Review: Visiting Santa at the Rainforest Cafe and a trip to the Lego store make for a magical Christmas day out in London
Jonathan Perugia/Gaia Visual Ltd
Where to see Santa has become a new ‘thing’ with parents seeking out ever more exotic locations to visit the man who makes Christmas magical.
In the lead up to December 25 you can ride on a train with the big man in the red suit, feed his reindeer at the zoo or even have breakfast with him.
He also stops off at a slightly warmer outpost – The Rainforest Café in the heart of London’s West End – where he checks in with young diners and asks what is on their wish lists.
We dropped into the enchanting grotto at the weekend as part of a day of Christmas-themed fun in Leicester Square and it has to be said, it was the highlight of a very busy (and rather exhausting) day in the Capital.
Occupying a prime spot on the corner of Leicester Square is the Lego Store, which opened a year ago and regularly sees crowds queuing into the square just to get through the doors. The wait is worth it because once inside you can check out Lego versions of some of London’s famous landmarks as well as browsing some of the latest sets. For us it was the perfect chance to seek out ideas for Christmas gifts for our girls – we just need a return trip to pick them up without their little eyes seeing what we are doing!
In the gardens at the centre of Leicester Square a Belgian Spiegeltent has been erected and there is a varied programme of seasonal shows running from now right through Christmas.
We were lucky enough to catch Monski Mouse’s Christmas Baby Dance Hall Disco, designed for children aged up to five it was superb for our baby. She was mesmerised by the flashing lights and the up-beat songs, and Monski’s infectious cheer got the rest of us dancing – even our reluctant nine-year-old who had assured me beforehand that she would not be participating.
Then Christmas market stalls surrounding the pop-up theatre are akin to what you might see at other versions found more locally with lamps, hand-carved Christmas decorations and scarves for sale and the aromas of Gluhwein, crepes and chocolate bombarding your senses with festivity.
However, there are some real gems including an art stall selling oil paintings depicting bleary London scenes and more uplifting beach-scapes. Delve deep because we found some real treasures here that are sure to provoke an excited reaction on Christmas morning.
Food and drink play a big part of the Christmas celebrations so we made sure we kept the tradition alive by stopping off at Planet Hollywood on the edge of Leicester Square for lunch. A roving camera, message board and the movie memorabilia certainly helped keep the children entertained while we tucked into American-themed starters – think loaded potato skins, crackerjack prawns, garlic bread and nachos.
For mains we both chose from the Asian selection and had a lemon chicken and a stir-fry. These were definitely American takes on Chinese-inspired dishes and lacked the full authentic flavour but certainly filled a hole and the entertainment made the experience.
You need to book in advance if you plan to visit Santa at the Rainforest Café because the attraction is proving extremely popular, and it is easy to see why,
A cheerful elf showed us the way to the tastefully decorated grotto. Santa was sat in his homely living room and welcomed us by name, much to the surprise of our eldest.
It has to be said, at nearly 10 she is slightly dubious but the experience was so authentic it may have just convinced her that Santa and Rudolph will be landing on our roof on Christmas Eve. Meanwhile, the baby was captivated by it all and grinned happily as her photo was taken with Santa, a perfect momento of her first ever meet with Father Christmas.
As part of the meet Santa package, children get a two-course meal in the themed restaurant where you dine amongst life-sized African elephants, giant tree frogs, parrots and other jungle animals.
The menu is surprisingly good, with a plethora of cocktails, smoothies and juice concoctions available, including a sugar free frozen slush for children.
The super berry juice mixed cranberries with raspberrys, blackberry, blueberry and strawberry and was refreshing whilst promising to give my immune system a much-needed boost as we head into winter.
My salmon main course was served with olives, tomatoes, green beans, red pepper, courgette and new potatoes and the chef had clearly put a lot into the presentation, showing a far greater attention to detail than you would expect from a busy family-focused restaurant.
A little tip,as you make your way back head to Regent Street station and take in the striking angel light displays and Hamley’s shop window for a little extra dose of Christmas.
• For more information on what’s happening in Leicester Square see here