American diner fare isn’t something us Brits have been brought up on, but somehow its consumption always feels strangely nostalgic. Meaty burgers, stacked pancakes, thick shakes: it’s all strangely familiar, yet not at all, cartoon food if you like. However, a recent visit to the Electric Diner on Portobello Road — one of Nick Jones’ dozen-or-so Soho House Group venues in the capital — proved that it’s possible to put a sophisticated spin on diner food.
On our Monday night visit, we were ushered into an unexpectedly packed and buzzy restaurant where, from a spacious burgundy leather booth, we observed the mix of locals (mostly propped up at the bar) and an overspill from the historic Electric Cinema next door. White metro tiles, an arched ceiling and bare brick walls gave the room an industrial feel, warmed by a soundtrack of blues and country music.
The menu was a pleasant surprise. Primarily because, unlike many other diner-styled restaurant menus, it wasn’t stuffed to the brim with tens of dozens of overwhelming options. Each section features just six to eight dishes, each one an unfussy and slightly upgraded version of classics from the States and beyond.
For starters we went left field, with cheese fondue and deep-fried squid: hardly typical diner cuisine. Both were pulled off reasonably well. The cheese fondue was a relaxed version of the original; an oozy plate of hot, salty cheese served with large triangular slices of crunchy toast to dip in. The squid could have been a little crispier, but the accompanying pickled peppers, zingy and piquant, were a nice unexpected addition to this ubiquitous dish.
As mains orders were contemplated, a heavenly looking burger sailed by, convincing us that Electric may be a worthy challenger to Honest Burgers, just a few doors down. One to order next time. Shaved rib of beef with Monterey jack from the sandwich menu was tempting, as was the macaroni and cheese, but in the end we settled on flat-iron chicken with garlic jus. Warning: portion sizes here are also influenced by the States. A colossal piece of tender chicken was presented spatchcocked, bone-out and on what can only be described as a platter, with the accompanying side dishes of beefy grilled, herbed tomatoes sprinkled with steak salt, and roasted broccoli jostling for space.
Dessert was crowbarred in — it would be rude not to — and we opted for the lemon meringue, and salted chocolate caramel with hazelnuts and vanilla ice-cream. The caramel was served in a flat bowl, making it a little awkward to attack, especially with the accompanying ice cream, but its silken texture and salty crunch more than made up for this and rounded off the meal nicely.
Finally we toasted Christmas with a round of cocktails: the Canny Pear —a warming medley of bourbon, homemade pear shrub, lemon and mint — comes highly recommended. Those still scrambling for gift ideas may want to consider the Electric Cinema Gift Card, a reloadable card that can be redeemed on cinema tickets, food and drink at the bar, or at Electric Diner itself. Or, like us, you could, you know, just buy one for yourself. Not that we need an excuse to go back and try that burger.
Electric Diner; 191 Portobello Road, London, W11 2ED; T: +44 (0)20 7908 9696; www.electricdiner.com.