With a reel-to-reel machine behind the host stand (but not spinning), red leather booths and Cowshed soap and lotion in the bathrooms, it’s obvious from first glance that London's Electric Diner is a Brendan Sodikoff restaurant.
The Chicago restaurateur teamed up with London's Soho House (we just got one of those in Chicago, and we'll have more on it next week) to open the Diner, which is a spin-off of Au Cheval. It’s next to Electric Cinema, a movie theater, and downstairs from Electric House, a private club. Since the Notting Hill restaurant happened to be a block away from a tiki bar I visited on vacation in London last week, we stopped in for a quick snack. And that’s the first difference between Au Cheval and Electric Diner: At the latter, it’s possible to eat there in 30 minutes.
The restaurant is long and narrow, with a bar overlooking the flat-top griddle and booths. We skipped the show this time and snagged seats up front, where the windows opened to the lively street. The menu has a mix of Sodikoff hallmarks: honey-fried chicken (General Jane’s at Au Cheval); steak frites (Bavette’s); a shaved beef sandwich with Monterey Jack cheese (Bavette’s again); steak tartare (Maude’s Liquor Bar); and, of course, the Au Cheval burger. Plus, there are some British dishes: cheese toasties, chips and a gloriously named dessert, “knickerbocker glory,” along with a seemingly random assortment of dishes—squid with pickled peppers, quinoa with olives and goat cheese, a pulled pork sandwich with sweet potato fries.
We ordered the cheese toasties and the burger along with Portobello Brewing’s London Pilsner. The toasties, a plate of four warm baguette and cheese sandwiches, were simple, melty and delicious, but the burger is a shadow of the Au Cheval version. It’s smaller, which is not automatically a problem, since I can rarely finish an entire Au Cheval burger. But there's more bun than filling, and it's pretty dry. While all the toppings are there—cheese, pickles, mayo, dijon—it's blander than the original and ultimately, a forgettable burger.
Time Out London doesn’t take the burger as seriously as we do, and they write that the cheeseburgers "arrive in a pretentious presentation on a small plate with a sharp knife sticking out of it like a sinister birthday candle."
We had a better burger earlier in the week at Burger & Lobster. (The menu is literally just a burger, lobster or lobster roll. Bring that idea stateside, please.) Neither would come close to making our best burgers list here. It's kind of sad, too, because ever since Bon Appetit declared the Au Cheval burger their favorite in the country, I worry that Londoners might think that the best burger in America is totally underwhelming.