If you’re unfamiliar with the place, Escobar wasn’t awful – you could get a pint of Heineken and a Tuaca for exactly five pounds – but thanks to its 7am license its default role was a last-chance saloon for staff from other bars and post-club stragglers, as well as being Disneyland for opportunistic middle-aged guys trying their luck for a one early-morning stand. In hindsight, it was quite a sad place.
With all of its gorilla statues and pick & mix sweets on tables and walls covered in affable, jovial slogans straight off of Innocent Smoothie: the teenage years labels, Almost Famous yearns to be seen as anything but sad; it’s totally cool! Not like those boffin restaurants with their booking policies and table service and menus that contain punctuation! The name above the door might have changed, but the sense of desperation still lingers. From the American Psycho monologue repeated on the walls of the Men’s bathroom to the sub-Banksy “political satire” on the walls which would have been frowned upon by Nathan Barley (Cigarette packet warnings with cleverly subverted slogans like “Government Kills”, “Poverty can seriously damage your wealth”) – just looking around the place made me cringe so hard I almost shit out a diamond.
It starts off well enough, the fresh-faced waiting staff don’t hide how much they enjoy their job – enthusiastically explaining the menu and informing us that when we’re ready to order we have to do so at the bar – of course we do. It took us a bit longer than expected to reach that point though, as after we’d managed to decode the menu we faced the separate struggle of deciding what sounded least OTT. Everything on the menu contains two or three superfluous ingredients, with every one of their bespoke cocktails resembling a bag of fizzy Haribo dissolved in a different Supermarket liquor.
Choices of burger are limited if you don’t want one which has an ice cream on the top of it, or three different sauces inside of it, or the word “Nom” in its name (the most loathsome of adjectives, along with “yummy” and “epic”). The Johnny Mac was ok – though I did have to retrieve a 7-inch string of undercooked bacon fat from my esophagus; like a clown producing a never-ending handkerchief from the second most inappropriate place imaginable. The deep fried Mac & Cheese ball has become dirty fast food’s answer to molecular gastronomy – unfortunately this one tasted of nothing but stale oil. Their yellow, buttery brioche are some of the most impressive buns I’ve seen in a long time though – which is really saying something, seeing as I visited just days after Nicki Minaj’s video for Anaconda was released.
The highlight of the meal was the embarrassingly-named “Crack Wings”. Available in three sauces, I went for the Vietnamese-inspired (make sure you’re sitting down for this one) “Pho-king Amazing”. The flavour was a welcome change of pace from the spicy, salty onslaught of the Johnny Mac and Chilli Cheese Fries, but most impressive was the confit-like texture of the meat as it slinked off the bone without a trace. If they could just sort out the cocktail menu, these would be a perfect bar snack to sit and graze on with a few drinks.
We’ve been putting unlikely things in and on burgers for a while now, where do we go from here? Just because something can kind-of be contained in a bread bap, that doesn’t necessarily mean it should be. None of the food I ate was actively bad, it was just uninspired and boring; which, given that Almost Famous is desperate to be perceived as anything-but, is a much worse thing to be.
Before its name was synonymous with burgers, Almost Famous is a film about a band called Stillwater – which is fitting, seeing as the bro-food trend that this place embodies is completely stagnant; surely its 15 minutes of Fame is Almost over.