Restaurants: Upstaged during dinner

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The Independent Culture
Mention food and entertainment in the same breath and most hearts will sink. The words generally conjure up images of sad cabaret artistes in flock-wall-papered function rooms with even sadder portions of chicken- in-the-basket. But now, some surprising people are getting in on the act.

On Monday, chef of the moment Jean-Christophe Novelli put on what is expected to be the first of many entertainment evenings in the private dining room of Novelli EC1, in Clerkenwell, London. The evening - an Oscar Wilde Night with an impersonator and actors - was a sell-out. Guests quaffed champagne and munched on a selection of canapes, followed by dinner with entertainment between courses.

"Often with this kind of thing, what's served up is the cheapest food imaginable and the nastiest house wine that you wouldn't even pour into a flower pot, but people are knocked out by what we are offering," says Novelli's marketing manager, Howard Linskey

Equally enthusiastic about entertainment while you eat is Geoff Morrow, who next month opens It's Showtime, a huge restaurant on Shaftesbury Avenue, where staff will perform "songs from the shows" every 15 minutes. "People are getting bored with just going out to eat, they want an extra bit of enjoyment," says Morrow, who has penned songs for Cliff Richard and Barry Manilow. "Things are really happening in this area in America and I reckon it [entertainment with dinner] will take off here, too."

Customers have got to be prepared for the experience, says Carol Charlton Jones, who puts on opera nights once a month at her restaurant, The Organic Cafe, in west London. "If people just turn up expecting to have a quiet dinner for two they are usually not keen on the idea," she says.