12 quirky restaurants for business dinners
The best restaurants in London for business meetings and entertaining clients - we round up the quirky, fun and inspirational!
It's a long established notion that if you want to really get to know someone, then you take them to dinner. Well, this is just as true from a business perspective as it is from a personal perspective. Whereas breakfast is business-like and lunch is long (although infrequently laborious), dinner is decidedly delightful because it has it all. It's relaxed, it can be intimate and, above all, it's out of work hours so it is laced with an element of freedom, and therefore, fun.
Just as you wouldn't take someone you'd didn't really like to dinner, someone who didn't like you wouldn't accept the invitation either so if the date's in the diary it's a good start. Of course, from a purely business perspective you might have a (slightly) different agenda but it's surprising where a delicious meal, a few drinks and a sensational conversation can take you.
These days, business and pleasure are all mixed up because the work life balance has completely changed.
Work is life and life is work, especially as we tend to spend more of our time at work than we do at home, and, statistically that's more often by choice than not...Work is no longer a means to an end either. In fact, it's more of a ‘means to a beginning’ because it opens so many doors that you probably never expected would open...
What's more, people don't choose to do business with people that they don't feel they have an affinity with or at least share some mutual personal interests, so the more personal a business relationship can be, the better (careful though!). Business IS personal and it's never been truer.
So, dinner is now very much an acceptable medium for business meetings, as long as it's at the right level and at the appropriate stage of the process (possibly a second or third meeting where a deal is becoming imminent). Dinner is also a brilliant time of day for a meeting because it doesn't encroach on anyone's 'working hours' and therefore doesn't diminish productivity (unless you drink too much, of course!).
My overriding advice on this subject though (and yes, I am an expert on this, above most other things) is to take your guest or guests somewhere exciting. Somewhere different. Somewhere stimulating and inspirational. Oh, and it's really important that you make it fun, because if you're not so sure if you really should, well dinner's fun.....and fun is good...!
With that fundamental fact of life firmly in mind, where are the quirkiest and most inspirational places to take a client or potential client to dinner?
Here are our top 12 to get you started...
1. Duck and Waffle
Right from the start when you pass the street level flambos and step into the great glass elevator, you know you're in for a treat. You and your guests will race up the glistening Heron Tower at ear-popping speed before stopping off on the dramatic open air Sushi Samba terrace one floor below (a must!) for a pre-dinner drink. Then it's up the sweeping stairs to Duck and Waffle, essentially a little glass box on top of the world! Their signature Duck and Waffle dish is suitably delish as are their wide variety of cocktails! I can honestly say I had an evening that can only be described as ‘magical’ up there not so long ago, with Tower Bridge (and reality in general!) shimmering in the late evening haze a long, long way below...
A modern classic and if it's good enough for Prince Harry and his entourage, it's good enough for us! Quags is a really vibrant and stylish place and, as well as their two stunning private dining rooms the whole joint is a meandering labyrinth of secluded and tucked away spaces. Their semi-circular retro-style bar is a great place to hang out for a fresh cocktail or two and, as the evening progresses, the atmosphere becomes more charged. With renowned DJs and some of the best house bands in London, Quaglinos is an enduring classic from where you'll always emerge with a new story...
Cool, sophisticated and the later it gets, the louder it gets! Which is a good thing because it's the perfect excuse to break the shackles of seriousness and dance on the table. Why not? Ok, so the table dancing is optional but the circular DJ booth, cunningly disguised between the cosy banquette seats cranks up the atmosphere after 9pm, making STK a great place to mix business with pleasure. The steaks are high quality and the atmosphere is properly electric, so if you've got a client who's full of beans (or even full of shit) this place is perfect because, come 9pm you won't have to endure them alone anyway..!
