‘Where should I have my birthday dinner?’. It’s one of the questions we get asked most often. It’s stressful, because choosing a place with the right space, food, table height, and air quality is a nightmare. And that’s before you’ve even sent out your carefully worded (funny, not too funny) group message to everyone.
Presumably, like everyone else, you’re looking for something ‘fun’ but not stuffy, where you can get a table for anywhere between four-to-twelve people. Thankfully, restaurants like this do exist in London. From intimate candlelit dining rooms, to raucous round tables, here’s a list of restaurants of all kinds that all but guarantee excellent birthday vibes.
If your vision of an ideal birthday doesn’t involve your friends and family talking, laughing, spilling wine, pouring more wine, eating their pasta, eating their neighbours’ pasta, pleading the pianist to play one more song, hugging the waiter, going outside for a cigarette, ordering more wine, spilling more wine, ordering a round of tiramisu, ordering a taxi, and falling asleep in the taxi - then you probably shouldn’t book Ciao Bella. But if it does, then this old school Italian spot on Lamb’s Conduit Street is just the ticket.
Joy King Lau is an old school three-floored Chinatown restaurant full of big round tables and an even bigger menu. There are two ways to celebrate your birthday here. The first is undecidedly not dinner, in that their massive dim sum menu is only fully available at lunchtime. So you can come en masse and load up on slipper HK-style cheung fun, bobbing won tons, and more. Or, come in the evening, when every floor is buzzing with family and friends and the lazy Susan’s are excitedly spinning.
Sessions is the kind of restaurant you daydream about when you’re thinking about the perfect restaurant for your birthday dinner. It’s almost entirely lit by candles, the ceiling feels 100 feet high, and the artfully dilapidated room looks like it should be the setting to a raucous party scene in a Paolo Sorrentino film. Best of all is that none of it is just surface level. The food is rustic, tasty Italian-leaning fare and the wine list is similarly brilliant. Come for something intimate or bring your nearest and dearest for one of their round booths upstairs.
A couple of bites into The Red Duck’s sweet, super tender char siu pork, you’ll know that this place is going to be one of your best mates in restaurant form. The atmosphere is laid back, the service is friendly, the front terrace screams date night, and on top of all that, the food here is so good that you’ll be mass-broadcasting messages like ‘omg this duck, so good, Daffy could never’ in your WhatsApp chats. A couple minutes walk from Balham station, the menu is all about Cantonese classics like Sichuan dumplings, bang bang chicken, and their signature crispy aromatic duck.
St. John’s original restaurant in Clerkenwell is where you go for a birthday dinner with any number of people who refuse, at any point during the meal, to stop consuming. The seminal British restaurant is all about red wine stains on white table cloths, slabs of Welsh rarebit, and mid meal cigarettes to gain some composure (and stomach space). You can get a decent number of people in the bar area, though it is walk-in only, otherwise book a table in the main room, or pitch up in their private dining room if you’re looking to seriously settle in for the evening.
If you want a pile of meat for your birthday, head to Blacklock, a converted basement brothel in Soho. What was once a seedy location, has been transformed into a trendy space where you and your mates can have the cast of Animal Farm on your plate in the form of chops, starters and a side, all for £20 a head. You can all then spend your other money ordering excellent value cocktails that turn up to your table on a trolley.
Candlelight and champagne make for an excellent birthday combination. That’s one of the reasons why we always come to Noble Rot on our birthday. Another reason is that their original spot on Lamb’s Conduit Street is, quite simply, one of the best restaurants to celebrate in London. The wine list is spectacular, the service the same, the bread slaps, and there is seldom a year when we can’t imagine wanting to be here.
When you think back to the birthdays of your childhood, you might remember things like jolly women overfeeding you, lots of laughter, everyone singing happy birthday. Well, La Mia Mamma has all of that. This handmade pasta spot serves excellent Italian food and their kitchen is run by Italian ‘mammas’, who will continue to fill up your plate with things like tagliatelle alla bolognese, gnocchi, and pollo ripieno, even after you plead that you’re full. There’s a whole tambourine, saucepan-banging, mammas-in-a-conga-line situation that happens when they find out it’s your birthday so it’s a super fun place to bring that friend that you want to watch squirm.
No birthday guide is complete without the option of a big slap-up Turkish meal with several sides of warm bread to mop everything up. So of course, we’re going to suggest Gökyüzü. The massive legendary Turkish restaurant is one of many options on Green Lanes but there’s something about their comforting familiarity that we always come back to. Virtually every day and night of the week there’s some kind of kebab-filled celebration going on here, so it would be rude not to join in.
