Where To Have A Unique Dining Experience In London
The best restaurants when you want to pretend you're in a period drama, immerse yourself in Sicily on steroids, or watch a plane take off.
Much like boy band members' haircuts, 20-somethings’ tattoos, and all of your exes, sometimes it feels like London restaurants are all exactly the same. That’s why sometimes you want something different. Something original. Something unique. From a lively East End caff that’s been serving full English breakfasts for over a century, to a £25 million restaurant in the City with ‘presser pour champagne’ buttons on every table, these are all restaurants that for one reason or another you’ll not only enjoy, but remember.
photo credit: Giulia Verdinelli
There are plenty of Japanese restaurants in London, but Abeno is special in being an okonomiyaki specialist. Every table at this spot in Bloomsbury has its own teppan—a hot plate built into the table—meaning that you get to watch your pancakes be fried and flipped right in front of you, before they make the short journey to your plate. Thankfully, this isn’t your responsibility. The servers here wield spatulas like swords, and they’ll take care of cooking your pork, squid, and prawn-filled okonomiyaki perfectly. Meaning that you and your group can sit back and enjoy the show, and also some soba.
We probably won’t live to 130 years-old. But, if we did, we could imagine solely wanting to eat soft things like fish pie, or sticky toffee pudding, and to wash it all down with a glass of Sancerre, followed by a pint of Guinness. It makes sense then that this is the thing to do at Sweetings—an old-school, lunch-only spot in the City that’s been serving up seafood and the sauce for over a century. It’s basically a white tablecloth, marie rose-heavy, public school experience. And everyone should try it just once.
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Endo at the Rotunda
London isn’t the greatest city in the world for sushi, and the sushi at Endo at the Rotunda is the best we’ve ever eaten here. But that isn’t the only reason it’s one of London’s most unique dining experiences. It’s the fact that you’ll be eight floors up, opposite Westfield White City of all places, in a 16-seater room full of people celebrating their love (or their wealth), as Endo the sushi master performs a seafood show in front of you. It’s all-engrossing. It’s some of the best food you’ll ever eat. It costs £225 for over 20 courses. And it’s an absolute must.
photo credit: Aleksandra Boruch
There are plenty of omakase experiences in London and they’re almost always a special experience, but there’s something about Kurisu Omakase that feels a little different. The unique 17-course sushi experience mixes Japanese cooking with Thai-Colombian heritage, genuine brilliance, and inimitable made-in-Brixton charm. There are only eight seats in the intimate restaurant, and you’ll find yourself gawping at flame-torched pieces of fish, losing words over truffle and caviar-topped otoro, and genuinely belly laughing at the stories you’re told. £150 is a lot to pay, but this feels like value for money.
Oslo Court has been open since 1982 and honestly, apart from the appearance of a card machine, this place hasn’t changed one bit. It’s at the bottom of a big block of flats in St John’s Wood, so as soon as you realise you are in the right place, you can start the task of picking from their long menu of British classics. The food can be…eccentric, let’s say, and if you’re offended by steamed vegetables or waiters who describe every dessert as if it’s the Da Vinci code, then this might not be the place for you. But it’s a unique, dessert trolley, time machine type of restaurant.
photo credit: Aleksandra Boruch
While things oscillate between decent and delicious at Yi-Ban—safe steamed bets like crystal dumplings and pork buns are the way to go, and the dim sum is generally very nice—the USP of this big Cantonese restaurant in Docklands is never in question. It’s smack bang opposite London City Airport, so not only will you enjoy lurid, crunching crispy chilli beef, but you’ll also get to see a few Airbus A318s take off and land while you’re at it.
London Shell Co
Unless you own a yacht, or eat your meal deal on the Thames Clipper, it’s unlikely you’ve ever eaten your dinner while at sea or, rather, on water. That should change now you know about the London Shell Co. It’s a converted canal boat that sets off from Paddington at a leisurely, stroll-like pace, while you sit, or stroll out on deck, drink in hand, and breathe in all the smells of London’s blue bag-filled waterways. Jokes aside, it’s a lovely experience. And the food, a set seafood menu, is simple and delicious.