STK is the restaurant in the ME London Hotel. Find out more about ME London
4. Boisdale Canary Wharf
The Boisdale restaurant group is somewhat of a best kept secret on the London scene, at least outside the discerning group of jazz loving, whisky drinking, cigar smoking impresarios. In reality though, you don't have to be any of these things but a small dose of Boisdale is good for the soul and so, if I was a doctor, I'd wholeheartedly recommend it! Seriously. Their Canary Wharf establishment is huge, on two levels and boasts a stunning crustacean bar as well as a big stage for (world class) live jazz. The atmosphere is amazing (always) and as for the food? Well, let's just say that their aged Scottish steaks and their fresh lobster are some of the best I've ever tasted. Anywhere in the world.
5. Bodo's Schloss
Ok, so I remember what it was like to go skiing as a teenager with a gang of other teenagers and it was awesome. Not because of the glorious mountain air, the speed, the exhilaration, the pleasure-terror of going off piste with people who were much better skiers than me, not even because of the 'ski'. No, no, no! It was ALL about the après ski. Obviously. So fast forward a few years, pull on your moonboots and shuffle on down to Kensington High Street where you'll (bizarrely) discover the most authentic and riotous Austrian ski chalet this side of the Alps. And this side of the 80's for that matter. It's a cosy log cabin where everything's themed, even the waiters and waitresses are dressed in lederhosen. The beers are traditional Austrian uber-sized and the cocktails are served in ski-boots. Meals are mainly fondue style, which is great for interactive communal dining. The entertainment is interactive too - roaming magicians play anything on request and, if you're up for it, you will become part of that wandering entertainment. And there's a club too, through the barn doors at the other end of the venue, complete with a DJ booth which is technically a cable car gondola. Fun, fun, fun!
6. Babylon at the Roof Gardens
The Roof Gardens is one of those places that always puts a smile on your face. It's just so spectacular, even after all these years and to be in a fully matured landscape garden surrounded by Italianate cloisters, water features and flamingos, in central London, on a rooftop is, well, pretty cool! One floor below, Babylon is a great restaurant with delicious food, stunning floor to ceiling garden views and it's always buzzing (an important attribute for any restaurant).
Aptly named after a Nineteenth-Century lady lion tamer(!) Heliot is a superb place for steak and red wine for so many reasons. Firstly, because both the food and the atmosphere are great and secondly because it's just so convenient. Nestled high in the atrium of the sensational Hippodrome Casino, the restaurant is perched on a series of mezzanine balconies with impressive views of the casino floor below. It's open twenty-four-seven too which means it's perfect for impromptu West End meetings as well as being surrounded by fun things to do (dine on a Wednesday and you'll almost certainly find yourself in London's finest comedy burlesque show (well, it keeps on happening to me anyway!)). A really great meal in a really convenient location surrounded by some really fun things....!
8. Dans Le Noir
Ok, so it would be deeply ironic (but very funny) to take a client here for dinner. And they won't forget it in a hurry. Because it's pitch black. And I mean a complete blackout. All the waiters and waitresses are blind, there is not a shard of actual real light in there whatsoever and guests are led in, in single file, and sat down at a long (I think!) communal table. It's really weird, but kinda cool. Cool because it forces you to empathise (for a very short time) with all the blind people who are employed by dans Le noir in London and Paris. And cool because it heightens your senses of taste, sound and smell. One thing I can't remember is if I needed the loo at any point in the evening? I must've done but I don't remember how I would have found it? Anyway, if I'm honest, I found it quite weird because it almost put me off my food. I assumed it wasn't as good as it actually was and, after the meal, we were shown what we'd just had. It's was amazing but I can't help thinking I would have liked it more had I been able to see it. In fact, at a recent dinner with Heston Blumethal, he told me some fascinating facts about the significance of presentation when tasting food. Another fact he gave me was that if you listen to rock music when you eat, you'll eat 15% faster than normal and if you listen to classical music, you'll eat 15% slower. Cool, is t it! Anyway, for an unforgettable night out that they’ll never even actually see, take your guests to Dans Le Noir – it’ll be a talking point for months, guaranteed!
