Since my first post about solo dining, I’ve been meaning to revisit the topic, but this time from the point of view of fine dining. Budget eats are easy enough when traveling alone, but what if you want to push the boat out and treat yourself to some posh food? Would fancy restaurants even allow you to book a table for one? Would you want to? Would a top-end eatery simply make a lone customer feel horribly conspicuous?
The issue came up again recently when a friend recommended I look into the Pret a Diner “dining experience” (don’t call it a pop-up!) which offers cooking by Michelin starred chefs at (relatively) reasonable prices. While looking at availability on their website I was shocked to see that the online booking mechanism doesn’t even allow you to book a table for one. Under “select your party size” the drop-down menu starts at 2 and goes up from there.
Perhaps, I thought, I’m being unreasonable. There may be all sorts of practical reasons why solo dining and top-end restaurants don’t work together. I’m not sure what these may be – aside from the obvious “more people equals more money” rationale – but I’m open to the possibility. On this occasion I wasn’t actually looking to book for myself alone – I was considering going with friends – but it seemed wrong that it wasn’t an option.
Feeling curious, and a little annoyed, I decided to dig a little deeper. A random selection from The World’s 50 Best Restaurants turned up the following.
Noma (Copenhagen), currently in number one place, has an online booking form on their website that confirms they do accept bookings for one. El Celler de Can Roca (Girona), a restaurant I would dearly love to visit, has no booking form on their site, so I call them up. They tell me that single person bookings are “no problem” and in fact sound surprised at the question. Roganic (London) and Supper Club (Amsterdam, London) – neither on the “50 Best” list, but well regarded all the same – both turn up positive results as well.
Feeling encouraged, I plough on, and come up against two major disappointments. Both Heston Blumenthal’s restaurants, The Fat Duck (Bray, a previous number 1) and Dinner (London) only allow bookings for two or more.
I confess, I’m surprised it took that long to get a negative result. I expected the top-end of the restaurant business to be snobbier than that, but on the whole attitudes to lone diners seem welcoming. Strange that Heston Blumenthal – a TV chef keen on flogging molecular gastronomy to the masses – has chosen to turn his nose up at the solo-dining hoi polloi.
Granted, my survey was far from exhaustive or scientific, so perhaps I’m being unfair to Heston. Further examination may have turned up a string of rejections. But overall I’m encouraged. Almost everyone I spoke to responded with a “no problem” or “of course!” Next time I travel alone to a city, I think I’ll investigate a booking at the finest table in town (well in advance, of course). I hope all solo travellers reading this are encouraged to do the same.
Our guest blogger Roger Christian is a London based graphic designer, blogger and fiction writer. In his bi-weekly articles for Spotted by Locals Roger explores the pleasures and occasional challenges of solo traveling in Europe.