Don’t quote Kelis
Difficult not to reference Kelis’ awful song when writing about milkshakes. Anyway, here we go…
I said to my workmate, “This is either going to be really, really good, or really, really, s**t”.
An hour later, all three of us left Tinseltown on Great Portland Street, unanimously thinking the latter, but as always, there is a little more to the story.
It had been a long old week and by the time we had got to Tinseltown night it was only Wednesday (and I still had my review to go, gotta love January). A couple of us in the office were cheering a dear old friend out of London and onto her new adventures and had been brainstorming popularly-priced joints close to the western end of Oxford Street. All being of incongruous tastes, yet raveled in the customaries of “Oh, you know, I’m happy to go anywhere”, we narrowed the evening down to two choices and a back up plan. Choice one was MEATLiquor, already established by yours truly – as well as of the local eight million – as a destination of tasty value and infectious atmosphere. Choice two was a local branch of Prezzo, an Italian chain which I do love, for its great calzones, awesome value and in the case of ‘my‘ branch on North Audley Street, big comfy booths. Mmn hmm. The ‘back up‘ was Tinseltown.
This American diner and milkshake bar opened its doors for the first time in the very un-diner-like locale of Farringdon in EC1, quickly growing into a London-wide chain and since then has even been able to wriggle out of the M25 and up to Watford, Leicester and Birmingham. Tinseltown has been on my hit-list for quite some time now, for two reasons. Firstly, it boasts some pretty provocative milkshakes (hold that thought) and secondly, Liam Gallagher used to frequent the branch up in Hampstead. Maybe not, though. As I sit here writing this, I cannot find any record anywhere of if he does or not; and cannot remember who actually told me that fact in the first place, but I am pretty sure it is the same person who tried to convince me that a crab is “An armoured, water-based and un-poisonous scorpion”. Indeed, a little Googling does indeed reveal that the only people of any fame to wander through the doors of Tinseltown are a misfit’s parade of grime, indie and X-Factor ‘stars’, that bloke who plays Rupert Grint, and ASBO-tastic Lola off Eastenders.
We met up and wandered over to MEATLiquor – personally I was dying to get my teeth into another Dead Hippie burger, recently lauded by Zagat as one of 7 dishes any London foodie should have tried by now – but a glance at the queue was worse than usual. That night, we were all a little more hungry than determined, so made haste away from the action. Burgers had piqued our interest so we headed away from Prezzo and toward Great Portland Street.
Clearly I should have done that Googling before touting Tinseltown as the place to be (if MEATLiquor clearly isn’t going to happen), because as soon as we stepped in through the door it was clear what the clientele – and therefore the atmosphere – was going to be like. The best way to summarise proceedings at Tinseltown is to take the London Riots, dilute it a little with Fight Night from Big Brother Five and then pour the mixture into a slightly camp Burger King restaurant. Nevertheless, things looked fun and the place was packed which is always a good sign. We were promised a table in three minutes by one waiter, who then vanished off the face of the earth. We asked someone else and not long after were hustled downstairs to one of the bright green booths in the basement, feeling instantly relaxed by Gangnam Style turned up to eleven on both big screens and speakers, as well as a neighbouring table of school kids who could not have been more annoying if they were the Harpies from Jason and the Argonauts.
As we sat and I recounted the table with suitably low-brow anecdotes such as the time I saw a sheep climb up some Ivy (true) and that pig’s head incident (sadly true, and a story not fit for public consumption), we perused the rather large menu. Large, not in items, but in surface area. Jesus H, the thing was as big as a bodyboard.
The food side of the menu offers the diner a choice of various meats served with various carbs; main dishes such as chicken sandwiches, wraps, beef burgers and grills are served with one or two sides (such as fries, mash, onion rings etcetera) a la Nandos; as a result there is plenty of choice but with no less than ten varieties of chicken burger and countless beef burgers, things get a little too déjà vu for my liking. The whole menu is Halal-friendly, including a non-bacon ‘bacon’, which I gave a miss. Instead, I ordered the largest burger available, called the Empire State Challenge Burger, with fries. The others got various chicken sandwiches.
