Getting the American Diner vibe was always going to be a challenge in a timber-framed building in the middle of an ancient market town in Suffolk, and theming any food outlet is a tricky challenge; either you're so camp you're charming, or you're so camp it's bewildering and over-powering. I really like the way East Coast Diner have developed their brand - they've brought a slice of America to this little town by serving food in baskets lined with East Coast Diner branded paper and by having the closest thing I've seen to an actual American attitude to burgers, hot dogs and pizzas that I've witnessed this far east of Boston (and I don't mean Boston in Lincolnshire).
The keenest focus on getting the vibe right certainly appears to have been invested in the food, and with a hefty payoff. Us Brits of a certain age grew up in the 70s and 80s believing the Wimpy was a genuine representation of American cuisine, whereas it's as close to American Cuisine as Instant Coffee is to real coffee. They may share similar (attempted) flavours but wouldn't be recognisable as sharing any common ground in a blind taste test. So glancing at the East Coast Diner menu and seeing genuinely American-influenced cuisine was a real treat. This isn't American inspired food, it's not mass-franchised and blandacised McDoNots or Burger Thing. this is near-as-dammit actual American food (locally sourced!).
The Royale Howlin' Hot BurgerSo I've rambled on about the general look and feel of the East Coast Diner, it's about time I told you about the food. As this was my first visit I can only vouch for one dish, and as this is a hot sauce blog I did the proper thing and ordered a meal that claimed to be hot with a capital 'H', well it was all written in capitals but you get the idea.
The food arrived pretty quickly and the side-order of Cajun-spiced fries were a nice warmup lap before getting my chops into the main event. There was an incredibly generous pile of pickled jalapeño slices surrounding the burger that were nicely crisp, and neither swamped in vinegar or soft and stodgy like jalapeño slices so often are. They tasted great.
I have a real issue with how beefburgers are presented in gastro-pubs in England - they seem to think we desire to see a burger and bun combo so thick that we'd have to dislocate our jaws to eat it. If I want a big burger I want a burger with a decent circumference, not something that I need the jaw mechanism of a large snake to successfully make the transfer from plate to belly. The Royale Howlin' Hot burger (and indeed every other burger I saw being consumed) was entirely the correct size for a burger, ignoring entirely the fad for height over flavour, and this went some way to endearing me to the dish before I'd even taken a bite.
The bread was perfect burger bun bread, not too fluffy and insubstantial like some mainstream chains, but also not dense and challenging like it is in pretentious restaurants. The bun did it's job, it held the burger in check while I went to work on it with my pie-hole. The garnishes inside the bun were both above and below the meat patty, something else I commend entirely. Why on earth do most burger-sellers put the patty at the bottom of the stack then pile on huge amounts of salad that you have to fight your way through before hitting meat; using your teeth in much the same way as an adventurer would clear jungle undergrowth with a machete. This burger went crunch, meat, crunch. Perfect. Gastro pubs take note - we want a pleasing eating experience, not a shrubbery on a 8cm thick slab of mystery-beef, encased in 'rustic' bread so tough the meal should be served with a hacksaw in leu of cutlery.
The only negative I can think of mentioning in this entire review is that the large slice of tomato in my burger was a touch too juicy, so bled a little through the bottom of my bap. But it's a very minor negative, a bit like someone giving you a Ferrari for free only for you to complain about the lack of an AA road map in the glove compartment.
Hot conclusion?As a fan of hot food I'm horribly sceptical about choosing anything of a public menu that claims to be 'hot'. It never is hot. Ever. Allegedly 'hot and spicy food' in restaurants caters for folk who consider Worcester Sauce a bit 'peppy'. This Royale Howlin' Hot burger had enough zing to satisfy any hot sauce fan; the heat was sweet and subtle, building to quite a pleasingly gentle burn. Your teeth won't melt, but you will know you've eaten something with real spice. The pep in this patty came from Black Dog Chilli Jam, a chilli jam I'm keen to try again.
A large chunk of this review has ended up being a complaint from yours truly to the entire restaurant industry in the UK, but I've left in my complaints in the hope that anyone out there in the trade reads this review, visits the East Coast Diner and learns how burgers should be made.
More - http://www.eastcoastdiner.co.uk/