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Unforgettable eating destinations - The UKs most unique restaurants

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In a bid to overcome the notoriously competitive restaurant industry, more entrepreneurs are taking to unique restaurant concepts. This is backed up by OpenTable’s 2016 restaurant study, which showcased that 44% of restaurant owners consider their eatery to be a concept restaurant. In an attempt to provide a truly one of a kind eating experience, the UK has seen a wealth of unusual concepts appear.

Pet friendly restaurants

Pet friendly restaurants lady dinahs cat emporium

A recent trend popping up throughout the UK is the invention of pet restaurants. Cat cafes started out in Japan over 10 years ago and have since popped up across the world, with several around the UK.  The oldest is London based cat café Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, which opened in 2014. Funded mainly by crowd funding, the restaurant combines traditional café furniture, cakes, afternoon tea and, of course, cats. This café provides London renters, who may be unable to have pets of their own, an opportunity to enjoy the comfort and company of rescue cats. 

Their success has seen other cafes launch across the UK including: 

-    Mog on The Tyne 
-    Willows Cat Café on Tyneside
-    Nottingham’s Kitty Café
-    Cat Café in Manchester
-    Masion de Moggy in Scotland 
-    The Bag of Nails in Bristol, the UK’s first cat pub

It’s not all about cats though; The House of Hounds became London’s first dog café and places like London’s Scooby’s Boutique Coffee Bar embrace dogs with special biscuits and treats. Whilst Teeside based Wags & Whiskers Canine Café make savoury muffins (known as wuffins) and even ice cream for dogs.

Dining in the dark and naked dining

Restaurants now look to offer a wider experience than just food, with plenty of restaurants across the UK targeting the senses and making dining out a real journey.  Dans Le Noir? Is a chain of restaurants dotted around some of Europe’s biggest cities, providing diners the chance to eat in pitch black rooms. Served by visually impaired staff, the restaurant provides a platform to change perspectives and a unique dining experience. The London branch has been open for 10 years and continues to be successful, especially with their surprise menus. With a menu created by a Michelin star chef, diners are unaware of what they are eating, forcing any preconceptions out of their mind and forcing them to focus directly on the taste.

For a truly unique experience, London restaurant Bunyadi really stripped things back to basics. On arrival, diners are provided a locker to store their belongings and clothes and provided a robe to wear. All food is raw, vegetarian and vegan. With the lack of electronic devices and clothes, diners are focused solely on the food and diners’ horizons are broadened. With huge demand during its brief open time, Bunyadi’s website hints at their return at a different location.

Eating under or above ground

Eating in London underground

The wealth of variety of restaurants’ concepts allows for polar opposites to be catered for, whether that’s for fans of the sky or for those who prefer to stay underground. More specifically, on London’s underground tube service, courtesy of Basement Galley.  Set up inside an old Victoria line carriage, Basement Galley offers diners an interesting and intimate surrounding to enjoy their meal. 

Serving a mix of French and Scandinavian flavours from experienced chef Alex Cooper, Basement Galley ensures it’s not a gimmick. Diners are encouraged to communicate with each other, making the evening about meeting new people and consuming great food within an unusual location.

On the other end of the spectrum are Events In The Sky’s restaurants in London and Tyneside. A crane lifts 22 guests 25 feet into the air above the cities, for a spectacular view. A guest chef, sommelier and team of waiters bravely serve from the middle of the table, whilst guests are securely sat in comfortable chairs.
 
Open for an exclusive 14 day period, both restaurants will return next year with new cities to be added after the success of the events so far. A team of chefs from the cities best restaurants take charge of the event, simply transporting their menu 25 feet skywards and putting on a truly unique eating experience.

Ping pong bars, underwater eateries and rehabilitation restaurants

If you fancy eating somewhere that provides a valuable service to the community, Clink could be the place for you. Located at 4 prisons across the UK, Clink provides prisoners with rehabilitation opportunities to help get their lives back on track after their release. The charity rightfully brags about their 87.5% success rate in reducing reoffending.

The restaurants are modern and stylish with high quality and unique restaurant furniture in all 4 of their locations. More than just a charity, Clink has won over 40 awards throughout their 4 branches. Providing diners with full and happy stomachs as well as prisoners a better chance in their future rehabilitation.

