Theme restaurants

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Eating in outer space,a rainforest or even out of a mini-toilet bowl may seem fun - but does the food suffer?

What do you look for in a restaurant? Good food? Attentive service? The sound of gunfire to accompany the Kalashnikovs on the wall? The latter may sound like a joke but it's to be found in Beirut's newest restaurant, the winningly-titled Guns and Buns. It's just another striking example of what might be called the extreme-theme restaurant.

If the thought of dining among weaponry is enough to put you off your food, you probably won't fancy eating whilst perched on a toilet, chatting to your companion across a sink. It's how they do things at Modern Toilet in Taipei, where food comes served in mini-toilet bowls and napkins are dispensed from toilet roll holders.

Still, that all sounds rather tasteful compared to Japan's Alcatraz ER a hospital/prison themed restaurant. On entering, you are handcuffed to a 'nurse' and led to your cell; drinks are served via a drip or in a test-tube. The food is served on metal surgical dishes and accompanied by little blue pills.

What's interesting about these extreme-themes is how different they are to what we understand by theme restaurants, which tend to be child-orientated and more fantasy-like. Mars 2112, or instance, is a popular New York restaurant, decorated to look like the Red Planet and entered via a simulated ride.

London's Rainforest Café is another themed restaurant, with tropical sounds, waterfalls and waiters dressed as safari guides. And, as with every child-orientated destination, there's a complete range of merchandise available.

Regardless of whether the theme is fantastical or stomach-churning, any theme restaurant seems to share a similar ethos. First, they're designed with tourists in mind. Also, the emphasis is strongly on atmosphere and decor rather than the food; it's all about the experience.

In providing an attack on all the senses, it is taste which is often forgotten and the food tends to be predictable, lacklustre and overpriced. The staff may be enthusiastic but they're less there to serve as to entertain.

Have you eaten in any theme restaurants? Are they a bit of fun or tacky tourist-traps? What about the extreme-themes? How long before Britain surrenders to their charms?

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