Unusual Dinners

Whoever said suppertime was boring? Dining out in London can see you try anything from lethal fish to being massaged while you eat.

Adventurous diners with cash to splash may be drawn in by the highly appealing “Dine or Die” tagline of the Fugu Supper Club, which offers torafugu, a type of highly toxic blowfish. Apparently one of these adorable puffed-up marine monsters contains enough poison to kill 30 adults, hence the need for careful handling by experienced chefs who know how to remove its toxic parts and avoid contaminating its flesh – in 2009 seven people died after consuming fugu at a restaurant in Tsuruoka, Japan. So why would you want to spend £250 on a meal that might kill you? You’d automatically become part of an elite, naturally; as the sale of fugu isn’t strictly permitted within the EU, you need to register on their website and they’ll let you know where the next “private” dinner is taking place. The price includes Champagne and six courses.

“Secret” supperclubs are still taking place in some of the larger living rooms of the capital, even if the press has stopped raving about them since their 2009 apex. Pistachio & Pickle have a world theme for each of their events which has seen them cook up elk with kale salad and bison sliders (Scandinavian and American). Pop-up restaurants are still all the rage during the summer months, as they offer established restaurateurs the chance to make even more money by taking over vacant outdoor spaces. Cynical us? You would be too if faced with paying £14.50 for a crayfish salad at Tom’s Terrace at Somerset House. Bombay café-themed Dishoom will be hosting an area on the South Bank, but if it’s a lesser known, more personal venture you’re after Gingerline do art and foodie events in locations along the East London Line. There’s usually a theme to match the gourmet food on offer and they can tailor-make events to suit you.
If joining Facebook groups to find out about hush hush venues hours before eating isn’t your thing, you can still have an unusual experience within the confines of four restaurant walls. Eat in pitch black darkness at Clerkenwell’s Dans Le Noir at your own peril or be entertained by opera singers while you dine at Lancaster Gate’s Bel Canto. The entertainment at West London’s Supperclub is more in the burlesque/cabaret vein, furthermore you eat while reclining on a bed, and masseuses offer their services for a fee.

The interior of Abracadabra restaurant, just off Piccadilly, could easily pass for a giant doll’s house. Diners can choose to sit in one of the booths equipped with DVD players that each feature their own little quirks like revolving tables, rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia and photographs of the owner posing with Cherie Blair. The menu has a wide selection of Russian and European dishes, but you’re probably not here for the food.

If you like to have a hand in preparing your meal, the pop-up Rebel Dining Society allows you to make your own cocktails to suit the five course tasting menu on offer. A mixologist guides you through the concocting step by step, but note this is not ideal for those who aren’t fans of Absinthe, as Pernod sponsors the events. Instead you can cook your own steak on a hot stone at Steak & Co by Leicester Square, or have meat barbecued at your table at Korean restaurants Jin and Asadal. If you prefer watching your food being cooked, at Sen Nin in Camden you can do just that. Diners sit around the chef, who juggles, balances, and hurls ingredients up into the air with a generous amount of theatricality, somehow managing to transform them into appetizing dishes.
If it’s just unusual food you want to try, St. John’s reigns supreme when it comes to using up the entire animal (Nose to Tail Eating is their motto). From lamb’s tongues to ox heart, roast bone marrow to lamb sweetbreads - in other words, the glands in the neck of the lamb - carnivores will find this a treat. On the opposite end of the spectrum the menu at Saf is entirely vegan, where the chefs replicate creamy pasta sauce by using saffron, make cheese out of cashews rather than dairy and samosa pastry from dehydrated flaxseed skin. If it’s experimentation you’re after, the king is Heston Blumenthal, however his newest venture, Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel serves up food from bygone times rather than futuristic molecular gastronomy. The menu helpfully adds the year of inception, such as “black foot pork chops, circa 1860”, and the suitably austere “cod in cider, 1940s”. Good luck reserving a table.

Garlic lovers should head to Garlic & Shots in Soho, where every item on the menu is flavoured with garlic, including the ice cream. Cheese lovers should head to L’Art du Fromage in Chelsea, where most items on the menu contain cheese, including the ice cream. But for the ultimate in weird dining, there’s nothing like eating an exotic animal. Shaka Zulu in Camden offers springbok and kudu, a type of antelope, in fussy, OTT surroundings, while Archipelago near Goodge Street has ostrich, zebra and even crocodile. This is no ordinary crocodile mind, it’s crocodile fillet seared in vine leaves with a plum sauce. Truly scrumptious.

Author: Leila Hawkins