For fish lovers, there’s nowhere better than the Two Rivers restaurant in Hull. Housed inside a huge aquarium, diners are able to view some of the best aquatic displays in Europe. The restaurant has been awarded TripAdvisor’s certificate of excellence and provides a broad menu to accompany the breath-taking views.

Bounce offers a sporting experience for diners, combining ping-pong with Italian and British cuisine. A leisurely dining experience is provided with an open counter restaurant, with bar stools and high restaurant tables on offer.  Though step away from the food and you’re offered a vibrant and lively bar, offering ping pong tables for both diners and the general public. The casual restaurant has been taking London by storm and is a novel twist on casual dining.

With concepts and unique restaurants taking the UK and the world by storm, a creative idea can be the difference between sinking and floating in the restaurant business. 
 

The fall and rise of the holiday park

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Eight years after the financial crisis of 2008, we are still feeling its effects. Business confidence has not fully recovered, productivity has barely caught up to its pre-crisis levels, and consumers have not rediscovered what the great economist Keynes called their “animal spirits”. We are spending, but we are doing so cautiously, not least because few of us have had a decent pay rise for years. 

Brexit, the fall of the pound, and the impact on finances

And then there is Brexit. Whatever your personal views on the result of the referendum, one undeniable outcome has been the fall in the value of sterling by around 10 per cent – a fall which seems to be here to stay for the foreseeable future. This has made foreign travel more expensive: air fares are rising, as is the cost of driving aboard because of the increased cost of fuel, while tourists are finding that their pound simply buys less at the bureau de change and when making purchases abroad. 

There are also dark forces at work in the world. The Tunisian beach massacre of 2015, the attacks in Paris, Nice and Brussels: these have helped to create a sense that “abroad” is risky.

The rise of the staycation and holiday parks in the UK

As a result of all this, we British are increasingly turning our backs on foreign holidays and opting instead for what has become known as the “staycation”. The number of foreign trips Britons take is 16 per cent lower than it was before the recession, according to data from Visit England, the country’s national tourist board, while holidays in England rose by 12 per cent between 2008 and 2013. Research from Comparethemarket.com suggests that one in six Britons say weaker sterling is putting them off going abroad. Many UK hotels and hospitality companies reported that 2016 was one of the best ever for business, while this year’s August Bank Holiday saw 5.1 million people holidaying in the UK – an increase over 4.7 million last year, according to Visit England.

UK holiday destinations

Butlins holiday parks

And where are we taking those UK holidays? In many instances, we are going to holiday parks. Now, in case anyone has any residual memories or images of knobbly knee contests or draughty chalets with Tannoys waking “campers” at the crack of dawn for compulsory communal calisthenics, things have moved on. Butlins’ complex in Minehead, for instance, has undergone a makeover, with rainbow-hued chalets with landscaped gardens in a lakeside setting. In the old days, cold running water was considered a luxury; now, the hot tub has become a fixture at many holiday parks. And at Cheddar Woods Resort & Spa in Somerset, lodges have super-sized Apple televisions and all kinds of up-to-date connectivity for your family’s electronic devices (though there are also more vigorous activities on offer such as archery and fencing).

The origins of holiday parks

Warner holiday chalets

Holiday parks have their origins in a great British institution that goes back more than 100 years: the holiday camp. In the late 19th century, camping was becoming a leisure activity and in 1894 one of the first organised holiday camps was launched by Joseph Cunningham, a staunch Presbyterian, and his wife Elizabeth, on the Isle of Man, offering working men an active outdoor holiday. Cunningham’s Camp, as it was known, was initially an all-male affair, and campers were accommodated in a tented city accommodating up to 600. The holiday camp was born, and as time went on the tents gave way to huts and chalets. 

As working people earned more, and began to get more leisure time, holiday camps mushroomed across the country. By the 1930s the first of the Warners chain had opened on Hayling Island in Hampshire and Billy Butlin was launching the first of his camps, at Skegness. When war broke out, holiday camps proved ideal ready-made accommodation for the services, so many of them were taken over by the government to become bases for service personnel (some were also used for internment). After the war, many of them reverted to their previous function. 

