Jamie Oliver’s Diner / Piccadilly, London
Like a well-oiled metallic killing machine, the interminable Jamie Oliver restaurant wagon continues to career ever onwards. So it was only a matter of time before the pudgy-chopped one turned his attentions to the unceasingly on-trend Yank food cyclone, turning the sorry, stinky shell of Piccadilly rathole Adam’s Ribshack into his very own diner.
We like to sit and imagine The Whiteboard at J.O. HQ.
There’s probably quite a few of them. It was this whiteboard that first had the word ‘Recipease’ written on it. It’s also the whiteboard that plans the future. The Diner would have been on there for a while. There’s probably a cobbled together concept for some kind of ramen / Vietnamese / nondescript noodle bar. Union Jack’s is there of course, but with a big red cross struck through it.
People look at the board.
Employees of Jamie Oliver.
Not the man, but the brand.
And isn’t that a weird thing to contemplate? Imagine the Jamie Oliver Office Christmas Party for a moment. Bet it’s well pukka. Liberal amounts of chopped red chillies atop the retro canapes served on in-house faux-aged earthenware platters.
Days after visiting the Diner, Simon found himself in a B&Q, accidentally falling into a display of Jamie Oliver Barbecues, replete with accessories. Days after that, he passed the curiousity that is Recipease in Notting Hill, standing in the doorway with jaw agape at the breadth of branded product on offer, too scared to cross the threshold.
And he recalled many a visit to Borough Market, blithely purchasing bread from Flour Power City, unaware it was a Mr Oliver production. We remember the wounded disappointment that was One New Change’s Barbecoa. Any potential Adam Perry Lang, whom we adored in his native NYC, had been squeezed out and lost by his association with Mr J.
And after all that, we don’t hate him. The state of the Oliver Empire is such that largely, consumers can opt out. And by this point if you don’t know what you’re getting from a Jamie Oliver Diner then we don’t know how long you must have been away for. There is a new level of shamelessness running this business, and they seem to have discarded the subtlety of some of his other brands and interests in exchange for full-blown assault.
It’s impossible for us to go somewhere called Jamie Oliver’s Diner and leave our preconceptions at the door. Want a fair and balanced review? Tough luck. No dice.
The collective high fives and simultaneous clucking exaltations of ‘Pukka’ from the Oliver design team must have been fucking deafening when they realised that ‘diner’ and ‘dino’ sound kind of similar, birthing what they must have thought was the single most perfect marketing concept ever.
The result however is a place that feels like an over-staffed TGI Friday’s has opened a branch in a Jurassic Park cafe from the mid-nineties. The massive reptilian centerpiece and colourful mounted raptor bonces will probably keep the kids attention long enough to get their coats off, but it’s the dining aesthetic equivalent of being told a bad pun by your uncle. Again. And again.
In typical Oliver fashion, the menu throws up diner classics with the slightest of ‘twists’ and the odd idiosyncrasy thrown in, presumably to keep the punters happy (why else would a prawn cocktail be on a diner menu?). Our perky waiter blessed our menu choice and added the obligatory “it’s probably the best burger in London” comment as he sashayed off.
As we waited for our food, we clocked the table nearby receiving their order of the Giant Spaghetti Meatball, which turned out to be three pretty regular sized meatballs.
Our confidence in what was about to arrive had been swiftly chopped in the trachea.
The Pitt Waffle, which had piqued our alimentary interest most, was surprisingly nice: an adequately moist and squishy pulled pork was a neat contrast to the sweet and soft dessert-like waffles. However, the ribs were particularly chewy had no inventiveness of flavour, tasting like someone had just rubbed five spice and a fuck load of sugar onto them before serving.
And the burger.
Stuck between and Gruyère-shaped rock and a Cheddary hard place, we resolved to try the latter. If we’d had known it meant that a tiny handful of non-melted, melancholy grated dairy would be chucked onto our patty we wouldn’t have bothered with it period. The patty leaked the juicy leak, but was unseasoned and terribly bland. The decent piquant and sweet burger sauce could not resurrect it.
"Don’t go out of curiosity, don’t go for a laugh, don’t go if you’re a bonafide fan of the man himself. Just don’t go at all. "
The small portion sizes meant we were still hungry, and so bowled down to try the Dog House, an open-ended shack that bears an uncanny resemblance to Dirty Burger up in Kentish Town (or Vauxhall). We stuck with the classic chilli dog, which proved to be an unworthy meat digestif: The dog lacked flavour and snap. The chilli had a heat punch, but was watery to the point where it looked like what there was of the meat, which was little, was floating in a dirty puddle. Lots of onions filled out the small but competently sweet brioche. Deeply lame.
