Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Jamie Oliver's Diner, Piccadilly



Taking "inspiration" from an existing successful business is not, in itself, evil. Noting the success of Bubbledogs and the Big Apple Hot Dogs and then opening your own hot dog stall is not evil. Spotting the crowds in MeatLiquor and opening your own burger and cocktail joint is not evil. Being envious of the queues trailing down Beak Street from FlatIron then serving your own version of the dish is not evil. Wanting to get in on the market for slow-cooked BBQ ribs pioneered by Pitt Cue is not evil.

But doing all this at once?

It's not just that Jamie's Diner is cynical. It's not merely that it's an incoherent, paper-thin mess of a place that shouldn't have left the drawing board. It's way more than that. It's a multi-million pound cliché warehouse, a jumble of every single one of London's food fads all piled up on top of each other, each more disastrously "reimagined" than the last.



The menu is bone-jarring, multi-car pile up, so much so that pointing out all its failings would take a short novella never mind a blog post. There's a collection of "starters" of no obvious geographical origin, "cajun" prawns and "sweet potato quesadilla" jostling somewhat uncomfortably next to a Marie Rose prawn cocktail. There's a box of four "Classic Dishes" including a Reuben sandwich, a £15 chicken in a basket (one would hope you get the whole chicken for that; I bet you don't) and the worryingly singular "Giant Spaghetti Meatball".

There's another section for "salads" which has so many eye-twitchingly irritating phrases I got as far as "Super Duper Quinoa Salad" then gave up and moved on. The "Steaks" section has just two choices - a £16.50 "Flat-Iron" (for all its failings, at least Flat Iron Soho's is only £10 with a salad) and a completely bonkers "Rib-eye for two" for £60. There's a section for "waffles" which has only two choices; one with pulled pork and one - I swear I'm not making this up - with smoked salmon and horseradish cottage cheese which must rank with one of the most terrifying ideas anyone in charge of writing a menu has ever had. There's also a box for "burgers" where if you really want to push the boundaries you can specify extra sweetcorn salsa, gruyere cheese and piccalilli for £1 an item.



But if the menu is a car crash, just wait till you get a load of the food. "Guacamole tortilla chips" were notable insofar as they contained no tortilla chips, and very little guacamole, just some salty water biscuits of some kind, slowly dissolving under a pile of tasteless chopped tomatoes. They were served in a sort of bucket thing with a handle which I'm sure someone thought was a good idea.



"Dirty Barbecue Ribs" were burned, so it's hard to objectively rate their "dirty"ness, although if "dirty" means "sickeningly sweet and overcooked" then we're probably halfway there. A pile of chopped carrots and cabbage and who knows what else was entirely unseasoned and served no purpose, although bizarrely shoestring fries were crisp, perfectly seasoned and actually rather nice.



Worse was yet to come, though. "Giant spaghetti meatball" was, in fact, three or four totally normal-sized meatballs of flavourless mystery meat, nestled amongst slimy commodity pasta. They were garnished with sour cream, cheap parmesan and chopped parsley, the latter being all you could taste. "It smells like vomit," my friend pointed out thoughtfully, as she gamely prodded her way through it.



Dear God though, the pulled pork waffles. At first I couldn't remember if I'd ever tasted pulled pork quite this bad, and then it dawned on me - I had. At Jamie Oliver's other restaurant, Barbecoa. A winning combination of dry, sickly sweet and sloppy, their sugared-vinegar runoff had turned the waffles below from what were once presumably very bland but inoffensive carbohydrate into soggy, tooth-softening mush. Awful, and yet some deep-fried chillis, although slightly chewy, were genuinely tasty, with a gentle citrus tang and moderate heat. Which didn't go anywhere near redeeming the dish, just made the whole thing that much more psychologically bewildering.

Staff were enthusiastic - and numerous - but had a slightly eccentric habit of asking how everything was every five minutes, and given the amount of trauma involved in explaining the difference between beer and ginger beer to my eastern European waitress (a lot), I didn't feel like doing anything other than grunt "fine thank you" on each occasion. But what could they have done, anyway? Re-done the 12-hour pulled pork? Re-trained the chefs? Burned ribs aside, none of the food was cooked wrong, it just was wrong.



