On the one hand birthdays are good because you get free stuff. Free drinks, free food, free compliments. It’s like everything’s coming up Milhouse...only with your name. On the other hand it can be a pain in the arse. The social expectations, the pressure to go out somewhere delicious and fun, the likelihood of someone moaning that the chosen place isn’t delicious or fun, the ‘friend’ who refuses to split the bill because they only had a starter.
We know that choosing a place that’s got the right space, food, table height, and air quality is a nightmare. And that’s before you’ve even sent out the group message to everyone. So here’s a list of restaurants of all kinds that all but guarantee excellent birthday vibes.
When you think back to the birthdays of your childhood, you might remember things like jolly women overfeeding you, lots of laughter, everyone singing happy birthday. Well, La Mia Mamma has all of that. This handmade pasta spot serves excellent Italian food and their kitchen is run by Italian ‘mammas’, who will continue to fill up your plate with things like tagliatelle alla bolognese, gnocchi, and pollo ripieno, even after you plead that you’re full. There’s a whole tambourine, saucepan-banging, mammas-in-a-conga-line situation that happens when they find out it’s your birthday so it’s a super fun place to bring that friend that you want to watch squirm. Or for yourself, if you just really love a bit of birthday attention.
Legally, and ethically, your birthday is the one day of the year where you are allowed to sing Kool And The Gang songs. To yourself. In public. Whilst attempting the floss. Bao And Bing is a slick Taiwanese spot in Marylebone that has all the ingredients a restaurant needs to make that possible. There’s a laidback New York bar feel, fun tunes playing, and a cool downstairs cocktail lounge area with equally excellent cocktails. The bing - a Taiwanese crepe-style dish - is pretty good, but you really want to get involved in their pork belly bao and the datong negroni. For smaller groups they’re walk-in only but as long as you’ve got seven plus friends in tow, you can book ahead or reserve the whole of the downstairs cocktail area.
The best thing about birthdays is that impending sense of dread that you’re one year closer to death. Great. But honestly, the only mortality related thought you’ll have at Brigadiers, is ‘let me croke right here, on this pool table with a pint in hand and a mouth full of goat tikki bun kebab’. Brigadiers is a pretty large restaurant so depending on numbers you can either go for a booth in the main restaurant area, or book one of their three private dining rooms. There’s no cake here, but just go ahead and shove a candle in the beef shin and bone marrow biryani, it’s far better than a certain caterpillar named Colin anyway.
It’s your birthday. You’re a winner, you’re adored, you’re a gift to all who know you. Yes, you’re an icon. And yes, you’re also painfully broke. But, at Brasserie Zedel it’s very easy to pretend that you’re not. Yes, they have chandeliers, swish pink table cloths, and enough marble to make Michelangelo happy, but they also have a three course set menu for £13.75. Go ahead and book a big table, grab a couple of bottles of merlot to share, and have a great evening, safe in the knowledge that none of your mates will have to claim that ‘they really did just fancy the side salad’.
Last year you decided to throw a big old soiree at your flat, only for it end with your cat swallowing a balloon, and an infestation of confetti that no hoover has been able to defeat since. Luckily, neither of those things are going to happen at Frenchie in Covent Garden. This restaurant has the rare combination of great food, a grown-up feel, and all the potential for a bloody good laugh. Tell your mates that birthday cards are bad for the environment and get them all to chip in to the banoffee, nutmeg, and caramelised pecan dessert, or the bacon scone instead. They’re both absolute must-orders.
“Brat, what a suitably named restaurant for you to book, haha!!”. This is what at least one of your friends will say. Uninvite them immediately. They’re not funny. Plus, that’s one less person to share Brat’s excellent food with. This Shoreditch restaurant is a place to get merry, and a little bit loud in. The room is big, and it’s open to the wood fire where all kinds of delights are grilled. Anything bread related is a must order, as is the turbot, the whole turbot, and nothing but the turbot.
You have an eclectic group of friends that range from fancy pants to baggy pants, and you want a place where they can all feel comfortable on your birthday. Meraki, a Greek restaurant in Fitzrovia, is your spot. This place is big and bright and pretty relaxed, and would really work for almost any conceivable occasion, your birthday included. Your crew can get deep into all the mezze, some lamb chops, and even some great pasta. And if you don’t order the doughnuts for dessert, you did your birthday dinner wrong.
