Emma Kirkham and her kids tuck into a family birthday with a difference – enjoying six courses while touring London on a unique double decker bus
I’ve lived in London all my life but I’ve never even thought of ‘doing’ a bus tour. I would see the tourists on them shivering under their ponchos on my way to work and I could not see the appeal, plus both my parents grew up in Westminster and my uncle was a black cab driver, so I thought I knew everything I needed to know about London Town.
But when you have children, things change. I would take my kids – Annie (12) and Ed (10) to the West End from our home in the suburbs and they didn’t know their Piccadilly from their Park Lane. I realised they needed some proper orienteering. Annie recently turned 12 and I thought, what better way to celebrate her birthday than a gourmet meal and a twilight tour of all the sights?
Bustronome, a play on the words combining bus and gastronomy, is an unprecedented experience that has already been a hit in Paris and last summer arrived on the streets of London. Bustronome is the name of a custom-built double decker bus with a difference. The upstairs is a fine dining restaurant with 360 degree panoramic roof, while downstairs is a professional restaurant kitchen.
We hopped onto the bus at Victoria Embankment, just a five minutes stroll from London’s Charing Cross station. We excitedly settled upstairs and I was immediately served a glass of Champagne along with a brief rundown of what to expect. The kids and I had been wondering how it would work. Would we end up with dinner in our laps? Would we have drinks spilled down our front?
The set-up was surprisingly smart. All the crockery and cutlery sat on magnetic placemats so as you set your knife and fork down it pinged onto the mat then you had to prise it off for the next course. We were actually less likely to spill our dinner here than at Pizza Express. We were also given listening sticks so we could follow the commentary on our travels.
We set off along the Thames east towards the City of London. We got plenty of puzzled looks from the passengers on the normal double decker buses we drew up alongside. Annie and Ed loved smiling and waving to the bemused commuters. Course after course of beautiful food kept coming, all with perfectly paired wine. We were tucking into our third course when we trundled along Waterloo Bridge, the sun setting over London. It was a magical moment and the driver crossed the bridge so slowly we had pedestrians overtaking us. We had plenty of time to take in the beauty of the city, spotting Big Ben, Tower Bridge and St Pauls.
We enjoyed dinner of jumbo prawn risotto, venison and mackerel ceviche. Annie and Ed had fewer courses than the adults, and a couple of their courses were tailor-made for their palettes. They devoured the mac and cheese and the Bustronome Parisian Chocolate Egg.
We saw all London’s major landmarks and crossed the Thames a total of four times. As we drove across Westminster Bridge we passed St Thomas’ Hospital where Annie was born the same evening 12 years earlier. We cheerily toasted the hospital as we drove past then we were back where we started on Victoria Embankment.
As we stepped off the bus, I found the beautiful evening and the generous wine served with our meal had made me a little teary. Ed’s verdict on the evening was it was ‘super cool’ and Annie declared it was her best birthday ever. It was a truly special experience – not the cheapest way to see London with your kids, but definitely the most memorable.
Bustronome London’s six-course dinner lasts 2hrs 45mins. The tour and dinner costs £105 or £135 with wine; afternoon tea costs from £65; concessions available for children. Four-course lunch tours, 1hr 45mins cost £65 or £85 with wines
The bus picks up and drops off at coach bay 40B at Victoria Embankment. There is a WC on board.