Dinner on a double-decker bus?
The Bustronome is no ordinary sightseeing bus, equipped with a transparent ceiling for taking in the sights, a working kitchen on the lower deck and full fine dining offering. I took a ride…
What is it?
Launched in Paris in 2014, the Bustronome offers the chance to sightsee in true style – with a glass of wine in hand and six-course tasting menu to relish. 2018 saw the Bustronome roll into London, offering a lunch and dinner service plus afternoon tea on Fridays and Saturdays for private bookings.
How does it work?
The sleek black double-decker picks you and your fellow diners up from Victoria Embankment, in central London. Onboard, it feels remarkably like an upmarket restaurant: coats are stashed in the cloakroom downstairs, before each party are escorted up the narrow flight of stairs to their table. Fingernail-thin glassware is set in smart translucent holders for stability and a welcome glass of champagne is poured – an early indication that no corners will be cut on this ‘voyage gourmand.’
The bus’s looping route through zones one and two takes in the Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral and the Natural History Museum and its transparent roof makes crossing Tower Bridge is a highlight. Here’s the clever bit: an interactive menu-style map and discreet audio pen let you learn more about the sights without interrupting the low-lit ambience – just tap on the roundel of the monument you’re interested in with the device, then hold it to your ear to listen to a short summary.
Motion sickness a concern? Thanks to the capital’s lethargic traffic, you move at a leisurely pace (all the better for admiring the views).
What’s the food like?
Smart fine dining with strong French flavour, courtesy of chef creative director Vincent Thiessé. My highlights were a plump piece of flaky hake surrounded by a moat of buttery dill sauce and meaty crayfish tempura swimming in an earthy pumpkin velouté.
Visiting just before Christmas, we also tucked into the canon of turkey and brussels sprouts with chestnut and cranberry sauce. A side of pickled carrots added some je ne sais quois to this festive set menu staple, but it was suitably jolly and juicy all by itself.
Pudding (‘Bustronome Christmas spire’) was an assortment of sweet textures on one plate: meringue, a crumbly arc of biscuit, citrus jelly discs and a full-bodied chocolate mousse, which was the star of the show. This cheffy exercise might border on exasperating in your bricks and mortar restaurant, but on four wheels was admittedly impressive.
Across the courses, techniques are conspicuous and plating elaborate (think classic French sauces, gels and artfully-placed herbs). Married with creative crockery choices (rustic shapes, moody colours), the Bustronome cleverly uses all the weapons in the arsenal, including an adept on-board team, to conjure a classy dining experience that is a credit to its constricted means.
What could be a gimmick has been thoroughly thought through, making the Bustronome more than simply a fun alternative to a standard restaurant. It may have been a side-effect of the constraints of cooking on a bus, but I really appreciated the ample time between courses to look out across illuminated London.
Happily, the food treads a crowd-pleasing line between sophisticated and satisfying. My favourite course was possibly the amuse bouche, pleasingly simple crunchy toasts topped with well-seasoned, pureed broad beans. The new spring menu promises more of this nimble balance too, including haddock tartare, mango entremets and the Bustronome take on Irish stew.
What’s the damage?
Dinner is £105 for six courses and £135-£150 with paired wines; lunch £65, £85 including wine. Visit bustronome.com to book.