We’ve reached a point where it’s not quite enough to go out for dinner, eat a bowl of pasta, and go home again. Whether it’s a result of the recession or simply a more demanding public (my hunch is that it’s a bit of both), the average punter wants something more from a night out. Every new restaurant seems to be serving small plates in an increasingly derivative attempt to satisfy both novelty-seeking and penny-protecting sides of their clients, and of course we’ve seen the rise and rise of supper clubs as the paradigm of a different sort of dining.
Last week it was bowling. Because at All Star Lanes you don’t just go out for dinner. You go out for dinner and make a massive, massive tit of yourself. No sooner have you had a swig of beer than off come the claggy, aromatic work shoes and on slip those bowling shoes that you think make you look like John Travolta but really make you look more like John Goodman.
And down we went into the bowling arena (is it an arena?). I limbered up. I clocked a girl on the next lane. Hello sunshine. Like a gunslinger I swaggered onto the pristine wooden floorboards, eyes narrowed at the pins at the other end. I pitied them. Little did they know of the demolition that was about to befall them. I launched the hefty orb towards its quarry. With a thud more terrible than a dropped baby and a trickle more pathetic than a nonagenarian’s midnight micturition, the ball dribbled about half way down the lane before conceding defeat and flopping, impotently, into the gutter.
Bowling, it seemed, wasn’t my game.
I won’t go into further pitiful detail about my endeavours to emulate Roy Munson, because it didn’t really matter. *Sobs uncontrollably*. But, really, that’s not what it’s all about. It was a chance to have a few drinks and be a bit silly with some friends before eating dinner and, well, having some more drinks and being even more silly.
The food is good – American, natch, without being kitsch. We ate…well we ate too much. Starting with the sharing platter and some popcorn squid, the four of us were pretty much defeated. Fried squid is either good or bad. This was good. Crisp batter, soft flesh, and a decent enough aioli. Spare ribs were generous, sticky, and cooked to the point where the meat fell off the bone without leaving you with no chewing to do. I like to chew on my food. It’s what teeth are for. Chilli and nachos were spot on, quesadillas underseasoned and underspiced, dough balls a bit so-what.
And we should have left it there. We were stuffed.
Mercifully, what followed was all really very edible. I wrestled down the better part of a gargantuan macaroni cheese. No bells and whistles, just a cracking dish of baked pasta and cheese.
To, I assume, placate the laydees who don’t fancy chowing a whole cow in one evening, there is blackened salmon with beetroot and horseradish. There was little to criticise, but there was little to rave about. It didn’t feel like it had been cooked with the same enthusiasm with which the other dishes had been, and I’d venture that it wasn’t.
Sam and Tom’s burgers weren’t a million miles away from the much vaunted meateasy burger, which is quite an achievement. But then it’s just a burger, innit?
There was a fine, fresh Caesar salad somewhere.
By this point the idea of eating another mouthful was inconceivable. We’d eaten well, drank some delicious wine, and been looked after by a charming waiter. The music was good (rock, skiffle, blues), and the atmoss cheery and loud (in a good way). The loos were a disgrace, mind – mixed, no loo roll, and our nonagenarian seemed to have gone hog-wild in there after one too many sherberts. A not insubstantial black mark on an otherwise cracking evening. A wise man (Bourdain, perhaps? Can’t be arsed to check) once noted that if the loos are in a state, just what are the kitchens going to be like?
But still. This is a fun night out. For a catch up with friends I’d say it was preferable to most stuffy restaurants, and it gives you the chance to all laugh at the fat kid. In this instance, me.
All Star Lanes very kindly footed the bill. You’d probably be looking at £15 a head, plus grog, service, and bowling. So more like £35-40 a head all in.
An addendum from Sam:
“The small, blonde chap on my table woke up at 2am feeling incredibly sick due to the amount of food that he had eaten. He then couldn’t get back to sleep for a while and was forced to lie square on his back to stop himself from vomiting. In addition to this, not even 3 glasses of water could quench the thirst that he encountered. He enjoyed his supper, but would suggest that 1 sharing plate between 4 would be ample.”