When I heard about The Bunyadi, a new naked restaurant in London I have to confess that the concept immediately caught my attention. The first thing that sprang to mind was genitals, the second hygiene and finally they; because we all know that they love to criticise, protest against change and find fault in absolutely everything outside of the box. Who are they? Society perhaps, or what we deem society to believe, suggest and follow, when in actual fact we shy away from the taboo’s in life for fear of what others may think about us rather than what we believe of ourselves. But The Bunyardi takes away more than just your clothes, it removes the chemically fuelled, hectic and socially robotic lifestyle we have all unconsciously become accustomed to and shows us how to be human again the second you step behind the black curtain.
Crafted from an organic, honest and recycled haven of textures, materials, raw wood and bamboo The Bunyadi is the most sensational release for the senses. The experience begins by changing into a white gown and slippers much like a traditional health spa and the muted light of the bar area creates a feverous atmosphere of chattering, laughter and the odd glance over the shoulder to see who is around. You see this is a first for me in many ways and I had no idea what to expect; it’s the first time I have ever dined both alone and naked in public, sure I’ve had breakfast in bed from a partner over the years but as a single mother of two this was very much a case of going in at the deep end, yet I find that’s the best way to discover new things.
You could say that I’m addicted to social media as are the majority of people these days with future generations set to consider virtual life their reality. My phone is constantly fixed in my right hand, my laptop on overdrive and my eyes instinctively gravitate towards bright screens, news bulletins and press headlines because it’s all that I know. I’m a major foodie and have been vegetarian for 23yrs and vegan for the past year and I love immersing myself in beautiful homemade, organic, fresh and delicious clean meals, from the art of preparation to taking a picture for my blog, mixing and matching colours and textures and creating a feast for the senses; yet The Bunyardi allows no phones, no cameras, no electricity, no clothes and none of the toxic noise and distractions of the world, when you dine you come as you are and when you leave you go as you should be.
Prior to my meal I changed into my gown and slippers, my worldly belongings stowed safely in a locker and the key tucked into my pocket as I nestled up in my gown and ordered a Cosmopolitan at the bar. The suited bar tender raised his eyebrows and replied “But you haven’t seen our drinks menu?” and I paused for a second before replying “I’ll take a look after my next drink.” Cosmo’s are my go-to cocktail, my weakness and indulgence, it’s a drink that I always order, appreciate and enjoy. But as I took in the surroundings, got lost in the melodic earthen beat of the music and fell deep into conversation with the fellow diners arriving I realised how uncooperative I was being to the experience, not intentionally but it was all I’d ever known. We’re all set in our ways, used to routine and having my purse and phone out of reach left me feeling naked despite being cocooned within my gown. I had just myself in a room filled with others, without distraction, without faces lit up by little phone screens and with nothing but natural communication, body language and conversation to see me through.
And so I perused the drinks menu, reading through the carefully concocted cocktails in the muted light as candles flickered and glasses clinked. The Akaash caught my eye boasting vodka, avocado, celery, basil, apple and ginger and it was just as phenomenal and intriguing as it sounds which led me to have another three. To start with I had been reservedly polite, unsure and dare I say it, anti-social? We’re so used to standing in crowds in silence, packing into trains avoiding eye-contact, queuing unconsciously, staring at screens and taking ourselves away from reality when suddenly we’re faced with only reality we almost forget what to do to be human again. I began talking to a young couple who had just started dating sat next to me at the bar, shortly followed by a guy also on his own within a long distance relationship and then there was me, a lone single parent to complete the mix; all total strangers who on any ordinary night may never have even said hello to one another yet here we were about to get naked together.
Shortly after we arrived the waiter announced that dinner was ready and after having our glasses of cocktails, wine and cask ales poured into clay jugs we were shown in our robes and slippers through a black curtain into the restaurant, ohh’s and ahh’s filled the air as we weaved through the maze of bamboo and candles to our intimate log tables. I’ve never had anybody surprise me with rose petals on the bed or candles up the stairs before, but this was spectacular, romantic, humble and incredibly safe and welcoming despite the only light being from wax candles. There is perhaps 20% vision in the near-black surroundings, 15% if you take into consideration the copious cocktails and it creates the most warm and cosy womb-like environment where body-consciousness and anti-socialism drop away with your robes. It’s your own choice to de-robe or not as you’re welcome to dine completely naked, topless or in your robe and slippers which is entirely down to the individual and nobody is made to feel awkward or on edge because of it. The tables are entirely sectioned off into bamboo pods with a curtain across the door in a series of winding hallways, twists and turns and it’s the first time I’ve been in a maximum capacity restaurant without seeing any other diners besides those at my own table.
