London loves theatre — the West End is in rude health, our subsidised theatre is the envy of the world, and big names flock to prove themselves on our stages, while hyper-hip immersive shows pop up everywhere from underground vaults to bespoke bars. All of which means it’s never been cooler to be in possession of a hot ticket.
But if there’s one thing Londoners love even more than a show it’s dinner: we’re just as likely to queue up for a sizzling new restaurant opening as we are to stand in line for returns.
Happily, it’s now easier than ever to do both: a raft of theatrical foodie offerings is bringing a whole new meaning to “dinner and a show”. Immersive dining experiences aren’t exactly an unheard-of concept — but when restaurants such as Dishoom get on board, the National Theatre offers on-stage dining for Network, its big ticket for winter, and even pantomimes muscle in on the act, you know a trend has really sunk its teeth in.
It’s even hit headlines: Cockney’tivity, a theatre dining experience in an East End pub, was recently called out for “poor-shaming” working-class locals. Naturally, the company insist that the show’s really a “celebration” of cockney culture and just a bit of seasonal silliness.
Well, ’tis the season for craving entertainment with a side order of festive feasting — and a themed cocktail or three. So, ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats as we raise the curtain on five of the capital’s most delectable nights out.
Beauty and the Feast, The Vaults, SE1
It’s panto — but not as you know it. Forget dames: think decadent drag. This grown-up fairy tale promises chandelier-swinging, table-dancing and DJs till pumpkin hour — seasonal entertainment for very big kids.
Staged in The Vaults, the atmospherically gloomy railway arches under Waterloo, Beauty and the Feast is run by Darling & Edge, which has previously worked on immersive projects such as Gingerline and Alice’s Adventures Underground.
Audiences, guided by godmother Fairy Liquid, follow Belle’s footsteps to a feast in a lavish French château — where they must help break a spell and “release the beast”. Get your fanciest garb on in preparation to party: the dress code encourages “regal French fashion done with passion. Old school ruffs and neon tuffs”.
The food is also appropriately fairy tale (and highly Instagrammable): expect whole roasted pumpkins, strings of venison sausages and blue-cheese cheesecakes, plus coconut ice-cream rabbits with meringue mushrooms for dessert.
Not included in the cover price — although rather tempting — are themed French cocktails: sip on “Belle’s eau d’toilette d’rose”, made with vodka, prosecco and rose perfume, or try, ahem, “The Beast’s horn polish”, a smoking concoction of mescal, spiced rum and rosemary, for £9 a pop.
Until Jan 14, from £45 including dinner
Night at the Bombay Roxy, Dishoom Kensington, W8
Dishoom founder Shamil Thakrar thinks this is a first: a new restaurant launched with an immersive theatre production. “It is barmy,” he laughs. “Launching a restaurant is tricky at the best of times. But it also felt quite natural: I write a story for every restaurant, outlining its back story.” This time he’s just bringing that a bit more literally to life.
The latest branch of the hugely popular Indian restaurant will open in Barkers, the former Art Deco department store in Kensington that is also home to the Evening Standard. Mumbai has the second-largest number of Art Deco buildings after Miami, with the architectural style flourishing there in the 1940s, alongside a trend for jazz. This little-known cultural period was obviously the perfect match for the Barkers building.
The premise for the show — based on Naresh Fernandes’s period noir novel Taj Mahal Foxtrot — is that diners arrive for the opening of a hot new jazz club in a Bombay cinema in the 1940s. It’s the last-chance saloon for its fictional owner, whose criminal past might just be about to catch up with him… Thakrar hopes it will be like stepping into a noir film, the drama kicking off all around the diners as they eat.
Dishoom is working with Ollie Jones and Clem Garritty of theatre company Swamp Studio — who as creative associates of Punchdrunk are old hands at creating new worlds. Guests are encouraged to dress up to match the fabulous surroundings, too: think “vintage Bombay glamour”, says Jones.
Still, for many the primary draw will be the food: the restaurant serves two set menus, meat and vegetarian, with street food-style starters followed by chicken or jackfruit biryani, mattar paneer and Dishoom’s legendary black daal.
Nov 27-Dec 14, £72 with dinner and a drink
Network, National Theatre, SE1
Ever fancied being onstage at the National Theatre? Here’s your chance — as long as you’re comfortable with 1,000 audience members watching you eat.
As part of Ivo Van Hove’s stage version of the 1976 film Network, 42 diners will sit at the Foodwork restaurant, actually on the Lyttleton stage, eating their way through five courses as the show unfolds around them. Guests will be right in the action — the show’s star, Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston, might even stop by your table…
The show nods to the film’s Seventies milieu without going full period — and the fine dining menu will pull off the same trick, promises the National’s head of catering, George Cardwell. “It isn’t entirely themed but there are nods. When people think of the Seventies, they think prawn cocktail — well, we have a crab cocktail, we’ve updated it with a few nice touches. There’s Black Forest gâteau, but not your traditional big hulking slice of cake — it’s much more refined.”
Fans of the movie can enjoy the “Mad as Hell” cocktail, made with Bulleit bourbon, ginger wine, Cocchi Americano and lemon juice, and the theatre’s even serving its own special “On Air” beer, a golden ale made by Bermondsey brewery Brew By Numbers.
“Immersive dining is very on trend at the moment,” says Caldwell. “But it’s not something the National’s ever done before. It’s an amazing experience — but one that we’re not going to be repeating often.”
Until Mar 24, from £75 including meal and two drinks
Cockney’tivity, The North Star, E9
Who would have thought theatre dining could be so controversial? This Christmas dinner-with-a-show in a pub in Homerton set social media ablaze after publicity pictures showed a pregnant woman in a velour tracksuit having a fag. Naturally, artistic director Zoe Wellman says it’s all just a misunderstanding: “It was never our intention to poke fun at a stereotype.”
Audiences who want to see what the fuss is about will be welcomed with a glass of mulled wine and can expect a festive cockney drama based (very) loosely on the nativity story. “It’s a Christmas tale full of music, love and festive cheer,” says Wellman. “We wanted to combine food and theatre as we feel it’s a great way to bring people together, echoing the sentiments of the play: families coming together at Christmas.”
Street-food-truck favourites Nanny Bill’s will be in the kitchen: tuck into roast chicken or nut roast served with all the trimmings, followed by Christmas pud or a mince pie. And if you’re not too stuffed, the evening will end with a right old knees-up.
Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from Dec 1-22, £55 including dinner and a drink
Binaural Dinner Date, Gerry’s Kitchen, Theatre Royal Stratford East, E15
Theatre, food — and the chance of finding true love? That’s what this
30-minute interactive show promises. Taking place at Gerry’s Kitchen, across the square from the Theatre Royal Stratford East, Binaural Dinner Date does what it says on the tin: audience members are paired up for a blind date but also given binaural headphones — audio technology that creates a world of 3D surround-sound right in your ear.
Why? So actors can help you out with those tricky first-date conversations… If you’ve ever cringed inwardly at your poor chat here’s a chance to let an expert guide you seamlessly through getting to know a stranger. The show is the brainchild of live art company ZU-UK, whose ambitious immersive work includes the overnight show, Hotel Medea.
Even with a professional promising to lead you on a “perfect” date, lonelyhearts may be pleased to hear you also get a shot of Dutch courage in the form of a free drink. Food is not included but Gerry’s will be serving pizza with a glass of wine for £15 per couple — because no one wants to try to find love on an empty stomach now, do they?
Nov 16-Dec 3, £10 including drink