ELECTRIC…OH HOW I’VE MISSED YOU…
My accountant wondered if the enormous figure next to the line in my spreadsheet marked ‘Electric’ indicated that I may have been making ends meet by growing marijuana. He knew the size of my house and it was the only reason my energy bills could be so high. That was until he looked at the accompanying receipts and reaslised that the energy I was buying came in the form of cocktails, lazy Sunday afternoons and my adoption of the Electric Club as the virtual annex for my burgeoning media empire. In short, since it opened 10 years ago, I’ve spent a lot of time and an unwise amount of money in Portobello Road’s Electric Brasserie, House and Cinema. So when it closed following a kitchen fire early in the summer of 2012, I was, to put it mildly, a little put out.
I searched locally for a new place to ‘hang’. Somewhere that would welcome me and my laptop, deliver coffee with a smile and know my name when I arrived. But there was nowhere. Books for Cooks tried their best (surely the best bargain lunch in West London and cakes to take you to heaven) but the chairs were uncomfortable, there was no WiFi and as a recovering cook book addict, I may as well have set up a direct debit of my entire current account to Eric the owner. So after months in the wilderness, the reopening of The Electric as Diner, Donuts, Cinema and re-imagined club, is like one of my old friends has come back to the neighbourhood after a long spell working abroad.
Like any long absence, I was worried that new experiences may have changed my friend in way I didn’t like. Over the months of renovation I’d peered in through the windows. Her shape had certainly changed. She looked more comfortable but wow, that was a low ceiling. I scoured the menu as soon as it was released; bone marrow, chopped liver, raw vegetable salad. Ok…I’ll let you convince me but I’m not sure yet. I was familiar with the previous enterprises of Brendan Sodikoff, favourite chef and restaurateur of Chicago, brought in by Nick Jones to bring a flavour of his Franco-American windy city Diner, Au Cheval, to our little corner of West London. It was an exciting prospect but would it work here? Well, for those of you who care enough to be on tenterhooks the answer to that question is a big fat and blisteringly midwestern “Hell Yeah!!!” The Electric Diner has risen from the ashes of the…what was it called before? Oh who cares. This place is here and it’s as if it always has been.
Confession time, up front: It was a press night and although when invited I’d been told there was a 90% discount (on the food we presumed) when it came to it, we were comp’d the entire bill. You can view what I say here through that prism if you wish. But for what was essentially the second night of a soft opening, the kitchen totally rocked it. Even with the thought of the discount we decided not to murder the menu and just choosing one item each, one side and a salad. Turned out it was way more food than anyone would need. It would seem along with some thrillingly bold tastes, American sized portions have arrived with Mr Sodikoff. This is not a menu for the faint-hearted. And I mean that literally. A side of statins should be nestled on that menu between the Crispy Fries with Fried Egg, Mornay Sauce & Aioli and Potato Hash with Duck Heart Gravy. The sweet pickles, as crisp and refreshing as they are, just won’t unclog those arteries on their own.
On our waiter’s recommendation, we took the fries topped with the perfectly fried egg. Culver, a saaaaf London boy and I both had fond memories of egg and chips for tea and fought over who got to pierce the yolk. The aioli was pungent the cheese sauce maybe a gnats grainy but while it sounds pretty horrible, it was scrumptiously nasty in the good and sexy way the young folks use that word.
A pile of honey fried chicken thighs and wings was served with a thoughtful side of dampened flannels.
This is not first date food. Jason the gorgeous man eating them opposite me in the comfy red leather booth turned into a gurning idiot as he sucked the spicy sweet and sticky meat from the bones. If he wasn’t uncommonly pretty and one of my favourite people in the world, I may have had to stop fancying him there and then.
A salad of raw winter veg – carrots and beetroot with blue cheese and walnuts – was light, crisp, perfectly under-dressed and had given a commis with a mandolin hours of happiness. But like all enormous piles of raw veg was pretty hard work to get through. I wouldn’t be ordering it as a main unless I brought a donkey to help with the leftovers. But it was a moment of health on an otherwise filthy table of naughtiness. Which brings me to the highlight: Bone marrow with beef cheek marmalade.
Now I like to think I am a bit of a bone marrow whore. From St John to Racine I’ve been an early adopter and a lifelong devotee. But this was comedy marrow. What appeared to be an entire bovine fetlock arrived in cruciform on the table. A chalice of the ‘marmalade’ and a scattering of jumbo flat-leaf parsley added to the slightly Flinstonesque quality. But the laughter stopped at the first forkful…it was, quite simply, sublime. The marmalade – really a rich gravy, perfectly sweet but with a big red wine fruitiness – had just enough acidity to cut through the unctuousness. Two slices of toasted brioche gave texture and conveyed the marrow from plate to gob with calories-be-damned abandon. It was as seductive a dish as I can remember eating…but make no mistake. This is bold stuff. Big, in-your-face flavours are the mark of this place. If you’re looking for subtlety, this is not a diner for you. Even the coconut cream pie we shared with our late fourth addition to the table, the divine Vanessa, Soho Front of House Queen, managed to shock the taste buds. Intense coconut flavours, salty sweet gram cracker (or maybe digestive biscuit in a nod to our little British tastes) crust and a big slobber of coffee scented cream on the side.
We had started the evening with a round of big bold Whiskey Sours at the bar and we ended it with a tropical party of coconut in a booth.
It was a press night so the atmosphere was buzzing. But I know this place is going to be crazy mad busy from day one. So crazy mad that I may not get another table there for months. With their no-reservation policy and my no-queuing policy we are not a match made in heaven. But, to return to my blog’s theme, there is a VERY long eating bar and I’m pretty sure there will always be at least one seat free for little ole me. Please don’t give me a dirty look as I cruise past the line and take my seat…
Thank you Electric. It’s great to have you back.
PS. Donuts pretty good too. Jeez…I may have to move. Far, far away.