Last week a friend invited me to a naked restaurant. A bit of me thought it would be fun while other bits were afraid of the exposure. The friend, who I dated years ago, told me not to worry though, that 'we'll all be in the same boat.' I replied 'some boats rock 'n' wobble more than others,' but then quickly wondered what not to wear. As other various quips and obvious puns flew through my head at a dizzying rate of knots, I appreciated I had five days advanced notice - surely enough time to transform my body from that of a George Costanza to a George Clooney? A few star jumps and a splash about the local pool would have me looking less paunchy and rather more punchy, right?! Hmm unfortunately, no matter how much I splashed, dived or heavy pettied in the pool, five days just wasn't long enough to transform me from Costanza to Clooney. In the end I chose soup on Thursday night and hoped it'd help with my protruding belly. It didn't, not quite. I was still a Costanza arriving to a naked restaurant with a statuesque blonde who used to be a cheerleader and playboy bunny, and could reduce me to a trembling wreck with a bee-stung pout.
Anyway, it wasn't a date as such. An old flame (flicker might be a more accurate description of how long we dated) was writing an article for the Metro and invited me as her plus one. When she, Samantha, informed me that people who 'take one photo and pass you back the camera' are a bug bear of hers I knew two things about my old flicker: 1) She is an unapologetic narcissist and 2) I'd have the unenvied chore of taking snaps of Samantha cheekily covering her beautifully ample bits with clay goblets and slices of cucumbers. Well it's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it.
To the restaurant... Last Friday was a hot day and I wore white converse trainers, faded blue jean shorts, a relaxed fit, sky blue shirt. It was not a good look. I looked like a clear blue sky with clouds on my feet - knowing I'd be better off naked than wearing such clobber. Doubly so when we entered the premises to find the sultry front bar crammed with other journos. After a cocktail or two we queued and were shown into a changing area. Now perhaps after reading The Bunyadi's website I'd been overly optimistic, naively picturing changing out of my clothes in an actual changing room. You know a little luxury to encapsulate The Bunyadi's strapline and mission statement: 'This summer, experience liberation.' The reality was less liberating however; less naturists playing volleyball with cake, and more diners being chaotically ushered into the world's tiniest locker room, which was actually a load of lockers sectioned off with a shabby curtain. With your kit off, and bruised elbows from bashing the lockers, Samantha and I were then hurriedly escorted to a table surrounded by walls of bamboo. Apart from my date and the topless waitresses, I saw no nudity, no other diners liberating themselves from the shackles of clothing. I'd hoped for an open plan dining experience, somewhere comfortable, airy and relaxing where patrons stare politely; engaging one another with genteel nods and titillating glances... and yet the nudity (a key component of a naked restaurant) was cordoned off, hidden behind "peek-a-bamboo" fences. I could've been sat at home with my dinner on a tray. The restaurant itself was poorly lit, uncomfortably hot and oppressively humid. I was sat on a tree stump, sweating and eating several courses of unappetising food on clay plates with a spoon made of egg and wheat. Actually, the edible spoons were the best part of the meal.
However, with those gripes to one side, I actually had a brilliant and fun time. I simply ignored Seb Lyall's wordy spiel (the founder of The Bunyadi), who said, 'We believe people should get the chance to experience a night out without any impurities: no chemicals, no artificial colours, no electricity, no gas, no phone and even no clothes if they wish to.' If Seb genuinely wants to achieve such a noble aim then hats and everything else off to him. The concept is sound and will appeal to many a hipster, but the execution needs a lot of work. Most importantly they need to move the venue - have it pop up on a roof-top with the stars as their canopy, or a marquee with grass under bare foot. Anywhere but a sweaty former night club with all the charm of a strip club in King's Cross.
Of course, you're not there for the food. You're not there to save the world from high leccy or gas bills either. The novelty factor is what this place is all about. You're there to tell your friends amusing anecdotes about how you grabbed a bottle of wine and joined another couple in the bamboo enclosure next to your own, or how at the end of the night you returned to the front bar, urging other diners (quite inexplicably including your former headmistress and husband - now naturists in their sixties) to take off their robes in a strange moment of saucy rebellion, and all before the owner, manager and staff frantically plead for you to put your clothes back on lest they lose their licence.
Oh and if any embarrassing photos emerge, I'm a grower not a shower!