“I know this great little place…”
A guide to Planet Earth’s charming spots. Death to dull chains. What’s a GLP?
Some places just have that certain something. The French have a phrase for it: ‘zat certain sumsing!’ Quirky spots you stumble upon and tell stories about. Lesser known marvels like bonkers bars, rickety restaurants or curious museums where the curator’s cats run wild. It’s not about price or prestige, no, no. It’s all charm and character. Places with personality. That’s a GLP, my friend. Come in and explore, then go out and explore.
We've already done one feature on quirky restaurants. But given it's the real heartland of GLP, we thought we'd give it another raz. The capital's happily home to some pretty bizarre places, so here are 14 more of the most unusual restaurants in London...
Abracadabra, 91 Jermyn Street, SW1Y 6JB. Tel: 020 7930 3111
Opened by the pink-besuited 'Lord' Dave West in 2006, the cash & carry baron does not mess around when it comes to restaurant décor. Abracadabra is beyond unusual. Let's start with the toilets. The gents are like a tunnel of love with 3D hearts for tiles, the ladies have golden fish for taps. There's a revolving table in the middle, which spins gently round every hour. The restaurant's been blessed by an Archpriest. There are private booths all around the edge, all different and equally brilliantly bizarre. Distributed throughout them we counted at least five A3 prints of the same photo of Dave with Cherie Booth, who he employed to fight her husband's smoking ban. The decor is insane, not to mention lightly peppered with references to naughty bits, with old LPs and magazine scraps on the walls, a multicoloured mosaic floor, pseudo tsarist chairs, and a flipping huge chandelier in the middle. The food's Russian and the vodka's strong - it's memorable to say the least. Below is the club Low, equally colourful and with one of London's most powerful sound systems. Boomtime.
As the name suggests, this was once a courthouse - the Great Marlborough Street Magistrate's Court. A courthouse that saw trials of Oscar Wilde, John Lennon, Mick Jagger and Bob Monkhouse, no less. They've kept the beautiful wooden furnishings, right down to the signs for the witness box, but added the gold Buddha - which makes this quite the unique place to enjoy a spot of Michelin recommended Asian fusion cuisine. The menu is inspired by the old silk route, hence the restaurant's name, and features the likes of scallops served with spice ginger and coconut broth, and other such winning assaults on the taste buds.
Inamo has two branches in London, the other being in Wardour Street, and their thing is to take interactive eating to a new level. This they achieve. Every table has a custom projected display, where you can do fun things like order food, booze and taxis, choose a virtual tablecloth and play battleships against the person sitting opposite. It's a pretty remarkable experience. The St James offering is probably the quirkier one, with an interior decked out in massive bamboo shoots and an indoor vertical garden with its very own waterfall. As you do. Food is pan-Asian, of the Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Korean varieties.
Thanks for the tip off: Alison Oxjam Lewis, Yolanda De Vries, Rosie Reynolds.
Mes Amis, 1 Rainville Road, Fulham, W6 9HA. Tel: 020 7385 5155
This is the sort of restaurant that you're glad exists. It's one room, 20 tables, and the perma-moustachioed owner, chef and visionary James has turned this little corner of Fulham into some kind of paraphernalia paradise. The place is covered with ornamental fans, decorative plates, mandolins, violins, multicoloured chairs, little bears sitting on the counter, and much more. Food is prepared to order incredibly swiftly, and you can expect the best of Lebanese at really reasonable prices. Go for mixed mezze and you shall not be disappointed.
Mari Vanna, Wellington Court, 116 Knightsbridge, SW1X 7PJ. Tel: 0207 225 3122
Our second Russian entry is the new and rather wonderful Mari Vanna. With prior outposts in St Petersburg and New York, they've now landed in London, with the aim of bringing you the experience of dining in a charming traditional Russian home - namely that of Mari Vanna. With incredible attention to detail an amazing space has been created, as they describe it "an archetypal Russian home adorned with trinkets and tchotchke, including the iconic Russian Bear, stacking dolls and Cheburashka, bookshelves filled with Russian literature with elaborate chandeliers hung far and wide." You can expect to eat Russian at its finest, like meat stuffed dumplings in a sour cream source, and as you might imagine the vodka's not too shabby here either. But be warned that this special experience comes with a special price tag, so plan (and save) accordingly.
Buona Sera at the Jam, 289 King's Road, Chelsea, SW3 5EW. Tel: 020 7352 8827
More ladders. Buona Sera at the Jam fulfils this function admirably. In what is surely a bit of business genius, they've doubled the size of this pretty trim spot by having a higher level of seating and a lower one - made possible by some pretty impressive bunk-bed-esque structures. The waiting staff are highly skilled in delivering your (very good Italian) food via these ladders (you try climbing one with a plate on either hand), which must make for a pretty robust interview procedure. It's fun and a surprising find for this part of town.
Thanks for the tip off: Caroline Lofts-Elman.
The Pale Blue Door, they'll tell you when you book (but you can work it out from the below..)
