Opening June 11th, the Bunyadi is London's new naked restaurant experience. Get changed into a dressing gown and slippers and sidle into a room lit only by candles, then take the gown off (though, nudity is optional). The set-menu is either vegan or non-vegan and your wine and water is served in clay-style jugs and goblets.
The founder, Seb Lyall, won't tell the assembled press where he's from - "I don't believe in countries" - but he does say that the restaurant is meant to tackle our prudishness towards nudity. He hopes to be able to open more in the future. As much as that might be marketing schtick, we're led into a room and told we're free to take off our robes...
The real question is: does being nude really add to a restaurant experience? Does it make the food taste any better or make the evening sail by in a haze of liberation? As much as I'm supportive of the idea behind the Bunyadi, that we should look past our prudish aversion to nudity, the food stays a sedentary good - saying that, there is a certain liberated feeling about having it all hang out in a restaurant.
My experience won't quite be like that of other diners because others will be able to choose who they sit with. I, instead, am put on a spare seat next to another journalist. It's true though, that something about the liberated atmosphere did make the conversation easier. I disrobed fairly quickly into the meal and it wasn't until the third course that she realised I was completely naked – the tables are a good height for slightly timid men.
The one thing I particularly dislike about the whole idea is the word 'pure' given to the nude section. It speaks to dangerous clean eating ideals of food - of an opposite to puritanism that is just as closed off; rather than the freshness of produce that I think they were trying to get across. It's a shame because the freshness really did come through.
If you're a bit of a hippie and like to eat a lot of fruit and vegetables, like me, then this menu is quite perfect for you. The starter 'English garden' salad (for both vegan and non) is essentially a bowl of veg and I'm very happy with that. The pickled apple was a shocking taste but not an unpleasant one. We're told that this dish is supposed to resemble an Adam & Eve story, the pickled forbidden fruit, the salt cucumber acting like a snake. It's here that the idea loses me - the food is good, but the pretension is a step too much.
I actually quite enjoy being naked, talking shop and eating fruit; it makes me feel like a Roman, but the talk of Adams and Eves make it feel like there's something more preachy, that I'm not really there to experience.
It's lucky then, that the food continues to be solidly fresh and tasty. The cured salmon and the steak tartare (on the non-vegan menu) in particular were more-ishly yummy. Where I thought that a spirulina mayo would be overpowered by the swampish taste that spirulina gives, they had got their proportions just right and it was pretty good. On the vegan side, the stuffed courgette was wonderful to bite into, the cold tomato stuffing all flowery and delicious, though, the cauliflower couscous would have been better as just, well, normal couscous.
The fruit bowl after the mains was sweet and seasonal and delicious, there's nothing quite like biting into a grapefruit slice between meals - it's like the neo-London version of palate cleansing pickled ginger.
The dessert was the part I could have done without. With everything being cold and fruity already, something slightly different for the dessert wouldn't have gone amiss - instead a chia mousse that wasn't bad but didn't feel like the ending to a five course meal. But what do I know, I'm sitting here with my bits out.
For five courses, the £69 price tag (not including drinks but you do get to take your gown home) is a bit steep. It leaves you thinking that maybe it's the nudity rather than the food that's the drag for people, and it probably will be.
I have a few complaints, but the one major one is the seating. You're essentially sat on a log chunk. This is not comfortable. When I'm getting into the Roman mode and want to lay down and feel lavish in my fruity nudity, I have nowhere to go. Oh well, when in ... South London?