In case you didn’t know, May 17th is the date when restaurants (are meant to) fully reopen and the date on which you can stop pretending that bringing a hot water bottle to the pub isn’t an enormous red flag. Things are going to change. That whole empathy schtick? The door’s that way. Pret-era overdraft and social anxiety? Honey, we’re home!
So to get the ball of judgement rolling, we’re here to let you know what your May 17th restaurant choice says about. Because everything’s a personality trait these days and also, you might need some alternatives if your daydream restaurant return is fully booked.
HIDE / POLLEN STREET SOCIAL / IKOYI
Kitchens and restaurants have dumb rules. Tweezers are totally allowed, celebrated even. They’re status utensils. Using tweezers to feed someone is like using a bit of the Dead Sea Scrolls as fire starter. But if a waiter came over and started trimming parmesan with big nail clippers, you’d be on TripAdvisor sharpish, wouldn’t you?
Anyway, for people who love the whole fine dining shebang there really is no alternative. Because fine dining restaurants allow you to believe everything is special. They’ve got white tablecloths, reverential Newspeaking staff, and star-hungry future BBC spin-off chefs running the kitchen. If you eat a shot of anchovy-flavoured ice in a fine dining restaurant, you’re having an experience. If you eat a shot of anchovy-flavoured ice in your own home, you’re having a breakdown. At least the past year has taught us that.
ROCHELLE CANTEEN / 40 MALTBY STREET / TOWPATH CAFE
“You see nothing is fussy, but everything is executed perfectly “ you say, legs crossed, lazily spooning some rhubarb and polenta cake - or is it a frangipane tart? - into your mouth, single blob of custard falling onto your cords. You turn towards the blackboard and catch eyes with one of the staff - an ethereal aioli-lord who may or may not have turned up to their graduate show wearing a bin bag, a fascinator made out of Quorn nugget packaging and Gucci loafers. You ask them whether something that was once on the board - and is clearly not on the board - is on the board. Just to let them know (and to reaffirm to yourself) that you come here.
In fact, it’s your favourite type of restaurant. Where you can pop by for something as simple and sublime as a sandwich or something on toast. A space where you can be with other like-minded contrarians. Whether north or south of the river, Rochelle Canteen, 40 Maltby Street and Towpath Cafe are sides of the same (three-sided) coin. Restaurant extensions of the dream home you will never own. Or pretend not to own.
CIAO BELLA / SINGBURI / BLACK AXE MANGAL
After a year of relative and at times sombre silence - broken only by Relaxing Garden Rainfall playing on loop - you’re craving a wallop to the senses. And though you’ve read Entangled Life and can make several convincing arguments about the benefits of psilocybin, you think you might just opt for a big chilli whack of moo krob, plates hitting tables, and high-decibel conversations instead. New you, old you, same old you.
GLORIA / CIRCOLO POPOLARE
Here come the girls who never got their friendsofglossier order fulfilled.
THE COMPTON ARMS / DRAPERS ARMS / CAMBERWELL ARMS
Dogs. You love dogs. The next table next loves your dog. You love their dog. Everyone in the gaff loves dogs, has aspirations to owning a dog or, in a future life, being a dog. This is one of the facts of gastropubs. Another is chips. Everyone, sort-of-secretly-but-also-not, just wants to have chips for dinner. You go to this lovely pub, with its roasted bream and it’s Mediterraean this and it’s oysters that, and all you really want is chips - with mayonnaise and ketchup please. The last fact of gastropubs is that you want to be a little bit pissed and shamelessly so. That is why you have opted to eat... in a pub.
THE RIVER CAFE
“Hi. Your account £7433 is overdrawn. Interest charges of 35.0% EAR (variable) apply. To avoid reduce or avoid interest charges please move money by 18.30 today.”
Hello darkness, my old friend.
FLOR / LEVAN / BRIGHT
“Well I LOVE small plates because it means everyone can have a bit of everything” your friend says whilst filling everyone’s glasses up with something orange and, to less performative palates, abrasive. You finger the Rennies in your pocket like a holy person reaching for their necklace. It isn’t your first small plates and ‘natural’ wine rodeo.
Here’s the thing with small plates restaurants and The Great Small Plates Debate. There are rules to maximise enjoyment just like any other type of restaurant. Don’t go with more than three people. Don’t expect gargantuan portions. And don’t compare it to ‘somewhere down the road’. But also, don’t act like one day you’ll take your grandchild upon your knee and gleefully tell them about the time four of you you paid £5 for three slices of bread.