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The most quirky restaurants in London

When you’re hankering after a meal that’s a touch strange, offbeat or downright weird, look no further

Tiroler Hut
© Rob Grieg
By Time Out London Food & Drink |
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July 2019: We’ve added four new spots for an unusual meal. Cruise down the Thames to the tinkling of a piano player at floating restaurant the Glass Room, tuck into hearty grub with undertones of engine oil at Shoreditch’s Bike Shed Motorcycle Club, or indulge in some any-time-of-year après ski-inspired fun at Brixton’s dinky Alpes, or Farringdon’s cavernous three-floor space The White Haus

Quirky restaurants and cafés – London’s full of ‘em. And it’s just as well, since sometimes the pressed white linen, classic cuisine and friendly service of London’s best restaurants can get a bit, well, dull. When you’re hankering after a meal that’s a touch strange, offbeat or downright weird, look no further than these – the quirkiest, most unusual restaurants in London. Sure, they may not all be home to London’s best dishes, but for a dinner with a difference, these lovable food freak shows won’t let you down.

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The most quirky restaurants in London

Restaurants, British

Alpes

Brixton

Sitting at the summit of a staircase in funky shipping container park Pop Brixton, Alpes is all very après ski. Outside there are blankets and stools; inside you’ll find retro skis on the wood-panelled walls. Cheese is the headline act here. Try the fondue savoyarde (gruyère, emmental, raclette) – unctuous molten brilliance in a cavernous saucepan, with unlimited baguette and gherkins – or plump for the raclette savoyarde. 

How much? Meal for two with drinks and service: around £100.

Restaurants, Global

Archipelago

Fitzrovia

Remember when gap-yah bores dined out on tales of deep-fried insects? Well, that’s nothing compared to the menu at determinedly quirky Archipelago, which features everything from smoked python carpaccio and ‘love bug’ salad to weaver ant garnishes served amid a riot of anthropological artefacts straight out of ‘Indiana Jones’. Make sure you check out the pan-fried chermoula-spiced crickets.

How much? Meal for two with drinks and service: around £100.

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Restaurants, Cafés

Attendant

Fitzrovia

As the name suggests, Attendant’s previous incarnation was an altogether different place to spend a penny. Abandoned since the 1960s, this former WC has been repurposed as a hip café with urinals as single-seater booths and an admirable (but perhaps wise) absence of scatological puns. It’s also open for lunch, where you can sample the exotic sharing platter – with crocodile, alpaca, kangaroo. 

How much? Sandwiches and coffee for two: around £20.

Restaurants, British

Bike Shed Motorcycle Club

Old Street

Housed in two big railway arches right next to Shoreditch Town Hall, this trendy biker cafe serves up a hearty menu, from the beef burger to pulled pork in a brioche bun. For the veggies, there are plenty of options like the mac and cheese or the superfood salad. Grab a seat in one of the red leather booths and take in the faint smell of engine oil, or browse the choppers parked outside. 

How much? Meal for two with drinks and service: around £50.

Venue says With more than 10,000-square feet of restaurant, lounge, shop and event space, Bike Shed offers something for all. We also have a barbers!

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Restaurants, British

Bob Bob Ricard

Soho

This place is immediately unusual: it’s a Soho restaurant that takes bookings. But there’s more – its art deco interiors are so lavishly decorated that you feel like you’re on a film set. And on top of that, there’s a special champagne button by each table that can be used to summon up more fizz. Just don’t nudge it by mistake. While you’re in, grab a chaser of celebrated dessert wine Château d’Yquem. It’s a steep £36.50, but BBR is the only UK restaurant officially endorsed to sell it by the glass.

How much? Meal for two with drinks and service: around £150.

Restaurants, Street food

Bubblewrap

Chinatown

This Soho take on the Hong Kong phenomenon had fans queuing around the block when it opened. But what exactly is a bubblewrap? Essentially, it’s a freaky egg waffle: the bobbly batter forms a cone that’s filled with ice cream, fruit, chocolate and whatever else takes your fancy. Expect to queue, take out and eat on the street. With a weekly-rotating menu, you can gobble up everything from matcha to strawberry cheesecake (plus toppings and sauce). 

How much? Waffles start at £5.99.

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Bars and pubs, Cocktail bars

Bunga Bunga

Covent Garden

An outrageous party-time homage to Silvio Berlusconi, Bunga Bunga is big, brash, brassy and enormous fun. If you’re planning to eat, come with a sizeable group, sit in the crowd-pleasing brasserie (Bungatini) and get stuck into the trattoria menu before heading downstairs to Bunga Bunga proper for cabaret and burlesque. The pizzas here are seriously good – and they’re served by the metre. Check out the just-as-quirky branch in Battersea, too.  

How much? Meal for two with drinks and service: around £60. 

