Home Lifestyle 14 unique London bars and restaurants that aren’t tourist traps

14 unique London bars and restaurants that aren’t tourist traps

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Eat incredible food on a Thames barge at Caravel (Picture: Caravel)

Want something more interesting than an open-top bus tour to add to your London itinerary? Or perhaps you live here but worry you haven’t explored everything the city has to offer?

It’s worth looking beyond the usual tourist traps if you can, both to beat the crowds and claim bragging rights when your mates ask for a hidden gem recommendation.

Thankfully, the capital is still home to a number of weird and wonderful spots that haven’t yet been franchised, sanitised and packed with stag and hen party bookings all weekend long.

Unique doesn’t just mean adult ball pits, 90s themed brunches and neon-hued bingo halls (which may have their place in London’s ‘going out’ ecosystem but won’t win you many cool points) either.

So for quirky without the clichés, and food and drink that’s as impressive as the setting it’s served up in, give these non-touristy restaurants and bars a try instead.

Café Diana, Kensington

Princess Diana was actually a regular here (Picture: Dukas/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Up the road from Notting Hill Gate station, Café Diana has been paying tribute to the People’s Princess since 1989. Before her passing, she was actually a regular, popping over from Kensington Palace for a cappuccino.

The food here is what you’d expect from a local caff – full English breakfasts by morning and staples such as fish and chips come lunchtime – with a few Levantine dishes like kofta and kubba thrown in for good measure.

What makes it especially distinctive, though, is the decor. Pictures of Diana line the walls, along with memorabilia and letters from the late royal herself.

The Absinthe Parlour at The Last Tuesday Society, Hackney

Who doesn’t want a spot of taxidermy with their tipple? (Picture: The Last Tuesday Society)

Head to Mare Street in Hackney for taxidermy, shrunken heads and dodo bones – with a bevvy or two to wash it all down.

The Absinthe Parlour is downstairs from the Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & Natural History, and the drinks selection here is just as unusual as its collection.

As the name suggests, it specialises in absinthe, but classic cocktails are available upon request and there’s a selection of beers and wines to choose from. Booking in advance is recommended, especially if you want to get in on the many events (such as tarot reading and horror movie nights) hosted here.

Little Nan’s, Deptford

It’s amazingly chintzy (Picture: Little Nan’s)

Little Nan’s is a haven of leopard print, Pat Butcher, and all things kitsch and cosy – just like you’d find in your grandma’s house.

After travelling around as a pop-up, it set up permanently in Deptford Market Yard in 2016, and has been a local institution ever since, with much of the decor purchased from the market itself.

Afternoon tea here is great, with fish finger sarnies and disco fries to soak up signature cocktails served in teapots. Make ours a Lady Lewisham.

The Zetter, Clerkenwell

The surroundings are as sumptuous as the cocktails (Picture: Zetter)

What looks like a regular Clerkenwell townhouse opens on to an intimate parlour famed for its cocktails that’s sure to impress any date.

Each drink is inspired by a different destination, using ingredients like sweet potato for Japan, curry leaf gin for India and beetroot distillate for Hungary. Don’t let the weirdness factor put you off – just sit back among the decadent interiors and let the flavours do the talking.

Attendant, Fitzrovia

The interiors – including the urinals – date back to the 19th century (Picture: Attendant)

If this cafe off Oxford Street reminds you of a toilet, it’s because it once was. The Doulton porcelain urinals from the former Victorian gents loo were revamped with green seating, creating a strangely familiar (yet chic) feel.

The coffee at the Attendant is second to none, and you can get brunch classics like bagels and avocado toast every day until 3pm.

BYOC, St Paul’s

You’re guaranteed five rounds of drinks (Picture: BYOC)

BYOC stands for Bring Your Own Cocktail, and that’s exactly what you do here. Book ahead for £35 a head and bring your favourite spirit with you (a 350ml bottle is recommended per person). Then, the mixologists will do the rest, incorporating mixers, bitters, syrups and more to create five rounds of drinks.

There’s something special about having bespoke cocktails made just for you, and the prohibition-themed bar is a suitably fancy location to enjoy them.

Caravel, Islington

Food that’ll make you feel like you’re floating (Picture: Caravel)

There are plenty of restaurants on boats throughout London, yet Caravel is among the coolest and least touristy.

