There’s something incredibly British about eccentricity. When we hear about John Mytton, who arrived at a dinner party riding his pet bear, or John Churchill, the WW2 officer who fought the Germans with his bow and arrow and a broadsword, we smile and indulge. This would cause consternation in other countries, but not here, quirkiness is a celebrated character trait. And so too with our restaurants. We love a bonkers concept, a quirky take or a funny idea, and we want to eat there. Here are some of London’s best.
Park Chinois plays homage to the opulence and decadence of 1930’s Shanghai, with exquisite regional Chinese food and exceptional live entertainment in the heart of London’s Mayfair. Behind the intriguing red doors is an interior inspired by the aesthetics of Chinoiserie; the French love affair for the mystique of the Orient.
Where: Park Chinois, 17 Berkeley Street, Mayfair, W1J 8EA
Nearest station: Green Park (0.2 miles)
The most surprising thing about The Rainforest Cafe is that the food really isn’t too bad at all, and not just ‘for a themed restaurant’, but actually. That said, this is first-and-foremost a restaurant that took an idea and didn’t stop running with it. The Rainforest Cafe, just off Piccadilly Circus, brings the Amazon to London (not the book people). Decorated to look like an actual jungle, with animatronic animals, waterfalls, even thunder and lightning storms, this is a crazy restaurant and you’ve got to love them for it.
Where: 20 Shaftesbury Avenue, Piccadilly Circus, London, W1D 7EU, United Kingdom
Nearest station: Piccadilly Circus (0.1 miles)
If you haven’t said “Tonight Matthew” in conversation at some point, are you even a millennial? The venue’s quirky name in fact refers to Napoleon’s first wife, apparently one of history’s most famous lovers, Joséphine de Beauharnais and this can totally be felt inside as the atmosphere emanates a certain, je n’sais pas… Sexiness? With the interior covered in more glitter than a unicorn’s vomitorium, you definitely can’t file Tonight Josepine under ‘vanilla’ or ‘everyday’. Sips and serves include Love Potion No. 10, a strawberry-infused Bombay Sapphire gin topped off nicely with prosecco, and ‘soup of the day’ is always champers at pink venue Tonight Josephine!
Where: 39A Hoxton Square, N1 6NN
There’s nothing in life that can’t be made 100% cooler if you wrap it in leopard print. FACT. Leopard print Crocs? Tick. Radio 2? Yes. A paragliding Nigel Farage in a thong? Grudgingly, yes, but please get that image out of my head. Wrap it all in leopard print and you’ve got yourself a super-cool spotty beast. Which is what The Rubens At The Palace has gone and done. The hotel, overlooking Buckingham Palace, recently unveiled their bar and everything, yes everything, is leopard print. With panelled walls and deep buttoned sofas the big cat themed bar is sophistication writ-large. And spotty.
Where: 9 Buckingham Palace Road, Westminster, SW1W 0PS
Looking for quirky? How does a floating glasshouse that’s also a restaurant suit you? This aquatic fine dining restaurant cruises up and down the Thames while you enjoy the iconic sights of the city. It can’t fail to float your boat, if you get our drift. Sea what we did there? [enough!]
Where: Bateaux London, Embankment Pier, Victoria Embankment WC2M 6NU
Nearest station: Embankment (0.1 miles)
You don’t barge into London Shell Co, they barge you. Literally. It’s on a barge. The seafood restaurant serves up an excellent selection of fish dishes, all while floating down Regent’s Canal. As well as the full circle effect of eating fish while ‘at sea’, it’s one of the only restaurants where the view constantly changes.
Where: Sheldon Square, Little Venice, W2 6EP
Despite all of the recent Netflix docs and movies centring around Ted Bundy, don’t let the title of this venue put you off what’s found inside. Cereal Killer Cafe is Camden’s eccentric venue whose menu include all sorts of random food items such as Applejack with Jack Daniels, Apple Fanta and ground cinnamon, or the Drunk Leprechaun made from marshmallow flavoured vodka and topped with Lucky Charms. Essentially, it’s cereal mixed with everyday food and we kinda love it!
Where: 139 Brick Lane, Shoreditch, E1 6SB
Let’s face it, the table hasn’t really changed for the best part of 2,000 years. Everything else has. They didn’t even have iPhones 2,000 years ago (think Nokia). But Inamo is here to change all that, with their unique smart tables. The tables display the menu, allows you to order, you can even customise it with your own photos or stream a video of the kitchen. It’s the future (maybe).
Where: 134-136 Wardour Street, Soho, W1F 8ZP
Soho may be buzzing, but so can you at Bob Bob Ricard. Boasting a luxurious eccentricity, the Soho restaurant gets quirky points for the cuisine (British/Russian fusion) and its decor (the famous ‘press for Champagne’ button is genius). And if you like this one, there’s another opening in Leadenhall Building; Bob Bob Cité.
Where: 1 Upper James Street, Soho, W1F 9DF
Not one for the Instagrammers, Dans Le Noir, quite literally ‘in the black’ is a dining experience with a difference, you can’t see. Anything. Run by a blind front-of-house team, your evening is a feast for the senses. As they say, when you lose one sense another takes its place, and you’d better hope that’s taste because the grub is pretty decent too. The Clerkenwell restaurant also challenges us to rethink how we perceive the world, and others, by taking away our ability to see texture and taste in food take precedence over presentation. Perhaps it would be a good place for a first date?
Where: 30-31 Clerkenwell Green, Clerkenwell, EC1R 0DU
Sketch (sorry, ‘sketch’, the upper-case S seems to have gotten lost on the trip from outer space) is the spiritual home of quirky. No guide to quirky restaurants is complete without the place. The famous loos are shaped like alien eggs, the artwork is bizarre, the interior designer was clearly on a mind-bender but without a budget and came back with something so off-the wall that restaurateur Mourad Mazouz and Masterchef’s Pierre Gagnaire couldn’t say no. Everything about sketch is weird, wonderful and, dare I say it, perfect.
