It's common to see comic-book fans turn up to premieres dressed as their favourite characters, but I'm choosing a slightly more sophisticated way to celebrate today's UAE release of The Batman, starring Robert Pattinson.
My attire is more smart-casual than the cosplayers, but I'm feeling no less heroic as I stroll up to the Edwardian building on Brewer Street in Soho, which opened last year. All that is missing is a bat signal pointing to the sky.
There are no gaudy Batman logos hanging over the entrance, and if you didn't know the restaurant was here, you could easily miss it. It is even named the rather anonymous-sounding Park Row, and there's good reason for this.
Named after a street in Batman's home neighbourhood, the multi-room restaurant is designed as if it’s set inside Gotham City where the crime fighter is a real resident, not a movie star who appears on billboards. Which means you shouldn’t expect to see costumed super heroes strutting around.
Instead, Park Row looks like the kind of place where you would find Batman's billionaire alter ego Bruce Wayne.
Walking into the eatery makes me feel like I've found a secret base as it is so different to the exterior. The journey starts in a dimly lit library papered in deep blue with brass ornaments lining the shelves. A door concealed behind a bookshelf leads to a steel spiral staircase, which winds around an elaborate chandelier formed from a series of overlapping illuminated discs. Light pulses down it like sonar, reminding diners that they are meant to be descending into the Batcave. Then comes the big reveal.
Passing through a curtain of smoke cascading down a doorway that’s lined with red LED strip lights, I expect to find Batman’s dingy base. Instead, I step into The Ice Lounge, a bustling ballroom that looks like it could be straight from an ocean liner in the golden age of cruising.
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Waiters wearing dinner jackets weave around mahogany columns topped with chrome. Paintings of owls and castles hang in gilded frames on the walls and diners sit comfortably in curved blue velvet seats. Jay Gatsby would feel right at home in this Art Deco opulence and the only obvious nod to Batman is a sculpture of a penguin standing above the circular bar.
It hints at eponymous super-villain Oswald Cobblepot and I feel like I'm on a mission to track him down as a waiter hands me an envelope stamped with a wax seal bearing the Wayne family crest.
I'm escorted to a chrome wall where another secret door opens to reveal a room that looks like an old-fashioned member's club. The walls are covered with peacock feather-print paper and the Penguin's trademark top hat sits on a shelf. A framed cover of the Gotham City Gazette hangs on the wall with the headline that Wayne Enterprises is redeveloping Park Row. It's a reminder that you're here as to a guest in Batman's home town.
I tear open the envelope and find some coins inside, along with instructions to deposit one of them in to a carnival game in the corner of the room. A creepy clown in the cabinet points its bony hand to determine whether guests get a light or dark drink (mine was coffee-flavoured).
Afterwards, I'm escorted alongside my fellow diners into The Monarch Theatre, a room with a long white central table that's named after the building near Gotham Square, which was the location Batman's parents were last seen alive in public.
A waiter wearing a green waistcoat and bright red bow tie tells the 16 guests that we will be mysteriously transported to the lairs of Batman's arch-enemies and allies. Suddenly, the walls light up with wraparound images beamed from hidden projectors.
At one point, rain seems to lash down and at another the room is encircled with projections of falling bank notes before the walls appear to freeze over. The highlight comes when the room spins 360 degrees as the Joker tries to disorient the diners. Of course, the room doesn't actually move, but it's convincing enough to have you swaying in your seat. Fortunately, my stomach didn't turn as the food is well worth savouring.
Eleven themed courses: from Penguin to Superman
An 11-course menu is served in The Monarch Theatre, with each course themed to Batman's friends and foes. Even the crockery plays a part, as dishes are served in hollowed out statue heads, gravy comes in steel syringes and there are drinks in test tubes to give guests the impression that they are dining with the villains in an asylum.
The food's super power is molecular gastronomy, which essentially means it is presented in unexpected ways. Mushroom pate is moulded into the shape of a cartoon toadstool complete with a red dotted top. Its glaze gives it the appearance of being solid, so much so that I grabbed mine inadvertently bending its intricate stalk.
A duck course is served in a conical glass and appears more like a broth covered with lemongrass foam. In fact, the presentation is so outlandish that it can be hard to tell what's sweet and what's savoury. The lollipop is actually shredded beef moulded into a ball and stuck on a stick while the egg yolk in a coconut shell is an edible burstable bubble with pineapple juice inside.
The crescendo is one of the most tender steaks I've ever tasted. It comes with a potato croquette with an artificially blackened shell, designed to give it the appearance of being a boulder from the Batcave.
It would be nice to get a closer look at these culinary works of art before gobbling them up, but sadly Gotham City-style lighting is too dim to see them in any great detail.
Immersive dining with blockbuster credentials
The food has blockbuster credentials. Executive chef Karl O'Dell was a senior sous chef for Gordon Ramsay and the restaurant is run by James Bulmer, former boss of Heston Blumenthal's three Michelin starred The Fat Duck in Berkshire.
One of the joys of eating here is that you feel part of the action, which immerses you from all angles. Wrap-around video and theatricals from the hosts are accompanied by technical wizardry hidden inside the table itself. Smoke pours out from concealed nozzles when its digital counterpart appears on the surrounding screens, and when a Superman video is broadcast, trays float as if by magic thanks to opposing magnets underneath them and in the table top. They then levitate even higher as platforms in the table rise upwards.
The entire experience is like dining in the middle of a West End theatre stage and it's almost as expensive. The 11-course menu at The Monarch Theatre is served over three hours and costs £195 ($260) per person.
If the release of The Batman ignites your love of the cloaked crusader, a trip to this Gotham City off-beat eatery should be on your must-do list the next time you're in London.