Expect modern English cuisine with dishes like potato rosti, sour cream and caviar and guinea fowl, chanterelle and leek pie with mash that’s simple yet delicious. The view of the Regent’s Canal from the barge’s Old Street location isn’t bad either.

Hop Kingdom, Southwark

Take a date, or a mate, for a skate (Picture: Hop Kingdom)

The more adventurous among you may want to try Hop Kingdom, a bar-cum-skatepark located five minutes from London Bridge station.

It’s free for anyone just drinking, or £5 for anyone skating – although you do get a free pint or soft drink with your entry fee. Visitors can learn to skate every Monday at the venue’s inclusive beginners nights for adults, and you can rent boards and safety gear too.

The Clink, Brixton

A truly unique dining experience that actually helps people (Picture: The Clink)

This isn’t some gimmicky, prison-themed restaurant. All the meals at The Clink are cooked and served by inmates at HMP Brixton training for qualifications in cookery and food service.

Even the furniture here is made by people in prison at HMP Frankland, and poetry on the walls has been written by Clink graduates.

You do need to book at least a week ahead of time, and must follow certain guidelines including bringing photo ID and locking personal belongings away before sitting down. Alcohol isn’t served either, but there are a range of mocktails to go with your food, which includes cured duck breast with baby beets, blood orange and sourdough, and roasted cauliflower with pommes aligot, black garlic and hazelnut.

Govinda’s, Soho

A temple to the thali (Picture: Govinda’s)

Govinda’s is London’s oldest vegetarian and vegan restaurant, located in the heart of Soho beside the Hare Krishna Temple – you may even have spotted its orange-clad followers singing and dancing up Oxford street.

Chanting and drums aside, though, it’s worth a visit for its renowned thali feasts, priced from just £7.95 and including rice, soup, curries, bread and salad. Don’t forget to try a lassi or masala chai too.

Sarastro, Covent Garden

Sarastro is a theatreland staple (Picture: Sarastro)

The decor at this Drury Lane institution (open since 1996) is something to behold, all opulent gold details and red velvet maximalism. Food-wise, expect mezze favourites like lamb chops and chicken shish, with a pre-theatre menu priced at £25.50 for two courses.

The entertainment is what makes Sarastro so special, however, with opera performers every Sunday and Monday, Motown each Thursday, and ’70s and ’80s acts on Saturday.

Persepolis, Peckham

The restaurant began as a few tables and now extends to three floors (Picture: Persepolis)

The Persian grocery selection at Persepolis is a real treasure trove, but head to the back of this unassuming store and you’ll really strike gold. The all-vegetarian restaurant is fairly informal, and actually opened by accident when the owner wanted to try out a few recipes. It obviously worked, and although they now have space for 100 covers, it’s always packed out.

The feasting menu at £30 a head is the best way to experience Middle Eastern hospitality at its finest, but you’ll be just as bowled over by the care taken with light bites like pakora and salad. The menu varies, and there are over 26 types of humous available, so arrive hungry and ready to explore.

Auld Hag, Angel

It’s a new addition to Angel’s foodie scene (Picture: Auld Hag)

Calling itself a ‘purveyors of Scottish scran’, Auld Hag is the place to go for proper Glasgow morning rolls, Dundee cake, haggis, and anything else you’re craving from north of the border.

It’s a new addition to Angel’s St Joghn Street, only opened in February 2024, but has already proven itself as a champion for comforting Scottish food made well,

Stop by for a square sausage and tattie scone roll in the morning, then have a can of Tennents and a homemade scotch pie for lunch and get an empire biscuit for the way home. Delish.

Supperclub.tube, Walthamstow

Ready for a culinary journey? (Picture: Supperclub.tube)

Gimmicky? Maybe. But the fact this immersive dining experience, held on an old Victoria Line carriage in Walthamstow, has been running for almost a decade proves supperclub.tube is far more than that.

Three nights a week, you can book a seat on the refurbished underground train, where you’ll be served a six-course tasting menu inspired by Latin America.

Priced from £67 a head and with dishes including Yucatán style pulled pork gorditas and Ceviche Ecuatoriano, it’s a tube journey you won’t forget in a hurry.

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