Every year we go to the Rainforest Cafe as a Christmas or birthday treat for Josh, and we have done ever since he was officially diagnosed with Autism. We always found that when in restaurants he would find it extremely distressing and a constant battle to get him to sit still, However, here there is so much going on and so much to see, he was in his element. He wasn’t stressed, he could eat his meal without endless trips to the toilet. He was content, and he actually smiled here and smiled because he was happy, not because we asked him to – for the birthday photograph to send to the Grandparents.
I hate starting a review with negatives (there are lots of positives!) but let’s get the bad bits out of the way first… Rainforest Cafe has cleverly placed its gift shop at the entrance, so to get to the restaurant (that is downstairs) you have to go through and then queue in the gift shop before being shown downstairs to wait for your table in the bar area. The issue is every parent’s nightmare because, of course, the kids are browsing. But not browsing with their eyes, browsing with their fingers, touching everything and every 5 seconds saying “DAD! Please can I get this?! Please! I have wanted one my whole life!!!” I’m pretty sure Finn has NEVER asked for a slimy burping frog before. I, on the other hand, look on the positives of this, it keeps them entertained while we queue for the table in what would otherwise be a nightmare few minutes of “but I’m hungry, can’t we just sit down and eat” – basically moan, moan bloody moan, and we aren’t buying them anything.
Moments later, we buy the burping frog.
The second bad point is disability access. Yes, there is “access”, but it’s really not the best. We have previously been to Rainforest Cafe with a friend who is in a wheelchair and to get to this you go out of the establishment to the side street where there is an access for deliveries; from here you go through corridors so if you have difficulty walking, this would be awkward, then you reach the basement via the goods lift. Herein lies the problem, you can only gain access to the very bottom floor of Rainforest Cafe, you can’t experience the fun bar area, the face painting, the elephants or gorilla’s – just the fish tank. Although the fish tank is enchanting and you still get the fabulous lightning storm, I find it really upsetting that disabled diners, mainly children, will be missing out on the whole experience all because a disability lift wasn’t installed.
The stairs down also aren’t suitable for buggy’s and it is recommended to leave your pushchair in the designated area upstairs.
NOW THE POSITIVES, YAY!
Book a table here, and you WILL win parent of the year – your kids will do anything you say, all for the promise of returning again next year! It is the ultimate experience where you are thrown from the hustle and bustle of the West End straight into the crazy world of the rainforest. As you enter via the stairs, you walk through the cave that has a waterfall cascading into the frog’s pool. Downstairs you’ll find yourself in a safari setting with the cave dripping into the river while you sit at the bar sipping a Mojito with your rear end looking like a zebra, a tiger or an ostrich.
You’ve got the most divine lady doing face painting (fee payable – you pay at the bar) which passes the time until your table is ready. She’s a real character and very warm and friendly, creating anything your child wants or trying to persuade them to have their face painted as something other than “a dead person with a worm coming out of his eye” (as Finn requested). Once your table is ready, your safari explorer, clad in all the gear will come and greet you, show you to your table and find out if there are any special occasions – because if there are you get a complimentary pudding with a candle and the staff singing you HAPPY BIRTHDAY! It’s a beautiful surprise for your little one or big one, of course.
Once you’ve sat down, now you can sit back for a couple of minutes and see your beaming kids face(s). It literally bought a tear to my eye the first time we came here. They all have those big wide twinkling eyes with a ‘this is the best day ever’ kind of look. The ‘wow this is amazing” dreamy look on their face, and then they’ll flash you the goofiest smile followed by the biggest hug. It’s heartwarming to see them overjoyed with such a spectacle.
Ordering takes some time – the animatronics going off around you, the thunderstorm with its loud clatters, lights dimming and flashing and the sound of the jungle continually chattering away, as well as the onslaught of colour and vibrancy. Honestly, you’re all immersed in the jungle world, and it takes your mind off the ordering process until you realise you’ve been in there an hour and you’re starving.
The kids menu could be considered a bit on the expensive side but when you think of everything going on, you’re paying for the food and the experience so at around £11 for a main and a pudding it’s not the worst in the world. Personally, we always go for the £16.40 option which includes a main, a dessert and a drink including a safari pack which still works out pretty good value for money, lots for the kids to do at the table and even activities for the train journey home.
The food at Rainforest Cafe is extensive. The menu is pretty big, the portions are pretty big – it’s American dining with a twist, you’re in a bloody thunderstorm with an elephant flapping its ears at you! There’s no gourmet dining, there’s no eloquent presentation – it’s decent food that’s a bit on the pricey side, but it’s a dining experience you’ll never forget. Basically, a place when your relatives come to stay with you and have never heard of it before, you’ll take them there, and they’ll be blown away.
I am a massive advocate for Rainforest Cafe, not only for everything it does for us having a family meal but for what it does for Josh. He’s genuinely content, happy and stress-free when he’s here. The staff are incredible with him and the food is his favourite. What’s not to like? Be parent of the year, take your kid here!