Tucked away down a narrow east London side street, far removed from the buzz of the metropolis, is the city's latest secret dining experiment.
The Pale Blue Door, a pop up restaurant/art installation, taps into any curiosity junkie's base instincts. The mystery behind it is part of the seduction. For a start, its address isn't listed. Instead details are divulged via e-mail after a deposit for a booking has been paid. And then the adventure of trying to find it begins.
After circumnavigating the turns of London's one-way back streets, the destination finally reached is the house of artist Tony Hornecker. Like any true artist, his home is far from ordinary. A knock on the decaying pale blue entrance door opens up a wonderland of mismatched furniture and scrap-yard trinkets. Replete with all the magic and slight eeriness of a Brothers Grimm fable, you can't help but feel transported into a world of play and dress up that you last indulged as a five-year-old.
Staying true to form, the night's dinner service was characteristically quirky. Dinner was served by candlelight which added to the ambiance but cleverly helped to obscure the indistinguishable textures buried in the salad starter.
On the menu for the evening was rare roast beef or red pepper and blue cheese filo pastry – a hearty, cafeteria-style main course which was perfectly satisfying but wouldn't leave you craving more. But let's face it – The Pale Blue Door isn't really for foodies and Hornecker is under no pretensions that it is a real restaurant.
The lack of polish instead lends to its charm and so it's easy to forgive the fact that the glasses aren't gleaming and the crockery and cutlery don't match. The beauty of it straddling both the camps of restaurant and art installation is that the house is opened up for all to explore during dinner. Upstairs, the bedroom hosts diners happily eating perched on the bed whilst other diners are seated around a coffee table precariously pitched on the balcony.
Pale Blue Door to Go Global
Asked if they were comfortable, the couple remarked, "We were a bit perturbed at first that there were no chairs but we've got used to sitting crossed legs now." And after all, who wouldn't feel comfortable when being looked after by the night's incredibly affable host and performer A-man To-pet? This-fun loving drag queen not only performed a variety of hysterical cabaret style pieces throughout the evening but also took the time to ensure each table was happy.
Conversations were then ignited between tables, birthday cake was shared with strangers and a real sense of camaraderie was forged throughout the room. Perhaps this is the key to why The Pale Blue Door has blossomed from a small "friends only" project into a burgeoning success. But it doesn't stop here.
Speaking to ABC News, Hornecker revealed his plans to develop the installation on a larger scale: "I've always had a vision of creating something similar in a ramshackled warehouse," he said. December is the month that he hopes to bring this plan to fruition, with a new Pale Blue Door venue starting up in London. Yet, Hornecker's vision is also an international one. Forthcoming plans for The Pale Blue Door Tokyo and The Pale Blue Door New York are also in the pipeline, with a New York opening happening potentially as soon as February.
So as the evening finally comes to an end, the door is opened and diners step back out into the night. The eccentricity of the evening may be hard to put into words but the endless smiles of all who were there perhaps says it all.