The Rainforest Café

Tel: +44 (0)20 7434 3111
Address: 20 – 24 Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1U 7EU
Cuisine Type: American
nearest tube station Leicester Square, Holborn, Tottenham Court Road

Whoever organised a work social at The Rainforest Café was having a laugh. A bunch of 20-something year olds in a jungle-themed restaurant? I didn’t think this could be serious, that it would reveal itself as some surreal joke at the last minute, until our taxi dropped us outside the Shaftesbury Avenue entrance. We stood gormlessly on the pavement, all the more reluctant to go in as we noted that every adult passing through the door was accompanied by at least one child under the age of 11.

Feeling suitably foolish, and positively under-accessorised without an obligatory kid in tow, we scurried through the entrance, studiously avoiding eye-contact with the girl on the door handing out balloons.

Our first stop: the shop packed full of animal merchandise, from plush soft toys to backpacks. The inescapable walk through this outlet to get to the restaurant has probably snared many an unsuspecting parent. We managed to pass through with wallets unscathed, though repeated cries of “Awww, it’s so cute” from the female contingent suggested it was a narrow escape.

Next stop – the bar. As well as fruit smoothies and milkshakes for the kids, there is a range of alcoholic cocktails and drinks for the adults, no doubt to help drown the embarrassment and get them through the meal. Without these, we would never have survived the evening here.

Final destination – the restaurant. Designed to give the impression of being deep in the rainforest, various animals (birds, elephant, gorilla) are nestled amongst the trees and flowers that line the walls, periodically moving and emitting pre-recorded noises, against a backdrop of simulated thunder. Great for kids, but the novelty wore thin for us after the third tropical rainstorm.

Not only is the menu divided into “Before the adventure”, “The adventure begins”, “Journey’s end” and “The oasis” for drinks, but individual dishes have twee names like Calypso chicken sandwich, wiki wiki wings or mojo bones, albeit at decidedly adult prices: £4.25 – £6.95 for starters, £9.95 – £15.95 for main courses and £4.25 for desserts. The food is certainly not the highlight of The Rainforest Café, though I don’t think a gourmet meal is the principal reason most people visit.

Service is patchy at best, but if I had to work in that environment all night, I would probably hate my customers too. As we left, the girl with the balloons cried “Come again soon!” with so little sincerity that I feel more than justified in declaring that I have absolutely no intention of ever returning.