Where To Go When You Don’t Want To Make A Big Deal About Your Birthday (But You Actually Kind Of Do) guide image


Where To Go When You Don’t Want To Make A Big Deal About Your Birthday (But You Actually Kind Of Do)

The restaurants to go to when you’re telling everyone that your birthday is ‘no big deal’, when actually it is.

There’s not being into birthdays and then there’s “not being into birthdays.” The first lot really do just want to go for a couple of pints. The others think they want to go for a couple of pints, but once they do, they realise they want all their nearest and dearest there, and a round of pizzas as well. If you or someone you know falls into the second category then fear not. There are a load of options in London that don’t end in you being assaulted by sparklers wedged into a chocolate ganache, nor do they involve a lonely packet of salt and vinegar and a beverage of your choice.


Forza Wine

Keep things casual with small, sharing plates, but amp up the drama with big city skyline views at Peckham’s Forza Wine. This rooftop spot leans more restaurant than bar, which gives it an edge over your local. It’s also got an incredible backdrop for a totally candid birthday photoshoot fuelled by negronis and oil-drenched panzanella.

Big enough to accommodate an intimate three-person dinner that turned into a 15-strong troupe which includes your new neighbour who you met yesterday, Gökyüzü is a go-to Turkish spot in Harringay for birthday plans that inexplicably get bigger. You can choose from brilliant grilled meat and vegetables and it’s open until midnight. Forget a bow, if you aren’t wrapping your birthday up with a warm flatbread, you aren’t doing it right.

Tasty, colourful fun that won’t involve extending your overdraft or putting on anything other than jeans, Yucca is a loud and proud Tex-Mex restaurant in Fulham, with bright red walls and a bottle of Cholula hot sauce on every table. It also serves some A1 pescado tacos, gooey quesadillas, and a DIY fajita situation that arrives sizzling in a cast iron plate. Because a sizzling skillet is basically a low-key sparkler, right?

If you’re fortunate enough to have your birthday during a month that could, feasibly, include a day of good weather, then Sager + Wilde’s Bethnal Green arch is a prime spot to head to. There’s loads of outdoor seating for big groups in this converted railway arch, as well a load inside for when the weather gets very British on you. Alongside their pastas they also do some excellent cuts of meat and fish that you can pair with salads, jersey royals, and the like.

Ginger My Swagger cocktails and tender chicken wings covered in caramel-infused kuli kuli—Chuku’s knows how to make just the right amount of fuss. This Nigerian tapas restaurant is a small-ish spot opposite Seven Sisters, but it’s got big birthday energy. Think bright, cheerful service, some of London’s best food, and a laid-back vibe that feels chilled, not sleepy.

Undoubtedly the king of London’s BYOB options, Singburi is also London’s best Thai restaurant and our number one choice for a birthday dinner that might get a little boisterous. You’ll have to hustle for a table at this fantastic Leytonstone restaurant but just know that once you make a booking, your group is going to have a fantastic dinner. You'll be leaning across the table for jungle curry and screeching for another beer. Make sure you focus on the specials board and don’t forget to bring cash. Not that you should be paying.

Contented, melancholic sighs, and words like 'charming' and 'negroni' are bound to come out of your mouth once you walk away from the bobbing little treat that is Caravel, a bistro-feeling boat-cum-restaurant in Islington. Few restaurants in London have the ability to bewitch and seduce as this candlelit narrowboat serving duck croquettes alongside jelly and cream does. If you're looking for a little waterside birthday magic, then this is your place.

Hoa Sen doesn’t have flashy furniture, nor does it have a jazzy neon-lit bar. The Vietnamese restaurant in Covent Garden is the equivalent of Gogglebox: comforting, consistently good, and as enjoyable alone as it is with your family. There are all the classics—phở, magnificent summer rolls, tenderly grilled quail—and plenty of room for groups big and small who are after a big-ish deal birthday around central London.

A converted Truman’s pub in Peckham with green leather everywhere, vintage light fittings, and an aura of glorious artsy-fartsy house party, this outpost of South African mini-chain Kudu, is achingly cool. And the rest of London seems to have found this out too. Wear a nice jacket, order the might-permanently-ghost-the-negroni Smokey Kudu vermouth cocktail, and admit that you might actually care about your birthday, just a little bit. Or a whole black bream’s worth.