I decided that I wanted to experience naked dining and so I bit the bullet, stood up, de-robed and said “who’s joining me?” and three of the four of us removed our robes. The waitress shortly arrived to take our drinks order and choice of vegan or non-vegan food. She was dressed in just fig leaves as she leaned across me topless to place a jug of water on the table and as newly acquainted strangers it felt like the most natural and relaxing experience. There was no awkwardness, no giggling, unease or self-consciousness, just delicately flattering and natural candle light, soulful music, incense and a deep sense of freedom and wellbeing. It was surprisingly unsexual, there was no crudeness, no awkward stares or perversion and I didn’t see a single genital because only faces are visible. Sitting on wooden logs the robes are used to cover the seat which keeps the area hygienic and is included as a gift within the meal should you wish to take them home.
Naturally I chose the vegan menu for my five course meal and the waitress enthusiastically explained the ingredients of each course, how they are all organic, hand prepared and ground, chopped and cooked over open fire using only the instruments of olden days; no blenders, no cookers, no packet mixes or sauces, just healthy, nutritious food from the earth. Served in clay bowls with edible spoons I licked my lips through the sensationally delicious courses of English Garden with pickled apple and salted cucumber followed by asparagus, salted almonds, pickled red onion and melon, a basket of handmade bread and pesto leading on to the sundried tomatoes and stuffed courgette flowers with cauliflower cous cous and seaweed flakes. Sweet and salt seasonal forage and black berries, coconut and chia mousse raw crumble for dessert with a jug of cleansing floral tea to finish made for a deliciously satisfying, uplifting, fragrant and feel-good dining experience that is literally out of this world.
As no belongings or technology are allowed at the meal I was sadly unable to take photos of the exquisite food, but actually it allowed me to throughly enjoy my meal for everything that it was for once; every sight, sound, smell, taste and touch rather than spending my evening living through a lens. We were welcomed to walk through the restaurant prior to our meal for which I took these few photos and once the experience began it was a teleportation through time, back to the days when communication was key, when people had conversations, got to know each other face to face and ate from the earth. I have never been so utterly relaxed, so open to speaking to others and eating with my hands as I was this evening and it goes to show just how detached we have become from our roots, our heritage and the planet that we live on.
Day-to-day I lead a very modern fast-paced life, I’m a hectic single parent, self-conscious post-pregnancy-bodied woman and keen vegan foodie. Typically when I go out for meals I squeeze into a formal dress and heels, hurry to do my hair and makeup, drop off the children to a sitter, race to make my reservation in time and sit on my phone throughout taking photos of my food, checking my emails and killing time between courses which tend to be the only vegetarian option on the menu minus the dairy. To be immersed in an organic vegan culinary experience where time stands still, to have cleared my mind of the white noise of life and not have to worry about adjusting my clothes or pinching my feet in heels is such a freeing and uplifting state of being as a woman. I didn’t have to be preened and perfect, mirror or camera ready, just unashamedly myself.
Yes, the thought of dining naked may be alien to many and I had my reservations to begin with too, but that was before I’d tried it, before I understood, felt and enjoyed it so thoroughly with strangers of different ages, sizes and cultures without bias. For some reason we treat nakedness as such a dirty and shameful thing, as if anybody who is naked in public is either a paedophile or swinger to be cautious of, yet we’re all made in the same way, we’re all human we’ve just forgotten what it is to be humane. I cannot recommend The Bunyardi more highly for both the nakedness of it’s food and custom; the stripping away of chemicals, processes and preservatives and the honesty, mindfulness and inner peace and health that it brings to all who enter. It’s unlike any other meal that I have had, and that’s really saying something because I’ve had a lifetime of them; can you say the same for the last restaurant you visited?