Brasserie Zédel is never not busy. It’s full of Londoners, tourists, Gatsby-enthusiasts, and everything in between. The reason why? It’s brilliant. This enormous and grand French brasserie is rich in 1920s Parisian atmosphere, but lacking in any kind of pretension or uppity-ness. The restaurant is perfect for almost any occasion, or night out, thanks to Bar Américain (their cocktail bar) and Crazy Coqs (their cabaret club).
photo credit: Karolina Wiercigroch
Maggie Jones’s is as quintessentially British as Colin Firth, Jane Austen novels, or having an impassioned argument over whether you should put the cream or the jam on a scone first. This old-school Kensington spot is full of quaint, home county knick-knacks, paintings of farmyard scenes, wooden church pews, and enough taper candles to make you feel like you’re in a period drama called something like Love And Crumble. Open for over 40 years, this place is alleged to have been a popular spot for members of the royal family, namely Princess Margaret—so it’s perfect for people who are looking for a side of history with their fresh game. Plus, the classic British food here is excellent.
At a cool 200-plus years-old, Rules is London’s oldest restaurant. So it’s no surprise that you get your fair share of tourists and folks who wear Union Jack-embroidered slippers at home here. Especially as it’s in Covent Garden. It is, nonetheless, still worth visiting if you’re after a Downton meets Dickensian experience. There’s plenty of game and pies on the menu, gold detail and velvet in the restaurant. Plus, you can always swing by the upstairs bar for a drink if you don’t fancy a heavy (and heavily-priced) meal that will inevitably finish with custard. Lots of custard.
photo credit: Karolina Wiercigroch
A long, long time ago, way back in the ‘90s, respected philosopher Kate Moss said ‘why the fuck can’t I have fun all the time?’. Profound, we know. And we like to think that when the people behind this excellent Indian party restaurant were in the process of building Brigadiers, they had this quote on the top of every single design brief. Not only is this big, good times playground home to more mahogany than a Bang & Olufsen campaign, there’s a pool room with oil portraits of football greats, a whisky vending machine, red leather booths, and some lamb chops that you’ll shed sentimental tears for. Basically, one of the best ways to spend an evening in London is sharing the bone marrow biryani and drinking their on-tap old fashioneds until you end up telling your life story to one of their oracle-like monkey lamps.
photo credit: Karolina Wiercigroch
You might think there’s nothing unique about a little London caff that serves a full English. You could think that, but friends, you would be wrong when it comes to E Pellicci. It’s a proper East London cafe that’s been open since 1900, and is owned by an Italian family who are basically Bethnal Green’s answer to The Osbournes. As well as serving their full English breakfasts on a bed of fried bread, they also serve things like a nap-inducing lasagna, sandwiches, and bread pudding with, old faithful, Bird’s Custard. After Buckingham Palace and Chariots Sauna, this place has been home to some of London’s most fly-on-the-wall moments, as everyone famous with a cockney accent has eaten here, including the Kray twins.
Duck & Waffle
Picture this: you’re on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower. You’ve got a spicy ox cheek doughnut in front of you. There’s a champagne cocktail in your hand and critically, it’s 4am in the morning. Yes, this could be a deleted scene from the Wolf Of Wall Street but it’s actually a unique dining experience in the form of Duck & Waffle. This all-day and all-night, upmarket restaurant has a seriously good view of London and a menu full of creative takes on British and European classics. Honestly, watching the sunrise over London while tucking into caramelised banana waffles is the kind of experience we’d file under ‘Essential’ in our personal handbook to impressing out of towners.
Remember that feeling when you were little and you didn’t know what your parents were going to make for dinner, but then it turned out to be your favourite thing, and you would be absolutely buzzing. Yeah, that’s kind of what going for dinner at this no-menu Chinese restaurant between Chelsea and Victoria is like. It’s a small, somewhat plain space, but Hunan isn’t a unique dining experience because of some giant waxwork of Westlife naked, or because the servers are dressed as Mick Jagger’s most prolific lovers. No, Hunan doesn’t need any cheap theatrics because the special thing is that you don’t order here. Just tell them what you don’t and/or can’t eat, then trust they’ll bring you an excellent meal. Which is exactly what they’ll do.
photo credit: Jérôme Galland
We’re not sure how a restaurant like Circolo Popolare came to be in existence. We can only presume that at some point, someone with a YOLO tattoo met an influencer with a penchant for Paco Rabanne One Million, and this huge, entirely mad restaurant was born. This Fitzrovia trattoria looks like fake Sicily on steroids, has thousands of bottles of liquor lining the walls, and the kind of XXL desserts that a toddler would flog their Lego for a bite of. A lot of the food won’t necessarily blow you away, but the evening-only Le Gran Carbonara is an entirely loveable cheese-fest and, crucially, served out of a giant wheel of pecorino. Plus, the cocktails are great.