I have read a lot of mixed reviews for Jamie Oliver’s Diner, the celebrity chef’s newest, shiniest ‘pop up’ restaurant in central London. Situated at Piccadilly Circus on the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue, it’s a bona-fide tourist trap and pretty much guaranteed to draw the crowds and make Mr Oliver even more money.
Some of the most scathing reviews have criticised Jamie for what they perceive to be a shameless attempt to jump on the street food and ‘pop up’ band wagon, a movement which has taken London by storm over the last few years. After all, it’s not like Jamie really needs to launch a ‘pop up’ restaurant, is it? He is now one of the world’s biggest household names in cookery, branding everything from kitchenware to his range of Italian and American inspired restaurants, multiple cookbooks and a seemingly never ending run of TV shows. So what’s the deal? Why is he trying to steal the small business owners’ thunder?
One look at the menu at the Jamie’s Diner menu (printed on paper, because you know, this is a pop-up), and it’s clear that this place is trying really, really hard to be all things to all men. Jamie has made a lot of noise over the years about the importance of eating free range and higher welfare meat, along with the importance of controlling salt and fat intake, banishing junk food, and cooking from scratch. These are all hugely admirable principles and I applaud him for being vocal and proactive, but this does create a great number of hoops for the Jamie empire to jump through when planning a new restaurant – particularly one aimed at riding the wave of fast food fever.
Jamie’s Diner nobly attempts to tackle this by providing a confused menu which starts with the basics of traditional ‘fast food – burgers, fries, hot dogs, and fried chicken – but of course in this case, it’s all free range, artisanal meat. Good start. However, we all know that just because you eat high welfare meat, it does not mean a cheeseburger and fries is going to be nutritionally very good for you. After Jamie’s multiple high profile healthy eating campaigns, this was going to be a problem, so to tackle this, the Jamie’s Diner menu includes a helpful healthiness guide (using devil horns and angel halos) to mark out the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods. This is presumably based on calories, fat and salt levels (though this is not specified). To offset the ‘bad’ fast food basics, the ‘good’ additions to the menu include free range grilled chicken burgers, Cajun butterfly prawns, vegetarian ‘happy cow’ burgers and steamed greens and salads. To top it off, in between this hell vs. heaven food dichotomy, there is a vague area in the middle which is filled with flat iron steaks, spaghetti meatballs, Reuben sandwiches and crab salads. See what I mean about being confused!?
So what did it taste like? Well, I was more than happy with my juicy, flame-grilled free range chicken burger served with crinkle cut chips. My friend was also very pleased to be wrapping her lips around a classic beef burger with some slightly weird but wholly yummy avocado fries. Both were served on trays with ‘authentic’ red and white burger wrappers, and washed down with a can of pilsner (again, another touch which has been borrowed from similar pop-up successes).
The verdict? Jamie’s Diner sets out to offer the same street food experience as genuine London pop up successes such as Meat Liquor and Flat Iron, but in true Jamie style, his offering includes the use of guaranteed higher welfare meat and high standards across the supply chain. Yes, at times, the delivery feels contrived and confused, and there is something slightly uncomfortable about a multi-millionaire stepping on the toes of the ‘little guys’ who have slowly clawed their way up from the street-side burger vans of East London. For me, given the choice between a caged hen from an authentically edgy pop up restaurant, and a happy hen from Jamie, the happy hen wins for me every time. For this reason alone, Jamie’s Diner gets an up-vote from me.