Given the busy weeks in Hong Kong, Sundays should be about leisure and relaxation. That can be difficult when you have children. The city's hilly terrain and high humidity can be a challenge with children in tow, and finding a place big enough to park strollers and unleash the little ones can prove difficult.
Hushed, elegant dining rooms and delicate china are another worry guaranteed to turn most parents' hair grey. That said, we are a city of foodies and restaurants with limited menus of hot dogs and pizza don't quite cut the mustard for parents with educated palates.
Wendy Finster, a mother of two, stumbled on a natural solution when she moved with her family to Hong Kong last year. While staying at the Harbour Grand in Fortress Hill, she was introduced to the glories of a Hong Kong institution - the buffet.
While many Hong Kong parents are happy enough to take their children to noisy dim sum restaurants with child-friendly dumpling and noodle choices, those wanting wider, international menu options will be heading for the city's warren of buffets. Even restaurants that are the weekday preserve of the gourmet or the merchant banker are opening their tables to tots on the weekend.
Finster says: 'The hotel did a wonderful job being child-friendly. The hostess was smart and she kept families with children seated together.'
Finster also counted the Harbour Grand Cafe's spacious dining room as an advantage - as would many families with strollers and bulging diaper bags in tow. Plastic cutlery and cups were a welcome addition, ensuring there was no smashed chinaware to cause a din in the dining room. To top it off, her children were given crayons and placemats to colour in.
Hotel general manager Benedict Chow says there has been mounting interest in family-friendly dining at the property despite its orientation as a business hotel. Aside from the buffet option, this month sees the launch of a new weekend barbecue buffet at fine-dining outlet Le 188?Restaurant and Lounge. Aimed at families, the package was created in response to demand from parents.
Chow says safety is a priority, which is why the restaurant provides plastic tableware, and most parents are happy to learn that its high chairs are sanitised regularly.
High chairs can be a major issue for parents, who need to know that there will be enough during a busy lunchtime sitting. At Feast in the East hotel in Taikoo Shing and the W Hotel in Kowloon, little princes and princesses are throned in pod-like, space-age high chairs by Bloom. At the Hotel Icon's The Market, in Tsim Sha Tsui, there are 20 trendy Stokke Tripp Trapp high chairs ready to seat toddlers in style. (Two more advantages: children under six years old eat free of charge and chefs will cater for special requests should the buffet not satisfy a child.)
Designer high chairs are not just a style issue. According to Britta Butler, a co-founder of online community Sassy Mama Hong Kong, supplying plentiful chairs proves to parents that a restaurant has a great family-friendly policy.
The Harbour Grand isn't the only luxury hotel looking to tempt tots. The Conrad's champagne buffets at Brasserie on The Eighth and Nicholini's have been venues for families in need of serious indulgence for years. A welcome pack of a toy duck, colouring books, crayons and a balloon, however, would bring a smile to most children. As parents sup on free-flowing Louis Roederer champagne, children can choose burger sliders and small hotdogs, and popcorn and lollipops from the selection at their own dedicated food counter.
Butler first took her baby out to eat with the grown-ups when she was just five weeks old, and admits that the experience can be daunting. It pays to check ahead on what facilities are available. Being able to park a stroller at the table, having a changing area and additional entertainment for children are all advantages. Hotel buffets have traditionally offered more of these. 'Buffets are typically up and down affairs and a little more hectic in general, so you don't have to worry about noise as much. It's a great place to bring a child,' she says.
There are several she recommends. At the Island Shangri-La's Cafe Too, the dessert counter has a mouthwatering line-up. A well-stocked dessert counter holds good bargaining leverage and can persuade children to eat savoury selections first. 'Parents do have a hard time getting kids to eat and dessert can act as a good reward,' Butler says.
Other outlets are counting sweet successes. At Langham Place in Mong Kok, the waffles, crepes and chocolate fountain on offer at The Place hold a certain 'wow' factor. 'The variety attracts crowds of little people and our guests did tell us our range of desserts is one of the main reasons that they come back,' says executive chef Paul McLoughlin.
Let the restaurant know it's your child's special day and they'll also deliver complimentary cupcakes or super-sized cookies to the table, he adds.
A chocolate fountain is also a feature of The Mistral at the InterContinental Grand Stanford in Tsim Sha Tsui East, although the main attraction for any child of three upwards would likely be the large playroom. Packed with activities, electronic toys and a balloon-twisting clown, the room is manned with assistants to watch over children. Family-friendly Italian favourites are created at a pasta station, an over-supply of high chairs and Disney plate sets, and an oyster bar and prosecco for adults make for a lunch stop that covers all the bases.
Another hit in Kowloon is the InterContinental Hong Kong hotel's Sunday lunch at The Steak House, Butler says. Main courses for children arrive with a fanfare, via steam-engine trays puffing dry ice. 'All the kids get so excited,' Butler says.