9. Bunga Bunga
For a gloriously politically incorrect experience in Battersea (and we all need more of those!!) head down to Bunga Bunga, which is essentially a beautifully, (gloriously!) decadent Italianate extravaganza of kitsch (and cheekily playful) design and ephemera, complete with a gondola bar, vintage scooters suspended from the ceiling and the grand master of frolicking fun, Silvio Berlusconi, as its underlying inspiration. The leaning tower of Pisa cocktail sharers are a highlight too, of course. But despite the unquestionable fun and inevitable rowdiness, Bunga Bunga really impresses with its authentic Italian cuisine, making it an excellent (and culinarily viable) place for a fun night out with colleagues or (good humoured) clients...
10. La Bodega Negra
Everyone's heard of this place they just don't know it's name or if it's an urban myth or not...! Kyle famously went there last year and the ‘paps’ got a great shot of her on the way in (which looked much more dodgy than it actually is - but then again, that's the point!) This charming little Mexican Restaurant is effectively a candlelit cave in Soho. It's hugely atmospheric and shabby chic to the max but the most eye-opening thing is the spectacularly daring entrance on street level. It's a fully themed sex shop, complete with neon lights and even a toy cabinet at 'reception'. Meanwhile, downstairs you'll be welcomed with tequila cocktails and all sorts of exotic and authentic nibbles. A fantastic place to surreptitiously watch your guests look (sheepishly) for the entrance...(hidden camera anyone?).
11. Shaka Zulu
A large, exotic, awe-inspiring Mecca of vibrant African culture, Shaka Zulu is an impressive place to bring colleagues or clients for a fun fuelled and authentically themed night out. The menu is fun too and you can be as adventurous (or not) as you choose. Funnily enough, the Head of the European Convention Bureau had a right go at me about an event we invited him to here...He wrote to me (with an actual letter no less!) in which he raged "I have always respected londonlaunch.com as a benchmark European brand in the events sector but your decision to invite me to a venue which serves zebra, which is effectively a stripy horse, and crocodile frankly disgusts me and I won't be attending! Or using you ever again!". Well, that was strange. I mean they would never serve anything remotely controversial in his native France, would they? And anyway, why is a zebra any worse that a cow? Mind you, it's not as bad as the complaint I received from an invitee to an event we were staging at Stringfellow's - she was quite a fierce lawyer and my office enjoyed watching me get out of that one (which, of course, I did!). In fact the lady in question even wrote to me to commend me on how I dealt with the situation and told me that "our whole office are very impressed with you and, contrary to what I said in my last email, we will all be using you for our future events!). Score!
Interactive Oriental Fusion... I had dinner here years ago and it was a great novelty, especially as it pre-dated mainstream apps. I can't help thinking that this place should have been superseded by an app by now though (especially as we thought of inventing this app about two years ago!) but the reality is that the best idea in he world is still only 1% of the battle. The other 99% is years of pain and heartache making it work! Anyway, I digress, Inamo could have become the benchmark, although it remains decidedly niche and therefore it's USP is a fun novelty as opposed to a dining necessity, and that's played into their (magical) hands. Basically, the tables are interactive, so you can place your order (and subsequent re-orders - see, this is where the app would have been so lucrative) simply by tapping the touchscreen table. The fact is that it's fun. And easy. So, inevitably, you'll spend more. I can't actually remember what the food was like, but it's reputedly very good (and award winning). It doesn't really matter anyway because we had so much fun ordering stuff...!
And finally, does anyone remember that legendary Telephone Bar? Well, tweet us @londonlaunch if you do!! It sounds like a stalker's paradise but it was really good fun! The basic premise was that every table had an old fashioned dial-up telephone which you could use to call people that you fancied at other tables...like a kind of ancient intranet. It was brilliant fun! I think it was called Caspers and it was in Covent Garden? I'm sure I went there when I was still at school so it's either long gone, or was it all a polyphonic nightmare.....!?
Will Broome CEO