“…in your face, right down to the sign at the entrance to the toilets that promises ‘THRILLS’”
A chain that promises classic American dining in London.
We remember hitting the inaugural Shoreditch branch in 2008ish, bouncing with excitement at the thought of a true Yankee diner-style experience in, what was at the time, the land of builder’s tea and suspect bangers. We also remember how deeply suspect we were at the hugely variable quality of what was on offer.
Still though, time passes, and the memory of the disappointment fades. So occasionally we return, an experience akin to the awkward reconciliatory drink with an ex, only to immediately realise two sips into your gin and slimline the reasons why they’re not a regular part of your life.
Barworks (the pubglomerate behind The Diner) have a number of other, let’s say diverse, eat ‘n drinkeries. One is the Black Heart in Camden, a regular joint of ours. Another is the Exmouth Arms on Exmouth Market. They even own a vegetarian pub in Southend. The mind boggles. And from this Frankensteinian collection of boozer body parts, comes the Wenlock and Essex.
Brazenly straddling the Essex Road entrance into Sloppy Vintage enclaves, but nestled snugly within reach of comfy, affluent Upper Street (once haunt of golden-voiced bad boy Dane Bowers) the multi-coloured light bulb sign shines out like a beacon to all smart-shirted cocktail-swigging Angelites. It’s opposite a Diner as well. The sheer nerve of it.
When somewhere describes itself as a coffee shop-cum-gastro pub-cum-night club, alarm bells ring out. Coffee shop it clearly is not - vivid, gaudy, and in your face, right down to the sign at the entrance to the toilets that promises ‘THRILLS’. We’d hardly call taking a shit thrilling.
It’s more like a Burlesque Circus Western pastiche all rolled into in one. You can even sit in beer barrels - all very Paint Your Wagon. Also: uncomfortable.
They’ve even added a creepy 70’s sex dungeon tucked out back, complete with light-up floor tiles.
In keeping with the venue, the burger looks extravagant, with a lightly charred tomato, and mammoth pickle slices popping out from under the tanned brioche-like bun. The signature offering comes stacked with the current bastion of dude food, double meat, the addition in this case being pulled pork. Clearly, bacon just doesn’t bring enough of the pork.
But what they give with one hand, they take away with the other, as it comes sans cheese, an omission tantamount to celebrating Christmas without watching Die Hard. We obviously added some cheddar (additions are only 50p each, good call). The cut-through exposed a loosely packed, beautifully cooked vividly pink patty, and and we dig in.
Now. It is with disbelief and a heavy heart that we say this, it is blasphemous, but the double meat here just doesn’t work.
The pulled pork, which is very sweet and a touch dry, overpowers the patty completely. As a result, the cheese dripped on top of the pork doesn’t register, and nor does the tomato which pretty much evaporates. The ever-so-slightly spicy mayo and pickles add a piquancy and required moisture, but is negligible.
Melancholy. Infinite sadness.
Despite the befitting booze display behind the bar, the Wenlock is not our scene. And what it must be like on a Saturday night frankly scares our toenails clean off. But during our time there, burgers popped out at regular intervals, and nothing else. Like, nothing.
It was all that anyone was ordering. That in itself has something to be said for it, right?