We Need To Talk About the Rainforest Cafe

Deep in the bowels of central London, just off Piccadilly, lies a foreboding forest known  as the Rainforest Cafe.  Long famed as a grossly overpriced tourist trap, I had often passed by that lacklustre fibreglass frog and crowded windows stuffed full of lurid soft toys and never even considered crossing the threshold.  But as the parent of a three-year-old, requiring a central location to meet friends with other children, I found myself agreeing to enter this commercial cavern.

What followed was an experience far beyond my imagination. One of eye-watering prices and Machiavellian merchandising schemes.  But what outraged me most about the Rainforest Cafe was its utter disregard for taste and flavour.

To get to the actual cafe one must both enter and exit through the gift shop.  After negotiating our way through the packed shelves of toys we were checked in by a disinterested member of staff and handed a “Passport to your adventure”.  One must then squeeze through a crowded buggy park and descend a flight of dark, steep stairs – with apparently no lift facilities – to the bar area. A ‘Safari Guide’ (member of the waiting staff) then checks your passport and shows you to your table.

As we crossed the dim, crowded restaurant floor our guide ran through a spiel introducing us to the various animals in the forest as we passed by. These wild creatures are in fact a small number of tired, ageing animatronics which occasionally move stiffly and slowly.  The entire ceiling and most of the walls are covered with a canopy of dusty cloth and plastic plants, through which the unnatural light beams down.  Somehow it is both dark and glaring at the same time.  As mankind continues to destroy the rainforests, what a dismal future it could be if this was the only tribute we were left with.

Child standing infront of an animatronic elephant at the Rainforest Cafe London
Blow your own trumpet (Nursery Whines)

We were seated in a concrete cave with a fibreglass parrot and frog stuck to the wall.  Our guide gave the children colouring pencils and an activity sheet and handed us the menu.

Now I had already checked out the menu online so I was prepared for the inflated prices.  I had also worked out that ordering the ‘Total Kids Adventure Menu’ came to more than the cost of ordering the individual courses and a drink on their own.  I wasn’t finding out what was in that “exclusive Rainforest Cafe activity pack”, but I hope it includes one of those expensive toys from the shop! (Though I’m willing to bet it doesn’t). I had also realised it was gong to be cheaper for me to order a “Leaping Lizard Mezze Sharing Appetiser For 2 People” for my main course than having the lowest price salad.  And I thought I’d throw a few crudités my daughter’s way to make her burger a bit more healthy.

Not long after we sat down we heard a guide at a nearby table shouting for everyone’s attention and we were soon joining in a chorus of Happy Birthday for a stranger whose name I did not catch.  Over the course of our meal we would sing Happy Birthday at least half a dozen times.  Even the children got bored.  Every so often some hapless schmuck was presented with a pathetic looking ice cream sundae with a small candle stuck in the top, ordered to stand on their chair, allow their guide to light the candle and then wait while everyone in hearing distance had joined in singing Happy Birthday before they could blow it out and sit down again, to unenthuisastic applause.

The WCs were located in a corner behind an enormous fish tank crammed full of overgrown exotic fish.  If only it were true about them only having three second memories – trapped in that hellhole. When we visited the loo I had high hopes of the themed decor continuing.  But the bathrooms were dull, cramped, worn and only one soap dispenser and hand dryer was working.

Shortly before our drinks arrived it suddenly got even darker, the simulated sound of thunder roared and fake lightning flashed. Children shrieked, some diners reluctantly Ooh-ed-and-Ah-Ed, and then the lights went up, the music came back on and we were back to blinking at our plain, white, paper napkins.

Kids burger and chips at the Rainforest Cafe London
No frills burger (Nursery Whines)

Talking of storms in teacups, when our food arrived it lived up to neither the price nor the elaborate titles on the menu.  My daughter’s Ozzie Burger (meat nonspecific) was a piece of tough leather in a dry bun, served on a bare plate with fries and tomato ketchup in a paper container.

My sharing mezze FOR 2 PEOPLE was a ramekin of hummus with TWO lonely carrot sticks and TWO measly celery sticks stuck upright in it.  This was accompanied by a ramekin of poor quality olives, four feta-stuffed peppers and a piece of flatbread shaped like a heart.  I was not feeling the love.

Looking around me all I could see was people eating dry, bland food.  I wanted to run around the room shouting, “You don’t have to eat like this! This is London! There are numerous good restaurants serving delicious food all around you!”  Even if you prioritise entertaining your children, I have enjoyed a far more pleasant meal at Giraffe at less than half the cost of my visit to the Rainforest Cafe.

I don’t understand it. Does no one complain about the food in the Rainforest Cafe because they’re too shocked and disappointed?!  Maybe some people have dared speak up but their guide couldn’t hear them over the booms of thunder and rounds of Happy Birthday? I wish I could have taken more photographs to prove how bad it was, but it’s so dark in there.  Perhaps that’s why they keep the lights down low…

Child sitting under a parrot in a cave at the Rainforest Cafe London
Mood lighting (Nursery Whines)

That was what really ruffled my feathers about the Rainforest Cafe – the sheer lack of effort. Many shell-shocked customers have dared to take to Tripadvisor to complain once they’ve found their way out of those woods, and the Rainforest Cafe respond by promising to pass on feedback to their Head Chef and claiming, “all prices are a reflection of the current economic market and being a central London restaurant.”

This established brand has become lazy and arrogant.  They know people will come to their, “central London restaurant”, and so apparently see no need to feed their expectations with decent food.

I cannot deny my daughter and her friends enjoyed the Rainforest Cafe.  But then they are only three.  As a Londoner I am embarrassed that tourists will judge our wonderful, foodie city by this tired theme restaurant.

Child sitting at the bar with plastic palm tree cup at the Rainforest Cafe London
I need a drink! (Nursery Whines)

As we left a group of adults with no children were being led to their table by their safari guide, who I overheard saying half-heartedly with a gesture at the ceiling, “And if you look up you can see the stars.”  We are all of us in the gutter, but pity those who are lost underground in the Rainforest Cafe, gazing up hopelessly at the faux twinkle of halogen bulbs.

Save the customers at the Rainforest Cafe! Don’t let them be sucked in.

Musings Of A Tired Mummy

3 thoughts on “We Need To Talk About the Rainforest Cafe

  1. It is a total tourist /parent trap! Totally agree it’s overpriced and very uninspiring food. I will never forget our son being petrified of a monkey that screamed every 10 minutes, it made the meal even more stressful hehe #dreamteam

    Liked by 1 person

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