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David Tett

The most quirky restaurants in London

Season your meal with a dash of the strange, offbeat or weird

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Get your vittles with a side of weird. London is home to hundreds of amazing restaurants , but sometimes everyone hankers for a talking point with their amuse bouches. We’ve rounded up entertaining eateries: oddball decor, kooky culinary concepts and – yes – cats. Our list of unusual restaurants will delight music fans, animal lovers, garlic nuts and more, and you’ll find these joints in venues as various as a boat, a prison and a church crypt. They may not all be home to London’s best dishes, but they definitely deliver dinner with a difference. 

The most quirky restaurants in London

Archipelago
  • Restaurants
  • Global
  • 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, all served amid a riot of anthropological artefacts straight out of ‘Indiana Jones’. Make sure you check out the pan-fried chermoula-spiced crickets.

Attendant
  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • 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 (and perhaps wise) absence of scatological puns. It’s also open at lunchtime for salads and snadwiches.

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  • Restaurants
  • Italian
  • Covent Garden

The interior of this highly-instagrammable Italian restaurant is a hectic blend of Catholic kitsch, bright red tiles and zebra stripes. But the food is as straightforwardly delicious as the aesthetic is complex: satisfy your carb cravings with carbonara ravioli, sumptuously pillowy pizzas, or a slice of its mammoth 60cm tall stracciatella ice cream cake. 

Bike Shed Motorcycle Club
  • Restaurants
  • British
  • Old Street
  • price 1 of 4

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

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Bob Bob Ricard
  • Restaurants
  • British
  • 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 ‘bring champagne’ button by each table that can be used to summon up fizz. Just don’t nudge it by mistake. While you’re there, 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.

Bubblewrap
  • Restaurants
  • Street food
  • 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). It’s also in Covent Garden.

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Bunga Bunga
  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Covent Garden
  • price 3 of 4

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 crowdpleasing 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.

  • Restaurants
  • British
  • Hoxton

 

Step aboard a barge named Poppy and you'll find yourself in a floating restaurant that's (mostly) free of nautical kitsch.The food is a run of delicious, playful takes on modern European and classic British dishes. Its romantic decor makes it perfect for a date if you want to really push the boat out.

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Champor-Champor
  • Restaurants
  • Thai
  • London Bridge

Batik textiles, colourful masks, incense and acres of carved teak spell exotic romance at this 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.

The Cheese Bar
  • Restaurants
  • Street food
  • Camden Market
  • price 2 of 4

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.

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Circus
  • Restaurants
  • 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.

The Clink at Brixton Prison
  • Restaurants
  • 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. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Vegetarian
  • 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’s dairy-free ice cream too, like mango lassi and pandan leaf.

Duck & Waffle
  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary European
  • 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.

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Dans Le Noir?
  • Restaurants
  • Clerkenwell

Not only are all the staff at this Clerkenwell restaurant registered blind, but they have the upper hand, because your entire meal takes place in pitch 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, which will leave you guessing what’s on your plate (you can look at the menu on your way out).

Garlic & Shots
  • Restaurants
  • Soho

Everything on the menu at this bizarre restaurant (with its equally bizarre website) 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). At least five of the shots on the 101-strong list have also succumbed to garlic overload.

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Glass Room
  • Restaurants
  • British
  • Victoria Embankment

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.

Gremio de Brixton
  • Restaurants
  • Spanish
  • Brixton
  • price 1 of 4

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).

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Inamo
  • Restaurants
  • Soho
  • price 2 of 4

Long before we all had 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.

Indian YMCA
  • Restaurants
  • Indian
  • 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.

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La Bodega Negra
  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Soho

The neon sign outside reads ‘sex shop’; the mannequin in the entrance wears a PVC gimp suit. But the real excitement begins when you descend the stairs into the bowels of this nightclub-like restaurant. It’s so dark and loud you’ll need a moment to adjust (the light bulbs have been blacked out): your reward is homely, delicious takes on classic Mexican dishes.

  • Restaurants
  • Cafés
  • 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.

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Milk Train
  • Restaurants
  • Ice-cream parlours
  • 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 Insta-savvy. 

  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary European
  • Richmond

Never has a restaurant been so relieved to lose its Michelin star – described as ‘a curse’ because it raised unreasonable 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.

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Sarastro
  • Restaurants
  • Covent Garden

Musicians from London’s opera houses come here to perform some of the most popular arias and there are also shows of Latin, swing, jazz and ’80s music. Enjoy a three-course set menu while listening from the comfort of one of the boxes arranged around the walls. It’s a decadent setting, with each box furnished in a different style (rococo, gothic, ottoman) and drapes and theatre props in abundance. Food is of the Turkish-Mediterranean inclination.

  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary European
  • Mayfair
  • price 4 of 4

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. It might have lost its famous pink velvet chairs, but its new sunshine yellow and copper interior still makes it one of the quirkiest places 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 do your business.

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The White Haus
  • Bars and pubs
  • Gastropubs
  • Smithfield

Missing the alpine ski slopes? 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.

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