A birthday surprise baked with cocktails, South African food and games on the side

This Life Recipe reveals how you can treat someone special to a birthday surprise in London without having to fork out the usual “birthday in London” prices.

Ingredients (serves at least two – all prices per person)
2 x cocktails at Simmons Bar (£8)
1 x three course meal and cocktail at Shakazulu (£25)
1 x homemade birthday cake (about £5)
Total: £38

It was my girlfriend Amy’s birthday recently – and after knowing each other for over half a year, I wanted to treat her to something special we hadn’t done before in London to celebrate (which was harder than you’d think – she’s always booking exciting new things for us to do!). Now there are thousands upon thousands of places to eat and things to do in London (mostly with ridiculous prices attached to them), so it could have taken a little while to formulate the perfect evening. Luckily, after an incredible holiday together in Cape Town a few months ago and knowing that she likes to eat good food and drink cocktails as much as me, it wasn’t too hard to pull an exciting plan together.

SA 5We kicked off the celebrations the evening before Amy’s birthday by having a few G&Ts at the flat (using frozen slices of cucumber as a tastier alternative to ice) and getting dressed up, which we don’t do very often. I didn’t reveal what we were going to do, just when we needed to leave and that we were going to spend the evening in Mornington Crescent/Camden.

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Our first stop was Simmons Bar in Mornington Crescent. This small but bustling bar is one of the best in the area – offering a range of drink deals, including 2-4-1 cocktails from 4pm-9pm every day apart from Saturday, and retro games consoles that are free to use. Needless to say, we quickly got through a few rounds of expertly made cocktails as we tested our old teenage talents playing Mario Kart, Donkey Kong and Mortal Kombat on the SNES. The drinks go down extremely quickly when you’re distracted by Super Mario and his friends, so we were already in a very “jolly” mood by the time we had to leave.

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A short walk up the road and we reached Shakazulu in the heart of Camden Market. This was the main surprise for the evening, which was revealed as we took the long escalator ride down to the South African themed restaurant and bar. It’s impressive, striking and surreal at the same time. The huge restaurant is filled with giant wooden warriors, a bar with tribal carvings across it and sofas, benches and comfy chairs covered with African print. Even though we didn’t arrive to the warmest welcome, we couldn’t help but smile as the performers started singing traditional South African songs and dancing energetically right beside our table.

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I’d already booked us on the Taste of Africa Menu, where you get three courses and a cocktail for just £25 (bearing in mind that the mains usually cost between £20 and £40 alone!). Unlike many of the usual set menus, there were loads of interesting options to choose from. After a fairly nice, but a little bit uninspiring cocktail, we enjoyed sharing some delicious lamb samosas with peach chutney and Cape Malay king prawns with curry mayonnaise to start before going halves on our pork spit roast and Cajun spiced kingklip mains. The food was excellent with huge portions, just like in Cape Town, so we had to take a break and enjoy some Stellenbosch wine before having our dark chocolate tart with honeycomb cracking dessert (yes, it was as good as it sounds). After watching another exhilarating performance by the singers and finishing our drinks, we explored the restaurant, taking pictures by the imposing statues, before making our way home.


After a lot of fantastic food, strong cocktails and walks around Camden, we crawled straight into bed when we got back. Amy’s last birthday surprise came the next morning as she woke up (with a slightly sore head) to a cup of tea, presents and a homemade Percy Pig cake in bed. This was the perfect end to a brilliant birthday surprise – which has left us with a bit more of our savings for our next holiday or adventure.

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