by Georgina Bale
Porcelain wall art, cocktails that paralyse you instantly and more velvet than Liberace’s toilet seat; London has some very ‘special’ hangouts that will either leave you with a warm, chintzy feeling or make you want to vomit kittens. Here are our Top 5 most outrageous:
I’ve been to Mr Chow’s exactly twice. Once about 15 years ago, when I was mistaken for an ‘escort’ and which led to me refusing to wear lipstick again for another 7 years; then again fairly recently with some male clients when the waiter initially refused to give my business partner and I the bill because they presumably couldn’t get their heads around the concept of a woman paying for dinner. All inexcusable of course but serve as good examples of the decade that Mr Chow’s is stuck in. It stands as a stalwart of stuffiness and elitism and it’s a little bit like an old school movie star, you just know they’d be a nightmare husband but you weirdly want to keep going back for the excitement and charm, willing to put up with a few bum pinches in exchange for that massive diamond ring – it worked fine for Elizabeth Taylor.
The food at Mr Chow’s is annoyingly delicious and since I’m always won over by good food, this is clearly enough to make me overlook my sexist experiences and want to go back for more. I know it makes me shallow but lipstick never suited me anyway and I’d do almost anything for a sizzling beef stir-fry…euphemism intended.
Price: Mains £20-£35, 2 course set menu from £47 pp
Kitsch rating: **
I tried so hard to like this place but it’s difficult when even the name sounds like a positive spin on an STD. The decor is also pretty painful. It looks like they gave £20m to a child and asked them to design a restaurant. It’s all green velvet benches and water features, like a combination of a chain Thai restaurant and Del Boy’s living room. Style over substance is the order of the day and I struggle to take anywhere seriously that has a large green porcelain mermaid sticking out the wall.
The diners that surrounded me all had the same ‘slapped arse’ face and made for distracting company because I kept wondering what I was missing. Turns out the answer is ‘lip fillers’.
Mains: £20 – £50, ‘Sekushi’ menu (10 dishes) £82 pp
Kitsch rating: ****
When I first visited Trader Vic’s in nineteen-ninety-cough-cough, it wasn’t kitsch yet, it was just plain cool. In those days, I hadn’t even met anyone who had travelled outside of England let alone to anywhere exotic so it was like being on a movie set. There is something very 80s Bill Murray about a Hawaiian shirt and a cocktail served in a coconut shell.
I can’t recall what the food is like because every time I go, I get over-excited and order too many tropical cocktails, the most potent of which is the ‘Zombie’ (made from run, grenadine and petrol). This never seems to fail to kill all my tastebuds and renders movement and speech difficult.
Trader Vic’s has changed and modernised since my first experience but has thankfully retained the aching levels of kitsch that make it genuine and original. It’s therefore always good value for money and a fantastic change for a night out with mates.
Price: Mains £20-£40, sharing feasts from £49 pp
Kitsch rating: ***
For some reason I always feel the need to bring elderly relatives to this place to ‘show off’ how cool London is. I think it’s because you have to book a table and sit down for cocktails and since I’m approaching middle age myself, I respect and understand the need to be guaranteed a seat at all times. They also provide high quality, free bar snacks which I believe should be a human right when you’re spending £15+ on a cocktail.
Mr. Fogg’s has followed a fabulous concept of ‘comedy’ doormen who enter into the spirit of the theme by talking to you in a faux 1870s style, “Does Madam have a reservation this evening”, “Would Sir like me to arrange a carriage home”? It’s all very quaint and atmospheric until you hear them on their fag break later in the evening discussing the Tottenham game in a cockney accent. The magnificent atmosphere continues inside with the huge hot air balloon in the corner and plethora of random chintz, absolutely nailing the ‘eccentric Victorian explorer’ brief.
Despite the impressive atmos, it’s the cocktails that stand out the most. They do a great line in snazzy receptacles (love the word ‘receptacle’…) and I’m a sucker for a crystal cocktail glass, very Downton Abbey.
Price: Afternoon ‘tipsy tea’ from £40
Kitsch rating: **
This place is so off the scale it made me feel like I was in a dream and walking into a manifestation of Liza Minelli’s ‘lady garden’. The abundance of red velvet folds and shiny objects is borderline disturbing. It was such an assault on the senses that I couldn’t figure out if I found it cheap or incredibly impressive. Either way it was an experience I can’t forget, even if I wanted to.
The food is also excellent (although I’d probably still go if they served grilled baby hedgehogs, just for the décor). Obviously if you do decide to make a reservation, make sure you re-mortgage first because the next day, when sense returns, you’ll feel like you’ve been mugged by kitsch little velvet goblins.
Price: Mains £20-£50, Dim sum from £7
Kitsch rating: ******