The most galling aspect of this Jamie enterprise is the healthy-eating brandwagon plastered everywhere: Signs on the wall promote that the hot dog ‘bun is 20% wholemeal’. The 10-veg slaw, a tedious addition that tastes predominantly of soil, that comes with all the dishes in an everything-must-go abundance is ‘one of your five a day’. The fucking floor may as well be free-range the amount of other stuff that is touted as being. Even the tongue in cheek ‘ooh, you really shouldn’t’ devil horns next to the more calorific stuff are geared towards responsible dining, seemingly to justify the fact that the guy who claims to be on a mission feed the nation’s sprogs properly is also encouraging their parents to bring them here to gorge on the duodenumly detrimental.
It’s an embarrassing, cynical double standard.
Not that you’d want to, but this fully decked out permanent-looking place is apparently a pop-up for a limited time only, which likely means ‘until the food stops being trendy’ or ‘until it stops making viable wads of nicker’. It’s in keeping with the deathbed that is synonymous with dining in the area around Coventry Street. Don’t go out of curiosity, don’t go for a laugh, don’t go if you’re a bonafide fan of the man himself. Just don’t go at all.
Plus point: They do serve Wisconsin’s finest, Huber, which is a damn fine lager beer.
- Rob & Simon.
Bush Hall Dining Room / Shepherd’s Bush, London
Breathe in the scenic panorama of Shepherd’s Bush Common. Go on, gulp it in. Marvel at the splendour of the West 12 consumer megaplex! Admire the piss-heads stumbling from the biggest single Walkabout you’ve ever seen! Wonder at the almost-constant gridlock!
Hard to imagine there is anywhere nice to eat around these parts as you scuttle to take refuge in the elephantine confines of the nearby Westfield and its chain restaurant comforts.
It would be harsh to dismiss the hodge-podge of well-respected local places along the Uxbridge and Goldhawk Roads selling an array of Thai, Indian, Polish, Greek and even Syrian fare. And there is a pretty decent boozer in the Defector’s Weld, mind you it’s been a minute since we last clomped a clog in there.
You can now add the polished, traditional facade of Bush Hall Dining rooms to the list, having pushed it’s modern-British dining head through these two splayed streets, and nestling into the bosom to it’s awesome ballroom-esque gig venue cousin next door.
The polish continues inside as smartly dressed, dark tabletops sit on checker board floors, next to distressed wood panelled walls, which conjures up something like a New York bistro meets Old West sensitivity. Kind of. The menu serves up familiar items you’d expect from a place like this, with flourishes of duck egg and gravadlax to add some colour. Very sophisticated pre-theatre.
You could have predicted the burger was going to arrive on a wooden board, presented open with a generous, well-melted layer of cheddar dripping off of an ample lump of beef accompanied by what may as well have been a full fucking garden salad on the lightly-toasted sesame-seeded top bun.
As is all-too-common with open-served options, condiments are left to the diner’s discretion which poised the quandary: where were the sodding condiments?
The ketchup was easily enough located, and some house mayonnaise was available upon request, but there was no American mustard in sight. Colman’s? A shelfload, but no American. That’ll be the Britishness then.
"Spank some nice wine along with it, and crack on with an Eton Mess"
Well, that is quite the pickle you say? It bloody was, a right thick slab of one. Along with a bunch of round lettuce leaves and multiple rings of red onion, a lot of the veggies didn’t make the final cut purely due to balancing issues.
An open sandwich needs some quality meat, and cutting this open revealed an accomplished, picture-perfect medium patty, with the slightest ring of a charred edge surrounding an abundantly pink middle. The beef was compact but adequately juicy, leaking satisfyingly onto the bottom bun.
Everything did it’s job: the beef was relatively tasty and well-seasoned, the tomato slices added moisture and onions added crunch, the chunky pickle spliced in some familiar sourness and the mayonnaise was modestly rich. The cheese had a pleasingly rubbery chew, but was quite mild, and the bun held everything together competently with a squishy other shell, yet was a touch too dense.
Ultimately this is a decent enough posh pub burger (yes, this is a restautant), a belly filler which functions as a perfectly fine meal. Spank some nice wine along with it, and crack on with an Eton Mess and it’d suffice as a good eat out.
But we can’t help feeling it’s a begrudging menu addition for the likes of us uncultured oiks. The place itself is pretty enough space to waste some time too, and currently a gentrified one-of-a-kind in an area the likes of the Bush, but would you go there unless you were taking in a show, or lived/worked there?
