For those of us brought up on a diet of 1950s Hollywood movies, the diner remains a powerful symbol of all things American. These shimmering stainless steel eating houses have made menu staples such as pancakes, French toast and grits, and bottomless cups of coffee as familiar to us as the traditional full English. By name at least.
Though London has recently become awash with diner-style eateries, there are not many as fresh as Giant Robot in Clerkenwell - the latest offering from the Rushmore Group, which brought us Milk & Honey, the Player, and the recently departed East Rooms.
As you would expect from this team, Giant Robot is a good looking place. Dark brown dominates the interior from the oak floors to the diner style tables with leather booth seating, through to the exposed brickwork and rusted iron girders. This effect continues up to the ceiling itself, which is held together by an embossed sheet of cast iron. Restored radiators and antique light fixtures complete the effect. The kitchen and bar are distinguished by the white brick tiles, and colour is dropped in through the pastel yellow and blue plastic chairs, and the countless '50s and '60s fittings dotted around the place. Not exactly a diner in the traditional sense, but very easy on the eye.
The staff are charming, attractive and plentiful. They literally fight over who gets to service you, which is good for those of us with status issues. They are a little too enthusiastic sometimes, as part-finished plates, and not quite empty glasses of wine had a habit of being cleared a too soon. They’ll learn.
The food is an Italian take on tapas, which in reality means small portions of family favourites. Meatballs, pasta and sliders (meatballs in a bun) are on the menu, but the real star is the Giant Prawns, which were huge and apparently flavoursome. One for next time. It isn’t cheap, and some of the portions are a tad on the small side. Being served mains before starters was unusual, but not surprising given the organised chaos that the waiting team seemed to generate.
The cocktails are strong and American super-sized - a dark rum-based punch and a whisky sour were the standouts on the night for us. The architects, graphic design and media crowd give the bar the cerebral, fashionable ambiance that we have come to expect from the Rushmore group, and music plays a support role to the alcohol-induced chatter that became shouting as the night rolled on.
You won’t find the Happy Days experience at Giant Robot, but you will find a glamorous take on an American classic. And you may, just may be a little hung-over the next day.