Experimentation is key: London’s quirkiest new openings

So far in 2016, Just Opened London have written about 124 restaurant and bar openings in the capital. Those are the openings they chose to write about. With tens of openings each week, how must budding restaurateurs, vying for industry esteem and consumers hard-earned cash, get themselves heard?

Staying cool past an initial bout of launch press is problematic for eateries that become yesterday’s news before today’s chip paper.

One way through the haze is to innovate. The capital’s latest openings craze is a bout of boozy crazy golf courses which are symptomatic of the ‘do something different’ culture at its best.

Someone thought, is there a way to avoid standing around in bars shouting loudly? And now we have Junkyard Golf on Brick Lane, with nine-hole golf courses made out of junkyard scrap. They even have names: Helga, Pedro and Frank. Good cocktails accompany street food from traders with ludicrous names like Big Grillie Style – and finally Londoners have something to do while drinking!

How about a trip to play crazy golf at the now permanent Swingers in the City, or Red Market in Shoreditch, where (we assume) unknowing families have been careering anxiously past The Peter Kay Hole (hole number 2) since Just Opened London launched the market with our Members last month.

Sticking with outdoor innovation, and heading to west London, new summer opening Pergola on the Roof has done something new for both rooftops and street markets. Don’t know what a pergola is? It’s essentially foliage that trials above your head. ‘Live Ceilings’, rather than walls.

But the flora and fauna isn’t the headless experimentation they’re talking about. Rather, the dining style at Pergola on the Roof has been borrowed from Singaporean Hawker markets. Guests order from four temporary restaurants that surround a central hub of communal tables; but the food is delivered to you sat down, like you’re in a restaurant. Guests are seated together and encouraged to share what they order, mixing cuisines, like at a market – but in a slightly formalised setting. A new type of dining club, then, perched on top of the ex-BBC Television Centre.

Find Salt Yard charcuterie; Islington rotisserie LeCoq; Patty & Bun burgers and foraged food restaurant, Rabbit, at Pergola on the Roof.

Are you inquisitive about our capital’s past? Openings all over town use heritage themes to win trade. It’s understandably popular to discuss which London murderer’s drinking den or prison cell you’ve had a tequila shot in; and new openings The Arts Theatre Club, Soho, and The Courthouse Hotel, Shoreditch, are cashing in on their uncomfortable histories by bragging about infamous residents to entice us in.

The Courthouse Hotel and The Arts Theatre Club also use reclaimed fittings to capture essences of the past. Take the dining room at the Courthouse, which is the old courthouse itself. The original wood panelling still remains, which once bore witness to the trials of the notorious Kray Twins. Playing on intrigue and novelty value to make their cash, diners at the Courthouse also eat from plates that are hand-cuffed together. And in the basement, guests can hire Reggie Kray’s old prison cell as their VIP area – a twisted slice of murder tourism?

Bad taste or just plain fun (the post-war-themed bar Cahoots is one of our favourites in London), visiting bygone London is a hot ticket.

Old Victorian toilet blocks exemplify this trend for celebrating bygone London. Opening restaurants and bars in old loos is one of modern London’s oddest traits, but one of the most beguiling. These cosy bars use old urinals and make them into tables, and hang old love notes on the wall found behind cisterns –  unmissable new spots include Ladies & Gentlemen in Kentish Town and Joe Public in Clapham.

But there is no disguising that sheer ingenuity and bold creative whim are the key ingredients when experimenting on the London openings scene. London is one of the most diverse and creative cities in the world, and invention starts here. Ryan Chetiyawardana’s group of bars, which culminate in Opening of the Year 2015, Dandelyan, take cocktails to the next level.

Sourcing ingredients from all over the world (their new range includes zedoary root, a rare-to-the-West cobra anti venom) Ryan’s drinks are inspired by unusual and worldy themes. The current menu, about witch doctors, is called hunter, gatherer, shaman and explorer. The result is highly engineered cocktails, both to look at being made behind the bar and to taste. It is overwhelmingly high concept – but like a good play, you needn’t know the cast list in order to have a good time.

Dandelyan’s drinks are future classics, made to meticulously mirror the pathways of civilisation.

If that all sounds too much, rather than experimental cocktail drinking you should go to Draft House Chancery Lane – the brand new City pub have installed brewery-fresh Pilsner Urquell that customers can pour from the tank themselves – who said being fresh had to be complicated?

Festival Partners