A Revolutionary Way of Dining

15 Jan

by Patric Baird

Whoever suggested that eating on the move was bad for you would probably make an exception for the diners in a revolving restaurant – what could be more relaxing and enjoyable than watching an ever-changing panorama while eating dinner?

I’m a big fan of the revolving restaurant, almost to the extent of choosing a holiday destination based on whether there’s a revolving restaurant, or at very least a tall building with public access to a 360 degrees viewing platform – there’s no better way of getting a feel for a place than going high above its trees and buildings.

Indeed, it was recently announced that the restaurant at London’s BT Tower would be reopened after 40 years, in honour of the 2012 Olympics, but will apparently remain in a fixed position, possibly due to the mechanism becoming inoperable due to lack of use.

The Germans invented the concept in the late 1950s at a time when they were building a lot of television signal transmitting towers, with the Florianturm in Dortmund being the first fully functional example.

The first rotating eatery in the United States was the La Ronde restaurant, located at the Ala Moana shopping centre in Honolulu, opened in 1961, but quickly losing its unique status to the restaurant at Seattle’s Space Needle.

An important pre-requisite for a revolving restaurant is that it offers a good view – there’s no point building one in the middle of the desert, or in a dreary, featureless town.

My first experience of the spinning-while-dining concept was at eastern Berlin’s Fernsehturm, a wonderfully space-age building constructed in the mid-sixties and offering fabulous views over the once-divided city – I imagined it must have been difficult for diners before the wall came down, literally seeing how the other half lived in the decadent western part of the city, whilst tucking in to a plate of turnips or whatever else was on the Fernsehturm’s Soviet-era menu.

Whilst in Asia – where most of the world’s revolving restaurants are now located – an evening visit to Kuala Lumpur’s revolving restaurant at the Minara telecommunications tower was quite spectacular, both for the fine buffet of local delicacies and the added bonus of an almost biblical, tropical thunderstorm kicking off half way through dinner.

A very different dining experience took place at Reykjavik’s Perlan restaurant – located only on the fifth floor, on top of the city’s landmark hot water storage tank system, the views are not exactly stunning but then Iceland doesn’t boast too many skyscrapers.

I would have been able to see more were it not for my eyes watering, no doubt caused by the prices they were charging for the food and drinks – but then where else can you eat something as sublime as sea hen with cloudberry sauce?

My most recent experience of a revolving restaurant took place at the rather unlikely destination of a Marriott hotel, near Muscle Shoals in Alabama.

It was most notable for the fantastic food, probably the best I have been served at an abnormal altitude, although the after dark views of a fairly sparsely-populated area suggested that a daytime visit might have been more rewarding.

Other memorable, but slightly less successful forays into finding the perfect revolving restaurants included a trip to Prague’s Zizkov Tower, unfairly voted the second-ugliest structure in the world by VirtualTourist in 2010.

Although the dining experience was a stationary one, the journey to the outskirts of the city on a snowy winter’s day was atmospheric and memorable and the tower itself was one of the most unusual buildings I have ever seen, not only for its unique futuristic shape, but for the bizarre sculptures of babies crawling up the tower’s walls, added by artist David Cerny in 2001.

The city of Rotterdam missed a bit of a trick with its Euromast – an imposing structure, but with a disappointingly-stationary viewing platform half-way up (complete with a brasserie and several hotel-style suites which are apparently popular with honeymooners), as well as a rotating capsule which ascends to the top of the tower, offering excellent views of the city.

Unfortunately the other attached eatery – much like Larry Sanders’ sidekick Hank Kingsley’s ‘Look-Around Cafe’ – was on the ground floor but, unlike Hank’s ill-conceived project, it doesn’t actually revolve.

However, the biggest disappointment of all was Bratislava’s Kamzik television tower where a much-anticipated visit to the 70m tall Veza revolving restaurant ended abruptly with a hastily-scrawled note on the entrance which read “Closed for lunch”.

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