The Bunyadi, London's Naked Restaurant
On Saturday the 4th of June, I was invited to trial The Bunyadi, billed as London’s first naked restaurant with a supposed waiting list of 39,000. The restaurant’s location is kept secret, with guests strongly advised to remain tight-lipped - and I found out why.
The Bunyadi’s location is revealed to you via e-mail before you arrive. The e-mail also asks you to arrive 45 minutes before your booking time, and your credit card is immediately taken off you to ensure that you purchase drinks before you dine.
Upon arrival, I sat down at the bar and my group and I were soon asked to change into robes. The changing rooms were unlocked and separated from the bar by a curtain, meaning anyone is able to enter. After waiting at the bar, you are then led into a pitch-black room. The only lighting in this room comes from a single candle on every table. Each bamboo booth was separated by a curtain that was not drawn, so other guests walking past were able to see into the booth.
The emphasis on buying cocktails before dining led to a rowdy, drunken atmosphere, which completely skewed any sense of a ‘purifying’ experience. The majority of the guests were pretty inebriated before they sat down to dine, and those who were waiting to be seated almost pushed my bamboo booth over.
Let’s talk about the food. Overall, it was pretty average. The natural theme of the restaurant meant that the menu was fresh but too minimal. At times, I felt that it lacked substance, and it wasn’t very filling. It mainly consisted of ground-nuts, seeds, slices of fruit and vegetables. The only real merit came from the third course which was the steak tartare. A slice of apple for the second course was supposed to represent the forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden. A creative touch, but I felt that the theme was stretched a bit too far when I was visited by a live cockroach on the rim of my dessert bowl. I spent a few moments wondering whether this was in fact an intentional part of the theme and I quickly flicked away the cockroach and signalled its presence to my waitress, who offered me some wine in compensation. I don’t remember a cockroach present in the Garden of Eden. A male member of staff then decided to join the booth as he apparently needed the extra chair to eat his dinner and after mentioning the hungry little friend, the man scurried off to grab his iPhone and started shining the light on the floor.
On a more serious note, the waiters at The Bunyadi serve the food naked except for Eden-esque vine-leaf style underwear. I wasn't completely sure what the rules and regulations were regarding naked servers and staff let alone cockroaches in my food so I thought I'd include this from the Food Standards Agency:
Once finished with the food, I went back to the changing room, and the female group I was with was disturbed by other male guests who were allowed to come in at the same time. There were no individual cubicles or private spaces in which to change. Whilst it is not obligatory to remove your robe whilst dining, a lack of security outside the changing room and the setup of the changing room itself makes it difficult to believe that anyone is safe from prying eyes.
The owner, Seb Lyall, strongly encouraged feedback from guests. However, when giving our feedback, he refuted any advice and suggestions. I was intrigued by the supposedly purifying dining experience, but the Gatsby themed background music was more like an underground cocktail bar than a natural, liberating dinner. I thought he might be interested to hear about the cockroach on my plate, but upon mentioning this to Lyall, he got up and went to the kitchen, without a reaction or even an apology.
I also spoke to another female guest who complained that there were men peering into her booth during their meal. I couldn't help but agree, as a guy came and sat down in our booth during our meal, without any announcement or consent. I overheard another group of diners planning to head to McDonald’s after their meal. I don’t consider this a restaurant in any way, it is a publicity stunt that lacks substance, but also, more importantly, lacks consideration of guests’ safety and comfort.
There are clearly also severe issues regarding the food hygiene standards. I didn’t feel that pushing customers to keep the location private created any sense of trust between customer and restaurant. Total secrecy works in The Bunyadi’s favour. A pre-dinner e-mail tried to highlight the importance of respect, but I can’t see how this is the case. Based on all of this, I would not recommend The Bunyadi, neither for the food nor the experience.
With a Twitter following of 2,474, it makes you question the validity of the 39,000 strong waiting list that is constantly promoted.
Five-course set menus cost £55-£65. Cocktails cost around £9 each.