Perusing dog-eared menus and twiddling your thumbs while the waiter fetches the bill — be gone! These eight London restaurants feature wine vending machines, virtual currency, dining tables you can play on... and a bingo-calling robot. The future is already here.
1. Spend virtual currency on self-pouring beer: Otherworld
Don your VR headset and step onto a fantasy island where challenges, quests, and rewards await. Inside your private gaming pod, you're hooked up to your pals via a microphone and meet up in the virtual world (makes a change from the local boozer). 16 games include childhood faves like Fruit Ninja, a cruise through the world's iconic landmarks with Google Earth VR, and a zombie apocalypse in Arizona Sunshine. On your otherworldly adventure, you can win DreamCoin — a virtual currency that's spendable back in the real world. Splash your well-earned DreamCoin at the sci-fi bar's self-pouring beer taps.
Otherworld, Victoria and Hackney
2. Play electronic darts: Oche
If you thought darts was an activity reserved for pubs that haven't changed their decor since the 80s, you haven't been to Oche. Here, among the fake foliage, artsy lighting and bright neon slogans are 30 glowing electronic dartboards. Create a personalised avatar and select one of six games — ranging from a simple 'countdown from 201' for beginners to complex challenges involving (eek) axes and swords. Hate mental arithmetic? The tech-driven darts track your score automatically, so you can focus on the important business of ordering another mai tai.
3. Pluck cheddar from a conveyor belt: Pick & Cheese
In 1958, Yoshiaki Shiraishi revolutionised restaurants by inventing the sushi conveyor belt. In 2019, a restaurant in Covent Garden revolutionised the sushi conveyor belt by putting cheese on it. Pick & Cheese (brie-lliant pun btw) two rotating belts (40 metres worth) moving in opposite directions, orbiting plates of over 25 varieties of UK-crafted cheese. The colour of the plate indicates the price, varying from £3.95 for a Cornish gouda paired with a rich square of clotted cream fudge, to an Oxfordshire Bix enjoyed with lemon curd on a scone for £6.26. Leave room to try the cheesy dessert options — the goats cheese doughnut stuffed with apricot and vanilla jam is something else.
Pick & Cheese, Seven Dials Market
4. Play video games on the dining table: inamo
Waiting for your food to come is usually the most painful part of the restaurant experience, but inamo has the answer, thanks to its interactive table dining table surfaces. Once you've put in your order (via the high-tech table, naturally), you can play a range of individual trivia games like Sudoku, or unleash your competitive side in head-to-head arcade-style battles with your table-mates. You'll almost be disappointed when your delicious sushi arrives.
inamo, Soho and Covent Garden
5. Wine tasting with vending machines: Vagabond Wines
Channel your inner wine connoisseur as you pick up an Oyster-like top-up card that — instead of being used on overpriced transport — dispenses a glass of one of the 200 wines Vagabond has on offer. Bottles of wine are stored in glass cabinets and linked up to the pouring machines via straws. The custom-made By The Glass system keeps the open wine fresh for several weeks and ensures each bottle is stored at the right temperature. Using the touch screens, choose your tipple of choice and its size — there's everything from a splash of wine for a couple of pounds, to large pours of your trusted favourites. And while it's all very futuristic, real in-the-flesh staff are on hand with recommendations and tips to navigate this adult vending machine experience.
Vagabond Wines, numerous London locations
6. A robot bingo caller: Hijingo
Hijingo blows the cobwebs off the image of bingo as a fusty game for folks of a certain age, thanks to its 360° sound system, high-tech lighting and motion graphics that make you feel like you an extra in Tron. And then there's the robot number caller, which will guide you through a jam-packed 45-minute bingo sesh. Audience members are encouraged to take to the stage, dance at their tables, and sing along to the poptastic playlist. Between calls, sip on a range of exotic cocktails — the Gin-Tendo 75 and Pandan Pop — and raise your glass to the future, which is happening right in front of you.
7. Press button for champagne: Bob Bob Ricard Soho
The old ones are the best, as Bob Bob Ricard and its "Press for Champagne" button know all too well. Taking inspiration in design from the Orient Express, every table is a plush booth, on the wall of which diners will find a gold embossed button. Once pressed, as if by magic, a waiter with a bottle or glass of champagne is conjured up. The reopened Searcys St Pancras Champagne Bar has the same glitzy gimmick. Really, all wine bars should.
Bob Bob Ricard, Soho and City
8. Sip AR cocktails: The Alchemist
Cocktail aficionados may already be au fait with the weird and wonderful creations that The Alchemist serves. Now, alongside the smoke, explosions, and colour-changing drinks, comes a tipple with a twist — drinks that come to life through your camera lens. There are six immersive augmented reality cocktails on offer through The Conjurer app. Scan your drink and your screen bubbles over with info on the concoction, the story behind it, and how it's best enjoyed. Each cocktail is designed to be reminiscent of childhood experiences; the Seaside Sour, for example, is a whisky-based drink perfect for beach lovers (though hopefully your childhood didn't involve much liquor). Once you've tried them all you unlock 'Alchemist' status and discover a secret elixir. Gotta catch 'em all.
The Alchemist, numerous London locations
Aand.... switch off: Dans Le Noir?
Once you've had your fill of tech wizardry, switch it all off — including the lights — as you delve into three courses of gastronomic heaven in total darkness. What might seem daunting at first (you will probably almost knock your drink off the table several times) is surprisingly freeing. And while we can’t promise you’ll find your soulmate here as Domhnall Gleeson (AKA Bill Weasley) did in About Time, we can guarantee an experience that connects you to your dinner (and your fellow diners) like no other restaurant.
Dans le Noir?, Farringdon