All-American food and diner style restaurants will never lose their popularity, so restaurants are on to a winner if they can fine tune this niche successfully. One chain making the attempt is Grand Central, who have numerous chains across the UK. I visited their Basildon branch just before Christmas with a group of fellow foodie friends to see how good the fodder really was.
Grand Central Basildon has certainly attempting to bring a unique diner feel to the fore, focusing on chunky booth style seating with red covered cushions and black street sign labels indicating the booth numbers. The ceiling was also quite interesting, with each tile housing a personalised message from visitors and patrons, which I think is a great idea. It didn’t look tacky and I think it’s a great way to help build a community hub, forging a favoured family restaurant that is ideal for birthday celebrations. Other than these nods to the Americans, I thought the décor was rather bland and uninspiring, although festive fairy lights flashing primary-coloured hues and tinsel-strewn posts reminded me it was the run up to Christmas.
Looking at the drinks menu, my eye was instantly caught by the alcoholic milkshakes section. To me, is sounded like a punchy cocktail that was also a dessert style milkshake; a massive win-win for all those with a sweet tooth like myself. I decided to start with the Screaming Yankee, a creamy concoction blended with baileys, ameretto and kahula, with chocolate sauce drizzled on the inside of the hourglass shaped glass. So creamy and smooth with the alcohol really enhancing the flavour, this was a delectable cocktail that seemed so luxurious and thick with the milkshake element. I sipped happily on this whilst my pals chowed down on starters such as nachos and chicken wings.
For my main course, I opted to go all out American and pick a burger, not my usual port of call but I got the feeling that Grand Central specialised in its burgers, so I felt I had to try one. Therefore, I chose the smoky, a beef burger that was splashed with smoky BBQ sauce and layered with cheese, fried onions and sliced peppers. I also added a slice of bacon to really push the boat out. I have to say, I really wasn’t overly fussed about the burger. It just seemed pretty standard if you ask me. The bun was in the no-man’s land between a brioche and your standard bun, the bacon I added was so small I may well have not spent the extra quid on it as it added nothing, and the extra flavours I was expecting – the BBQ sauce hue – also failed to be present and correct. It was just a juicy beef burger. A nice burger, but nothing to write home about or order again.
Served on a white lunchtime canteen style tray, I had ordered sweet potato fries instead of the standard chips and these were thin, crisp and crunchy; just as they should be and lovely dunked in my lake of tomato ketchup. The paper cup of coleslaw was a nice addition to eat with my burger bun too; it was chunky and saucy which was good.
Despite eyeing up the four layer chocolate cake for dessert, I actually found myself too full. But never fear, I didn’t bypass dessert completely (who do you think I am?!?). I instead chose another alcohol laden milkshake to sip away the disappointment of my main bacon-less meal, this time opting for the Choco Orange County, a classic combination of chocolate and Cointreau. It looked very similar to my previous shake, just with a different flavour combination. I did really enjoy the alcoholic milkshakes and at £7 ish a pop, I didn’t think they were that badly priced either. For me, these were the best thing about Grand Central that I saw.
For me, the evening was tarnished by the absolutely appalling service that we received. Sure, staff were polite and chatty when they were at the table, but they were rarely at the table. We were a large group of 11 and a prime target for some good tips, however we were blatantly ignored by waiting staff. We had to wait around 45 minutes just to finish our drinks order, let alone when we would actually get stuck in to ordering main courses and eating! Nothing was delivered promptly, everything seemed like a mission and every request and order took ages. I swear I have never waited so long for food in my life. We pretty much all ordered burgers for main course so it’s not like it was extremely difficult or complex to cook. We even had to wait over half an hour for nachos. Nachos!!! It’s crisps with cheese!
In all honesty, I wouldn’t recommend Grand Central Basildon and I wouldn’t go back. The food is very standard fare and all stuff you could get elsewhere; I didn’t really see a standout speciality that would make me return, any burger joint would suffice. Even though the alcoholic milkshakes were my personal favourite of the evening, the service took so long that it did sour the meal, and it was very late before we began eating. This is a huge turn-off for me, so I’m afraid it’s a thumbs down here.