For all the grumbling about trend-chasing, and there has been a fair amount of grumbling (most of it from me), it's worth pointing out that however unimaginative a concept, when the food is decent, much can be forgiven. Clockjack Oven may have been rushed into field on the back of the success of Chicken Shop, but given that it's also serving lovely moist chicken and crunchy double-cooked chips for less than a tenner, who cares. And although it's tempting to blame MeatLiquor for BRGR, Burger and Shake and who knows how many other bland ripoffs, we can also thank them for Patty & Bun, Honest Burgers and Lucky Chip, all of whom London would be much poorer without.



The food here is terrible, but Jamie's Diner is enraging - apocalyptically, biblically enraging - because it has no ambition greater than to make some easy money off the back of the hard work of others, by scraping every barrel of London's current American comfort food fashions, and to exploit passing tourists and Jamie fans and get them out of the door before they realise they've been scammed. And if anyone else had put their name to this giant con trick, it would be criminal enough. But for Jamie Oliver, who has made a living for years out of telling poor people not to eat burgers, hot dogs and chips only to then charge way over the odds for the same food as soon as he realises there's money to be made, the nerve is astounding.

We are led to believe that Jamie's Diner is a "pop-up". We know this because it says 'POP-UP' on every menu, and it's plastered all over the walls and windows. In fact, the lease on the building is 3 years, which as anyone in the industry will tell you, is a perfectly acceptable period for a restaurant to last. The only way anyone would call their 3-year restaurant a "pop-up" would be if, not content with having ticked off nearly every other London food cliché, they wanted to jump on that bandwagon as well. And the cynicism, the lack of originality, the shallowness, that is all irritating enough. But to perform a volte-face on your own multi-million-pound-earning healthy-eating campaign to make yet more millions? That's shameful.

1/10

Jamie Oliver's Diner on Urbanspoon

28 comments:

Walshy said...

Appropriately enough, the "sort of a bucket thing" your "tortilla chips" were served in looks rather like a mess tin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mess_tin).

Deepa Mistry said...

I generally like his shows and his cookbooks but with every restaurant he opens I want to set fire to the books, using some extra virgin olive oil to get it going. People must continue to go though, even though they aren't very good?

Lardbutty said...

ooh dear, thanks for sharing. Lardbutty will learn from your experience and won't be visiting here...

Anonymous said...

murked

Mr Noodles said...

Did I miss the memo but since when did crispy mortadella become a burger topping? And £60 for rib of beef for two? FFS I know places French and grown-up where you can get that for less. Shocking, truly shocking.

Anonymous said...

Appreciate the advice - definitely going to steer clear of Jamie's Diner. But must admit it always annoy me when a blogger eviscerates a place and then admits no complaints were made to staff. If the tortilla chips came with no guacamole, tell them about it! Else others will suffer in your wake!

The Shed said...

There becomes a point at which a place doesn't deserve any feedback...complaint is a gift and all that. I reckon this qualifies.

Anonymous said...

My only complaint here, and the restaurant probably deserves every other shot it gets, is accusing it of jumping on a trend or bandwagon. Ed's Diner has been there for decades and that's what it's ripping off, but trying to bring it a bit more upscale (and more expensive) by using more trendy ingredients. It's not riding on or ripping anyone off. (Except for the patrons) It's standard practice for the giant restaurant chains. Expect a few dozen more to open in the next year or so.

jrg said...

the last Adams Rib has gone, and been replaced by this? Say it isn't so...

jrg said...

the last Adams Rib has gone, and been replaced by this? Say it isn't so...

Caroline said...

Does he make millions from his healthy eating campaigns? Surely not although the exposure has helped his brand.

Jamina Ward said...

Must admit I don't normally have much of a problem with Jamie Oliver. His shows are ok though he's too cheerful for my liking and adds silly names o everything. But this does reek of cashing in - from someone who really doesn't need the extra 'dosh' as he might say.

Katharine Balyuzi said...

