Docklands Diner, Docklands
76 Cannon Drive
West India Dock
020 7515 7160
by Gracie Spoon
Docklands is an area of unsettling and awe-inspiring new. However, nooked amongst the dizzying glass, salt water smells and box fresh pavements, there are wisps of an East End past of 0171 phone codes and first name familiarity. The Docklands Diner is one such wisp.
Sepia-tinted formica tables with bolted-on plastic chairs, neat clusters of condiments and lace frills claim the 'classic caff' badge of identity. The numerous and very large St George’s flags stake out a different and more ambiguous territory. The five standard brunch options (ranging from £3.60 to £4.90) are served – school dinner style – from rectangular chrome vats behind a glass counter.
Being veggie, the brunches didn't quite match me, and I had some explaining to do. Neither hostile nor unhelpful, the response was nonetheless: “well I don’t know what’s veggie and what ain’t darling”. I attempted some direction. “Um, like, fried slice?” I suggested hopefully, with positive results. “Uh, hash browns? Maybe mushrooms?” I continued. By this point she was getting the idea: “What about tomatoes?”. “Yes. Brilliant. Yes”.
I settled down to an ample plate of promising grease. I wanted to love this breakfast. The retroist in me loved the feel of the place, and the anti-corporate in me saluted it for existing when so many of its comrades have fallen to the armies of advancing Starbucks and Prets. But the breakfast was awful. My coffee was so unremittingly wrong that I didn’t get past two sips. The hash browns, stiffened with age, were a particularly disturbing discovery, while the fried slice left me with a querulous stomach for some hours to come. The fried egg was passable, but had no strong supporting actors to interact with. The grilled tomato was the only real player, a moment of fresh, raw red in aged and overcooked company.
I tried to gain some measure of space from my toughened meal, with a gaze up and away, designed for the middle distance. Instead I found myself looking at photoshopped picture of the Sydney Opera House draped in another very large St George’s Flag. This, I don’t get. On many levels.
Perhaps, I wondered as I made a quick exit, perhaps if my inclinations were a little less vegetarian and a bit more colonial, I would have enjoyed my breakfast more. But as I passed the the impersonal glamour of the banker restaurants 200 metres away, and headed into the expensive shimmer of Canary Wharf, I couldn't help but feel that even if I hated my Diner experience, I'm glad its there to be had.