Unless you’re the kind of person who pops to the shop in a Ferrari and boils their pasta in a pot full of Voss water, you probably don’t think of tasting menus as particularly regular occurrences. So it’s a welcome surprise to find that Casa Fofò, a casual Hackney tasting menu restaurant that draws inspiration from around the world, offers both good value and a good atmosphere. The eight courses change daily and at £68 for the whole lot, it works out at under a tenner a course. Not bad. It makes for an excellent birthday meal that’s out of the norm.

No-big-deal birthdays are best when they’re in no-big-deal restaurants—ones that don’t try to be all singing and dancing but are just really very good. And that’s Rubedo. It calls itself a European bistro but what that translates to, really, is a homely little place in Stoke Newington that does great food and great natural wine. This is the kind of restaurant where you order everything off the menu alongside several bottles until the owner politely asks you all to leave because they would like to go home and sleep.

Our favourite thing about Chisou isn’t the tasty inside-out rolls, the chef’s selection sashimi deals, or the excellent rock shrimp and baby spinach salad. It’s the fact that this Knightsbridge restaurant can be used for a lot of different things. Whether you’re looking for a meal that’s low-key but still special, or one where you hope the 16-page sake list will tell your friends that you really do want to make a big deal out of the day, so you don’t have to. Simple interiors, a Japanese menu that isn’t too flashy, and a meal that’s worth the awkward happy birthday singing moment.

This Persian restaurant on Hereford Road is small. But what it lacks in square footage, it makes up for in excellent aubergine dips, juicy boneless chicken, and a homely interior that could easily turn into your own private party. There are three or four tables inside, so call ahead, book them up, and enjoy some great mirza ghasemi, without doing something drastic like booking a private dining room. Because obviously, you’re not that bothered.

Tell us, who doesn’t want the sound of a man who may or may not have taught himself piano on YouTube to be the soundtrack to your birthday? Who doesn’t want photographs of Italian actors and actresses looking down on them as they load enormous portions of delicious pasta into their face? Head to old-school Italian spot Ciao Bella in Bloomsbury if you want a waiter to break into incomprehensible song while precariously holding/dancing with your birthday panna cotta.

“Meet me at this dive bar” not only sounds like the opening line of a Steve Buscemi film, but it’s also a very casual way to kick off your birthday celebrations. A Philadelphia-inspired dive bar in Fitzrovia, Passyunk Avenue is all about draught beers, huge cheesesteaks, and playing several rounds of “hypothetically, what piece of baseball memorabilia should we steal after our third Jim Beam soda float”. The food is comforting, the TVs play American football games, and the life-size Danny DeVito cutout by the toilet is just asking for an ironic tipsy birthday photoshoot.

Sometimes you want something a bit special for your birthday, but your online banking is saying you can’t have it. It’s saying something that sounds a lot like “go to Tesco and get a discounted sandwich” but all you can hear is “you only live once, no?”. For times like this Brasserie Zédel is perfect. It’s hands down one of the best dining rooms in London and you’ll feel like royalty. Even better is the fact that they’ve got a couple of excellent set menu options that won’t cost you more than £20.

If you’re the kind of person who favours drinks over dinner on their birthday, then Clapton’s My Neighbours The Dumplings is the place for you. It has a downstairs sake bar, Matilda’s, which is an excellent spot to start your celebrations (and end them). You can choose from a range of sake or something off their cocktail list, and when the time is right, put your name down, get another round in, and look forward to the prospect of some excellent dumplings.

The ultimate no-big-deal-but-actually-want-a-deal-and-probably-a-tiramisu-with-a-candle-in-it birthday meal is a pizza, and Santa Maria is a solid option in London. Their Chelsea location is one of the more relaxed options you can find off the King’s Road, and they also have an extremely reasonable cocktail menu that’s likely to make you a lot less reasonable on your birthday.

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photo credit: Aleksandra Boruch

Where To Go When You Don’t Want To Make A Big Deal About Your Birthday (But You Actually Kind Of Do) guide image