- Rob and Simon.
Dip And Flip / Clapham, London
Braving the fresh hell that is Clapham Junction, we find something that might just dull the pain of being there
We hate Clapham. Hate it. Hate it. Hate it. The fact we even made it to Dip And Flip is a freaking miracle. The only redeeming feature of this compact gravy restaurant is that it’s only five minutes from the train back out of there. Enough said.
Despite the rabid uptake of other American fare, French dip and patty melts are still a rare commodity in London. Hawksmoor have their take on the gravy-accompanied sub and Haymarket new addition Chop Shop has a melt on their menu, but that’s about it. There have been a couple of false dawns too: A French dip stall popped in a Brixton Saturday market last year, only to go incommunicado before we could try it, and Rita’s rather decent melt disappeared when their residency at Birthdays in Dalston ended (we wait impatiently for their own place to open in Hackney this winter).
So when we heard that a new place was flogging both of these sandwiches and burgers we had to get over there post-haste, South of the bloody River or not.
Slobbering over D&P’s menu online exhaustively, we were excited by the prospect that they were ballsy enough to offer their roast beef sandwiches with double-dipped and drowned options - a staple of LA’s famous Cole’s and Philippe’s.
In the flesh though, these options had been omitted. Huh?
We were informed by the personable Antipodean waitress that they had been on the menu, but the punters of Clapham had no idea what the fuck double-dipping was (it probably has an entirely different meaning at Inferno’s), so they simplified the menu to avoid confusion. No dunking of our meaty rolls then, shame.
"Double Dipping probably has an entirely different meaning at Inferno’s"
The dip arrived wrapped up like a tiny Christmas cracker, with the thinly sliced beef shyly peeking from between the between the roll. First impressions: This was a small roll encasing a much smaller portion of meat than you’d expect from it’s American counterpart, creating something the more gluttonous amongst us could dispatch within four bites or less.
The lightly-pink hued meat was tender and soft. As was the cushion-soft brioche roll that matched a malleable squish with a good ability to soak up the thin, broth-like gravy. The gravy itself was satisfyingly meaty and full-bodied, if lacking a touch of salt. Sensibly avoiding the temptation to add cheese in for the sake of it, it’s a simple combination that works agreeably. Too small. But anyway. Let’s continue.
This is an impressive Bacon Cheeseburger. No two ways about it.
A larger version of the melt’s very-competently griddled patty comes housed between a shiny, bronzed Bread Factory brioche bun which has the same pillow comfort like its French dip roll sibling with slight sweetness, and reminds us of the early generation Mother Flipper bun.
Well cooked, satisfyingly salty and crisp-but-not-brittle bacon sits above an American-style cheese slice, melted into the cracks of the patty. Ketchup and mustard are slathered on the top bun, while the bottom gets sharp pickles and a healthy dose of slaw-style veggies doused with piquant-sweet sauce. This is a sloppy and sauce-laden affair, resulting in the thin bottom bun relenting almost instantly. But that’s a small qualm about a great mouthful which incorporates a salty crunch and soft beefiness, a traditional-yet-nuanced sauce combination, and the added bite of slaw and pickles, something that is just about worth braving the locals for.
The Patty Melt
A buttery, beefy, cheesy concoction, the notable factor being the impressive thick, salt jabbed crust and unorganised pink-center of the smashed patty, thanks in part to the Shake Shack-esque chrome plated griddle they use.
Sadly it was let down by an over-buttering combined with only grilling the bread on the outside. This lead to the butter seeping into and engulfing the bread due to the lack of a crispy toast layer barrier. The outside could have done with a bit longer too, indicated by the two slices of unmelted yellow American-style cheese flanking the patty. The last bread-only bites that came from a round patty being placed a square slice were a disappointing finale to a flawed-yet-artery-fuckingly-solid sandwich.
And a word about the poutine
Having had the poutine energetically pimped to us several times, we ordered it.
Now. Canucks would balk at what passes for poutine over here. Fact.
Nowhere we know of in London has yet to use those rubbery, spring lumps of dairy known as cheese curd that distinguish the dish. It’s no one’s fault really, curds must just be really hard to come by we guess. Yes, you can argue that there can be variations that don’t use curds. But in the same way that ‘slider’ has been re-purposed to mean ‘little burger’, so ‘poutine’ has become a posh way to market ‘cheesy chips with gravy’, the staple late night snack eaten by pissed revellers across The North.
Re-purposing does mean though that you have to produce something pretty exceptional for the amount that you are going to charge. Cracking the lid of a small (Styrofoam?) burger box we received showcased a laughably small portion. The cheese was a good melted, elastic and stringy consistency but it was reinforced by totally standard fries and the thin broth sitting like a shallow puddle at the bottom.