Your parents have just called to give you the ‘good news’ that your extended family is popping down from Scunthorpe to ‘surprise’ you for your birthday. Great. Now you have to find somewhere that fits everyone at short notice, with food that’ll be acceptable for a palate used to Frankie & Benny’s and Kebab King. Book a table at East End classic Tayyab’s, because not only is it great for big groups, but it’s BYOB and everyone will love the brilliant Indian food. As a bonus, it’s loud enough inside so that your mates won’t really be able to hear the kind-of-offensive jokes your nan occasionally busts out.
If your vision of an ideal birthday doesn’t involve your friends and family talking, laughing, spilling wine, pouring more wine, eating their pasta, eating their neighbours’ pasta, pleading the pianist to play one more song, hugging the waiter, going outside for a cigarette, ordering more wine, spilling more wine, ordering a round of tiramisu, ordering a taxi, and falling asleep in the taxi - then you probably shouldn’t book Ciao Bella.
Telling your friends that you’ve booked at Luca is basically signaling to them that shit’s about to get real. You’re all about to drink way too much wine, eat some amazing pasta, and have the kind of night that you’ll tell your grandchildren about (assuming you’re still friends in 50 years). Luca is one of the city’s best posh Italian restaurants, but it’s also just a place you come to feel good. If you’re six people or fewer, you can book in the main dining room and order a la carte, or if you’re really ready to go all in for a big birthday, reserve one of the private rooms where you’ll have a set menu.
It’s your birthday, meaning that you finally have permission to ditch your daily ‘on trend’ jeans and distressed jumper and revive your ‘going out out’ wardrobe. Bocconcino in Mayfair is one of the only few places left in London that’s appropriate for this, without breaking the bank completely. This is a big and classy Italian restaurant, serving big and classy Italian staples. It may not the best Italian food ever, but at least you’re mere steps away from some clubs that will appreciate your birthday outfit after your meal.
Your age now includes the numbers two and three, but not in the fun order. Grab two, three, or even more of your friends to have very civilised and chilled out dinner at The Marksman. Whether you’re in the upstairs dining room with a small crew or downstairs in the pub with a large crew, the modern British food will ensure a gracious shuffle towards your mid-thirties.
Dishoom, the excellent modern Indian restaurant that we all want to move into, sounds perfect for a birthday. As you picture you and your mates laughing over Old Fashioneds, sharing brilliant plates of Indian snacks and starters and being very happy when the chicken curry and lamb chops arrive, you remember that it’s no-bookings. Or is it? You can actually book if you’re in a group of six or more. So find more than five mates, and you’ll be set.
It’s your birthday, so your friends have to, by law, let you eat from their plates if you want to. And you always want to. But if you want to keep your friends happy for once, book your birthday dinner at Shikumen, where sharing is basically just required. Fortunately, the dim sum, Peking duck, and everything else is so good that no one will mind that they aren’t getting their own dish.
An interactive element is always a good call for celebratory occasions and big groups, so consider booking at Olle, a Korean BBQ spot on Shaftesbury Avenue where assorted marinated meats like wagyu beef will get cooked on a grill in the middle of your table. In addition, you’ll find a pretty extensive menu of other Korean food, from seafood pancakes to tofu stews.
Your birthday should be all about you, but for one moment, (or maybe a couple of moments) at Yashin Ocean House in Kensington, the food may steal the show. Your sashimi may arrive on dry ice, and your wagyu beef will come with candy floss. Also stealing the show: the random lifesize horse statue in the middle of the restaurant. But don’t worry, once your meal is done, all the attention will be back to you.
If you want a pile of meat for your birthday, head to Blacklock, a converted basement brothel in Soho. While it once was seedy location, it has been transformed into a trendy space where you and your mates can have the cast of Animal Farm on your plate in the form of chops, starters and a side, all for £20 a head. You can all then spend your other money ordering cocktails that turn up to your table on a trolley.
If the requirement for your birthday meal is to eat something interesting, Temper City does interesting mixed in with some fun too. The menu is a bit of a ‘foods of the world’ tour, with a range of different types of curries for your main course. But the starters are the real show stealers here - there’s a spicy Korean ‘haggis’ that’s spooned into lettuce leaves ssam-style, and a crunchy samphire and squid pakora that the table should split. There’s also an extensive gin list and an excellent playlist.
We have never achieved the following, but we want to put this out there anyway, because it’s our birthday dream. Somehow we want to get our whole crew seated along the bar at The Palomar. A night at The Palomar will involve excellent Israeli food, great cocktails and banter with the bar staff, and a party soundtrack pumping in the background. Now you understand our dream.