Batman’s Gotham comes to London with a fine dining twist

Park Row, London
(Image credit: Wonderland Restaurants)

Think superheroes and you probably think of capes, masks, underground lairs and epic battles with equally-super villains. But fine dining? Not so much. 

So when I received an invitation to Park Row, Wonderland Restaurants’ DC Comics-inspired venue in London’s trendy Soho district, it’s fair to say that my curiosity was piqued, along with my taste buds. 

Approaching the venue, it seems rather unassuming, as far as venues in Soho go – just a beautiful, old building. It’s not just any old building, though – it was once part of the Regent Palace, London’s largest hotel. Now, its Grade II listed ballroom, adorned with light fittings and wood paneling dating back to its heyday, has been shaped into something entirely new. 

Even having taken in the Wayne Enterprises logo embedded in the flagstones outside to the library-themed lobby, and the vast, Batcave-inspired black spiral staircase leading down to the main room, it’s hard to make an initial guess at what exactly awaits when you pass through the smokey, blue-lit entrance to the old ballroom. 

Toeing a subtle line

The contrast between dark and light as the doors from the darkened stairwell swing open is almost overwhelming at first, as you take in the enormous, glamorous main room. Immediately, you’re in a real-life Gotham à la Tim Burton in all its art deco glory – except with less of the dystopian hell-scape energy. 

There are four bars and dining spaces within Park Row: Pennyworth’s, inspired by the eponymous Alfred, long-serving (and suffering) butler to the Wayne family; Rogues Gallery, an exhibition designed to represent Selina ‘Catwoman’ Kyle’s best acquisitions; Old Gotham City, a tucked-away, walk-in only bar with a more dark, lounge-type feeling; and finally, my personal favorite – the decadent Iceberg Lounge, themed after Oswald Cobblepot’s, a.k.a The Penguin’s, notorious casino and complete with a performance space. There’s also the Monarch Theatre dining experience, of which more later...

We were greeted by Stuart Singer, Director of Communications at Wonderland Restaurants, who gave us some more insight into the project, the vision of its founder James Bulmer, and the company’s partnership with Warner Brothers.

What’s immediately apparent is the careful consideration taken to keep references to DC Comics’ intellectual properties oblique and avoid the desire to go all-in, with Singer explaining: “We’ve had to toe the line between what is too on-the-nose and what is fine dining, and Warner Brothers are extremely hot on what’s over that line.”

The workaround, he says, is easter eggs.

From the penguin ice sculpture to the reference-laden cocktail menu and the various artworks, including a bust of Shakespeare that's been given the Harvey Dent/Two-Face treatment, with one side of the Bard's visage hideously disfigured, the DNA of Park Row is clearly within the DC universe – but not overwhelmingly so, in an attempt to make the experience accessible to all audiences. 

Park Row, London

(Image credit: Wonderland Restaurants)

We were also joined by Lee Starling and Hugo Roche, who both played vital roles in bringing Park Row together.

Starling is Company & Project Director at Fraser Randall, a specialist management consultant company working with the museums and attractions sector. Roche is Managing Director at AV experience delivery company Sysco Productions. 

With a background in high-end, bespoke experiential project management, Starling sees Park Row as an opportunity to attract people with an experience like no other, “The idea is to take the DC world and take people through the emotions associated with different characters,” he tells me.

An extension of this idea is that guests don’t see characters directly – in fact, there’s a strict no-costume policy at Park Row – and Singer explains that this removes the restrictions of choosing a specific version of any given character from a particular movie or comic, allowing guests to use their imagination in tandem with the venue, the food and the experience overall.

Working closely with Warner Brothers to workshop on the presentation of characters has allowed the team to tap into what Singer calls the “core DNA” of the characters, rooted in no particular interpretation.

Immersive dining with a heroic lining

Park Row, London

(Image credit: Wonderland Restaurants)

This approach carries over to what was the main event of our evening: the Monarch Theatre, the immersive dining experience housed within Park Row, and the name of which Batman fans will recognize as the scene of the murder of Martha and Thomas Wayne. It sits alongside the other bars in Park Row’s grand ballroom, but is shielded from view behind an intriguing chrome wall that conceals an exclusive 20-seat dining room. 

360-degree state of the art floor-to-ceiling projection mapping and some very cool special effects enrich the 11-course tasting menu served in the Monarch Theatre, which takes diners on a journey through some of DC’s most famous – and infamous – characters. From here on, we’re going as spoiler-free as possible, to maintain the element of surprise that comes with this unique experience.

While technology is a key component of the evening, the team behind Park Row were always very aware of the balance needed between all of the moving parts. Roche explains that the tech, while bespoke, was the last piece of the puzzle. “It should be seen and heard, but should be doing its job in the background to enhance,” he says.

“From a technology standpoint, we had quite a good idea of how we were going to deliver it. There are some clever places where technology takes the foreground for the moment, and that’s part of the fun.”

Park Row, London

(Image credit: Wonderland Restaurants)

Roche adds that one of the real drivers of the Monarch Theatre experience is the visual content that's displayed on the giant, floor-to-ceiling screens that form the walls of the room, which immerses diners in a series of stories that synchronize masterfully with the tasting menu.

The entire evening is like a visual, edible symphony. The dishes flow seamlessly, each with visual cues to characters and clever references in ingredients (for example, a whimsical mushroom parfait signifying the fungi used to create the Scarecrow’s fear gas), and are sized to leave guests feeling sated, but not stuffed. 

The narrator-come-sommelier leads a team of finely-tuned wait staff, who enter the room and present courses with exact timing so as to not interrupt the content, and the kitchen has a direct line into the dining room so that it can time the preparation of the next course.

A finished, yet evolving concept

Park Row, London

(Image credit: Wonderland Restaurants)

As with the hospitality industry as a whole, Park Row was impacted by the pandemic and associated lockdowns, which forced the team to adapt but also gave it the chance to revisit and refine elements of the project. 

When lockdown first began, Park Row was about 8-12 weeks out from completion, and when venues were allowed to reopen, Starling says the team had to make some changes to take account of new ways of working. “But the vision stayed the same,” he adds. “It gave us some extra time to come up with the experience chapters and narratives, so we utilized the time quite well.”

So, what comes next for Park Row? Executive Chef Karl O'Dell is setting his sights on a Michelin star, and with Bulmer’s father being a former Michelin Guide editor, there’s no shortage of drive in this department. “By no means are we a finished product, but we hope to entertain anyone who loves food and drink,” Singer says. “We are a restaurant and we can’t ever forget that.”

There’s plenty more opportunity for the venue to adapt, too. Singer compares the experience to the West End in its need to continually evolve, saying: “We can change the content and the food, change how we portray a character on the menus... There’s magic to it, we can add layers and evolve.”

Park Row as a whole is a real treat for DC fans, but beyond that it’s an excellent destination for anyone who appreciates fantastic food in a stellar setting – and it will certainly make for the perfect post-movie dinner when Robert Pattinson’s Batman graces our screens next year.

Josephine Watson
Managing Editor, Lifestyle

Josephine Watson (@JosieWatson) is TechRadar's Managing Editor - Lifestyle. Josephine has previously written on a variety of topics, from pop culture to gaming and even the energy industry, joining TechRadar to support general site management. She is a smart home nerd, as well as an advocate for internet safety and education, and has also made a point of using her position to fight for progression in the treatment of diversity and inclusion, mental health, and neurodiversity in corporate settings. Generally, you'll find her watching Disney movies, playing on her Switch, or showing people pictures of her cats, Mr. Smith and Heady.