Brendan Sodikoff is the chef behind Chicago’s Au Cheval, situated on the corner the hottest block in The Windy City, West Randolph Street. We walked past one Friday evening last May, on route to dinner at The Girl and the Goat, but sadly didn't have time to get back and check it out for ourselves. Luckily, after taking on most of Chicago, he's now crossed the pond to help with the relaunch of Soho House's Electric Diner in Portabello Road (formally the Electric Brasserie).
As well as helping with the 'concept' and decor Sodikoff has also collaborated with them on their menu, supplying several of his signature dishes (including a cheeseburger named recently 'the best in America' and served, confusingly, as a two patty 'single', or a three patty double'). As I was there for an early weekday breakfast, and the 'all day menu' doesn't start being served until midday (rather a good thing, as I'm not sure whether I could face the prospect of all that meat and cheese quite so soon after I had got up), I had to make do with their brunch offerings.
Dining on my own still always feels slightly odd. Normally I'm a fairly solitary person at heart (read anti social), but eating out never seems as much fun solo. The good thing about the Electric Diner is that it's, quelle surprise, based on the American model, (read comfy booths and a long wooden counter with leather stools) meaning that singletons like me can sit up and be entertained by what's going on on the other side of the bar.
Another bonus is the geography; the Electric Diner is to the West of town, at a time when everyone's gravitating South and East. This is boon for me as it's far easier to get to from my neck of the woods, and it feels nice to be back walking the streets of Westbourne Grove and Notting Hill again.
Although the whole ersatz small town diner shtick is getting a bit old, this is a very good rendition (see the photo, courtesy of their website, above). It does look lovely, although the corridor shaped room, tiled walls, low ceilings and open plan kitchen mean I expect it gets pretty noisy later in the day. It's also rather toasty when you're sitting, as I was, close to the great wood-fired grill that's used to cook their pork chops and steaks (the burgers and house made bologna sandwiches are cooked on the flat top).
For somewhere modelling itself on the American Diner, the brunch menu seems to have lots of British influence, with offerings such as black pudding, baked beans and bacon sandwiches. With most of the dishes featuring the ovum in some guise it's also pretty limiting for a non egg eater like me. The egg dishes do sound good, though, and range from being served with avocado on toast, through to blue cheese omelettes, fried with a full English, scrambled with salmon and even the Seuss-inspired 'green eggs' with ham.
There's cereal, granola and a range of pastries, but, disappointingly no pancakes or french toast. These, to my mind, are the real diner classics that I love to eat for breakfast when I'm in the States. They do offer a fresh waffle though, and from my vantage point I can see them being cooked in front of me. The lure is too strong to resist.
My waffle with strawberry jam and cream, kind of like a American inspired riff on the, very English, cream tea. Everything was spot on; a fluffy fresh waffle, jam with just enough fruity bite and oodles of vanilla-flecked sweet cream. I'm not sure I wouldn't have preferred the more traditional accompaniments found across the pond - maple syrup, whipped butter, maybe a handful of berries - but this was still excellent.
Another Au Cheval import, a side of thick cut peppered bacon; This is one of the Electric dishes generating plenty of buzz and it's not hard to see why; all at once it manages to be crispy, salty and sweet, with a good, crunchy black pepper kick to finish. Even though there were three big slabs in my portion, I couldn't help but finish the whole lot.
As a testament to this rashers's popularity, during my visit the flat top was being constantly replenished with fresh slices ready to be crisped. If you come outside breakfast hours then don't fear, it's listed as a side on their all day menu, too.
To drink I stuck with the bottomless coffee and a glass of pink grapefruit juice, but they do have a large menu of libations featuring classics such as a Horse's Neck and the Hemmingway Daquiri. On tap are a range of 19 craft beers, including as the brilliantly named Left Hand 400lb Monkey, and a decent range of European and English bottled brews.
I very much enjoyed my breakfast at the Electric Diner; eating waffles and bacon with a cup of joe and the morning papers can never be a bad start to the day. If I'd had more of a stomach for it, I would have loved to stay around to try to burger, bologna, flat brick chicken, or cream pies, but it all gives me another reason to go west.
Next door, in the lobby of the Cinema, Sodikoff's influence (he also owns Chi Town's wildly popular Donut Vault) has extended to Electric Donuts; a small concession serving doughnuts and coffee from Wednesday to Sunday. As it was only Monday, I was out of luck, so I decided to walk further down Portabello to pick up a little sweet afternoon snack for later.
As I walked down Portabello Road I remembered the first branch of one of the UK's original cupcake pioneers, the Hummingbird Bakery, established nearly a decade ago. Unfortunately cupcakes are now about as fashionable as a dose of the clap, which is rather sad really as cake has never stopped being ace in my book. (It helps if you can try and look past all the frosting and sprinkles that seem to have replaced old fashioned water icing with hundreds and thousands of my youth.)
It says rather a lot about our rather fickle tastes that while the fried cake dough at Electric just a few hundred feet up the road is the current desert du jour, the cup cake has been left to slowly suffocate under the weight of its own, overly sweet, buttercream topping.
I ended up buying the classic red velvet for me and the double chocolate cupcake for the Ewing. I had actually forgotten how good a red velvet could be; the lurid, moist chocolate sponge base thickly slathered with the off-sweet cream cheese frosting. It may not be trendy, but it is still pretty delicious.
They also sell a range of, unfashionable but tasty, American bakes including brownies, whoopie pies and cheesecakes. While not my favourite in London (that award would go to Ousider Tart, with a special mention for their cinnamon-y Hepburn brownie), there are far worse things to receive in life than a box of these cute little cakes; the perfect pick-me-up for even the most miserly curmudgeon.