Steak, chips and a side order of dictators, comet-hunting, border disputes, plate-throwing… Some eateries really go the extra mile!
The Rock Restaurant, Michanwi Pingwe, Zanzibar
If popping to the local chippie holds no peril for you, this eaterie—perched on a stony outcrop several hundred yards out to sea might be a little more thrilling. Diners at The Rock Restaurant, Zanzibar, must swim, take a boat or take their chances walking at low tide to get to the east African establishment’s island home. They then have to negotiate a rickety wooden staircase to get to their table. But they’re rewarded with beautiful views across the Indian Ocean and the idyllic Michanwi Pingwe beach. Advance booking is advised, as the tiny, informal restaurant is understandably popular. But if there’s really bad weather or even a tsunami warning, your reservation may be postponed. The owner, reportedly a local fisherman, serves whatever he catches. The menu features spaghetti with lobster, octopus salad, fish carpaccio, and crab aplenty—the seafood here is as fresh as it gets!
Pyongyang, Amsterdam, Netherlands
In an ordinary office building in the Amsterdam suburb of Osdorp, you’ll find a little slice of the world’s most secretive country. Pyongyang restaurant is, according to its Dutch owner Remco van Daal, Europe’s first North Korean-themed restaurant. The modestly decorated, windowless eaterie offers a five- or nine-course menu featuring authentic Korean fare such as cold noodles, cuttlefish and black-chicken soup. There’s also live singing and dancing from the four traditionally dressed North Korean waitresses, who were specially selected by the country’s dictatorial government to go and work in the decadent West. The North Korean authorities have set up a chain of restaurants—also called Pyongyang—across Asia to generate some much-needed cash and good publicity for the regime. But van Daal says that his is a separate venture with no political motivations, which merely aims to give an insight into an unseen world.
Stalin’s Bunker, Moscow, Russia
Visited Pyongyang restaurant and developed a taste for oppressive dictatorships? Here’s another delight for you. Built secretly in the north-east corner of Moscow in the late 1930s, Stalin’s Bunker is a warren of grandiose conference chambers, living quarters and a ten-mile escape tunnel from the Kremlin, dug to house the Russian leader (and up to 199 colleagues) should Hitler get too close. It covers more than 100,000m², and now it has a restaurant. Seating up to 40 people, it serves Georgian food (a nod to the dictator’s origins), which is closest in flavour to Arab cuisine. Diners share the space with assorted Stalin memorabilia, including his military tunic and a lifelike sculpture of the mass-murdering tyrant cradling a child in his arms—good luck keeping your starter down with that staring out at you. And, as you might expect from the famously bureaucratic systems of the Soviet Union, advanced group reservation is required.
Perlan, Reykjavík, Iceland
Perlan means “the pearl” in Icelandic, and it’s an appropriate name because this restaurant is set in a piece of dazzling white architecture. The huge hemispherical dome sits on top of six huge water tanks, and houses shops and an exhibition space. The revolving glass restaurant is right at the top and, over the course of two hours, gives a 360-degree view of Reykjavík and the surrounding area. There’s also an artificial geyser in the grounds that blows at regular intervals. The dishes are on the posh side—why not try the duck breast with foie gras sauce?—but not that expensive. A four-course set menu costs around £40. And maybe, just maybe, on a clear night in winter you’ll get a viewing of the Northern Lights—through the restaurant’s 1,000 panes of glass—thrown in for free.
Kalin Tavern, Slovenia/Croatia
The former Yugoslavia—now dissembled into the states of Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Serbia—is not known for its easy border relations. And, though the Yugoslav Wars ended 13 years ago, tensions still simmer (along with the soup) at Kalin Tavern. The restaurant was built 180 years ago, but found itself straddling a somewhat over-precise stretch of border between Croatia and Slovenia (every bit of land counts in the Balkans) when the territories were redrawn in 2004. The restaurant’s toilets are on one side of a yellow line that bisects the property, sitting firmly in Croatia—but you dine and pay the bill on the other side, in Slovenia. You’re allowed to move about freely within the tavern, but a row of plant pots outside delineates where one country ends and the other begins. With Kalin’s entrance in Slovenia, the armed Croatian border guards won’t be amused if you stray past the pots after one too many brandies.
If this all sounds like a bit too much hassle for an evening’s entertainment, the Kalin Tavern is famous for its fantastic roast pork and venison, with a clientele that includes Croatian and Slovenian politicians. Just don’t mention the war.
The Observatory Restaurant, Johannesburg, South Africa
Fancy dining with the stars? No, not Cheryl Cole or Adele— we’re talking Alpha Centauri and all that. Located at Aloe Ridge in South Africa’s ancient fossil cave complex the Cradle of Humankind (a World Heritage Site), The Observatory Restaurant allows guests to look to the heavens through two huge telescopes. One of them—at 24 inches—is supposedly the largest used by amateurs in the southern hemisphere. Guests are asked, table by table, to climb a ladder and peek through the larger telescope during their meal, as the resident astronomer takes them through everything from the composition of the Milky Way to the definition of a stellar nursery. The smaller telescope is offered during and after dessert, and is particularly good for hunting comets and supernovas, allowing diners to engage in a bit of healthy competition over their Frenchstyle cuisine. “It’s quite possible that a guest will one day discover a [new] comet from the comfort of his or her dinner table at The Observatory Restaurant,” enthuse the owners.
Isdaan, Tarlac, Philippines
Not just a restaurant, but a “resto-park”, this fishy establishment—housed in a large hut that floats on a small lake—really wants its guests to relax. You can have a massage at your table, be serenaded by traditional musicians, feed the fish, or—if you’re still refusing to relax—release stress in the time-honoured fashion of lobbing things at a wall. Cups, glasses, plates…they’re all fair game to be thrown at the tacsiyapo (“shame on you”) wall. It features targets labelled with common annoyances, to help you really channel your anger. Why not mount a crockery-based assault on “boss, managers, supervisors, etc!” for instance, or perhaps the “ex-wife!”. According to local legend, the owner came up with the novel idea after he flew into a rage at home and wasted a range of his own dishes. Well, it’s probably cheaper than therapy. Providing you still have any utensils left to eat them, Isdaan specialises in traditional Filipino dishes, including squid cooked in vinegar, and snails with coconut cream.
Read the full article in November’s Reader’s Digest, in shops now.