IN the words of Huey Lewis, isn't it sometimes 'hip to be square'? But with a daughter fast approaching her thirteenth birthday, perhaps it's time to alter my own thinking on what's hip and what isn't?

'...and then Jazz asked where we were going for my birthday meal and I said Panama Hatty's and she said wow, that's really cool, but be careful because they do that cheesy thing where they bring a cake and everyone sings 'Happy Birthday' and I said, well it's not my actual birthday, and I don't think my mum would do that - I mean it would just be so embarrassing...'

I stared hard at the menu, muttering something about us all making our choices as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, looking at the size of the menu, there was no way her nine-year-old brother was going to make a decision in less than an hour.

My husband, P, and I had that rising 'parent panic' - where we knew that if we didn't do something quickly, the ambience would be ruined.

Except ruining the ambience at Panama Hatty's would be pretty difficult, considering how much thought the owners have given to making it so impressive in the first place.

But before we could say 'Please don't worry about puddings now' one of the charming waiters had brought a children's menu, restoring equilibrium all round.

'The decor reminds me of colonial Singapore with a dash of Central America,' ventured P.

'That sounds like a cocktail,' I said, looking around at the wooden shutters, wood floors, candles, objets d'art and dimmed, atmospheric lighting. (The only things missing were the whirring ceiling fans).

'Cocktails?' said the nine-year-old, 'I'd love a pink berryade.'

I had to admit, the non-alcoholic cocktails did look very tempting and so along with our 'birthday girl', I chose a pineapple surprise which came with a dusting of blue sugar and a chunk of pineapple on the rim. Refreshing, but rather pricey at £2.95 each, I thought.

But we all needed the sustenance to read the menu - a long and involved journey to exotic holiday destinations with pure white sandy beaches, such as Mexico, Indonesia, Thailand and the Caribbean. (By now we'd all forgotten we were in an unassuming 1930's building in Spurstow.)

Call it feminine intuition (or careful research) but I had a feeling that the portions were going to be generous, so I suggested a few starters to share, rather than one apiece.

The sticky shrimps (£5.75) - deep-fried, crumb-coated and with an apricot and sweet chilli pepper glaze were popular with us all, as were the potato skins (£4.75), served with barbecue sauce, tomato salsa and soured cream.

And I was very happy with the guacamole and tortilla chips (£1.75) - mainly because no-one else in the family is partial to avocado.

What is interesting about Panama Hattys is that this is a restaurant that genuinely appeals to young and old alike. Many's a time, P and I have been for a meal with the children and grimaced through microwaved, mass-produced starters and nondescript mains in order to make sure the younger members of the family are happy.

But here it was smiles all round - or smiles and a hot sweaty grimace when it came to P's main course. Caribbean jerk pork (£11.95) came with the warning that it was 'hot'. Grilled, boneless, pork chops were barbecued in a spicy marinade, with caramelised apple and pineapple, roasted peppers and red onions. It came with traditional West Indian coconut rice.

P had to concentrate as he ate, the spices playing havoc with his body temperature. But seeing their dad perspire as if he was in a Far Eastern heatwave kept the children entertained as they sampled beef fajitas (£12.75) and ribrack with fries (£5.95) - the latter from the kid's menu.

I joined in with duck fajitas (£13.95), admiring the spectacle of the sizzling skillets as the waitresses brought mine and my daughter's dishes at head height, weaving through the packed restaurant.

We 'rolled our own', so to speak, wrapping flour tortillas with grated cheese, sour cream and lettuce, or plum sauce, shredded cucumber and spring onion in my case.

I know the metal skillets keep the food hot, but I find the smell of the food then sticks to your clothes with the stubbornness of tobacco.

But it tasted good and in both cases we had to leave part of the meal sizzling away - the portions were so generous.

The nine-year-old had no such problems. 'That was great,' he said, licking his fingers and pointing at his unused cutlery. 'And I didn't use a knife and fork for any of it.'

Well, what more could a boy ask? This was obviously the restaurant of his dreams.

By now I was starting to feel nervous. Should I find that helpful waiter and cancel the birthday greeting?

Would our daughter forgive me when the staff all gathered round with cake and candles and loud voices?

Fortunately, there was pudding to get through first. Ben and Jerry's ice cream is cool, apparently, in both senses of the word, although at £3.90 for two scoops it isn't cheap.

Caramel chew chew and phish food (chocolate ice cream with marshmallow, caramel swirls and fish-shaped chocolatey chunks) were the flavours chosen and they were certainly well received. Meanwhile, P and I made do with a cafetière of coffee.

And then, just when we were about to ask for the bill, I saw my daughter's expression change from one of relaxed happiness to mild horror. I had my back to the waitress as she brought the cake, but I might just as well have had a mirror.

But later, looking at the photograph I was brave enough to take, I was relieved to see her smiling face, captured for posterity.

'What did you think, then,' I asked, as we filed out to the car park. 'Was it as cheesy as you thought?'

'Oh yes,' she said, smiling. 'But pretty cool too.' Her brother added his opinion: 'And we need to come back for my birthday...'

Location: Panama Hatty's restaurant and bar, Whitchurch Road, Spurstow, Tarporley.

Tel: 01829 260068. Open Monday to Friday from 5pm and Saturday and Sunday from noon.

Price: Not difficult to spend £20 a head, excluding drinks.

Best thing: The knack of appealing to both adults and children simultaneously.

Worst thing: The hot food, sizzling skillets and sultry atmosphere can make it feel like you're in a a tropical climate.

Would suit: Families on a fairly generous budget.