Much like boy band members’ haircuts, twenty-somethings’ tattoos, and every single one 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 caf’ that’s been serving full english breakfasts for over a century to a £25 million restaurant in the City with ‘press for champagne’ buttons on every single table, these are all restaurants that for one reason or another you’ll not only enjoy, but remember.
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. It’s 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 tableclothed, Marie Rose-heavy, public school experience. And everyone should try it at least once.
You could be forgiven for thinking that you’d wandered onto the set of a high-budget blockbuster called BILLIONAIRE BALL3RS when you get slapped around the face by the sheer shine and wealth of this restaurant in the City. The decor includes, but is by no means limited to: a floor so shiny you can simultaneously walk and check for greys at the same time, countless mirrors for any other reflective needs, a ‘press for champagne’ button on every table, a light-up ticker tape of table numbers that light up when you press that button, Orient Express style blue leather booths, and a separate rouge salon just for good measure. The prices here are borderline extortionate, but everything from their caviar-covered steak tartare to their four cheese lobster macaroni is seriously excellent.
Everyone goes to P. Franco for the food, but everyone also goes to P. Franco to drink more wine than initially planned and to wake up with a stinking grape hangover. That’s because this tiny Clapton wine bar has an irresistible, dinner party-ish, atmosphere. It’s essentially one big kitchen counter with an excellent chef manning the induction hobs, while everyone sits or stands around, glass in hand, text to cancel alternate plans in draft. The food changes every week, as does the chef every six months or so, but it’s always guaranteed to be good.
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 Americain (their cocktail bar) and Crazy Coqs (their cabaret club).
Unless you own a yacht, or eat your meal deal on the Thames Clipper, then 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 stand on deck, drink in hand, and breathe in all the sights and 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.
There are plenty of Japanese restaurants in London, but Abeno is special in being one of the few okonomiyaki specialists around. Every table at this spot in Bloomsbury has its own teppan - a hotplate 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.
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 nick-nacks, paintings of farmyard scenes, wooden church pews, and enough taper candles to make you feel like you’re in a period drama called something along the lines of 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 decrepit 200+ years old, Rules claims to be 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-Dickens experience. There’s plenty of game and pies on the menu, gold detail, and velvet in here. 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.
A long, long time ago, way back in the 90s, a respected philosopher known as 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 and Olufsen campaign, there’s a pool room with oil portraits of football greats, a whisky vending machine, huge red leather booths, and some lamb chops that you’ll shed sentimental tears for as soon as you finish them. 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 monkey lamps.
The sushi at Endo at the Rotunda is the best we’ve ever eaten in London. 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 8 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-focussed show in front of you. It’s all-engrossing. It’s some of the best food you’ll ever eat. It costs £180 for 18 courses. And it’s an absolute must.
You might think there’s nothing unique about a little London caf’ that serves a Full English. You could think that, but friends, you would be wrong. E. Pellicci is a proper East End cafe that’s been open since 1900 and is owned by an Italian family that are basically Bethnal Green’s answer to The Osbournes. As well as serving those 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, and they’ve got a photo album to prove it.
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 And 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 here whilst tucking into some caramelised banana waffles would rank pretty, err, high on our cheat sheet 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. When it comes to decor, it’s a small, somewhat plain, and entirely inoffensive 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 about this place is that you don’t order here, you just tell them what you don’t and/or can’t eat and then trust that they’ll bring you an excellent meal. Which is exactly what they’ll do.
Imagine shout-singing 99 Red Balloons into a microphone, then nibbling on excellent fried chicken during the instrumental, and demanding that your mate with the highest trousers pretends to be Simon Cowell. At Bao Borough, that could be you. Well, depending on your lung capacity and ability to multitask. The third outpost of this popular Taiwanese mini-chain not only has their excellent bao buns, they also have a downstairs karaoke bar. If you could track down the womb that birthed disco, it would undoubtedly look like this pink leather packed room beneath the main restaurant. Obviously there are plenty of other places in London where you can simultaneously get trashed on cocktails, whilst murdering Bon Jovi’s discography, but here you can also eat some of London’s best bao and a 40-day aged beef and butter rice we’d hit the high note in Wuthering Heights for.
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 here won’t necessarily blow you away, but the evening-only Gran Carbonara is an entirely loveable cheese-fest, and is - crucially - served out of a giant wheel of pecorino. Plus, the cocktails here are great.
Depending on what stage of life you’re at, or your definition of the term ‘Unique Dining Experience’, then eating a bog-standard burger next to an animatronic gorilla might be exactly what you’re looking for. We can’t really recommend heading to Piccadilly Circus and booking a table at the Rainforest Cafe for a culinary experience. But if you’ve got kids in tow, and like the idea of thunder and lightning effects distracting you from whatever’s on your plate, then this is a uniquely regrettable decision.