This place is fully bonkers and full of bonkers. In a Dalston backstreet, next door to the ever brilliant Passing Clouds, is indeed a pale blue door. Behind it sits the most remarkable and ramshackle 'restaurant' you will ever come across; though in actual fact it's a house. A house that's populated by continental artistes who are more than a dab hand with a roasting tray. They open their place up for pop up dining events - the menu is set, and is one of the best roasts you'll ever have - but what's staggering is the space. Part charming studio, part kitschy jumble sale, it's a mayhem (noun?) of layers and levels; you might find yourself up a ladder in a loft that's actually a bedroom, looking down and around at the most incredible collection of truly weird and wonderful appurtenances you can imagine. The night is compered by a drag queen, who suffice to say is pretty full on, and audience participation is to be expected. This is a not an experience you'll forget in a hurry. The nights are infrequent and get booked up early so keep an eye out for the next run.
Thanks for the tip off: Caroline Lofts-Elman, Jamal Cassim and Cary James.
Taking its name quite literally, the Stone Cave is a Turkish restaurant in Dalston that's in a cave. Well it's really in a Victorian high street terrace, but inside they've created their very own cave, complete with dangling lanterns, Turkish drapes, a woodshack bar and a big old aquarium. Great for big groups and a really upbeat vibe to the place. Entertainment comes in the form of the occasional live music act, and the frequent belly dancer.
CATS Café des Artistes, 79 Stroud Green Road, Haringey, N4 3EG. Tel: 020 7281 5557
A blink and you'll miss it kind of a place, in a somewhat unexpected area, this is somewhere you wouldn't want to blink in the vicinity of. It's a wooden wonderland, with tables made of old farm carts, more gold Buddhas, porcelain cats (in fact multiple cat based decorations), giant colourful fans on the wall, clocks and statues and other such eclectic paraphernalia - with the odd bit of neon thrown in. The food is Thai, cooked to order, and is every bit as colourful as the surrounds.
Few places give such a sense of opulent awe upon entering as a Gilgamesh. As you ascend the escalator that takes you inside, the first thing that strikes you is the incredible wood carvings adorning the walls - and you'll doubtless begin to wonder just how many people it would have taken to carve up. The answer is a mere 10,000 North Indian workers, who are responsible for creating nearly all of the interior of this jewel of Stables Market. It's truly unbelievable - every corner you turn is a) massive, and b) infinitely detailed. The main room has a huge retractable roof for brighter days. Again it's Asian fusion, food, with some pretty special cocktails to wash it down with. It's not cheap, but then neither are ridiculous amounts of Lapis stone and hand carved bronze.
Thanks for the tip off: Mark Andrew Estafanous.
Pasha Kyrgyz Kazakh Restaurant, 158 Camberwell Road, Camberwell. Tel: 07540 720739.
We confess we've never been here, but it came about from one of our Facebook fans asking if there were any restaurants in London which had rivers in them. We searched, and this we found. It looks ruddy mental. Enter through the Pasha Hotel, wonder concertedly if you're in the wrong place, follow a red carpet, over a small footbridge and indoor pond, and you'll find yourself somewhere in Central Asia, surrounded by ornate rugs, cushions, and the odd belly dancer. Food is Kazakhstani and beyond, so expect everything from pickled herring to noodles, and wine straight off the good old vineyards of Georgia and Kazakhstan. You'll leave with an experience to regale and a fairly soft hit on the wallet.
We'll be frank, we're pretty keen on places that involve eating up ladders. Not every table in Champor Champor features such an access mechanism, but there is one, and eating there sort of makes you feel like you're in charge. Ask for it ahead of time. The restaurant is a mish mash of Asian decorative influences, with carved wood here and a massive ornate cow on the wall there, and that same principle applies to the food. A bit of Thai, a lot of Malaysian; a generally flavoursome assembly.
Powder Keg Diplomacy, 147 St Johns Hill, Clapham Junction, SW11 1TQ. Tel: 0207 450 6457.
Trironically, Powder Keg Diplomacy is Victoriana colonial themed - so it harks back to colonial settings which themselves clearly hark back to England's green and pleasant land - except this one's already in England, specifically South London. If ever there were an English themed restaurant abroad that pulled it off in a way that Wimpy might never manage, this is how it would be. And they've done it rather well. At the back is an airy conservatory, lit by dangling gramophone lights, and it has the air of a place and time where conquests were planned, handshakes were firm and the moustache was king. Throughout it is peppered with touches of old, from bronze globes, ceiling maps to the odd mounted impala head. Food is hearty British with a contemporary flair, which applies to the drinks too - including their own beer. They even have a manifesto of “honouring tradition whilst subverting convention” and by George we think they've done it.
Thanks for the tip off: Andrew Manches.
Café Cairo, 88 Landor Road, Clapham, SW9 9PE. Tel: 0207 207 0926.
A factoid for you, quite possibly not an interesting one. There are two of us behind GLP, and we each went somewhere years ago that made us think there must be more places like this, so let's go and find them. For one, it was Poejazzi (a night, rather than a place). For the other, it was Café Cairo. Back in the day of living in Clapham, this place stuck out as being like a den of iniquity and curiosity like nowhere else in SW4. Then it burned down. Now it's back, and better than ever - Egypt themed (the clue's in the name), the venue features its very own Cairo constructed tent, tranquil shisha garden, mini dressing room, a travellers' lounge with boardgames, chess and a roaring fire, as well as a basement bar with stage and piano for full frivolity. It's great to have it back.
Did we miss any? Let us know in the comments. And that's that. Stay safe out there.