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The rise of unusual dining venues

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The rise of unusual dining venues

The rise of unusual dining venues

Curious cafés: the rise of unusual dining venues

Where will you eat tonight? Under the sea? In the pitch black? Or how about in a prison?

Restaurants and bars in unusual buildings or with quirky themes are on the rise, garnering the ‘likes’ on social media and attracting the attention of reviewers in search of something different.

And while you might be sceptical about the merits of sharing your dining table with the local fauna, for example, many of them are very special places not just to eat, but simply to be.

From the dark to the dangerous

London restaurant Dans le Noir is anything but Instagram-friendly: it’s pitch black, and you’ll be served by visually impaired waiters. It offers the chance to “change your point of view about many preconceived ideas of the world” by removing visual stimuli, so you can focus instead on the taste and smell of your food and the conversation of your fellow diners.

Meanwhile, if you’re lucky enough to holiday in the Maldives, you can choose to dine underwater, surrounded by sea-life. You’ll be relieved to hear that thick glass separates you from your crustacean companions.

If sharks put you off your food, how about some friendly felines? Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium in London, the UK’s first cat café. Is a beautifully run establishment, favoured not only by felines and their fans, but also by anyone who appreciates a classic high tea and slice of cake.

Making the most of the space

Such establishments are specially designed around their chosen theme. But sometimes, it’s the other way around: unusual restaurants emerge from a practical need to make the most of a particular space.

The Station Kitchen in West Bay, Dorset, takes a disused railway station and turns it into a very special dining experience that’s a world away from your traditional transport ‘caff’. The café-bar is in the old waiting room, while meals are served in a beautiful converted railway carriage. You can dine al fresco on the platform, too.

In fact, there are any number of transport-themed dining establishments around the world to float your boat, from buses to planes to ships.

In Bristol, the shipping containers of Wapping Wharf recall the city’s seafaring days. Yet the cafés and restaurants that they contain are no maritime gimmick: several have reaped praise from reviewers.

The city’s merchant history is also evident in the beautiful Cosy Club, a bar that is situated in a grand domed former banking hall. Prices, you’ll be relieved to hear, do not reflect the moneyed setting.

Down the road in the World Heritage site of Bath where we are based, there is a plethora of beautiful and unusual places to eat and drink.

In Bath our clients The Botanist have a Cocktail bar and dining establishment located in The Octagon, which was built as a private chapel and later became, in turn, an antiques showroom, and a World War II dispensary. Fittingly, given how many pictures you’re likely to take of this stunning setting, it was more recently the headquarters of the Royal Photographic Society.

Meanwhile, you’ll find café-restaurant Brown's in Bath’s old magistrates’ court and police station, while hotel and brasserie Malmaison in Oxford is located in a former castle that later became a prison. Don’t even think about doing a runner!

Increasing revenues

Of course, converting shipping containers and their like into dining establishments is not always plain sailing.

No matter how quirky or beautiful the setting, these places are businesses, and owners still need to fit in a certain number of covers. In a historic building, designed for a totally different purpose, tearing down inconvenient walls could ruin the ambience – and quite possibly incur the wrath of the local planning authority.

So the onus is on entrepreneurs to think laterally, and work out ways to use every inch of space that they’ve got to create somewhere new and interesting to eat.

Often, this involves doubling up. The Tivoli Cinema, again in beautiful Bath, extends the film-viewing experience to cover dining, too. Forget about just grabbing a bag of popcorn: at this luxurious establishment, you’ll find yourself meeting for pre-movie drinks and staying for post-movie dinner.

Atmospheric dining and drinking

Whether they’re enjoying a multi-course meal in a converted jail or a glass of fizz in a hotel garden, guests want a memorable setting as well as good food and drink.

At HGEM, we support cafés, restaurants and other establishments in making sure that guests get a wonderful dining experience, whatever the venue. Bon appetit!

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