Build in a trip on the ferry and a visit to the Science Museum, and families have a full-day excursion, she says.
Additional entertainment such as billowing trains and clowns go down well. At Cafe Deco on The Peak, Sundays are clearly family days. The breezy space is large enough that, despite families and groups of families occupying the dining room, crowding is not an issue. Volume level is comfortable rather than a barrage of screams and cries. At a play area at the far end of the dining room, blocks and puzzles mingle with toy cookers and colouring paper. Magicians, balloon modellers and face painters keep the youngsters amused and are rotated weekly
Ice-cream vouchers, which children (and adults) can hand in at a counter in return for cones, are another cute, interactive touch.
Like Cafe Deco, stand-alone restaurants are now keen to embrace the underage set. 'Everyone is starting to target families,' says Shea Stanley, a founder of the Little Steps website for parents and forthcoming Little Luxe city guides - for children who have already developed a taste for the finer things in life.
More grown-up haunts, such as Dragon-i, known as a celebrity hangout, and SoHo's Lily & Bloom, are welcoming children for brunch. 'Traditionally, these places were not targeting kids, so this shows a real change,' Stanley says.
Clowns and balloons may not be the order of the day at these places, but other attractions impress. Liberty Exchange, a banker's favourite during the week, offers children its own upscale brunch on weekends. Dishes include grilled ham and cheese with aioli and banana bread pudding, alongside a play area with toys and train sets.
Oolaa, on Bridges Street, can scale down adult brunch specials, which feature strawberry pancakes with compote and breakfast burritos, for pint-sized gourmands. The numbers of strollers parked up at each large booth illustrates the restaurant's popularity with parents.
Stanley says food remains a top priority for parents. 'We've seen places where the food is sacrificed for kid-friendliness. Kids' menus do not need to be about mac 'n' cheese and hot dogs,' she says. Often what pleases parents is flexibility. Having staples like avocados, bread or yoghurt available can go a long way to calming a picky eater. 'A lot of times I see parents just asking for a banana,' Stanley says.
For a balance of high-end food and high-quality fun, Zuma scores top marks. Brunch offers the modern Japanese food that built the restaurant's name, with special creations for the kids. 'We are fathers, too, so we had healthy dishes in mind while preparing them ,' says Christian Talpo, the restaurant's manager.
When sushi becomes a chore, a playroom with foam tubes and tents is a welcome distraction. 'The biggest hit was the talking Elmo -the kids loved it so much that it was stolen twice. Now we have massive toys,' Talpo says.
The buffet started running in 2008 and has been such a success that last month the restaurant's sister outlet, Roka, in Pacific Place, began offering a similar option. At both, kids under 10 dine free.
East and Hullett House, where the Stables Grill has a nifty outdoor space for children to play in, say they are developing more kid-conscious amenities. Parents couldn't be happier at the warming welcomes. 'If they are friendly to children and parents I automatically sigh a huge sigh of relief,' says Fiona Johnson, a mother of four children under five. Catering for kids is coming of age.
The brunch bunch
Le 188 Restaurant and Lounge
Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays, 12pm-2:30pm
Tel: 2121 2693 and
Harbour Grand Cafe
Harbour Grand Hong Kong Hotel
23 Oil Street,
Tel: 2121 2689
29 Taikoo Shing Road, Quarry Bay
Tel: 3968 3777
17 Science Museum Road
Tsim Sha Tsui
Tel: 3400 1308
Nicholini's and Brasserie on the Eighth
Conrad Hong Kong Hotel
Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty
Tel: 2521 3838
Langham Place Hotel
555 Shanghai Street, Mong Kok,
Tel: 3552 3200
Saturdays, Sundays, public holidays, 12pm-3pm
Island Shangri-La Hotel
Tel: 2820 8571
Sunday brunch 11:30am-3pm
The InterContinental Grand Stanford
70 Mody Road, Tsim Sha Tsui
Tel: 2731 2870
The Steak House
Sunday brunch 12pm-2:30pm
InterContinental Hong Kong hotel
18 Salisbury Road, Kowloon
Tel: 2313 2323
Level 1 and 2, The Peak Galleria, 118 Peak Road, The Peak, Hong Kong
Tel: 2849 5111
Weekend brunch 11:30am-5:30pm
2 Exchange Square, 8 Connaught Place, Central
Tel: 2810 8400
Lily & Bloom
Bloom weekend brunch 11am-4pm
6/F LKF Tower
33 Wyndham Street, Central
Tel: 2810 6166
Weekend lunch 12pm-5pm
G/F, Bridges Street, CentreStage
Tel: 2803 2083
Sunday brunch 11am-3pm
Levels 5 and 6
15 Queen's Road Central
Tel: 3657 6388
Sunday brunch 12pm-3pm
Shop 002, Level LG1
88 Queensway, Admiralty
Tel: 3960 5988