1960’s and 1970’s holiday camps

Hi Di Hi TV series - UK holiday parks

In the 1960s and 70s holiday camps found it hard to compete with the new cheap foreign holidays; also, as a society we had become more individualised, less willing to take part in communal activities, and more demanding as consumers. But some camps survived and thrived, carving out a niche by offering inexpensive family breaks in chalets or caravans with activities for the youngsters and access to facilities such as swimming pools, water slides and the outdoors. 

These days the term “holiday camp” is no longer used; most call themselves holiday parks, holiday centres or holiday villages. At Butlin’s, staff are discouraged from using the words “chalet” and “camp”; instead, they use “accommodation” and “resort”. Entertainment at today’s camps can be of a very high standard: Ronan Keating and Atomic Kitten are among the pop stars who have appeared at Butlin’s resorts, while the dance group Diversity will be appearing at Butlin’s throughout 2017. Butlin’s also offers themed musical weekends: soul, Seventies, Ibiza, and so on.

Butlin's retro postcard

Short stay holiday parks

Many of us use holiday parks not for a full two-week vacation but for a short break, in addition to our main holiday. Hoseasons, for instance, says that for the company, 2016 has been “the year of the short break”, with a surge in three- and four-night bookings across its UK lodge, park and boating locations. 

Center Parcs - a pioneer in the holiday park business, and one of the key businesses in the revival of the holiday park, having spread the idea from Holland - has built its business model on the short break, encouraging families and couples to pack their activities and enjoyment into a few days. 

Center Parcs has also been raising the bar, quite literally, with the introduction in the past few years of its luxury tree houses, available at its parks in Sherwood Forest, Elveden Forest and Longleat. These tree houses are actually elevated accommodation complexes set among the trees, offering facilities such as pool rooms, saunas and hot tubs, with rooms connected by elevated walkways. 

And the tree house trend is spreading: Forest Holidays, a holiday park in the Forest of Dean  which offers secluded lodges in bucolic locations in this area of outstanding natural beauty, has sprouted its own tree houses; accommodating up to 10 people, these are aimed chiefly at groups of friends or extended family on short breaks. Hot tubs, too, are part of the package.

It’s all a far cry from the porridge and bacon, the “Good morning, campers”, the “Hi-De-Hi”, the cold running water and the glamorous gran contests of yesteryear.

Related reading from our news and media resource:

1 - Active parks help business bring in business

2 - Sports club furniture gives joggers a resting place

 

The changing face of British clubs and associations

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For as long as there have been human beings, there have been clubs: associations of like-minded people getting together to socialise, drink, eat, and talk about whatever it is that binds them. In ancient Greece and Rome, most clubs were religious or political. Fans of a particular god or goddess would meet up to worship him or her (and, in some cases, show their devotion in gatherings that basically turned into orgies). Supporters of certain politicians would do the same – and some of these clubs became hotbeds of conspiracy and were closed down.

Clubs and associations in the 17th and 18th century

A club of gentlemen by Joseph Highmore

Fast-forward to the 17th and 18th centuries, when social clubs were becoming popular in Britain, growing out of London’s thriving coffee-house scene. (The word “club” in this sense derives from its other use – a stick used as a weapon – as these were places where people would gather in a club-like mass.) Over the years, these institutions have given us the club sandwich, club soda, club-class travel – and possibly the world’s most famous quote, from Groucho Marx (“I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member”)

21st century clubs in Britain

This sporting life

Over the years, British clubs have added greatly to the cultural wealth of the nation, but some of them have also become notorious as bastions of exclusivity, snobbery and boorish behaviour. Today, though, in the 21st century, some clubs are beginning to move with the times – across all the social classes (we’ll leave to one side the very different world of nightclubs and clubbing culture).

The upmarket Garrick Club in London still refuses to allow women to become members (though they can be admitted as guests), but it is one of the last of London’s private members’ clubs to do so. Earlier this year, meanwhile, Royal Troon golf club in Ayrshire voted to allow women members – this followed the earlier decision that Muirfield golf club would not be considered as a host venue for the Open golf tournament because of its male-only membership policy. 