Restaurants

Cereal Killer Café

Brick Lane

Colourful but socially divisive (remember those protests?), this East End café serves hundreds of breakfast cereals from all over the world at snap, crackle and pop prices. Milk upgrades include flavours such as bubblegum and salted caramel (as well as nut-based options), and you can pay extra to top the lot with chocolates and sweets. There is now hot food, too, like chicken fried in cereal or avo with a Rice Krispie coating. 

How much? Regular bowls of cereal from £4.50, breakfast tea £2.60.

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Restaurants, Thai

Champor-Champor

Borough and London Bridge

Batik textiles, colourful masks, incense and acres of carved teak spell exotic romance at this self-styled ‘Thai-Malay’ favourite. Its unique offering, however, is a private table à deux on the mezzanine, accessed by a ladder – watch your waiter negotiating it, plates in hand. This place serves up plenty of vegan and veggie dishes such as crunchy green papaya salad with crisp tofu, pomegranate som tam and roasted cashew nuts.

How much? Meal for two including drinks and service: around £85.

Restaurants, Street food

The Cheese Bar

Camden Market

It’s a whole damn restaurant dedicated to the good stuff: dairy. The Cheese Bar is from the street food gods behind The Cheese Truck. Go wild on baked camembert, queso fundido and more oozing toasties than you can shake a mozzarella stick at. Or plump for the poutine with chips, cheese curds, a fried egg, candied pancetta and bacon gravy. Sweet cheesus, it’s going to be gouda.

How much? Meal for two with drinks and service: around £60. 

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Restaurants, Ice-cream parlours

Chin Chin Dessert Club

Soho

Those nitro-fuelled experimentalists at Chin Chin are the Willy Wonkas of the ice-cream world, and this Soho shop is an ostentatious showcase for their wares. Not only their signature ices, but also full-on desserts – there’s some seriously elaborate stuff going on here amid all the bells and whistles (try the decadent tiramisu sundae).

How much? Ice creams from £4.45, desserts from £5.45.

Chin Chin Labs
© Ed Marshall
Restaurants, Vegetarian

Chin Chin Labs

Camden Market

The sight of ice cream frozen to order amid billowing clouds of nitrogen-generated steam is always an eye-opener for locals and tourists who crowd into Chin Chin’s experimental lab-cum-café. The flavours are straight, but it’s all about pimping them with sprinkles, sauces and powders from a veritable chemistry set of DIY extras. There is dairy-free ice cream, too – mango lassi or pandan leaf, perhaps. 

How much? Ice creams £4.45, cookies £1.50.

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Restaurants

Circus

Covent Garden

The clue’s in the name: performers attempt to distract you from your dinner with feats of bravado or boldness ranging from fire-eating to burlesque – sometimes both at the same time. Between acts, you can return your attention to the kitchen’s pan-Asian dishes. Sounds daft, but don’t miss the entertainment – acts are short and take place hourly, so you don’t want to be stuck in the loo.

How much? Meal for two with drinks and service: around £110.

Restaurants

The Clink at Brixton Prison

Brixton

Anyone who’s ever had that ‘what would your last meal be?’ conversation will get a thrill out of dining at HMP Brixton’s training restaurant, where the professional-level kitchen and smart, buzzy dining room are staffed by prisoners working towards qualifications in catering and hospitality. Alcohol doesn’t feature anywhere on the menu, so go for the mocktail of the day instead. 

How much? Meal for two including drinks and service: around £90.

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Cub restaurant in Hoxton
Andy Parsons
Restaurants, Contemporary Global

Cub

Hoxton

Any venue from boundary-breaking cocktail wizard Ryan Chetiyawardana (aka Mr Lyan) is bound to be off-piste, but Cub is something different. Located above the repurposed Super Lyan bar, this is more like a multi-sensory foodie ‘experience’ with drinks – check out the bizarrely alluring cocktails. We love the super-savvy staff and rockin’ house-party vibe too. 

How much? Whole table tasting menu £67pp, small plates from £11 and cocktails from £6.

Restaurants, Contemporary European

Duck & Waffle

Liverpool Street

When 24-hour licensing was introduced in the UK, we looked forward to round-the-clock craic. Not much actually changed – but at least it meant London could welcome this swanky, sky-scraping restaurant and bar with its 24/7 opening hours and spectacular 360-degree views of the capital. Decadent favourites include the spicy ox-cheek doughnuts with apricot jam, the foie gras crème brûlée or the signature salty-sweet ‘duck and waffle’.

How much? Meal for two including drinks and service: around £130.

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Restaurants

Dans Le Noir?

