Davey Brett lives out his American diner daydreams - in Altrincham
I have a real soft spot for American-style diners. I look at them from this side of the pond in the same way, I imagine, the US is jealous of British pubs. Longing and romanticism fuelled by TV and film.
If my experience at Mustard Diner was a line graph, the arrival of the burger and hotdog would be represented by a dip
Diners in films are where the down-and-out go. The night hawks. Heists are quietly strategized in corners. Inspirational monologues at the counter as staff pour jugs of strong black coffee. Eggs, sunny side up, sizzle away on griddles. That ability to go and sit in relative cheap but cheerful comfort, all night long. I think we miss that in this country.
Lord knows we’ve tried. We’ve had attempts by Ed’s Easy Diner and Frankie & Benny's, the sustained presence of Archie’s and a few independents that have come and gone. Archie’s does a job if you want somewhere to mill around without the presence of alcohol but overall, British attempts at the diner are always a bit naff.
That's why Mustard Diner piqued my interest. Popular in Sale, a second site has popped up in Altrincham just down from Altrincham Market. It looks picturesque from the outside, two wide shopfront windows beckon you in from underneath a green candy-striped awning. Glossed green tiling and a charming split door give it an almost bistro feel.
Inside, the charm continues. We make a beeline for singular booth-style seating close to the bar and counter area. The seating is reminiscent of an old train carriage compartment. Inside it’s bright and airy, tiling complimenting dark wood.
It's a welcome change in direction from the stark white tiling, ketchup and mustard colour scheme and chrome trim novelty that’s easy to be sucked into when playing with diner aesthetics.
With the restaurant almost completely to ourselves (it’s Wednesday night to be fair, although takeaway appears to be doing well), we approach the menu with a starters and mains mentality.
We begin with two types of buttermilk fried chicken wings, BBQ and salt and pepper (£4 for three), buffalo mac n cheese (£5) and a portion of baby back ribs (£5.50) with Asian slaw, Korean hot sauce, sesame and spring onion from the specials menu. We wash it all down with pints of Kona Big Wave Golden Ale (£5) and a cocktail each (Rum for the hills, Apple pie sling both £8).
Buffalo mac n cheese is disappointing. Dry, powdery and the opposite of the rich and molten treat I was hoping for. My friend, who reveals he’s only ever eaten macaroni cheese once in his life (head explosion emoji) quips the one he made recently from a MOB kitchen recipe was better. The ultimate burn.
The wings are much better. Surprisingly big for the price, crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside with a substantial amount of meat on the bone. The salt and pepper ones take me back to the chip shops of Liverpool where salt and pepper flavouring is an art form.
Baby back ribs benefit from the sweet, sticky Korean hot sauce and there’s ample meat to get stuck into. Ribs always feel like a forked road in value depending on the amount of meat you get. I don’t feel particularly short-changed.
First wave of picky bits complete, we gaze over the menu again for our next victims. There’s steak on there as well as half a roast chicken and more ribs. The stacked fries are tempting but we’re filling up quickly and with so many burger options it feels rude not to. We order a chilli cheeseburger (£8.50) and a Big Kim hotdog topped with kimchi, spring onions, chillies and sriracha mayo (£8).
If my experience at Mustard Diner were a line graph, the arrival of the burger and hotdog would be represented by a dip. In an age of big burger dick-swinging, you’re either pushing something so stacked and grotesque that it’s impossible to pick up or you’re taking the moral high ground with quality beef, choice toppings and a good bun.
Sadly this chilli cheeseburger is neither, its arrival underwhelming. The patty is lightweight and any flavour from sauce, cheese or meat is scorched away by what feels like an unnecessary amount of chopped red chilli.
The Big Kim is an improvement, arriving on the funky wafts of its kimchi topping and looking a lot better than its burger comrade, it also pips it for taste. I'd rate the sausage itself as higher on the quality spectrum than the squirrels’ arseholes of the Fray Bentos factory but with an "ask no questions, hear no lies" texture that suggests serious reconstitution. The sauce has an enjoyable tangy heat but again I have to dust off some excess chopped chilli.
An indulgent slice of Lotus Biscoff cheesecake with candied nuts and caramel sauce (£5) puts us back on track with a ratio of biscuit, cheese and topping that doesn’t leave it cloying. A welcome outro to a time well had. Did Mustard press my diner buttons? Visually: yes. Gastronomically: less so. My recommendation would be this: stick to the chicken and enjoy the interiors.
Mustard Diner, 5-7 Shaw's Road, Altrincham WA14 1QU
Follow Davey on Twitter: @dbretteats
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you’re passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Baby back ribs 6, buttermilk chicken wings 7, buffalo mac n cheese 5, chilli cheese burger 5, Big Kim hotdog 6, Biscoff cheesecake 6
friendly, happy to recommend things
nobody there but visually enjoyable