Worth a fiver it was not.
It’s all Gravy
So to summarise. Despite being in the belly of the beast, Dip & Flip is well worth your time. Yes there are a few teething issues that could be addressed, so let’s list ‘em:
- up the poutine serving size. Spuds are cheap.
- the gravy needs a more robust receptacle than a plastic bowl. We foresee many a gravy portion accidentally flipped to the floor by the rolled double cuff of a locals.
- we would avoid it like the plague on a weekend evening, but that’s more about the neighbourhood than anything else.
For an indie, it’s priced fairly keen regardless of portion size and there’s plenty of potential here.
Their heart is in the right place, sadly the bricks and mortar really aren’t.
And to illustrate our beef with Clapham, we’ll leave you with a quote from Vice’s recent-ish Reasons Why London is the Worst Place Ever:
Despite what house prices and official Met Police statistics will tell you, Thamesmead and Edmonton are not the worst places in London. The worst place in London is Clapham. What’s so bad about leafy, affluent Clapham, you ask? Well, mostly the people. Which might sound unfair, but probably only if you’ve never spent a terrifying Saturday morning watching Millwall fans fight over the last bath salts behind Clapham Junction station. Or a Saturday afternoon watching American city boys play ultimate frisbee on the common. Or a Saturday evening watching an endless succession of sneering Australian gym-freaks trying to chirpse your girlfriend. Yeah, don’t go to Clapham, it really doesn’t matter how good the Slug & Lettuce is if you feel like you’re trapped in a kind of Grand Guignol Peep Show.
- Rob & Simon.
Almost Famous / NFL Popup, London
t’North’s most talked about and irreverent burger slingers arrived in London with all the fanfare of an asthmatic octogenarian puffing on a party blower.
So it was plain blind fucking luck, whilst navigating the colourful oversize-shirted throng at Regent Street’s NFL Block Party, that we stumbled across Almost Famous pimping their wares. Alongside Bristol barbecue mavericks Grillstock, who looked like they’d brought their whole festival set up with them, it looked like the organisers of this little shindig had snubbed London’s mobile food glitterati for a taste of the regions instead.
Ever since news arrived on the wireless that a rambunctious bunch of ne’er-do-wells had started flogging the filthiest, nastiest sandwiches in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, we’ve tried to orchestrate a reason why a couple of silky-palmed Southerners who rarely ventured much North of the M25 could go there.
And then the fucker burnt down.
A residency in nearby Luck, Lust, Liquor and Burn and a second location in Liverpool have since opened, but still, they are just so bloody, y’know, North.
One double-take and lengthy stare of disbelief later, I’m waiting for an NFL special. Despite having had lunch twenty minutes ago. This was big. Noticeable ripples of acknowledgement from passers-by suggested that people knew it too.
The first-rate light brown, spongy toasted bun failed to conceal the long, haphazard strips of sauced soft onion and red peppers tumbling out. Two patties coated with a dark, caramelised char were present and correct. Despite looking like they still had their integrity, a quick compress of the sandwich saw the American-style cheese slices succumb to gooey capitulation under the heat of the meat and toppings.
The well-seasoned thin patties contained a nicely grilled strip of pink throughout, and were still noticeably meaty amongst the cacophony of other stuff. Miniature chunks of chorizo and dinky bites of bacon threw in a pleasing hit of double pork. The peppers and onions provided a touch of sweetness, joined by a hint of chipotle smoking its way through the added sauces. And tiny jalapeno shards upped the heat ante.
As all the best ones invaribly are, this is a messy, finger-coating bastard. Cheese-chorizo-onion-juices accompanied me throughout the rest of the day. Heroically, the bun did a good job holding it all together; essential for a street eat such as this
The briefest of comparisons to Patty & Bun’s Jose Jose flashed through our mind as we finished this off, but if P&B’s burger is the Aztec-print shirted cosmopolite, then AF is the pierced, brazen little punk kid that gleefully gives you the finger.
It’s patty mayhem, and I liked it a lot.
So now I’ve started tallying up reasons to head to Liverpool, I hear the Lady Lever Art Gallery is a hoot. Advance return tickets to Liverpool start at £25.00, I’ve already looked it up.
PS. If you’re going to do this again guys, can you give us a bit of warning? Ta.
BBQ Whisky Beer at the Wargrave Arms Review
Muppets. Pulled Pork. “Classic” burgers. Cinema-grade nacho cheese. Pints of Foster’s.
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