Friday, 4 April 2008
All Star Lanes, Holborn
I think it's fair to say that most people wouldn't automatically use the words "good food" and "bowling alley" in the same sentence. Memories of my teenage years spent at the Megabowl in Switch Island (Liverpool) are of soggy grey burgers and hugely oversalted rubbery chips washed down with buckets of weak Sprite - enough to temporarily sedate a hyperactive 14-year old perhaps but not exactly what you would call gourmet. But as with many things Americanised or American-influenced in this country, we are far, far behind in adapting to the latest trends and improvements. Consider for example that Hawksmoor is the first proper (reasonably affordable) US-style steakhouse I've been to, and it only opened in 2006. And while the not-exactly-Einsteinian concept that people might want some decent grub alongside their game of ten-pin bowls was picked up on long ago stateside, it has taken (as far as I can tell) until the opening of All Star Lanes in Bloomsbury for the people of London to appreciate the same.
Tucked away down a neon-lit stairwell somewhere under Southampton Row, visitors to All-Star soon find themselves in a pleasantly decorated low-ceilinged space with a rather exclusive feel. The theme is 50s American so there are lots of pin-up cartoons on the walls and waitresses in funny wigs. The bar was a nice spacious area to enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail although the standard of the drinks themselves varied very much on which barman you got - my first margherita was lovely and sharp with a frothy lime surface, the second oversweet and flat.
As for the food itself, this was generally of a more consistent quality. Star of the show as far as I was concerned was a brilliant Bourbon and Mint Milkshake, although whether you consider this technically 'food' is up to you. But skin-on homefries were also excellent, as were the burgers (I was told) and the cheese quesadillas. After Hawksmoor I'm afraid many steaks suffer in comparison and the rump here was no exception, cooked to the required rare but with no crispy char and consisting of tasteless, watery meat.
My biggest problem with All Star wasn't the food or the drinks however, but the service, which was brusque verging on downright rude at times. After waiting a very reasonable ten minutes for my milkshake I politely asked the waitress of its whereabouts - "It's just coming!", was the belligerent reply, "the chefs make it from scratch, you know". Well, I would rather hope they would, but it's only a milkshake, not a Baked Alaska. Perhaps they were milking the cows by hand.
Later on, as the effects of rounds of house cocktails and alcoholic milkshakes had their effect, the noise levels increased dramatically and I wouldn't recommend the venue for a romantic dinner for two. Most of our fellow diners appeared to be corporate-account office parties - indeed an entire section was booked for Merrill Lynch whose overindulged revellers were later making enthusiastic use of the gents to regurgitate their evening meals. But as a lighthearted night out where nothing is taken too seriously and nothing is too bad to really be worth complaining about, there is a lot going for All Star Lanes.