London’s best restaurants are cursed.
Not in the way that they’re (almost) all bastardly overpriced. Not because it’s impossible to get a booking (Singburi, we’re looking at you). Not even because most of them slather every other menu item in pungent, merciless truffle oil.
They’re cursed because everywhere you go, you’ll find them. Posing next to Manteca’s cured meats like it’s the Yayoi Kusama infinity room. Asking their friend to ‘take a candid’ of them striding out of St John Marylebone. Planning their outfit so their shirt mimics the exact shade of orange yolk sitting atop of Bancone’s silk handkerchiefs pasta. Them, the content chasers.
I’m not talking about normies like me and you, filming our burrata bursting or clumsily rearranging dishes to get a decent photo before forks are lifted. These days, that’s a given: an accepted part of the dining-out ritual. I’m talking about the fact that photo-taking and filming in restaurants has morphed into a new ridiculousness. It’s more intrusive, more egoistic than ever. Now, it’s seemingly normal for people to use restaurant interiors as stony backdrops for their ‘fit of the day’ photoshoots: posing, flash-on, next to tables of awkward diners who’ve just forked out a hundred quid for what they were hoping would be a nice night out.
I had content chasers ruin my own night last week, a birthday dinner at a certain on-trend north-east London small plates joint. We were a few glasses of orange deep (I know, I’m sorry), when a customer across the room stood up and rested her hand on a neighbouring table, striking a series of poses while smouldering at her pal’s smartphone – to the horror of the couple sitting there. This was not an isolated event. I spotted three instances, all from separate parties. One guest had apparently booked a table solely to score the picture: he ordered a glass of white and got his partner to take his photo while he gazed into the middle distance, then left without touching the food menu.
Photo-taking in restaurants has morphed into a new ridiculousness
The restaurant in question was Jolene, the Newington Green restaurant-slash-bakery which has earned considerable TikTok hype and hosts a Ganni convention out front every morning. Unlike some London restaurants, designed primarily for social media, Jolene doesn’t have sparkler-decorated desserts, fake flower walls, egg-shaped loos or theatrically-served mains. It’s not asking for it. The dishes are simple, generally delicious, the menu changes daily and the interior is understated and chic rather than lavish and recognisable. What it does have, unfortunately for its own sake, is cool.
It’s the curse of the clout – and it’s happening all over London. Places with a similarly laid-back aesthetic and social media buzz, like Fallow, Brat, Top Cuveé and Padella, are all victims of their own success, subject to the persistent peril of the restaurant-as-backdrop crowd. And, unless venues introduce a no-photos policy like a private members club or nightclub FOLD, it’s probably not going to go away anytime soon.
Listen, I’m all for the photo-dump. I basically see in 0.5 lens now and I enjoy an avocado toast Insta story as much as the next person. But what I can’t wrap my head around is the obliviousness and the disrespect. Read. The. Room. There’s a whole new level of vanity and self-righteousness which comes along with disrupting someone else’s meal by using their table as a prop. Now, let us eat our hispi cabbage in peace.