Dining with a difference

If you’re looking for an unusual meal out for your group, Fiona Horan offers a veritable tapas of ideas to consider.

Unique venues

Take your group to the Silk Restaurant in Soho, London and you will find yourself dining under a beautiful vaulted glass ceiling and surrounded by oak panelling, judge’s bench, dock and witness stand. This was the former Great Marlborough Street Magistrates Court, which witnessed the trials of Oscar Wilde, Mick Jagger and John Lennon. Taking the legendary Silk Road as its cue, it now serves Asian fusion cuisine.

Another distinctive venue in London is Planet Hollywood near Piccadilly Circus. Great icons of the film industry is the theme here, and your group can tuck into an all-American menu surrounded by genuine memorabilia from Hollywood.

The Silk Restaurant is in a former Court of Law.

The Silk Restaurant is in a former Court of Law.

Meanwhile opera is the inspiration for the fantastic opulence inside Sarastro on Drury Lane, London. This restaurant has an interior which is a feast for the eyes with opera boxes above the main floor and masks, statues, tassels, lampshades, gilding, curtains, nooks and crannies galore. The food is broadly Mediterranean, and there are frequent live music performances.

And from the decadent excess of Sarastro to the charm of a childhood fantasy made real – how about a meal in a real treehouse? The Treehouse Restaurant is a large and amazing-looking wooden structure, looming out of the trees like something from a Russian fairytale. It is in The Alnwick Garden, Alnwick, Northumberland and promises wooden walkways, rope bridges, twinkling lights and a roaring log fire.

Or why not get your group to do a bit of work towards their meal and learn a new skill? High Weald Dairy at Horsted Keynes, West Sussex do an Introduction to Cheese Making one-day course where you will learn to make both a soft, fresh cheese and a hard cheddarstyle cheese. Refreshments and a homemade lunch are provided as well as a tutored tasting of High Weald Dairy cheeses. At the end of the day, you all go home with a kilo of cheese! This is suitable for small groups as the maximum at a time is eight.

Join Del Boy, Rodney and friends for a spot of grub - courtesy of Interactive Theatre

Join Del Boy, Rodney and friends for a spot of grub – courtesy of Interactive Theatre

Interactive dining

Fancy a spot of pub grub at the Nag’s Head with Del Boy? A banquet with Henry VIII? To witness and solve a murder at the dinner table? Or a guest at the Fawlty Towers hotel? An increasingly ingenious and ambitious array of interactive dining experiences are available for groups to enjoy.

The Interactive Theatre Company offer Faulty Towers The Dining Experience (very good when we attended earlier this year), The Wedding Reception (plenty of comic potential with that scenario) and now the brand new Only Fools The (cushty) Dining Experience – based on the much-loved long-running television sitcom Only Fools and Horses. This immersive experience allows diners to join the Trotters and their friends for a kneesup down at the Nag’s Head in Peckham. There’s money to be made and debts to be paid! A three-course meal is included with the ticket price and diners will encounter Boycie, Marlene, Trigger, Cassandra and Uncle Albert as well as Del Boy and Rodney portrayed by Interactive Theatre’s talented team of improvisational actors. The show is touring nationally until at least next October.

Manuel is your waiter at the Faulty Towers Dining Experience - courtesy of Interactive Theatre

Manuel is your waiter at the Faulty Towers Dining Experience – courtesy of Interactive Theatre

For more interactive mayhem join Henry VIII at The Medieval Banquet at St Katharine Docks, London. Diners enjoy a four-course meal with entertainment provided by knights, jesters or magicians to the accompaniment of live medieval music and song. It is possible to hire appropriate attire upon arrival if your group really wants to get in with the medieval swing (but smart casual is the norm).

Or how about a macabre rather than cheery experience? In West Sussex guests can enjoy the Arundel Ghost Experience. Enter Arundel’s old jailhouse and encounter the ghost of a murder victim, who will invite your table to solve the mystery of how they were killed. A great group event with a three-course buffet meal.

Numerous hotels offer murder mystery dining experiences throughout the year. Examples include the Lumley Castle Hotel in Chester le Street, County Durham; Moor Hall Hotel and Spa, Sutton Coldfield; Monk Fryston Hall Hotel, North Yorkshire and Haughton Hall Hotel, Shifnal, Shropshire. Alternatively, hire your favourite venue and engage the services of a professional murder mystery theatre company to perform their interactive magic for your group. The Murder Mystery Company has some fun-looking scenarios in its repertoire, as has Murder Mystery Events.

Gourmet to go

Fine dining and sight-seeing on the Bustronome

Fine dining and sight-seeing on the Bustronome

Bustronome in London is a new concept in dining on the move. Up to 38 guests can enjoy a six-course dinner whilst travelling in style around London’s major attractions and landmarks on the top deck of a glass-roofed doubledecker bus. This is a new venture from a company that runs a similar gourmet bus experience in Paris. Afternoon teas and lunches will also soon be available on the London bustronome. Packages can be tailored for groups – collecting your group from a West End show, for instance, to tour London with dinner.

City Cruises, York offer lunches and afternoon teas whilst sailing through the city on the river Ouse, with commentary from the local skipper. City Cruises are well-versed in helping GTOs and offer good group rates, perks and assistance.

A regal waterborne experience is on offer in Windsor as the Savill Garden has teamed up with boat company French Brothers to offer a morning visit to the garden followed by a river boat cruise along the Thames in the afternoon with a cream tea.

Although not strictly speaking on the move, historic ship SS Great Britain at Great Western Dockyard in Bristol offers group lunches and cream teas, as well as summer party packages (with a barbecue) and Murder Mystery Dinners, all of which can be arranged exclusively for your group.

Solve a murder on board the SS Great Britain

Solve a murder on board the SS Great Britain

Afternoon Tea

Afternoon tea is a British institution and many enjoyable variants on the theme exist – from the traditional luxury high tea at a famous London hotel to tea and cake aboard vintage trains and ships.

The Royal Albert Hall in South Kensington, London offer several different high tea experiences with discounts for groups. The venue also has a series of Live Music and Food events – most being afternoon tea with live opera – which sounds like a very refined afternoon tea experience.

For an exotic twist on an old tradition, try afternoon tea Scandinavian style at Aquavit in Carlton Street, London. Expect a smørrebrød assortment with shrimp skagen, gravlax, and matje herring followed by sweet treats and pastries, with tea and champagne.

Bon appétit!