Clerkenwell

Not only are all the staff at this Clerkenwell restaurant registered blind, but they also have the upper hand, because your entire meal takes place in darkness. Even locating – let alone using – your knife and fork can be a challenge. Also, you’ll need to switch off all light-emitting devices: no selfies here. Opt for the ‘surprise menus’, where you’re left to guess exactly what’s on your plate (you can look at the menu on your way out). 

How much? £63pp for a three-source ‘surprise’ meal with a glass of wine. 

Restaurants

Garlic & Shots

Soho

Everything on the menu at this bizarre restaurant contains garlic – ‘you can always order extra garlic, but never less’, warns the blurb. Expect to be fully ‘marinated’ by the time you’ve polished off the desserts (yes, they contain the pungent stuff too – kladdkaka, aka Swedish mud cake, with garlic toffee sauce, say). At least five of the shots on the 101-strong list have also succumbed to garlic overload. 

How much? Meal for two including drinks and service: around £60.

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Restaurants, British

Glass Room

Victoria Embankment

Billed as ‘London’s only floating Negroni bar’, you can sail down the Thames and take in the London sights while chomping down on this seasonally-changing menu – chicken ballotine with pear barley risotto, for example. From the team behind Bateaux London, it’s all about the fancy stuff here, with all-glass walls, Tom Dixon-designed interiors and even live jazz on Sundays. 

How much? Meal for two including drinks and service: around £120.

Restaurants, Spanish

Gremio de Brixton

Brixton

Located in the crypt underneath St Matthew’s Church in Brixton, Gremio takes the idea of ‘underground’ quite literally. Churches always offer their own unique atmosphere, and the vaulted brick roof and flickering candlelight inside this tapas bar doesn’t hurt matters either.  The menu is crammed with porky delights such as jamón croquetas, butifarra (Catalan sausage) and cochinillo segoviano (roast suckling pig). 

How much? Meal for two including drinks and service: around £75.

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Ichibuns
© Nacasa & Partners inc.
Restaurants, Japanese

Ichibuns

Chinatown

Head inside this Wardour Street restaurant for Japanese overkill. The ceiling is papered with pages from manga comics, alongside a serried ranks of Japanese jukeboxes, old stereos, wall-to wall memorabilia. If you like quirky interiors, this is for you. While the burger buns aren’t that impressive, there are colourful maki rolls and milkshakes.

How much? Bites from £6, cocktails from £10, shakes £6.

Restaurants, Asian

Inamo

Soho

Long before we all had touch-screen devices chock-full of apps on the go 24/7, there was Inamo. Its touch-screen table menus still offer a dose of fun, especially for kids – you can view and order dishes electronically, alter the restaurant’s playlist, and even book a cab home. Check out the Asian-leaning fusion dishes such as sizzling chilli tofu – perfect candidates for a bit of bragging on Instagram.

How much? Meal for two including drinks and service: around £80.

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Restaurants, Indian

Indian YMCA

Fitzrovia

Unlike 99 percent of London restaurants, this cut-price lunchtime bolthole couldn’t give a toss about its looks. There’s a strong staff-canteen vibe about the place, but that doesn’t put off in-the-know office workers who come for the freshly prepared, astonishingly cheap and pleasingly authentic curries. It’s all about the veggie delights here, such as dahi vada and egg curry.

How much? Meal for two including drinks: around £12. Weekend set menu £9pp.

tequila bars in london, la bodega negra
© Scott Wishart
Restaurants, Mexican

La Bodega Negra

Soho

The neon sign outside reads ‘sex shop’ and the mannequin in the entrance wears a PVC hooded suit. But the real excitement begins when you descend the stairs and hit the fired-up vibe of this nightclubby Mexican restaurant – even if the food struggles to match the venue’s racy mood and film-star looks. Expect tacos, tostadas and grills, such as pork belly with mezcal and salsa verde – all washed down with bespoke margaritas.

How much? Meal for two including service: around £95.

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Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium 2016
© David Tett
Restaurants, Cafés

Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium

Shoreditch

East London’s pre-eminent novelty café surely needs no introduction – its USP is its band of resident prima donnas (sorry, cats), who may or may not choose to approach you during your visit. Until then, there are strictly no unsolicited advances. Make sure you pop into the gift shop for all your moggie-themed needs, from latte-art stencils to kitty nail transfers.

How much? High tea is £30 per guest, including the entry fee to the Cat Emporium (usually £15pp). 

Restaurants, Ice-cream parlours

Milk Train Cafe

Covent Garden

Take your average ice-cream cone, add some lurid-green matcha soft-serve ice cream, top with oreos, choc chips, sprinkles and the like. And then – here’s the good bit – watch as the servers weave a web of candy floss around it all. This Taiwanese invention has had tourists tripping over themselves to get through the door. It’s all very Instagram-savvy. 

How much? Prices depend on fillings and toppings, but reckon on £5+ per cone.

