We headed to The Red Dragon Centre today as part of Cardiff Mummy Says’ role as official blogger ambassador for the Cardiff Bay entertainment and dining complex.
Hollywood Bowl are holding one of their regular family fun weekends today and tomorrow, which sees glow-in-the-dark bowling, face-painting, treasure hunts and mascots to meet.
First, though, we headed to Bella Italia, one of several restaurants in the centre, for lunch.
As every parent knows, dining out with small children can be stressful, so I was pleased that Neola, the manager at the restaurant today and herself a mum of six, gave my children a pot of bread sticks each and an activity sheet and colouring pencil as soon as we were settled in our seats. This gave us time to order without worrying about the kids getting overly hungry, and when they did start to get a little restless, they enjoyed having a walk around the restaurant and looking at all the different areas, designed to look like an authentic Italian kitchen.
The children’s menu offered brilliant value – £5.45 for the Piccolo Menu of three courses with a suggested age range of two to six, or £7.95 for ages seven to 11. They also sell Ella’s Kitchen meals at £1 each for the youngest diners.
There was a great choice on each of the children’s menus, including pasta, pizza, a burger, fish and chips, chicken – or the chance to order anything off the main menu in a child-size portion. The deal also includes a refillable drink of squash – and my children loved that this was served in a miniature milk bottle with a curly straw they got to keep at the end of the meal. Children can also opt for milk or mocktails, with the first one included in the meal price, and additional drinks for 50p each.
Little Miss E, my six-year-old daughter, and Little Man O, my 4.5-year-old son, both opted for tomato soup to start. Toddler Boy I, just turned two, had the cheesy garlic bread (one of his favourites). There was also the choice of carrot and cucumber sticks and dip.
For their main courses, Miss E opted for spaghetti bolognaise (her favourite), while both my boys had Easy Peasy Macaroni Cheesy. The portion sizes were really generous, although my three quickly wolfed down their pasta.
I’m vegetarian so was pleased to see a good number of options on the menu, eventually deciding on Funghi Arrosoto for starter – baked mushrooms in a creamy mascarpone, garlic and spinach sauce. I was pleased that Cardiff Daddy ordered Arancinci Peperonata for his starter, balls of risotto, red pepper and mozzarella, because that was the other dish I’d been considering and it meant I could try some of his too. Both were delicious.
As much as I adore pizza and pasta, it can trigger my IBS, so I played it safe and ordered Barbabietola Rossa (a huge and tasty salad of roast butternut squash, beetroot, ricotta and lentils, with tomatoes, artichoke, olives, red onion and lettuce) and a side of chips. It’s also possible to swap any pasta for spiralised vegetable ‘spaghetti’, which is such a great idea for people who are healthy eating or have a gluten allergy.
Cardiff Daddy had Spezzatino di Manzo, a slow-cooked beef stew served with gnocchi dumplings, which he really enjoyed, telling me the flavour was rich and the beef juicy, tender and chunky.
Price wise, pasta and pizza are around the £9-£11 mark, with the meat-based dishes from £14. It’s worth signing up in advance on their website for email offers.
My children loved the dessert menu – a build-your-own gelato, where you choose your favourite flavour ice cream, sauce and toppings, or various child-friendly sized puddings, including chocolate brownies, a cookie dough cake or ice cream sundaes. Little Man and Toddler had ice cream, while Miss E had mini doughnuts served with a chocolate dipping sauce.
With our bellies lovely and full, we headed across to Hollywood Bowl for a game in one of their VIP lanes. You can bowl in your own shoes these days, provided your footwear is non-slip, not open-toed, stilettos, sling backs or platforms. I traded my heeled boots for a pair of bowling shoes, and even though Little Man was wearing trainers, he opted for the bowling shoes too.
The glow-in-the-dark bowling added an extra fun touch, and as part of the family weekend, a face painter came to our lane and painted bowling balls on my children’s cheeks and we got to meet the giant mouse mascot.
As anyone who has bowled before will know, the balls can be heavy and don’t always go where you want them to. So it’s good to see that young (and inexperienced) bowlers can opt for a little bit of assistance during the game in the form of bumpers that prevent the balls rolling into the gulley at the side. There’s also a metal ramp they can push their balls down, if they don’t have the strength to bowl the balls themselves.
Toddler absolutely loved pushing the balls down the ramp. He didn’t seem to care whether he hit one pin or ten, walking away and doing a little dance before the ball had even hit the pins every time. It made me laugh so much. His philosophy of not seeming to mind if he hit one pin or 10 worked – because he scored three strikes and one spare among his bowls and came first.
I am embarrassed to admit that I was not on bowling form today… and came last! Yep, all three of my children and Cardiff Daddy beat me. Perhaps next time I should opt for the bumpers and the ramp and see if that ups my game.
Still, it’s a good lesson for my children that it’s the taking part that counts, because even though I lost, it was brilliant fun.
Hollywood Bowl’s Family Fun Weekend continues tomorrow from 12-4pm at bowling centres nationwide. One game of bowling for a family of four costs from £18.29. Parking is free at The Red Dragon Centre subject to a minimum spend and ticket validation.
For more ideas of local family-friendly days out, visit the Cardiff section of Cardiff Mummy Says – and if you’re planning on a trip to the Red Dragon Centre,, here’s a guide to other attractions in the Cardiff Bay area. You can also follow me on the Cardiff Mummy Says Facebook page, on the Cardiff Mummy Says Instagram feed or tweet me on @cardiffmummy or