In the West Auckland suburb of Henderson, two chefs previously known for their high-flying, fine-dining credentials have a cause worth striving for: to create a restaurant that reconciles fine-dining standards with a family-friendly focus where kids are welcomed and encouraged to have a great time. That’s the challenge accepted by Mike Shatura and Ben Bayly at The Grounds at Whoa! Studios. Billed as a modern family eatery, Mike says, “We want to celebrate healthy family eating, where people can sit down to eat a family meal together at the table.”

Ticking all the boxes for parents and children alike, the elegant, relaxed eatery shares a site with a working film studio hosting live puppet and animation shows and the funkiest playpark the kids could hope for.

Mike admits that it hasn’t been easy to break out of the expectation that a kids’ menu should be just pizza and chicken nuggets. “We battle with it every day, and we’ve had to adjust to what people want without sacrificing our standards and beliefs. So yes, we do have a kids’ menu with hot dogs and fries, but the sausages are from an artisan butcher and we use good bread. We give kids teriyaki chicken made with organic chicken. It’s healthy food in that we know what’s on the plate and where it has come from.”

Insisting on the best ingredients has seen them forge strong relationships with producers, many of them local. “Then we use the techniques from fine dining to create dishes that have a high nutritional value and that appeal to kids.”

The current menu comes after much experimenting. “We tried lots of kids’ menus until we got it right. In the early days we tried to do hot dogs with a chicken sausage, a mousse-like sausage like a boudin blanc, but they didn’t like it. And, we can’t get rid of the fries, though we’d love to.”

Mike builds on what he sees with his own daughter. Now recovering after treatment for cancer, she spent a lot of time in hospital. “The food there was hideous, over-processed and overcooked,” Mike says. “All her good eating habits went out the door. Now she enjoys new stuff and she’s trying more.”

Tempting allcomers is the home-made ice cream – selling more than 1600 ice creams over two days in summer – made with organic milk and quality ingredients such as Valrhona chocolate. “I say, ‘Just come and look in the cabinet. Let me show you where the magic is’ – it’s like a chilled Wonka’s.” thegrounds.co.nz

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