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.
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.