Monday, 28 January 2013
The Electric Diner, Notting Hill
It's easy to dismiss Electric Diner as the latest in a long line of copycat American comfort food outlets, and indeed I'm going to do just that, but it's also too easy to forget that outside of a select group of bloggers, critics and Twitter-stalking restaurant fanatics (and I have a horrible feeling I qualify for all three), this kind of thing is still a relative novelty. If you find yourself inwardly groaning whenever you learn about a new no-choice chicken restaurant or Soho burger bar, you're in a tiny minority. Most of the population of London haven't been eating at Meatwagon since 2010, still think of ramen as a kind of soup they do at Wagamama, and would consider a new diner selling gourmet hot dogs and cheeseburgers a huge improvement on their local Chicken Cottage or GBK.
It's also worth noting that, Soho or Shoreditch excepted, we're really still not spoiled for choice when it comes to this kind of thing. West London in particular, never at the top of the tree when it came to decent places to eat (the astonishing Ledbury being the exception that proves the rule) is one of those affluent restaurant deserts (see also Hampstead, Chelsea) that would welcome anyone trying to do something even slightly different. So perhaps I shouldn't be to harsh on Electric Diner for being a bit derivative; it is, after all, better this than another bloody Strada.
So I'll try and stress the positives. It's a beautiful room, with a long, sleek open kitchen on one side and low booths nestled under exposed brick on the left, stretching towards a gleaming white-tiled back wall. Staff were pleasant and efficient, and despite the dreaded "we'll need your table back by 7:30" (after arriving only just before 6:15) they were at least attentive enough to feed and water us in just under that time. My Hemingway Daquiri was a great example of its kind - unsweetened and forcefully alcoholic, just like the great man used to like them (only he would order doubles - that's four shots of rum at a time).
But I'm afraid my enthusiasm can't stretch to the food. An £8 portion of chicken livers came served with sweet brioche bread and a small pot of congealed butter in case you weren't finding enough fat elsewhere on the plate. Pickles were decent but couldn't win against such a huge amount of grease and sugar, and so the overall effect was pretty unappealing. Also, it was all stone-cold. Surely it wouldn't have been impossible to fry up a few chopped chicken livers to order? It seemed a bit lazy.
Bologna Sandwich continued in the same vein - sliced mortadella (or wafer-thin ham, which was all it tasted of) and cheddar (I think) inside a very sweet brioche bun and with whole mini gherkins rolling around - a bit slapped-together, a bit careless. I know diner food isn't supposed to be too fussy but there was very little to get excited about here, just thin-sliced fat under melted fat between two pieces of fat. For a tenner.
It seems strange to complain about a side order of bacon being too fatty, but these really were 90% lard, and I think I'm entitled to moan about how even the thin strips of red flesh were crumbly and dry, the fact that the sugary dressing just made the whole thing even more of a challenge to eat.
The "green salad", ordered because the rest of what was coming our way seemed a little heavy (oh how little we knew) was, despite an adequate dressing, nothing more than a supermarket ready-to-eat bag of mixed greens dumped on a plate, and nowhere near worth £6. Chips had a good crunch but were otherwise unmemorable, and for £4 for a small cup hardly represented value.
The bill for two, with a couple of beers on top of the above, came to £57, an amount I would have been happy to pay had I not left feeling so unpleasantly, overwhelmingly grease-sodden and had there just been one dish I could have considered ordering again. Looking back on the evening now all plates of food just merge into one huge, shapeless, lardy blob - the kind of thing you might start to resemble in fact if you ate there on a regular basis. Also, is there a reason they have their lighting so stupidly low? It started off just barely being enough to distinguish between animal, vegetable and mineral on the table in front of you, and halfway through the meal they turned it even lower.
But after all, this is Notting Hill, and if it's a choice between the Electric and getting on the tube to MeatLiquor, then perhaps it will find an audience. And as I say, if this was your first exposure to London's new wave of pimped-up US junk food joints and weren't on too much of a budget (both eminently possible if you live in Notting Hill), you may find enough to enjoy. It's a nice room, it would be a good place for a drink and it's better than a number of other places nearby. Oh, and they bring tap water without being asked. So they get an extra point for that too.