Where: 9 Conduit Street, Mayfair, W1S 2XG
Nearest station: Oxford Circus (0.3 miles)
As well as serving up seriously good grilled cheese sandwiches, the famed Cheese Bar in Camden offers mozzarella sticks or a charcuterie board alongside two types of fondue. Plus, add in truffled roast potatoes, pigs in blankets and buttered deep -fried sprouts for dipping, finish with an apple strudel and go home, full and happy.
Where: Camden Stables Market, Camden, NW1 8AH
If the name doesn’t give it away, the rambunctious nature of the venue will. Jazz Cafe in Camden serves as a live music venue ideal for those who love a Friday night gig and beer sloshed over the head! Exciting up-coming events can be found here, including The Sounds of Otis Redding and Fela Kuti’s Birthday.
Where: 5 Parkway, Camden Town, NW1 7PG
Sarastro is such a quirky venue filled with paraphernalia, clashing colours and reclaimed props. The Drury Lane restaurant is like entering a carnival and definitely takes shape as more of an immersive experience than a dining one. The menu is Turkish and offers something different to your usual foodie findings.
Where: 126 Drury Lane, WC2B 5SU
If Vauxhall is part of your morning commute then trade your morning Starbucks run with a stop off at The Black Cab Coffee Co. The fully converted black cab complete with raised roof (which a bearded barista may or may not be standing out of) serves artisan coffee and cocktails outside Vauxhall station as well as being available for private hire for weddings, parties, festivals and corporate events.
Where: Riverside Walk, Battersea, SW8 5AU
Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s sex parties were, famously, called his Bunga Bunga parties. And an Italian Prime Minister’s sex parties is a great basis for a whole restaurant. Or so thought the guys who already owned the Margaret Thatcher themed club Maggie’s in Chelsea. And they couldn’t have been more spot on. Bunga Bunga is an eclectic Italian themed restaurant. You can drink aperol straight out of a Roman’s penis, or you can enjoy one of the longest pizzas in London (not a euphemism, they’re massive), and then it all turns into a nightclub for a seriously cheesy, seriously fun evening. Quirky? Double tick!
Where: 37 Battersea Bridge Road, Battersea, London, SW11 3BA, United Kingdom
Nearest station: Imperial Wharf (0.6 miles)
If you’re feeling naughty and want to impress a date with your knowledge of underground London, this one’s for you. The gaudy neon sign outside reads ‘sex shop’ and you’re greeted at the door by a mannequin in a PVC gimp suit, casually lounging by a very adult toy cupboard. Descend into a heady Mexican underworld, a subterranean lair of tequila barrels, tacos and a weird deconstructed piano thing hanging off the wall. This is a place to see and be seen. Better make sure you’re there then (gimp suit optional). www.labodeganegra.com
Where: 9 Old Compton Street, Soho, W1D 5JF
Once you’ve eaten beneath gyrating acrobats, you’ll never want to eat any other way. West End restaurant Circus is a cabaret restaurant like none other. As you eat your meal (the menu is pan-Asian and high enough quality to prove this isn’t simply a gimmicky restaurant), enjoy aerialists, contortionists, handbalancers, fire-breathers, hula-hoopers and other acts do their thing. Quirky and enjoyable.
Where: 27-29 Endell Street, Westminster, London, WC2H 9BA, United Kingdom
Nearest station: Covent Garden (0.1 miles)
Swingers might sound somewhat like a promiscuous group meet up session…but where crazy golf is concerned Swingers applies to a venue that will have you wanting to return time, and time again (plus, you’ll probably have to in order to get a hole-in-one at this diabolically, yet amazing course). Grab yourself a sex on the green (it’s a shot, don’t worry), and boozily make your way around the 18-holes. The fact that Swingers is based on a 1920’s golf-course does make me wonder what on earth was going on the 1920’s, as these holes are unlike most you’ve seen before. From bright Ferris wheels to something that can perhaps best be described as a lighthouse, there are two courses to get jiggy with; The Lighthouse, as previously mentioned, and The Windmill.
Where: 8 Brown’s Buildings, Aldgate, EC3A 8AL
Caboose is all-American street food meets de-railed train carriage. Except said carriage is in Shoreditch, right next to The Old Truman Brewery. Serving big-hitting Southern classics you’ll find slow smoked chicken wings, 10 hour fruit wood smoked pulled pork belly and 12 hour hickory wood smoked beef brisket with sweet maple slaw and BBQ pit beans. The cabin is available for private hire for 11 guests although they did manage to squeeze 13 in once. Probably more comfortable before the meal than after… It’s BYOB and they even put an ice chest out for you to fill.
Where: The Old Truman Brewery, Ely’s Yard, Brick Lane, Shoreditch, E1 6QL
They don’t currently have a working kitchen, so very much a bar. But Covent Garden’s Blame Gloria remains eminently quirky. An underground nightclub and bar with psychedelic walls, and a back story regarding a (fictional) landlady, reputed to have the best legs in Soho.
Where: 20 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9HP
There are actually a surprising number of venues in converted public loos but our pick is The Attendant in Fitzrovia. The wrought iron entrance leads way to the old Victorian public convenience which, after a good scrub, was converted into The Attendant as we know it in 2013. Original porcelain urinals function as tables along one wall with great coffee (from their own roastery) and seasonal food served daily. Bright lighting and white tiles stop the space from feeling dingy and if its history puts you off slightly, don’t let it – it sat unused for over 50 years before the current owners got their clean hands on it.
Where: 27a Foley Street, Fitzrovia, W1W 6DY