Back when I first found myself thrown into the buzzing throng of the capital, I was kinda overwhelmed with it all. So many people, so many things to see and do, and so very many places to eat. Food is a big comfort for me – although I like trying out new spots (as you can definitely tell…), there are also old favourites that I’ll go back to time and time again, where I feel at home and leave with a belly full of happiness.
The Diner is one of those places.
When I first moved to London, local friends quickly acquainted me with the small chain of American diners (clue’s in the name) across the city. And I was hooked. Rum chocolate shakes and big juicy hotdogs became a staple in my food-based socialising, and the diner’s style felt both exciting and familiar to me. As I ventured more into London’s food ‘scene’, I found myself frequenting The Diner slightly less often. But it always has a special place in the heart of my London living. And recently, I found myself back in my old haunt of Islington, to see their newly revamped restaurant and chow down on some diner delights.
Sitting at our booth by the window, I noticed some changes had happened since my last visit. The pool table, alas, was no more – but the classic American diner vibe is still in place, with a slightly more modernised feel.
One of the new additions we discovered is their snazzy little slushie machine. We were served up tequila ‘sno-cone’ slushies in cute little branded cups. Despite having to wait for the ice to melt a bit before drinking it, we were definitely on our phones looking up slushie machines to recreate these at home!
When it comes to Diner drinks, there’s one thing I go for every time, and it’s the Choconaut hard shake (£8.25). Because 1) It’s ridiculously chocolatey; 2) I rather love Kraken rum; and 3) You don’t just get one glass – they bring out the whole steel cup with even more in. You basically pretty much get three glasses of shake out of it, which is pretty awesome value.
Starters always have to include some Diner Chicken Wings (£5.95), because these badboys are hella delicious. Smothered in buffalo sauce and served with a satisfying blue cheese dip, they’re the perfect messy start to your meal.
I also decided to give something new a whirl, which was the Super Queso (£6.95). Super it definitely was. On first inspection, it looks like a bowl of nachos sticking out of a cheesy base. But alongside the epic cheese-fest, you also get guacamole, salsa, and hot beef chilli. It’s not actually particularly hot at all, and I tucked into the dish with wild abandon, mixing up all the tastes as I loaded up my tortilla chips.
Worryingly, it actually got me feeling pretty full. But obviously, mains were still to come…
Having experienced the wonder that is the po-boy sandwich in New Orleans last year, I decided to veer away from my usual hot dog choice and give the Catfish Po-Boy (£8.95) a try.
Honestly? It wasn’t the best thing I’ve had at The Diner, as I found the fish itself a little bland. However, the hot sauce, pickles and mega amounts of shredded lettuce definitely packed the sandwich out, and the fish was well-fried, with a great texture to the breadcrumbs.
Conor made a very sensible choice, and opted for the Juicy Lucy Burger (£8.95); a pulled pork patty filled with melting cheese (!), served with slaw and BBQ sauce. And I can definitely say that this one’s a good’un. The pulled pork fell apart just beautifully when biting into the patty – yep, this is a messy dish. It was packed with delicious flavour, tender and juicy, and I definitely know what I’m having next time round.
The fries are always something I enjoy at The Diner, they’re simple yet really enjoyable. The Northerner in me that doesn’t actually exist comes out and I order the Wet Fries (£2.95) every damn time. Your basic French fries, cooked like a dream and smothered in oh-so-perfect bacon gravy.
We ended up not getting dessert (yeah I know) because after our epic starters and mains, we were absolutely STUFFED. The rum shake probably (definitely) didn’t help with my fullness. But oh holy ice cream, was it worth it.
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I’ve tried other diners in the city and the UK since. But I can honestly say, The Diner is still my favourite. Despite not being the biggest fan of the catfish po-boy, it’s a place I know I can go and dig into some fantastic American style grub, sip on a milkshake, bounce along to the tunes and spend an evening enjoying great food.
And sometimes, that’s really all you need to know.
21 Essex Rd, London N1 2SA
*Our meal was complimentary – but I’ve probably dragged enough people here over the years to warrant it, right?!
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