Every so often we go to a restaurant that, seemingly, suits almost anything. On a date, or on your own. With your mum, or with your mates for your birthday. With £200, or £20. Supawan in King’s Cross is one of those. It serves a load of Thai food that’s both very good, and very good value. Share things like peek kai yud sai (stuffed deep-fried chicken wings), beef massaman curry, and lots more.
It’s your birthday. You’re a winner, you’re adored, you’re a gift to all who know you. Yes, you’re an icon. And yes, you’re also painfully broke. But, at Brasserie Zedel it’s very easy to pretend that you’re not. Yes, they have chandeliers, swish pink table cloths, and enough marble to make Michelangelo happy, but they also have a three-course set menu for £13.75. Go ahead and book a big table, grab a couple of bottles of merlot to share, and have a great evening, safe in the knowledge that none of your mates will have to claim that ‘they really did just fancy the side salad’.
The best thing about birthdays is that impending sense of dread that you’re one year closer to death. Great. But honestly, the only mortality related thought you’ll have at Brigadiers, is ‘let me croke right here, on this pool table with a pint in hand and a mouth full of goat tikki bun kebab’. Brigadiers is a pretty large restaurant so depending on numbers you can either go for a booth in the main restaurant area, or book one of their three private dining rooms. There’s no cake here, but just go ahead and shove a candle in the beef shin and bone marrow biryani, it’s far better than a certain caterpillar named Colin anyway.
Last year you decided to throw a big old soiree at your flat, only for it end with your cat swallowing a balloon, and an infestation of confetti that no hoover has been able to defeat since. Luckily, neither of those things are going to happen at Frenchie in Covent Garden. This restaurant has the rare combination of great food, a grown-up feel, and all the potential for a bloody good laugh. Tell your mates that birthday cards are bad for the environment and get them all to chip in to the banoffee, nutmeg, and caramelised pecan dessert, or the bacon scone instead. They’re both absolute must-orders.
At Wuli Wuli, you will not be greeted by sparklers or over attentive fawning. What your table will be greeted by is an enormous spread of Sichuanese food that will cause anyone and everyone to celebrate. There are a few essentials from this spot in Camberwell, think cumin covered BBQ lamb skewers, potsticker dumplings or their irresistible saliva chicken.
“Brat, what a suitably named restaurant for you to book, haha!!”. This is what at least one of your friends will say. Uninvite them immediately. They’re not funny. Plus, that’s one less person to share Brat’s excellent food with. This Shoreditch restaurant is a place to get merry, and a little bit loud in. The room is big, and it’s open to the wood fire where all kinds of delights are grilled. Anything bread related is a must order, as is the turbot, the whole turbot, and nothing but the turbot.
Your parents have just called to give you the ‘good news’ that your extended family is popping down to London to ‘surprise’ you for your birthday. Great. Now you have to find somewhere that fits everyone at short notice. Book a table at East End classic Tayyab’s, because not only is it great for big groups, but it’s BYOB and everyone will love the brilliant food.
You have an eclectic group of friends that range from fancy pants to baggy pants, and you want a place where they can all feel comfortable on your birthday. Meraki, a Greek restaurant in Fitzrovia, is your spot. This place is big and bright and pretty relaxed, and would really work for almost any conceivable occasion, your birthday included. Your crew can get deep into all the mezze, some lamb chops, and even some great pasta. And if you don’t order the doughnuts for dessert, you did your birthday dinner wrong.
Your age now includes the numbers two and three, but not in the fun order. Grab two, three, or even more of your friends to have very civilised and chilled out dinner at The Marksman. Whether you’re in the upstairs dining room with a small crew or downstairs in the pub with a large crew, the modern British food will ensure a gracious shuffle towards your mid-thirties.
It’s your birthday, so your friends have to, by law, let you eat from their plates if you want to. And you always want to. But if you want to keep your friends happy for once, book your birthday dinner at Shikumen, where sharing is basically just required. Fortunately, the dim sum, Peking duck, and everything else is so good that no one will mind that they aren’t getting their own dish.
We have never achieved the following, but we want to put this out there anyway, because it’s our birthday dream. Somehow we want to get our whole crew seated along the bar at The Palomar. A night at The Palomar will involve excellent Israeli food, great cocktails and banter with the bar staff, and a party soundtrack pumping in the background. Now you understand our dream.