The definition of full of beans is lively, energetic and in high spirits - and there could not be a more appropriate name for this Highbury haunt. On first inspection, Full of Beans looks like a typical upmarket café, filled with mother’s nattering and drinking frothy cappuccinos, but walk into the back room and you’ll find yourself in the ultimate kids' playground. There’s a gigantic soft play area and ball pit, a fancy dress rail to spark little imaginations and a wall crammed full of toys and books. I met up with owner and local mum of two, Iliana, to find out the inspiration behind creating a place where two worlds collide so beautifully…
Quirky light fittings, natural wood décor on the walls, a Farrow & Ball-esque colour scheme - Full of Beans is an interior stylist’s work of art. It’s quiet and relaxing, with just a couple of tables occupied with parents drinking loose-leaf teas, snacking on homemade cakes and talking after-school pick-up plans. I take a seat, and the child in me immediately picks up a pink chalk and starts doodling on the chalkboard table in front of me. Iliana rushes through the door a few minutes later, and the mother in her immediately starts apologising and talking about how today has been one mad rush, before grabbing a cloth and quickly giving our table another once over.
We chat for a few minutes while breaking to sip our perfectly flat whites and I find out she has two young kids of her own, and that’s why she set out to build the sort of place you’d want to visit with your children, a place with real community spirit where people can get to know each other and make friends. The community spirit is certainly alive and I excuse myself to nip to the ladies as a conversation ignites with the table next to us about local parking permits.
Walking through the café into the back room is an attack of the senses. I’ve stumbled head-first into a shark-dinosaur wrestling match and have to clamber through a onesie-clad zoo, trying to avoid stepping on one of the hundred toy cars on the floor below me, before walking through a princess hairdressers to reach the back of the room. The parents are deep in chat, unfazed by the goings on and I immediately see why Iliana has a strict no tutting rule. The kids are free to be kids and they’re having the time of their lives! I smile to myself as I see a little boy pulling at his dad’s sleeve, desperate to demonstrate how he can make fart noises under his armpit.
Full of beans is a place where absolutely everything has been thought of. The toilets come complete with booster steps for brave littl’uns and expensive sage and lemongrass hand cream for mum, there’s a buggy station at the front and the menu has been carefully crafted- to please both parties. For parents, the emphasis is on good tea and coffee and there’s an all day brunch menu with a salad or a soup of the day – dependent on season. Mini versions of most items are available for little tummies, from cheesy toasties to pasta dishes. For the youngest of diners, there are finger food boards and Ella’s Kitchen pouches.
The café hosts weekly activities, from tiny time music for babies and toddlers, to music, dance and storytelling. You can even celebrate your child’s birthday here – and I can see why it’s such a popular option. ILlia provides food, balloons and parents are even free to bring a bottle of plonk, they simply charge a small corkage fee.
I look out the window to see a lollipop man marking the road as safe and watch a stampede of kids in their school uniforms rush across toward Full of Beans. I take it as my cue to leave, but I will certainly be back!
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