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Restaurants, Contemporary European

Petersham Nurseries Café

Richmond

Never has a restaurant been so relieved to lose its Michelin star – described as a ‘curse’ because it raised expectations of what is essentially a high-end, hippy-chic garden-centre restaurant. Take your seat in the greenhouse, enjoy the herb-laced, petal-strewn dishes, and don’t let the dirt floor scuff your Manolos. While you’re there, have a stroll around the gardens, with an obligatory selfie stop. 

How much? Meal for two including drinks and service: around £100.

© Alexis Stavrides
Restaurants, Global

Rascals

Shoreditch

Water pistols, gunge chairs, jelly wars, champagne spraying – all part of the zany fun if you book London’s first ‘waterproof’ dining room. It’s just one feature of Rascals’ pink-hued 3,500 square-foot pleasure dome – a venue with a zero-tolerance policy on ‘straight backs and small talk’. Don't miss the innovative small plates such as tempura squid with jalapeño ketchup, dreamed up by resident chef (and Gordon Ramsay alumnus) Heritier Nsemi.

How much? Small plates from £6, cocktails from £10.

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Restaurants

Sarastro

Covent Garden

A Chinese hotpot hotspot promising DIY dining to the max, Shuang Shuang is fast and mega-healthy too. Here’s the drill: choose your flavour-packed broth, add a dipping sauce, then cherry-pick some kooky ingredients from the kaiten that snakes around the gleaming white-and-steel space. If you’re picking and mixing ingredients, be sure to choose the luncheon meat and the cuttlefish buns.

How much? Hotpots from £9.60, all-in set deals from £30 (for two).

Restaurants, Chinese

Shuang Shuang

Shaftesbury Avenue

What’s quirky about it? A Chinese hotpot hotspot promising DIY dining to the max, Shuang Shuang is fast and mega-healthy too. Here’s the drill: choose your flavour-packed broth, add a dipping sauce, then cherry-pick some kooky ingredients from the kaiten that snakes around the gleaming white-and-steel space.

How much? Hotpots from £9.60, all-in set deals from £30 (for two).

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Restaurants, Contemporary European

Sketch Gallery

Mayfair

Like the rest of this luxe Mayfair extravaganza, Sketch’s velvet-clad dandy-esque Gallery is a lesson in more-is-more eclecticism, complete with semi-permanent exhibitions from high-profile artists like David Shrigley. Afternoon tea in this decadent pink boudoir is one of the quirkiest in town. Don’t miss a trip to the cluster of egg-shaped toilets, where birdsong piped into each pod will preserve your dignity as you pee.

How much? Afternoon tea from £59 per person (£73 with champagne).

Tiroler Hut
© Rob Grieg
Restaurants, Austrian

Tiroler Hut

Bayswater

Yodelling, accordion tunes, a ‘Sound of Music’  soundtrack, schnitzels, strudels and fondue – welcome to Austria in party mood (albeit tweaked up for Westbourne Grove). A godsend for anyone who’s ever wanted to channel their inner Von Trapp without feeling embarrassed. Be sure to watch the highly hilarious Tirolean cowbell show – as seen on TV.

How much? Meal for two including drinks and service: around £80.

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Restaurants, Cafés

Trew Era Café

Hoxton

Whatever your take on Russell Brand, you can’t fault the campaign he successfully backed to save Hackney’s New Era estate from being sold to developers – or his self-funded, not-for-profit community café, which employs recovering drug addicts. Pop in for a shot of caffeine and a side of Russell-style revolution. Brand fans might even catch a glimpse of the man himself – he occasionally uses the café for meetings. Also, the menu is mainly vegan.

How much? Meal for two: around £18.

Bars and pubs, Gastropubs

The White Haus

Farringdon and Smithfield

Missing the ski season? Head down to The White Haus for three floors of rustic decor – we’re talking cuckoo clocks, wood-panelled toilets and even a vintage cable car. There are plenty of cosy corners, too, and the food is suitably après ski – think cheese fondue and schnitzel, alongside Italian classics like pizza and lasagne. It’s also got £6 lunch specials and an Alps-inspired breakfast/brunch menu. 

How much? Meal for two including drinks and service: around £90.

 

Venue says Why not purchase one of our £50, £25 or £10 gift vouchers and pay us a visit when this has all passed? Available via the website

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Restaurants, Cafés

Ziferblat

Old Street

It may look like your average trendy Shoreditch café, but everything you eat and drink at Ziferblat is free – you merely pay for the time you spend within its walls. The idea’s based on Russian community centres, with group discussions and idling actively encouraged. Pick up a stop-clock at the counter to keep track of the passing minutes. It also puts on special events including board game nights, creative writers’ meet-ups and music jams.  

How much? First hour 7p per minute (£4.20); after that, 4p per minute (£2.40 per hour).

 

And if you just want awesome food?

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