Quirky and unusual restaurants in London

Discover some of the city’s proper hidden gems

This city is full of places to eat, from super high-end, multi-Michelin-starred establishments to local cafes that have been on the same high street for decades, and virtually everything in between. Opening a restaurant or cafe is no mean feat though – finding the right site, funding the fit-out, and paying the rent are just some of the many considerations that need to be taken into account before any food hits the plate. In taking on this challenge, some people have got pretty creative with how and where they set up shop, opening in unusual locations where you wouldn’t necessarily expect a kitchen to be – and serving great food from them too. So if you’re looking for somewhere a bit different for your next meal, check out our fave unconventional eats in London.


When looking for a permanent site post-lockdown for his restaurant concept SlowBurn, which had been running a takeaway and delivery service, Chavdar Todorov certainly didn’t go down the traditional route. 

The sustainable, vegetable-focused restaurant (which was originally conceived as a smoked meats business, hence the name – although it also represents slow food) came to find a home inside the Blackhorse Lane Ateliers in Walthamstow, the only craft jean makers in London. The owner Han, who used to have a restaurant in Stoke Newington, set up a professional kitchen in the space with the idea of having chefs come in and do pop-ups, and when it was empty in 2020, Chavdar moved in. 

It’s very much a working factory; even though SlowBurn only opens on the weekends when the workers aren’t there, you have to walk through the warehouse, filled with sewing machines, half-finished jeans and industrial washers, to get to the dining space. The setting certainly is a talking point but it’s the food – including dishes like sweet potato with Jerusalem artichokes, charred broccoli with Thai red curry sauce, smoked Sutton Hoo chicken, and courgettes with feta, tahini and tomato caramel – that keep people coming back. 

Bad Manners

When you think of places to get great burritos and tacos in London, your mind probably doesn’t rush to a churchyard in Hackney. But it should because that’s exactly what Bad Manners is doing. 

Run by Max Fishman and chef Rodrigo Cervantes, the kiosk (which was originally called Quarter Kitchen as a nod to Max’s now-closed Quarter Store just up the road on Mare Street) is in the yard of St John at Hackney Church, a green space filled with trees, seasonal flowers, and yes, tombstones.

Max knew he didn’t want it to be another place doing sarnies and poached eggs but he fell on the Mexican concept after meeting Rod (who had just finished working at Smoking Goat) and the pair haven’t looked back.

Sausage burritos, egg & bacon tacos and birria tacos have been keeping the regulars coming back but it’s specials like katsu mole, green chorizo stuffed wings, deep fried quesadillas and spam tacos that draw crowds to the churchyard from far and wide. 

Café Pier

After passing a disused cabmen’s shelter on Chelsea Embankment, right by Albert Bridge, on lockdown walks, Melis Kurum and Cem Kemahli decided to restore the Victorian shelter, and Café Pier was born. The green shelters were places cabbies could stop off for a cuppa and hot meal but with the red route on Chelsea Embankment making it difficult for drivers to stop, this particular one fell out of use about 15 years ago.

The building is owned by the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund but Melis and Cem were able to convert it into a cafe (and even add an additional window to the listed structure to get a view of the bridge), where they now serve coffee, granola, soft boiled eggs, cheese toasties and bagels, made using premium ingredients like Ogleshield cheese, Forman’s smoked salmon and Papo’s Bagels.

They’ve even hosted pop-ups from ex-Dorchester chef Charles Bryant, who caused mega queues for his lobster rolls and steak frites sarnies – not bad going for a 17 sqm space. 


Polentina, the Italian restaurant housed inside the ApparelTASKER clothing factory on a Bow industrial estate, is the brainchild of Sophia Massarella. Located in what used to be the factory’s staff canteen, Polentina celebrates its unique location with glass walls that look onto the factory floor. It also celebrates the inspiration behind the food – Sophia’s Italian and Austrian grandmothers have influenced her cooking – with objects from her family dotted around the space. 

Polentina originally opened as a polenta takeaway concept during lockdown before turning into a cafe primarily for the factory staff and locals and ultimately evolving into more of a restaurant. It still functions as a staff canteen, so though 1pm – 1.30pm is for staff only, if you have a booking either side of those times you might be joined by somebody on a break. 

Sophia keeps her menu small and it changes daily but it’s always reflective of the authentic homestyle dishes that you don’t typically see on restaurant menus, like sweet and savoury fritto misto from Piedmont; fresh tagliatelle with chicken and rabbit offal ragu; and ricotta, veal and pork-stuffed courgettes fried and baked in a tomato sauce. 

Want to see more Unconventional Eats? The next video in the series will be dropping at the start of May. Watch this space.

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