Bunyadi caters to folk for whom public nudity is somehow thrilling; I am here because A begged to go and bashed the steering wheel of the Honda Civic with his fist. I am not only nude, which is odd, because being sexually exciting is not my journalistic identity, but, worse, I have accepted a freebie. There was no other way to get in. I asked Rod Liddle, who fashioned an anti-Bunyadi polemic a few weeks ago, to accompany me. He muttered ‘skidmarks’. Then he said no.
It is a glowering ex-nightclub in Elephant and Castle, south London; a black building on a corner with the windows taped up. It looks like a pub trapped in a bondage situation. There is an unnecessary velvet rope. (There is no queue.) A man asks for our names and checks them off a fraying list, and we are in a gloomy bar in which a series of quite attractive couples, including a man who looks like a right-wing stereotype of a Trotskyite, loiter with the preening self-importance of 13-year-olds who have just stolen a Silk Cut from their mum.
We drink mojitos and read a list of rules, which say: do not stare, do not photograph, do not approach. It is an orgy without sex. It reminds me of the ‘Killing Kittens’ orgy I covered for the Sunday Times magazine. No one met your eye. Well, no one met my eye.
We change into bathrobes (prim, absurd) and enter a second gloomy room, with curved bamboo partitions. You do not have to look at other parties — again, so prim; it makes me yearn faintly to ride a glittering pound sign in Piccadilly Circus nude, while screaming ‘Mummy has taken control!’
The chairs are small tree stumps (this is not a restaurant for fat people); the table is a lump of tree balanced on a lump of tree (this is not a restaurant for women with large breasts, but I will not dwell on the personal discomfort of folding myself into a tree in the service of world-class restaurant criticism). In the near-darkness I can see a lump of bread and some butter, a jug of water and mugs, and A, who is already nude; he couldn’t wait. I shrug off my robe. If that sounds like the beginning of an interesting story, it isn’t. I summon an expression of wifely tolerance and try not to wish that I were in Wiltons eating potatoes dauphinoise with my clothes on.
The waiter is wearing small pants. They have plastic leaves sewn on them. A’s face falls into the vegan butter; he wanted a nymph but this is a man with tattoos. He is quite talkative. ‘I see you have found the bread already,’ he says — is he fat-shaming us? As the meal, which is dispatched from a mysterious flap of light, goes on, he gets more talkative. First he stands. Then he sits. Then he crouches. He is a nudist, he says, he is from Belgium. I mumble apologies for Brexit, my arms fixed from nipple to chin. I am the same person naked. I once covered a nudist weekend for the Daily Mail. I walked around with my tape recorder, naked, until I found pubic hair on my foot and went home.
He brings raw asparagus with melon; raw beef with berries (we had to remind him we were non-vegan, but this is a quibble); then a coconut crème. It is all fine. It would work better in a Lord of the Rings re-enactment bistro, or the 12th century, or your shed, but we are in Elephant and Castle, where it all feels vaguely pointless; what is the point of nudity without sex if you are not German? When, later, I successfully parallel park in Morrison’s, it is the biggest thrill of the night.
The Bunyadi, Harper Road, London SE1 6AD. www.thebunyadi.com.
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