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 then 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 ’n vinegar and a beverage of your choice.
Okay, so here’s the plan for your Bao Borough birthday - god we love alliteration. Make a booking for 5 / 10 / however many people in your life you can feasibly stand, rock up wearing something as deeply cool as this Taiwanese spot’s branding, and then make it your personal mission to try the curry cheese bao, the 40-day aged beef and butter rice, and their signature fried chicken. Next, ply beloved friends and kind-of-beloved friend’s partners with enough umeshu negronis and watermelon highballs to commit to a round of karaoke in their downstairs KTV room that’s eight quid per hour. Once you’ve all butchered enough Spice Girls tracks, round the evening off with milk tea ice cream bao. Cool, kind-of-casual birthday, accomplished.
Casually inviting a few casual friends to somewhere that casually serves some of London’s best seafood on trays is, like, so casual and crucially, fucking cool. Trap Kitchen is a good times restaurant on Bedford Hill in Balham that serves glorious XXL lobster tails, fat juicy bang bang prawns, and rum-loaded hard slushies. See, a good times restaurant. Their platters start at £15 so it feels like a fair ask for your nearest and dearest, or you can split one of their hefty £40 feasts. Their front bar area is perfect for keeping things chilled, but if the secret purpose of this birthday venture is to get a hot new dating profile picture, book one of the moody booths in their back dining area.
Probably London’s best coffee-but-not-just-coffee spot, Ozone is an excellent venue for when you want to get a big group together but not have a lot of fuss attached to it. The menu has something for everyone - from wagyu burgers to roasted cauliflower - and the space is good for all kinds of groups, big or small.
Ask any of the quintessential divas - Mariah, Celine, Madonna, Miss Piggy - and they’ll dutifully tell you that roast chicken should be nowhere near your birthday soirée. But you’re not having a birthday soirée are you? No, you’re having a ‘lowkey get together’ which for all intents and purposes is a way to make half of your friends buy you a house plant, and the other half feel guilty for not getting you a present. The good news is that chicken goes great with emotional manipulation and Sidechick - a lockdown poultry offshoot from Patty and Bun - does some of the best chicken in the game. There’s also natural wines, Campari cocktails, and enough nice wooden panelling to make sure no one claims you’re in a glorified Nando’s. Trust us, the food here is much better.
The idea of renting a venue is always the dream for your birthday, but it’s expensive to do. Listen to us instead and do it the cheap (smart) way by getting all your friends to have a meal at Franzina Trattoria in Brixton. It’s one of those places in a shipping container and it does very good homemade tagliatelle. The whole place can seat around 15 people, meaning you and your favourite people can get comfortable, have a load of bruschetta and tagliatelle, and then politely act like you own the place.
A meal at BAM with the right people will feel like your own private party. This is a place to have fun and celebrate because that’s exactly what they do with everything, from the food to the atmosphere. It’s a tiny room and if you book one side of it for a decent-sized group, it will feel like your own. In addition, the food is perfect for sharing. It’s all flatbreads, fried chicken, grilled veg, and the like. Only it’s not what you expect. You’ll definitely want to try everything.
‘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 draft 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 that you’ll merrily post on the ’Gram once you leave at closing.
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 Zedel is perfect. It’s hands down one of the best 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 twenty pounds.
If you’re the kind of person who favours drinks over dinner on their birthday, then 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 in the restaurant.
We’ll admit. Any excuse to talk about Noble Rot and we’ll take it. Not only is it one of the best restaurants in London to have great food, but, it’s always a great time. If you’re into spending more on wine than you do on food, then book for lunch and hit the set menu - an always excellent three courses. Alternatively, if you like to spend money willy nilly, then come for the a la carte and get comfortable.
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. They call themselves 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, plus several bottles, and settle in until the owner politely asks you all to leave because the staff want to go home and sleep.
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 one of the best you can get in London. Their Chelsea location is one of the more relaxed options you can find off the Kings Road, and they also have an extremely reasonable cocktail menu that’s likely to make you a lot less reasonable on your birthday.
If you’re fortunate enough to have your birthday during a month that could, feasibly, include a day of good weather, then Sager + Wilde is a prime spot to head to. There’s a load of outdoor seating for big groups in this converted railway arch (we know, we know), as well a load more inside for when the weather gets very British on you. On top of their pastas they also do some excellent meat sharing platters that you can pair with salads, jersey royals, and the like.
It may be the choice of eight million other Londoners for their birthday knees up, but there’s good reason for that. London’s Indian juggernaut are all over the city now, meaning you’ve got location options, and, more importantly, you can make a reservation for groups of six or more. The breakfast naan here is legendary, so here’s a tip: turn up at 11:45, get a round of bacon naans in for starters, and then follow up with a curry for lunch. We’re geniuses, we know.
Tell us who doesn’t want the sounds 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? Who doesn’t want a waiter to break into incomprehensible song while precariously holding on to your panna cotta? Exactly. Ciao Bella is the perfect spot for a no big deal birthday.