Verdict: Very high quality at gourmet burger prices.
The Diner is one of a chain of seven around London, each set up to feel like a 1950s American style Diner, albeit a 1950s American style Diner perhaps imagined by some vague historian in a distant dystopian, minimalist, future, sci-fi world. All the elements are there, the booths, the soundtrack, the americana, the garish lighting, the neon. All just sitting in the uncanny valley somewhere between The Fifth Element and IKEA.
That said, the food is really good. Quality ingredients, well prepared an plenty of them. The sides are huge and well cooked. I have honestly never left The Diner in any way hungry. The selection of drinks is wide, from quality micro brewery beer & cider to ‘hard shakes’. Definitely one of the best burger joints around London but at a price just a bit too premium to be regularly visited, save it for special occasions.
Verdict: Mmmm, I do like Bill’s.
To first of all qualify my bias, I like Bill’s… when it comes to brunch in Central London I think we can all agree it goes, in order of greatness; Joe Allen’s, Kopapa then Bill’s. I have breakfast in Bill’s far too often really and the only thing that now lets Bill’s down is the brand expansion, there are now another four Bill’s within walking distance of the original St. Martin’s Courtyard location, each of them with the same rustic, farmhouse produce stacked, raffia & dried chilli draped, trendy shabby chic design that made London’s first Bill’s stand out.
I hadn’t tried the burger, or indeed the afternoon in Bill’s before and seeing as it is almost exactly halfway between Shake Shack and 5 Guys I decided to do a quick comparison. The burger is the same price as 5 Guys (except you don’t pay extra for the fries) and the quality is as you would expect a proper London gourmet burger, big, chunky, succulent and flavour full. The fries are a decent portion of standard skinny fries.
Once you pay extra for the fries in Shake Shack the cost is about the same for a burger and fries. The cost actually comes in less than 5 Guys once you add their extra cost of the fries. Given the queueing at these ‘American’ restaurants, sitting at a table with waiting service takes about the same time for the food to arrive and when it does the quality and portion size at Bill’s is far superior. If you are in the area and about to spend £10 on a burger and fries then definitely choose Bill’s. Or head there for weekend brunch, but expect to wait on a table if you haven’t booked.
Verdict: Quality Fast Food at near Fast Food Prices, except without the ‘Fast’.
“They just opened a Shake Shack on the block and there’s never a line” said Lily in a recent episode of How I Met Your Mother and within days they did open a Shake Shack on the block, well, in Covent Garden Market Piazza. A mere coincidence, a sign from the universe or targeted brand placement during franchise expansion? I guess we will never know, but one thing is certain there is always a line, a queue, a long queue.
It was my third attempt to eat there when I found the queue short enough for my patience. Average wait at peak dining times is around 30 mins to place an order then 10-20 mins for the order to be ready. Between Lunch and Dinner time on a Thursday afternoon was about 5 minutes to place the order and 8 minutes for the order to be ready, so still not as fast as a fast food burger restaurant.
However Shake Shack are not really a fast food joint, although they resemble one, and they are not really a gourmet burger bar either, although the quality of their food is close to that level. The burgers, hot dogs & fries are all flavourful, the meat is certainly top quality, the bread is succulent, the frozen custard dessert is delish. My main criticism about the food would be that the portions are all very small, and indeed scaled to match each other and the bottles etc, so that in photos they appear full size… like a miniature village. The fries are average crinkle cut frozen fries, the cheese sauce is exactly the fake goo you would imagine and again the portion is small, so I think the cheese fries are ridiculously overpriced. However they are probably the only menu item that is so overpriced, everything else comes in at around standard fast food prices. The Kernel Brewery London supply some very nice bottled beers.
On the plus side you are given a pager once you have placed your order and so you are free to explore the Piazza while you wait and they have certainly installed a lot of seating to accommodate you once the order is ready. Large orders on trays are carried through the Piazza to your table by the enthusiastic, friendly staff, for insurance purposes I imagine. Overall I would recommend them for a quality burger & beer, but skip the fries and try and head down when there isn’t a queue.