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. Such weirdnesses would cause consternation and possible sectioning in most 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 an off-beat idea, and of course we want to eat there. Here are some of London’s best.
Sketch (sorry, ‘sketch’, the upper-case S seems to have gotten lost between the trip from outer space and the PR department) is the spiritual home of quirky.
It’s a testament to the power of quirkiness that despite having amassed three Michelin Stars the loos are still the main attraction! Littered with bizarreness, the restaurants (for it is three; the super expensive and thrice Michelin Starred Library, and then the still super expensive non Michelin starred Gallery and Parlour) are generally great, though I’ve had hit-and-miss experiences at The Gallery. But then we’re all there for the experience as much as the grub.
Where: 9 Conduit Street, Mayfair, W1S 2XG
Three Michelin Stars and the loos are still the main attraction...
La Bodega Negra
Some of my favourite meals have been in a sex shop, not an insight into a racy personal life but the reality behind La Bodega Negra.
The gaudy neon ‘Peep Show’ sign at the entrance, and the PVC gimp-suited mannequin casually lounging by a very adult toy cupboard, suggest’s it’s Soho-as-usual, but then something unexpected happens. Guests descend into a heady Mexican underworld, a subterranean lair of tequila barrels, tacos with not a sex worker in sight.
The upmarket restaurant is a classic, and the quirky entrance, the deconstructed piano hanging off the wall and curious ambiance makes this a brilliantly strange dining experience.
It’s hard to know what’s stranger, the fact that someone decided that a former Italian Prime Minister’s sex parties were a great theme for an entire restaurant, or the fact they were totally right!
An homage to Silvio Berlusconi, Bunga Bunga is an eclectic Italian themed restaurant. Not only can drink Aperol straight out of a Roman’s penis, you can also enjoy one of the longest pizzas in London. And when dinner’s over it all turns into a nightclub for a considerably cheesy, seriously fun evening.
Where: 37 Battersea Bridge Road, Battersea, SW11 3BA
Act like everything’s normal. Literally, because this bizarre Drury Lane restaurant seats diners in theatre boxes to watch the action unfold.
The restaurant cultivates a real ‘old curiosity shop’ feel, scattered with paraphernalia where clashing colours and reclaimed props combine into a surreal atmosphere.
The Turkish menu casts an Arabian Nights sort of spell and this is perfect for a post theatre weird-out.
Dans Le Noir
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 visually impaired 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. Blindingly good fun.
Not one for the Instagrammers... blindingly good fun
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?
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’.
That said, this is first-and-foremost a restaurant that took an idea and forgot to say ‘when’. The Rainforest Cafe, just off Piccadilly Circus, brings the Amazon to London. 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, W1D 7EU
Richly quirky, in every meaning of the term, Park Chinois is flamboyant and wonderfully decadent, paying homage to the opulence of 1930s Shanghai.
The restaurant serves exquisite regional Chinese food and accompanies it with live entertainment all in the heart of Mayfair.
Behind the intriguing red doors lurks a beguiling interior inspired by the aesthetics of Chinoiserie but with a French twist.
Cereal Killer Cafe
Serial killers are all the rage in the world of Netflix docs and middle class women obsessing over Ted Bundy. So step forward the Shoreditch café trying desperately to appear edgy, Cereal Killer Cafe.
The eccentric café’s menu is basically all breakfast cereals, but not the Weetabix or All Bran you’re used to, but rather all those E-benumbered American sorts that Donald Trump no doubt starts the day off with.
Let’s face it, the humble dining 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
The quirkiness is perhaps the most surprising thing about this Berkeley Square restaurant. The food is excellent, the furnishings are extremely high end, the service is second-to-none (or few, at least), this venue would have had no trouble playing it straight, and yet the Amazonian theme takes things to a next level.
From hostesses in bright green jump suits to the various dining ‘zones’, all dressed to feel like the deepest jungle (if the jungle was in, say, Dolce & Gabanna’s house), the theme not only adds to the enjoyment of Amazónico, but it makes it.
Not only the home of celebrity Instagrammers, but a well-worth visit for anyone looking for fine dining with added wackiness.
The Leopard Bar at The Rubens At The Palace
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 Boris Johnson 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 has more leopard print than Pat Butcher’s leotard. With panelled walls and deep buttoned sofas the big cat themed bar is sophistication writ-large. And spotty.
No, not a promiscuous group meet-up session but a place for every crazy golf fanatic.
Grab yourself a Sex On The Green cocktail and boozily make your way around the 18-holes. Based on a 1920’s golf-course, it’s quirky and fun, from bright Ferris wheels an old school lighthouse.
No car keys in bowls, guaranteed.