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Animal crackers? You’ll love Zoo Nights

With around a dozen street food traders, food is of a surprisingly high quality for special evenings at the zoo

15 June, 2017 — By Tom Moggach

Food on Zoo Nights is of a high quality… even if you have to queue

CACKLING parrots and fancy dress aren’t your typical ingredients for a Friday night supper.

But London Zoo is opening late for the next month only – part of an innovative calendar of special events that also includes a naked streak for tiger conservation.

The organisers deserve top marks for effort. My Zoo Night visit last week starred stilt walkers, face painting and DJs spinning Portishead. Heaven knows what the 17,000 animals at the zoo made of this rude disruption to their daily routine.

Later on, acrobats dressed as arachnids performed in the amphitheatre. Dip into expert talks alongside the porcupines, owls or meerkats, or join private guided tours for £10 a pop.

Food is of a surprisingly high quality. Around a dozen street food traders set up camp to dish up duck confit burgers, Ghanaian mutton curry, roti wraps and the like. I watched young chefs in sunglasses grill Greek souvlaki in their customised campervan. Stacked Dutch pancakes hit the spot for pudding.

Pop-up bars sprinkled around the site serve beer, cider, wine and cocktails such as Penguin Punch or Jungle Gin. (Watch out: beer is on the pricey side at £5 for a small can).

Zoo Nights is for over-18s only and you must buy tickets in advance. So is it worth the £17.50 price? It’s an absolute joy to roam the zoo at night. We sauntered through the Butterfly House, gawped at yawning pelicans and skirted around a snogging couple outside the Asiatic lions.

The event is a good choice for groups of friends keen for an original night out.

Zoo Nights is marketed as “the most unique way for grown-ups to celebrate summer in the city”, which is not far from the truth.

On a sultry evening, there’s also a flirty atmosphere in the air. Zoo Nights is ideal for couples and first dates.

The “Birds and the Bees – Uncut” tour promises to unravel the mysteries of sex in the animal kingdom, for example.

You can even upgrade to one of nine colourful cabins if you wish to spend the night.

Shame about the queues for the food stalls, though. There were long waits when I visited, which is less than ideal.

If patience is not your forte, bring your own picnic – although you’ll still have to buy drinks on site.

Alternatively, flee the crowds and head to Amreli – a separate, permanent café up near the lions and off the beaten track. Here they serve spicy burgers filled with paneer cheese or chicken with chilli and cumin.

On a fun night like this, it’s easy to forget what’s at stake. Over 58 per cent of the world’s wildlife populations have disappeared since 1970. London Zoo is at the forefront of conservation efforts around the world – so these events are a chance to help.

Zoo Nights, Fridays 6-10pm, June 16-July 14. Tickets cost £17.50 from www.zsl.org
Over-18s only. Group discounts available.

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