I had been toying with the idea of a visit, so thank you for saving me from myself, on what has been a not overly successful cash input:food output month. He really does sell some cr*p doesn't he?

Unknown said...

I don't think it's fair when you say Jamie has jumped on every London bandwagon going.

When he comes out with pulled-pork, hot-dog ramen, THEN you can say he's ticked all the boxes.

Anonymous said...

Patty & Bun is f*cking awful.

This Diner place looks even worse.

Richard Sheldrake said...

Jamie Oliver is an utter fraud, the jokey, mockney style and the down home advice from a multi millionaire is bad enough, but these shock restaurants are just insulting. Fat tongued twat.

Anonymous said...

I do love a bit of Jamie - even his slightly grating cheeky chappie bit, and have quite a few of his cookery books. Basically i think he's a good bloke.

But his restaurants of late have left me a bit cold. when he extoles the virtues of good ingredients, simple cooking, why does he turn out such crap?! i will give it a go because i always will him well but likely won't plan a return visit if it's really this bad. Oh Jamie, you disappoint me.

Dee said...

Why did you subject yourself to this when you hate every single one of his other restaurants???

Alex C said...

Jamie won a place in our hearts for taking gov funded school dinners to task, and for in mine for this: http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/fish-recipes/steamed-thai-style-sea-bass-and-rice
(It's very good, and almost trivial if you have a food processor.)
His TV shows are fairly entertaining if you don't watch them too often too.

But all his restaurants seem dreadful, and far worse, cynical. Perhaps it's the transition from home cooking to churning out bucket loads for the masses that ruins his recipes (or switching from decent ingredients to very cheap ones). Certainly the barbecue sauce we make at home is based off one of his and is lovely, but does have good quality ingredients throughout.

I have to say though, whenever I see "Jamie's..." at the top of the page I know it's time to just sit back and enjoy the vitriol... There is, though, an element of 'me thinks the lady doth protest too much' in there.

Anonymous said...

I get the impression, you don’t like Jamie Oliver.
I know this place is not 10/10 but really? 1/10?

Andrew said...

Not to be confused with the micro-chain The Diner, which is absolutely excellent

Alex Dell said...

My god Roy, you have hit the spot. I had a truly horrific experience with my Reuben. You seemed to have dodged at least one bullet. In between enormous burnt brown doorstops I discovered cold, stiff, and somewhat fatty salt beef, on top of which was sprinkled some unmelted, cheap grated cheese from an own brand packet, but without so much as a scrap of sauerkraut in sight. Inedible. The staff were friendly as you say and weren't in the slightest bit surprised that they had served up a pile of shit or that I declined anything else from the menu. The fucking massive plastic dinosaur wvenal arming and even more shit than the food. Ugh.

Andrew said...

http://www.lovefood.com/journal/opinions/17154/jamies-italian-british-asparagus-is-apparently-from-peru

Who ever is looking after his restaurant side of things is a total crook. However, it's Jamie's name above the door, he has to take responsibility.

The Oliver empire currently employes something like 1300 people now

Anonymous said...

Awful restaurant, awful concept, awful hypocrite and awful employer! Too arrogant to listen to complaints and feedback, they think they're untouchable.

Anonymous said...

Sounds a complete sell out. I wonder are the cheques as fat as the kids in this corner of the empire...?

fflynn said...

Totally cynical and he always was an opportunist. This is a delicious read and needs sharing around.

Anonymous said...

Should be noted that menu has changed, it is still growing so give it a bit of time. No restaurant is perfect when you go within the first two days of it opening, which judging from the menu you did.

Anonymous said...

Are you Poor? Perhaps you live in the East end of London, Shoreditch maybe? That used to be full of poor people. Jamie is I believe trying to get people to eat healthy more interesting food.
Jamie has I believe been a force of good. Let’s face it, he is not a journalist with the knife out. Just read the new statesman piece. Journalists, nice people, like fuck!
He has worked hard to get where he is. He is helping a lot of people on route.
Don't get me wrong this place probably is no 10 out of 10 but your extreme low score seems like a personal thing.
A shame because some of your write ups are very good.