Trying to find a restaurant when you’re already late for your dinner reservation can be pretty annoying, but what if it is disguised on purpose? There are plenty of bars, cafes and restaurants in London that are either dual purpose businesses (think bike shops with cafes, supper clubs in clothes shops) or in converted buildings. The good part about the initial hunt for the entrance? Hiding inside is often great food, expertly mixed cocktails and maybe a celeb or two, so here is our pick of 8 of the best venues that aren’t what they first seem.
A 30 seat restaurant in the back of a clothes shop
Unfussy, seasonal food that wouldn’t be out of place in a more conventional restaurant, Back in 5 Minutes is an intimate little dining room with 3 sharing tables at the back of a clothes shop on Brick Lane (obviously). From the people at Disappearing Dining Club, Back in 5 Minutes is the closest they have got to a permanent site – more commonly doing creative supper clubs and one-off events.
A converted hotel luggage room
The original luggage room of a former hotel makes for a glamorous and cosy bar with lots of cream leather and studded leather walls and an extensive cocktail menu. Inspired by the Roaring Twenties, The Luggage Room is the bar equivalent of a vintage Louis Vuitton trunk – glamorous with stories to tell. The slightly quirky menu includes punches, nogs, cobblers and coolers all served in period glassware but they will make any drink to suit your preferences.
Is it a hairdressers, is it a cafe?
What do you get when you cross a hairdressers with a Korean cafe? Hurwundeki. Whilst hair and sushi may not be the most obvious partnership, the common thread is aesthetics, technique and flair. There is both a cafe and restaurant on site – the cafe serves artisan coffee and pastries from Workshop Coffee, Clerkenwell and the artisan Yeast Bakery with the restaurant serving modern Korean food with homemade soy and chilli sauces. Need a quick trim? The hipster hairdressers is hugely popular with over 100 clients a day all demanding the skill of Vidal Sassoon trained Ki Chul-lee.
Coffee, cake, beer and bikes
One of the more obvious combinations that springs to mind for this list of hybrid venues, park up your fixie and sip your flat white at this bike-shop-come-cafe on Old Street. A concept much imitated in East London, Look Mum, No Hands is one of the original and the best – they’re as serious about cycling as they are about coffee with five full time mechanics and breakfast, lunch, dinner and Square Mile Coffee.
Mexican food disguised as a Soho sex shop
Whilst a sex shop/peep show doesn’t look out of place in Soho, what does seem out of place is the Mexican restaurant that lurks inside it. Rustic walls and exposed barrels are gently illuminated by candlelight. Expect good-old tacos, tostaditas, ceviche and plenty of tequila at this celeb favourite. Previous visitors include Kate Moss, Nick Grimshaw and Kylie. If it’s good enough for them…
A bar within a bar
You think you’re in the right place when you enter award winning bar Callooh Callay, but see that wardrobe in the corner? It leads to JubJub, a bar within a bar. Callooh Callay is meant to pretty secret but it’s awards and critical acclaim are now both a blessing and a curse. Head to JubJub to be really in the know.
Cocktails and live music in a Church crypt
Probably the closest you will have been to drinking in a church is a sip of red wine during mass so something about a bar underneath a church feels slightly unholy but Gremio de Soho is a very cool venue in the crypts of St. Matthews Church, Brixton. Spanish tapas and large sharing platters make it somewhere to get a group together and spend an evening with jugs of sangria. Thursday nights boast live Latin music with resident DJ setting the tone for Friday and Saturday nights.
Airy cafe in converted school bike shed
Rochelle Canteen offers wonderful homemade seasonal food in a converted bike shed on the playground of Rochelle School, with outdoor seating in the warmer months for long and lazy lunches. The food has been praised for it’s simplicity and refinement with the menu changing daily – at the time of writing it included cured salmon, radish and dill and braised oxtail with barley and horseradish. A bit of a hidden gem, entry is via a buzzer on the wall of the Victorian school.
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