As both an ardent foodie and lover of film, this trend towards fine dining at the cinema, and I mean served right in your seat during the film, intrigued me. Quite often I find myself tempted to wait until a film hits Netflix so I can curl up on my couch with my favorite bowl of homemade whatever, but the big cinema chains have caught on to my routine and they’re now offering commodious seats, alcoholic beverages, and more than just your typical popcorn, nachos or a hot dog to choose from on the menu. There are independent theatres that have been doing a version of this for years now, luxe seating with lattes and macaroons or wood fired pizzas and wine served up in the lobby, but a full-on dining experience in the dark, how exactly would this work?
The Lounge at Whiteleys Odeon was a blustery but thankfully short walk from my home in West London, past the neat rows of homes, doors wide open as parents were desperately trying to decamp their families into waiting Black Cabs to take them to Heathrow, to somewhere warm or maybe snowy for half-term break. It was the perfect afternoon for a movie! Whiteleys itself is somewhere I’ve always tried to avoid, not understanding the need for a shopping mall in such a vibrant neighborhood, the surrounding streets crammed with independent shops and restaurants. Much like any shopping mall in the center of a city, I find it disheartening, the diffused sunlight, the chain shops and faux sidewalk cafes. However, most movie theatres are tucked away at the top of these soulless spaces, and so past the Zara, the Café Rouge, the mobile phone shops, the M&S Food, I strode.
When I booked my tickets online, they urge you to arrive 30 minutes before the start of your film to take advantage of the full “Lounge experience.” I did as they asked and sat sipping a cranberry juice while watching well-heeled couples settle into the plush seats surrounding the bar. We were to be a small group, well the theatre only seats 50 at most, and at these prices, GBP £18.50 (US $30)per ticket, not everyone will indulge. Just five minutes before the start time, we were ushered to our seats, wait staff carrying our drinks on trays like they do at the finest restaurants.
The seats are huge, reminiscent of the ones used in nail salons for pedicures (thankfully they don’t vibrate). A bright blue button on the arm of your chair can be pressed at any time to request a server come to you. On the other arm a small tray is attached and a menu awaits inspection. In honor of the recent Chinese New Year, there was a small selection of Dim Sum, and I thought I must indulge. Prawn and chive dumplings, if you please. The other dishes are divided into Finger, Fork, and Spoon categories. I decided to rely on my trusty fingers, thinking a fork banging on a plate might be just too much during the show. The hot dog, while tempting, was too close to what I might get at just any old theatre, lemon sole goujons too reminiscent of culinary school, sushi too dicey at this venue. I settled on the three fillet steak sliders with onion rings. We were still in the previews (I’ll most certainly be first in line to see The Grand Budapest Hotel) when all of my food arrived and a little wine chiller bucket was set up to hold my bottle of still water. Fancy, indeed!