If you watch enough cooking competition shows and cook enough food at home, eventually a thought begins to creep into your mind: Hey, I could do that. Maybe you’ve heckled a chef on Chopped who glooped too much sesame oil onto a dish, laughed at a Great British Bake Off contestant who forgot to add sugar or mocked a cook on Kitchen Nightmares who didn’t know how to cook an omelet.
Well, for the confident home cooks out there, the perfect autumn binge watch is an obscure decade-old British reality show featuring similarly prepared civilians attempting to start a restaurant in their living room. It’s called, well, Restaurant in Our Living Room.
Here’s the setup: Two couples are given £500 each (£700 in some episodes) and three days to plan and prepare a night of restaurant-style service in their houses. That night, they’ll cook and serve food to guests and the guests will choose to pay what they think the meals are worth. The couple that makes the most money wins.
Restaurant in Our Living Room is my latest binge-watching obsession, but nobody else seems to know about it. It’s free on Amazon Prime and Tubi, but only two Amazon customers have left reviews. Its IMDb page is blank and it has no Wikipedia page at all, so I can’t tell you why it ended after three seasons.
Well, it’s never too late. You should watch Restaurant in Our Living Room, because it’s fantastic.
One of the show’s pleasures is its simplicity. There’s no manufactured drama, no surprise twist and no annoying host (in fact, no host at all, just sarcastic narration by Robert Webb). Instead, you get to watch two couples argue over their menu, borrow tables and chairs, stress-panic under the pressure and inevitably mess everything up.
As Mike Tyson once said, ‘Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.’
Even the best-laid plans are prone to failure. In one episode, dinner’s nearly ready when the family’s dogs come running back into the house, completely covered in black, gunky mud. In another, the hosts get their guests good and drunk — absolutely the winning strategy — but then the rambunctious customers go to the bedroom, open dresser drawers, find a personal diary and start reading juicy bits aloud.
Restaurant in Our Living Room is an ongoing lesson in the challenges of serving the dining public. You can prepare all you want, but if a party of nine shows up, it’s all out the window. As Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
The most distressing lesson to me has been how little money diners are willing to pay their hosts. Obviously, some episodes feature inedible disasters, but many of the customers — maybe even a majority — are happy with their experiences on the show, yet still leave fast-food amounts of cash. It’s an absolute gut-punch to watch someone drink glass after glass of wine, praise their three-course meal and then decide to leave only £10.
On the other hand, there was joyous shouting in my house when a family of four announced it had left £130 — and then the two children sheepishly admitted that they’d snuck in a little bit of their own money, too.
Even with the chaotic appearances of picky eaters and filthy dogs, there’s still an element of second-guessing. As I watch the planning process, I can’t help thinking about how I’d react if tasked with serving 40 hungry strangers in my backyard. I’d probably wilt under pressure, but at least I’m not deranged enough to offer a choice of five different main courses.
In the world of armchair cooking shows, Restaurant in Our Living Room is one of the all-time champions. Could I do that? I doubt it. But it sure is fun to imagine. Relatable, funny and full of ordinary people making questionable choices, this is a forgotten gem of competitive food television.