, corn salsa

Ingredients

• 1 whole chicken

• 200 g pre-cooked corn on the cob

• 1 red onion

• 1 piquillo pepper

• 1 red pepper

• 2 ripe tomatoes

• 1 avocado

• 20g fresh coriander

• 1 lime

• ½ teaspoon of smoked paprika

• Crushed sea salt

Method: Chicken Spatchcock

Take a sharp knife from the end of the bird’s neck and scrape against the triangle to reveal it. Use the tip of the knife to cut each side of the bone. Carefully remove the bone and twist to remove the triangle in one piece. Turn the bird over and cut along each side of the spine. Use the tip of a sharp knife to cut along the thigh bones. Scrape the meat backwards and pull it against itself to separate it from the drumstick. Turn the poultry over and lightly press down on the breastbone with the palm of your hand to flatten it. Insert a metal skewer through the leg under the skin in a diagonal direction and into the chest, taking care when inserting through the sternum. Repeat for the other side.

Method: Salsa

Using a sharp knife, carefully remove the kernels from the cob, cutting them in a downward motion from top to bottom. Place in a large bowl, add the smoked paprika and mix well. Peel and finely chop the red onion and place in a colander. Pass under a hot water tap for 2 minutes then let dry. Once dried, add to corn. Cut the pepper in half and remove the seeds. Cut into thin strips then cut into small dice. Add to mixing bowl. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Carefully remove the core of the tomato and lightly incise the skin on top. Once the water has boiled, gently plunge them for 10 seconds and remove them in ice water. Once cooled, carefully remove the skin from the tomato then cut it into quarters. Remove the seeds, coarsely chop the flesh into 1cm dice and add to the corn. Cut the avocado in half and remove the pit from the center. Remove the skin and cut the avocado into pieces of about 2 cm. Add to corn. Roughly chop the cilantro and add it to the mixture. Zest and squeeze the lime directly into the mixture and mix well gently. Season to taste with salt.