Thursday, 29 November 2012

Electric Diner Review

I couldn't make it to the launch of the Electric Diner, so I sent along a Melissa-ette, Victoria Cooke, to report.

Electric Diner

London is awash with new restaurant launches, so exhausting in its pace that I don’t even try to keep up. I’m not sure where all the funding is coming from, but clearly either lots of people have deep pockets, or the current economic climate for London restaurants is so positive that the potential rewards vastly outweigh perceived risks. In any case, ours is not to reason why, and it can only be good news for the consumer.

What is cheering is the entrepreneurial nature of many of these new ventures, having started out as food trucks or pop-ups but now maturing into more established premises. Think Pitt Cue, Meatliquor, Patty & Bun and so forth. What many have in common is clearly an American influence, with ‘dogs, dirty burgers, mac'n'cheese (they just love shortening words) and doughnuts (or should that be donut, heaven forbid?) now firmly fixed in our lexicon.

And whilst the London ‘fooderati’ clearly have an insatiable appetite for culinary trends emanating from across the Pond, so it also seems that US restaurateurs are beginning to take advantage of this by dipping their toes in the proverbial water that is the London restaurant scene. Hence a nascent slew of collaborations with US chefs or indeed UK offshoots of US concepts. Adam Perry Lang’s Barbecoa was one of the first movers, and since then we’ve had Wolfgang Puck’s Cut and the expansion of the Sushisamba group with both Sushisamba and Duck & Waffle in the Heron Tower. Keith McNally’s Balthazar is due to open (though who knows when?), and burger joints Shake Shack and Five Guys are also supposed to be launching in the UK sometime soon.

Riding the wave of all things American, as well as seemingly bucking the economic trend, is Nick Jones’ Soho House Group, with its most recent offerings: Chicken Shop and Dirty Burger. Especially delightful is the choice of location in Kentish Town, a hitherto culinary desert and famed only for the Forum.

Another culinary desert where, as a resident remarked to me recently, “wealth doesn’t equate to good taste” is the Notting Hill/Portobello vortex. Yes, there is the Mall Tavern and the Ledbury, but the raft of new openings has tended to gravitate rather more East, and unsurprisingly in the West End.

So it was with frenzied anticipation that I made my way to the relaunch of the Electric Diner in Portobello that had sadly closed following a kitchen fire back in the summer. Pleasingly, the Phoenix has risen from its ashes in a blaze of on-trend glory and is sure to be a huge success in the W11 wasteground. Jones has collaborated with Brendan Sodikoff of Chicago’s Au Cheval on this one (ticking that US trend there on both counts) to bring Franco-American diner food to our shores.

While Manhattan’s stripped back d├ęcor of exposed lightbulbs and bare brick has been so evident across Soho and the East, the Electric Diner has gone for a rather more ‘cosy’ Cheers-type fit out. Bulging, fat red banquettes, dark wood bar, and swivelling leather bar stools, together with low-slung, curving wooden ceiling, reminiscent of an old-fashioned train carriage make for a comfortable dining environment. Plates are a mix of white and vintage, and drinks receptacles included a rather cutesy copper cocktail mug. I can only imagine these will go walkabout, much like the Mishkin’s tankards. The only thing the Electric appears to have retained from its previous incarnation is the precarious slope down to the bathrooms, which had me flat on my derriere some years back.

The food is pure heart attack food and the portions are huge. So far so typically American then! The menu largely mirrors that of Au Cheval, with artery clogging crowd-pleasers such as chopped liver, potato hash with duckheart gravy, Sodikoff’s famed burger, bone marrow and beef cheek marmalade and the house Bologna sandwich. There’s a “with eggs” section and a “sandwiches” section, though the latter is more “things in a bun” section for the uninitiated Brit. Desserts are basically pies – coconut and chocolate cream, and a mille-feuille.

We ordered a fair selection including the bone marrow, the potato hash, the rib of beef sandwich and the Bologna sandwich. For sides, we chose the bibb lettuce and avocado salad, sweet pickles, fries and tomatoes.

Duck & Potato Hash
We were informed that the food comes “as it’s ready”, which is fine, though our tomatoes and fries arrived before the mains, which was mildly odd. The tomatoes had been ordered on the misguided assumption that this was a tomato salad, as in my humble opinion, a tomato salad is a good barometer of a restaurant’s basic competence. Sadly out came grilled tomatoes, but they were plump beefsteak tomatoes with steak salt and chives and did not disappoint in flavour terms. The French fries were more akin to chip shop chips in size, but were beautifully crisp with a fluffy interior and the portion was enough to comfortably feed three of us. The pickles were a highlight for me – delicately sweet, flavoured with dill and mustard seeds, and without the all too common overly acidic vinegar bath. At £3 for a large bowl, these were superb value.

The Bologna sandwich is a sandwich common in the US and Canada, traditionally made from pre-sliced Bologna sausage in white bread. I believe Bologna sausage is rather like mortadella but without the giant globules of white lard, hence the eponymous nod to its Italian roots. Typically it would be accompanied with mayonnaise and mustard. The Electric’s version is served in a fluffy glazed bun, without about 4 inches’ worth of sausage and a subtle blend of Dijon mustard and mayonnaise. It was fabulously moreish but defeated me in size. Definitely one to share for the sparrows amongst you. All in all, the food was bold and ‘in your face’ and without a clanger. Even the salad was a winner: huge and well-dressed, rather how I’d like a man to be.

We didn’t do justice to the drinks menu, which features 19 beers, including the delightful Camden Gentleman’s Wit with lemon and bergamot undertones, and bottled beers I’d never heard of such as the amusingly named Flying Dog Snake. Cocktails included favourites such as Old Fashioned and Bloody Mary, and new incarnations such as the Horse’s Neck (Sazerac rye, ginger, lemon, bitters, soda) and Root to Mule (gin, lime, honey, beer) which was deceptively weak-tasting but utterly moreish.

As this was a friends and family launch, the vibe was buzzy and chock full of air kisses. David Bowie and Queen’s Under Pressure tinkled away in the background and the service was slick, charming and knowledgeable. This is just what West London needs, and will be sure to be rammed on a daily basis. For those that can’t get a table (no reservations policy), there’s always the takeaway doughnuts next door ;).
+44 (0)20 7908 9696

Electric Diner
191 Portobello Road
W11 2ED

Electric Diner on Urbanspoon Square Meal

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