Rugby clubs hitting the headlines

And then there was the story that hit the headlines in 2014, when members of the rugby club at the prestigious London School of Economics handed out a controversial leaflet which described women as “mingers” and “trollops”. A couple of decades ago this kind of thing might have gone unnoticed, but not today: the LSE subsequently disbanded its rugby club.

A change of attitude in British clubs and associations

england womens rugby

This kind of change in attitude seems to be taking place in the clubs that form part of the backbone of sporting Britain – the hundreds of rugby clubs in towns and villages across the country. Here, the times are changing. The rise of women’s rugby has changed the character of many clubs – the boozy, macho atmosphere portrayed in Lindsay Anderson’s 1963 film This Sporting Life would be considered over the top these days. And the body that oversees English rugby union – the Rugby Football Union – now hands out awards for clubs that have demonstrated “community engagement”; this means bringing the sport of rugby to a wider public, rather than its traditional “blokey” demographic.

Rowdy behaviour, drinking, singing and dancing

Of course, this doesn’t mean that rugby clubs and other sporting clubs have become like monasteries: rowdy behaviour, drinking, singing, dancing, men dressing up in women’s clothing – these things are the bedrock of British life. But these days there is more to a night at the rugby club than getting plastered, singing rude songs and necking a bottle of aftershave (there were famous occasions in the past when rugby stars were seen drinking the free aftershave that was left out on their banqueting tables, with very nasty results). 

Generation Abstemious and the evolution of clubs

For one thing, young people are drinking less alcohol than ever before. These are the people who have become known as “generation abstemious”: they like a drink, but they don’t want to get blotto. So any self-respecting bar will serve a decent selection of non-alcoholic and low-alcohol drinks. Likewise with women: their tastes are different. Most women don’t want to spend an evening downing pints of ale (though admittedly there are some who will happily do so). A choice of wines, spirits, mixers and cocktails will therefore be greatly appreciated. 

Many rugby clubs and similar establishments also top up their coffers by hiring their premises out for wedding receptions, parties, and so on – so it will help if they can create an ambience, an atmosphere that is friendly and inclusive. Today’s customers want more than a cavernous room and a bunch of barstools; they want a comfortable, friendly, attractive environment.

Club furniture and furnishings

Which brings us to the issue of buying club furniture. Whether a rugby club is attractive or off-putting can be determined, to a great extent, by something as simple as tables and chairs. An empty hall with a smattering of functional stools and bare tables will simply not do: there are some who are happy to stand up all night, but others like to sit in comfort, recline, relax, and have a good chat and a laugh. Good quality chairs will help enormously, as will tables of sturdy construction and decent size (and without wobbly legs!). 

The benefits of mixing and matching club furniture

There’s also a widespread superstition that furniture in a bar, a club or a pub has to be matching. This is nonsense. Mixing and matching furniture will give a place a much more homely, organic atmosphere. A nice big old sofa placed up against a wall with a low table can be complemented by an array of more contemporary tables and chairs, with perhaps high stools up at the bar. Armchairs – or, perhaps more appropriately, club chairs - can be scattered around, too. And although this might sound like heresy, there could even be room for furniture with fabric coverings, rather than the usual leather and its substitutes.

Making the most out of sporting events

farnham rugby club watching on the big screen

A popular attraction at rugby clubs these days is the big-screen showing of live sporting events. TV screens are now available in mightily impressive sizes, so that a hall full of people can see the action at events such as the Six Nations (coming up in February). It might pay, therefore, to invest in a decent number of sports bar furniture like stackable chairs that can be stored away when not in use and brought out for the big games.

Chairs at the front of the hall could be complemented by tables and chairs towards the rear. And maybe food and drink could be “themed” according to the teams playing, which could lead to some interesting combinations: Scotland v Ireland (smoked salmon and Guinness); England v France (English beer and French cheeses), Italy v Wales (Italian wine and Welsh lamb). And so on.

Image credits.

'A Club of Gentlemen' by Joseph Highmore (1730)

'Women's rugby is becoming increasingly popular. Next year sees the Women's Rugby World Cup in Ireland'

'Lindsay Anderson's 1963 film 'This Sporting Life' with Richard Harris depicted the macho world of Rugby League'.

'Rugby clubs such as Farnham are installing big video screens in their clubhouses to show major sporting events'.

 

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