Much has been written recently about exotic food trends in London, and if you are keen to try crocodile, zebra or caramel mealworms, Archipelago in Cleveland Street may be just what you are looking for.
The menu is extraordinary, but the décor, in some ways, is even more so. The tasteful, dark green exterior opens into an explosion of colours and textures: clearly the design remit was exotic, exotic, exotic. Rich red walls and dark green table linens hold together the artfully eclectic collection of mismatched furniture, seat covers and glassware. Every wall is covered with tribal carvings, chunky frames, masks, prints, mirrors and artefacts. Snakes, statuettes, candleholders, twigs and feathers decorate the tables. Softly gleaming bronze, copper and gold pots reflect candlelight around the intimate space. Jali screens and buddhas are juxtaposed with geishas and tribal carvings, aboriginal art and European renaissance style portraits. Rich jewel coloured soft furnishings in Indian silk and heavy jacquards lend an air of opulent comfort. Unsurprising then, that this restaurant has been voted a favourite for ambience and romance, as well as for its menu.
Crickets, python, ants, alpaca and locusts feature on the menu, as does a visit from the doctor, (₤8.50, in case you are wondering) but if you prefer to play it safe, there are plenty of fish, chicken and vegetarian offerings, along with a profusion of sweets and desserts.
Culinary influences are mixed and merged with great exuberance and flair, deservedly gaining Archipelago the accolade of “London’s premier spot for eclectic dining.”
Archipelago 53 Cleveland Street W1T 4JJ 020 7637 9611
Meanwhile, over in Clerkenwell, diners have a totally different experience. Dans le Noir is a restaurant with none of the visual delights of Archipelago. Here, the aim is to give diners an insight into the world of the visually impaired. Food is served in total darkness by blind and visually impaired staff, who, for a change, are at an advantage.
The Dans le Noir experience includes an introduction in a lighted bar, where you enjoy a drink, and a member of staff explains exactly what will happen. Mobile phones, watches or lighters have to be left in lockers, along with anything else that might detract from dining totally in the dark.
Meals at Dans le Noir are designed to encourage a new appreciation of flavours and aromas, and diners are invited to choose from several surprise menus. There are meat, fish, vegetarian and total surprise options, and those with allergies are instructed to tell staff of anything they cannot eat, so that meals can be tailored accordingly.
Once you have chosen one the four menus, a member of staff will lead you into the dining room. You might be seated at the same table as total strangers. Not being able to see your dinner companions or where your cutlery and glassware are leads to a loosening of inhibitions – it is easier to open a conversation with someone whose wine you have accidentally taken – and if you find using the cutlery difficult in the dark, nobody will know if you use your fingers!
Although the restaurant concept came from a desire to increase understanding between blind and sighted people, the food is not at all stodgy or worthy. Top quality fresh, ethically produced meat, fish and poultry are served with seasonal local, and where possible, organic vegetables. There are some exotic ingredients, such as springbok or ostrich, as well as more traditional lamb, trout, ox cheeks et cetera, and the dessert menu is delightfully varied.
Trying to discern what you are eating is a large part of the experience, and once you have finished your meal, you are led back into a lighted area, where tea and coffee are served. Menus with colour photographs are provided, so that you can check how accurately you guessed what you just ate.
Dans le Noir 30-31 Clerkenwell Green EC1R 0DU firstname.lastname@example.org 020 7253 1100