Diner won't be dining at the Diner again

Ach, I hate giving bad reviews of places. I genuinely want every place I eat in to dazzle me. A few months back a new place opened in Bandon - “Jack O’Dwyer’s Diner”. It caught my eye instantly because I had only just been blogging about the dearth of fab and interesting burger joints in Ireland. Of course I was concerned that it would just be another crappy chipper with a bit of an image makeover but deep down I was really hoping that someone had had the vision to make a great diner in Bandon that would put the likes of the Eddie Rockets of the world in the shade. It shouldn’t be too hard - Eddie Rockets itself is a straight lift of Johnny Rockets in the US. The ideal would be good fast food with a ton of variations on a small set of staples in a traditional US diner environment.

We had just been to Long Strand to let the kids dig some holes and let Oisín run into the water and get soaked (Oisín is a 4-year old child as opposed to a dog but the behaviour on a beach is pretty similar). On the way back we decided to finally give Jack O’Dwyers a try.

Initial impressions were excellent - Neon Pepsicola sign in the window and a genuinely excellent look to the whole place with classic booths and bar stools and bits of Americana on the wall. The waitress was helpful but not exactly “have a nice day y’all”. She passed around the tiny menus and pointed out the specials on the blackboard. At this point it all fell apart. We appeared to have been 15 minutes early for the full menu and so got this bizarre stripped down mixture of hotel carvery food,sandwich  melts and one burger (which I nearly missed). The specials included beef curry and chicken n ham. Beef what? With chips?After the meal I found a full menu on the counter and it was more as I had hoped/expected - Nachos, burgers, steaks etc. But what an odd way to advertise the place during the day. And why the change? The whole point of a classic diner is the same food all day up to 24 hrs a day. This is where the idea of the all-day breakfast came from. Instead we get this potential out-take from Michael Douglas in Falling Down.

Utterly despondant, I ordered the burger (no options offered), Catherine had the chicken melt and the three squirts had plaice and chips. We inquired about milk-shakes. No. No? In a diner? No? Ribena ok instead? Yeah I guess. Milk for Ois (still sounds like a terrier doens’t he) and coffees for us. Food arrived out in double quick time which was great as our darlings are not part of the Franco-Italian culture of behaving in a restaurant. My burger bun was a lovely looking floury bap which is infinitely preferable to those pseudo-McDonalds buns you get in most places. But apart from that, I got a mass-produced beef patty from the freezer, a slice of tomato, some iceberg and a dollop of mayo, chips from a wholesaler, coleslaw from a tub and potato salad from a tub. Catherines exactly the same, replacing the words beef patty, with the words piece of battered chicken. Kids got breaded plaice from the freezer and chips. They ate the chips. And for this fine piece of freezer-to-deep-fat-fryer chefery? €47!

Now you may think I’m being ridiculously picky and if it had cost €20 for the lot then maybe I would be. But this is local chipper level food at totally inappropriate prices. The sad thing is that for half the money we could have had a better meal in McDonalds (which we did in Roscrea on Saturday). I just do not get why someone goes into business to create food which can’t even compete with McDonalds. I don’t want to sound like I’m getting a nasty dig at these people. Running a restaurant is, by all accounts, one of the toughest things one can do. The hours are brutal and the chances of success are often slim. They have far more bottle than me in setting up something like this. These are, I believe, local people and they have clearly pumped a ton of money into setting this place up. It looks great and it seems like they have a full-featured kitchen but I really really don’t think they will succeed as is by having no differentiator other than the the word “diner” and I would so love for them to do well. Entrepreneurship should always be lauded.

But if I want carvery food, I’ll go to the Musters Arms or a multitude of pubs. If I want Birds Eye or Carroll Meats food from a deep-freeze, I’ll go to the chipper (and actually the main chipper is pretty good). So who is this diner targeted at? A farmer in for a slap-up beef dinner wouldn’t even think of going into a place like that. Young uns will go in but only once after they see the bill. Tourists will surely be attracted by the look of the place but there are only so many of them.

I just do not get it. It’s like the vision just went completely astray at some point. Or is it that a bank manager or accountant is in the driving seat and utterly focused on cost base and forgetting that they need actual paying punters for the place to be a success?  I would love to see the place do well but I cannot see it happening with the current approach. Why can’t the aim to be the best damned burger and shake joint in the country? Why shouldn’t this be the first in a chain? There are so many places which could be used as a benchmark. Look at Elephant and Castle in Dublin - the food is absolutely nothing to write home about with dreadful service and but it is solid good quality fare. And they have legendary chilli-sauce coated chicken gristle (Buffalo Wings for those who missed the sarcasm) and as a result the place is usually hopping. There is no reason why Jack O’Dwyers could not emulate that.

I am convinced that a really good “proper” diner would be a roaring success. Even simple touches could help to start with - the “house secret recipe” for the burger sauce (you can get the Big Mac recipe on the web at a push). Nachos topped with everything (and I mean everything) offered as a good group starter as soon as people are seated. Most people may not have been thinking of a starter but they’ll probably think - hmm that might be nice, sure, a big bowl of Nachos please. Eggs done 16 different ways. Simple simple things to start heading towards what could become a destination eartery for anyone heading towards West Cork and in the mood for good tasty fast food. Fingers crossed.  

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Conor O'Neill

Tech guy who likes running slowly

Bandon, Cork, Ireland http://conoroneill.com