A new land has appeared not so very far away...
Not far away at all if you live in London SW17.
Bertie & Boo's Balham cafe is a landmark destination for the area's children. Providing homemade cakes, healthy salads and a back-to-school vibe, it's the venue for countless NCT get togethers.
The eponymous Bertie & Boo are siblings whose grandparents were vaudeville entertainers and magicians. The current generation run the cafe along with a thriving party business delivering a mix of music, dance and magic. A new venue opened recently, in larger premises a five-minute walk south from the original cafe. We visited Bertie & Boo's Adventure Island shortly after it opened in the site of what was once a pretty dodgy nightclub. The premises are large, boasting a 100-seater cafe, soft play area and 'Baby Island' for the really teeny. Bertie & Boo films play on a loop on two TVs, and speakers play a grown-up friendly soundtrack of Bowie, Cold Play and Blur. Which is just as well because the children's entertainer music starts mainlining into your subconsciousness rather too quickly. As the Bertie & Boo write-up on YouTube attests, 'We guarantee you'll be humming it for hours!'
Bertie & Boo's Adventure Island cafe is nicely themed with a driftwood-and-sand interior. There's 'buried treasure' hidden behind a window, a fish-themed loo and a rowing boat table to mess around in. Chairs are primary coloured, tables are old-style school desks. The food is excellent with lunchboxes for children and plenty of pasta and fruit. The soft play area has a small slide and ball pool and a few rope-type areas to climb and crawl over and will keep pre-schoolers occupied for a good half hour, probably more. During busy times you book for a 50-minute segment, which helps keep the numbers workable. Baby Island is too small - it only has room for four or so children - but its main attraction, a ball blower, has been a huge hit with my 21-month old. A the back of the soft play area is a 'secret room' for parties, drama lessons and story telling sessions.
The Adventure Island is constantly busy, servicing a real need for indoor play space in an area packed with families. It could do with a larger buggy park and the soft play area won't keep children aged five or older occupied for long. But for pre-schoolers with energy and parents who are getting a little too used to rainy days Adventure Island is a winner. I'd love to see some magazines and newspapers for parents, and think the pricing structure could be changed. It costs £3.90 to use the soft play area for 50 minutes, quite steep if your child is only in there for 10 minutes. Perhaps a free entry when you buy a full-priced meal? Or two children for the price of one during busy times?
So, the scores on the doors
What the children like: Somewhere fun-themed where they can let off a bit of steam and enjoy a cupcake. What I like: Decent coffee, somewhere indoors to help me through the monsoons.
What the children aren't sure about: Older children (aged five plus) quickly run the gauntlet of the soft play area.
What I'm not sure about: The ratio of cafe chairs to soft play space. The buggy area could be a bit larger too.
The verdict: Fab local asset offering great food and lots of fun - there are drama lessons a-plenty. SCORES ON THE DOORS? 7.5/10. Clever Bertie & Boo.