Truth be told, the food was relatively mindless and arrived without too much of a fuss. I found the burger itself to be very dry and carelessly put together (the cheese hadn’t even been melted on, which is standard in even a place like McDonalds). The cajun sauce was pretty good – apparently most ingredients are developed in-house in Tinseltown’s ‘research kitchen’. Everything is well-priced – even grills are no more than fifteen quid – my burger £twelve but most other mains are no more than a tenner, but even for this kind of cash, American stodge of vastly superior quality can be found in every corner of London.
For once though, I wasn’t too fussed on the food; I was here for the milkshakes and milkshakes only – and boy, were they good. Tinseltown’s milkshake menu swarms over the second side of the menu and covers every personal interpretation of hedonism from fruit to filth; a suitably large shake will cost you less than a fiver. In addition to the usual suspects of banana, strawberry and chocolate, shakes are constructed using an impressive selection of chocolate bars and sweets, such as my persona favourite, the Wunder Kind, made with Kinder Bueno, vanilla ice cream, toffee, chocolate sauce and wafers. Bowl Me Over sounded incredible – what with skittles, vanilla ice cream, marshmallows and blue cola sauce. Yup, never heard of that last ingredient either. One shake was more than enough, however I own goaled by ordering one with the burger and consequently felt more than a little creamed out by the end of the meal. The girls decided to have one afterwards for ‘dessert’, and cruelly coerced me into having a second one – this time I tried the Chocolate A-List, a sickeningly good combination of Ferrero Rocher, vanilla ice cream and various chocolate garnishes. I selflessly suffered through round two, feeling like I was going to burst. Apart from shakes, Tinseltown offers soft drinks…and that’s about it. Tinseltown is totally teetotal.
The milkshakes are wonderful – the best I have had in ages, but they don’t do enough to detract from Tinseltown’s failings. Service was too haphazard even for a pretty affordable diner, with the general approach of staff being to do what needs to be done and get away from the table as quick as is humanly possible. Sometimes, not even this was accomplished, with our empty plates left in front of us for over half an hour. The final nail in this particular coffin was that payment is taken as the host desk only, making for a supermarket-y ending to a barely adequate experience.
I had been looking forward to Tinseltown for a while, as I had been (admittedly only half-heartedly) looking for a good shake joint around town. So what other options does this leave the burger-fiend with the sweet tooth? Well, MEATLiquor is the considerably less ‘vanilla’ option, where shakes are subbed with the lethal House Grog. Harrods’ Ice Cream Parlour is always a good laugh, but lacks grease. Red Dog Saloon was pretty good, come to think of it (remember that here, a milkshake may also extinguish a mis-guided Naga Viper Wing odyssey), Ed’s Easy Diners are alright as well and Fat Boy’s Diner out at Trinity Buoy Wharf did some pretty good coke floats, and shakes to match. Like Tinseltown though, the fodder fell way short of expectations. However, there could be renewed hope! In Summer 2013, NYC’s mighty Shake Shack concept is coming to Covent Garden. 2012 brought us the Olympics, 2013 will bring delicious SmokeShacks and cheesy chips!
For the time being however, we have Tinseltown; how to sum it up? It was a great evening – made so by fantastic company and a full feeling that only one too many milkshakes could instigate. Everything else fell way short of the mark. Not even the relatively cheap price of about £nineteen per person was any consolation. As a milkshake bar, Tinseltown certainly brings all the boys to the yard. As for everything else? Well, I could teach them, but I’d have to charge. Sorry about that, almost made it.
Shake and a burger will come to no more than £fifteen, service not included, but I’m just saying.
Tinseltown.co.uk | Great Portland Street: 0207 225 2221