London’s top five quirky restaurants and bars

London’s top five quirky restaurants and bars

Behind Foster & Partners' glossy offices on the banks of the Thames, a creative community has quietly taken over the warehouses between Battersea Bridge and Albert Bridge. To find the studios where fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and architect Will Alsop are based, you have to go down a dark alley and through a car park, guided by a neon sign cryptically proclaiming Testbed1. This former Victorian dairy and tile emporium was painted white and turned into The Doodle Bar – a blank canvas where patrons could scribble and sketch over every surface. On the hidden terrace overlooking Ransome's Dock, there's a ping-pong table and a blacked-out old banger. Eventually, Alsop plans to build a kitchen; for now, you can bring gourmet lunch boxes from Street Kitchen next door (noon to 2pm).
• 33 Parkgate Road, SW11, 07866 629908, Open Tues-Thurs 11am-11pm, Fri 11am-midnight, Sat 5pm-midnight

This live music venue is tucked away in the courtyard of a former techno club on Cable Street. There's no sign outside. Just follow the muffled strains of a fiddle into a shambolic wonderland that's part junk shop, part cabaret. The random ornaments are cast-offs donated by regulars or salvaged from skips – an accordion, a birdcage, an antique gramophone, a tableau of lampshades rescued from a pub that was being demolished. Each night the line-up is different: it could be gypsy swing, Celtic folk or Costa Rican guitar. Monday nights are a raucous medley of bluegrass and folk.
• 566 Cable Street, E1, 07931 474379, Open Mon-Thurs 7pm-11pm, Fri-Sat 8pm-midnight

The Architectural Association's School of Architecture, which occupies a whole sweep of Georgian splendour on the western side of Bedford Square, is surely one of the most elegant campuses anywhere in London. Exhibitions often spill over into the first floor bar, and with cheap beers and bay windows overlooking the square, it's the kind of place where you could easily lose a whole afternoon. And although it's open to the public, you'd never know there was a dining room in the basement, offering Asian noodles, quiche and curry served with rice. It's unbeatable value: hefty portions of home cooking at supermarket prices in stylish surroundings. Go early to avoid disappointment: after 2.15pm (and on Saturdays), they only serve gourmet sandwiches (try the Parma ham, parmesan, sun blush tomatoes and salad) and pizzas.
• 36 Bedford Square, WC1, 020-7887 4091, Dining room open Mon-Fri 12.15pm-4pm, Sat 10am-4pm; bar open Mon-Fri 9.15am-5pm

Sporting Clube de Londres opened in 1991 as a social club for the eponymous football team of Portuguese expats. The walls are lined with football shirts and trophies, and soccer games are shown on giant screens. Like any authentic Portuguese restaurant, portions are gigantic and vegetables are an afterthought. Salt cod croquettes, octopus with paprika, and spicy chorizo are followed by peri-peri chicken, steaming pans of seafood paella, and skewers of succulent meat. Medallion men down shots of aguardente at the bar, while toddlers and teenagers burn up the dance floor until past midnight (Saturdays only).
• 27 Elkstone Road, W10, 020-8968 3069, Open Tues-Thurs 1pm-11pm, Fri 1pm-1.30am, Sat 1pm-2am, Sun 1pm-midnight

Even if the antiques at Alfies are out of your league, it's worth a trip here for coffee and cake at the rooftop cafe. Inspired by the community of antique dealers below, the newly refurbished cafe interior includes a wall of top hats, industrial-style lighting and a rack of vintage comics. The menu has also been updated and now features cooked-from-scratch brunch and lunch, plus coffee by Monmouth Coffee Company and cakes cooked on the premises. The real draw is the large, hidden terrace, with views across the rooftops to the BT Tower to the east and the glossy office blocks of Paddington Basin to the west.
• 13-25 Church Street, NW8, 020-7258 3300, Open Tues-Sat 10am-6pm

Rachel Howard, author of Secret London – Unusual Bars and Restaurants (Jonglez Publishing, ?12.99). To buy a copy for ?10.39, go to

• This article was amended on 3 August 2012 to reflect changes at the Rooftop Kitchen at Alfies Market.

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