an invitation to check out the revamped menu of a happening joint in the heart of balham was too good to turn down, so it was on a rainy thursday night that the 2 of us made the trek into zone 3 to pay the exhibit a visit! we were afraid we would be unable to locate the restaurant but thankfully it was just a stone’s (more like a grain of sand, actually) throw away from the tube station – so not to fret; even in zone 3, the exhibit is extremely accessible!
rach was thrilled by the old-school diner sign and the classic movie timings display, so it was with high hopes that we stepped through the doors and into the exhibit. we headed right up to the 1st floor (making a mental note to check out the bar after) where the diner was. immediately we were struck by how american the layout of the diner was.
as we were ushered to our seats we were informed that there was a thursday night deal where shakes went for £1 (for a soft shake) or £2 (for a hard, ie with alcohol) each. they have different deals every night which keeps things exciting and people coming back for more (and more). we were particularly taken in by the “movie nights” deal where you get 2 courses and a movie ticket (to catch a film in their boutique cinema on the 2nd floor) for just £15.90 – a real steal, in our opinion! check out the blackboard for the full range of offers:
while deliberating what to get (ordering is always a life-changing decision), we decided to start with 2 shakes – a cookie monster soft shake (on the left) and a tiramisu hard shake.
cookie monster – £4 (£1 with a main on thursdays), tiramisu – £7 (£2 with a main on thursdays)
i (rach) had the cookie monster and loved every drop of it. it was thick, creamy and full of cookie goodness, though i think what could have made it even better would be the addition of some chunky cookie bits. it was also surprisingly not cloyingly sweet, which allowed me to make my way steadily through the entire glass instead of having to leave half of it, as milkshakes often make you do. very satisfying for this cookies and cream fan over here! nic ordered the tiramisu shake which was what jumped out at him from the menu once we were seated but he was, unfortunately, kept in his seat. we both found it a little too diluted and icy; we tasted more alcohol than anything else and even after mixing the cream in, it lacked the thick creaminess that one would expect from a shake.
and now on to the food, we decided to try as wide a variety of food from the menu and settled on the ribs and a burger. we were told the signature was a firm favourite with both the staff and customers. we were also keen on the wild boar and chorizo burger but popular opinion swayed us towards the purist’s beef burger. to accompany those 2 mains, we had a 5 inch stack of onion rings (and promptly regretted not going for a taller tower of that finger-lickin’ goodness) and the interesting-sounding skins with mushrooms.
the signature burger is a hand-made ground steak beef patty enclosed in a seeded brioche bun, topped with red lettuce, onion, relish, dill pickle and mustard mayo. we built on that by adding jalapeños, guacamole, cheddar and a fried egg (they have an impressively huge range of toppings to choose from, that can be added to any burger on the menu). when it arrived, nic had the chance to show off his superior photography skills (or so he thinks) by snapping this pic:
signature burger – £7.25 + toppings (prices as stated on menu)
the burger was very decently-sized and because of what we had packed into it, it was extremely hearty and satisfying! since most people are most concerned with the patties in their burgers, patties first – they were extremely meaty, chunky, and we could really taste the meat, though we would have preferred it to be a bit more medium-rare (though i’m sure you can make a request for that). it was clearly not factory-made and was quite a thick slab such that it wasn’t lost in all the other ingredients that we had added. together with everything else we had picked, it made for a delicious burger. especially the fried egg because, as rach always says, she is a complete sucker for wet egg yolks, and this was one such amazing egg. given how amazing the fillings were, the brioche bun was a bit of a let down. it wasn’t as buttered as we would have liked and was a tad too thick. nonetheless as a whole the burger was delectable.
the ribs were generously slathered with a thick gooey layer of barbeque sauce. nic appreciated that the ribs were slightly charred and rach liked that they were meaty. the meat was soft and tender, though we felt they could have been even better if the sauce soaked right through the meat and the insides were more thoroughly marinated. they were good enough to leave us licking the bones though; that’s always a positive sign of good food!
we absolutely loved the batter which was crisp and left no aftertaste of stale oil but what nic loved even more was the juiciness of the fresh onions which is clearly evidenced here:
evidently pleased. which is longer – his hair or the onion???!!
this amazingly simple dish was simply amazing – it consisted of a fried potato skin filled and baked with mushrooms and cheddar. rach’s favourite part of the dish was the skin which remained crispy even after we had left it for a while – who knows why we did as it should have been gulped down immediately. nic felt that the pureness of the taste was so good that the sour cream (pictured in the middle) was rendered redundant. the sweetness of the fresh mushrooms complemented superbly with the saltiness provided by the melted cheese. it’s a wonder why this dish hasn’t been propagated on to some other american diners’ menus yet. as mentioned earlier, we liked it so much that we had a second serving.
the star of the night
a typical american diner dessert, the exhibit sundae consists of vanilla and chocolate ice cream, peanut butter, toffee sauce, crushed brownies and whipped cream. our favourite part of the sundae was the addition of chunky peanut butter, it added a very nice and welcome bite to the otherwise slushiness (not in a bad way) of a sundae. the brownies also added texture to the dessert which we enjoyed.
after dinner, we were kindly shown around by luke. we checked out the top floor which has a big room with a bar and a balcony that can be used for private gatherings or parties. the top floor is also where the boutique 28-seater cinema is located, and they show films twice a week (check out the movie schedule on their website and advance booking is recommended). for popular films, additional screenings may be added, as happened on the day we were there, when about time was being screened for the third time. unfortunately, we were oblivious to this fact 😦 if we had known that they were showing it that night, we would have made haste with our food and headed up to one of the cushy sofas to enjoy the movie.
besides the diner, the first floor has another function room that plays host to a range of events, including a speed-dating one that was going on that night.
and finally on the ground floor, there is a lovely bar which charmed us with its stylishly modern yet cosy interior. it also helped that they have live acoustic music on thursday nights and there was a healthy crowd that had the place buzzing and alive.
overall we were thankful to have been invited to the exhibit as it would not have otherwise crossed our minds to venture out this far. the trip, however, was thoroughly worth it and it would be a waste to let the (slight) distance deter you from paying the exhibit a visit. the concept of having a diner together with a cinema and a bar is fresh and unique; in our humble opinion, this hangout has all the makings of a great venue for an all-in-one night out. be it a night for a nice meal before a movie or just a night for drinks after work the exhibit is a perfect place to get together with mates for a jolly good (and food) time.
thanks for having us, greg; and luke too for showing us around. we’d love to return to check out the brunch menu soon!
12 Balham Station Rd
London SW12 9SG