Trying to plan a last minute bowling trip for Jonah and his friends this weekend, as a final festive hurrah on the last non-school night of what has been an incredibly lazy Xmas, was a little like trying to organise a piss up in a brewery, and not in a good way. As much as the wonders of modern communication should make it easy to shepherd four different families into getting their shit together on the Sunday after New Year, people are still fairly rubbish – particularly when they are mostly in recovery mode. And with nothing available at the perennially popular All Star Lanes on East London’s trendiest street till 5 pm – when the tigers are usually winding down of a Sunday – we decided, to hell with it, booked and hoped people would show. A myriad text messages later, and most of the Reprobate Mums and their kids managed to haul their post-Christmas asses to the slightly too-cool-for school bowling alley come restaurant diner on Brick Lane, to take part in one of our all time favourite family activities – though whether it still is after Sunday’s debacle remains to be seen.
We’ve been here many times over the years, hosting several birthday celebrations, and wet weekend outings, and each time has something in common. We arrive with buckets of enthusiasm and usually leave on the point of a screaming meltdown. I don’t what it is about the place – probably the easy availability of booze for the adults and sugar for the kids, combined with a genetic lack of ability and a predisposition towards tantrums, but it always has an uncanny knack of ending in tears.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t bowl. I can’t for toffee. Hand to eye coordination issues coupled with a competitive spirit is a recipe for disaster, so these days I’m more than happy to sit out and enjoy a Coors Light from the sidelines, which I did, followed by a Hendricks and tonic to toast my anti-dry January stand-off along with the other Reprobates who were also, it seemed, much in need of a drink, while the kids and menfolk showed off their ball skills.
The problem is, my kids appear to have inherited them from me, rather than their father, who wiped the floor with the lot of them. But like me, neither of them like to lose. In the past, this has precipitated meltdowns of epic proportions, particularly when also fuelled by birthday cake or the ice-cream-and-cookie-based milkshake Reprobate Linda insists on getting her son every time they bowl, which generally kickstarts a whingefest from my two, followed swiftly by an inevitable sugar crash.
Not so this time. We’d all learned our lesson from previous episodes of public hideousness, and they’d been briefed on arrival that no milkshake would be forthcoming. They remained happy enough with their “treat” of Diet Coke, and even when Jonah came second from last on the lane, narrowly beating his sister, who, let’s face it, had been using a ramp to roll her balls down, he was only minorly disappointed, rather than bawling his eyes out. So far, such progress. But then, he is now nearly ten.
With little other than leftover pate in the fridge at home, and with Tom in the mood for a celebratory burger, we decided to eek out the last moments of festive fun and eat out at the diner that’s all part of Allstar’s 50’s style Americana charm, though lacking somewhat in American-style customer service. Entering the diner, and planning to sit at the back near the pool tables so the kids could be fleeced an extra fiver for half and hour pushing more balls around, this time into pockets, all the while ours were simultaneously feeling emptier, we were surprised to be quizzed about a reservation in an otherwise empty restaurant. Expecting a sudden influx, we were shown to a booth a little further away. The influx never materialized, and I was soon to see why. Normally packed to the rafters with birthday parties and families eating out, peak times on the lanes are reserved for diners, as an inducement to eat in.
Without such a strong incentive, (and I guess it was off-peak) there’s little reason to eat here. The kids were happy enough with their burger and chips. Tom likewise – although frankly, East London is the posh burger capital of the world, and these were not a patch on the likes of Patty & Bun, Bleeker Street, or even Meat Mission, all of which you can find in a half mile radius of Brick Lane – and probably most of the price; but I marveled at the cocktail menu, feeling that perhaps a gin-based Bramble would be the ideal thing to chase away those New Year blues. At the same time, feeling a distinct Christmas overhang on my dark green skinny jeans, I opted for a Caesar Salad, and on being told the main course size was enormous, a starter size at that (with some sweet potato fries on the side, natch) in a half-arsed attempt to start my New Year purge.
When my salad arrived, it was disappointingly small and smothered in dressing, all of which would have been fine, were it not for said dressing being blue cheese. I hate blue cheese. It’s practically the only foodstuff I do actually loathe, along with goats cheese – and on a Caesar salad it’s sacrilege. Caesar salad should have Caesar dressing. Right? That’s the point of a Caesar salad.
I complained, and the waiting staff, who looked fairly pissed off to be working, despite the empty tables around us, and were probably on a New Year comedown too, told me that’s what it came with. Without wanting to be an arsehole, but determined to make my point, I asked for the menu. The menu said Caesar dressing. I checked with Tom, in case, my tastebuds have deceived me all these years and Caesar salad usually comes with a blue cheese dressing. No, he said – and Tom knows everything about everything. To be fair the staff offered to change the salad, but the kids were halfway finished and I was reaching the end of my tether. And because didn’t want to be an arsehole, I tried to eat it. Did I mention I hate blue cheese? I ate my sweet potato fries, which were fine, and left most of my really quite small salad.
But in the meantime, sensing my face of gathering thunder, the staff saw fit to bring me over another Bramble. The first had been hard going – tasty, but like an alcoholic Slushpuppy, and really quite strong, which, after the beer and the G and T, was really quite enough. So, while I appreciated the gesture (and double checked it wasn’t on the bill at the end – it wasn’t, and neither was the salad), I could have probably done without it.
So, with a massive tumbler of crushed ice and spirits to plough though, the kids, having been unable to finish their very expensive game of pool as the food arrived halfway through, started to get ansty. They asked for pudding. Tom said no. I, feeling guilty about the fact the had not been allowed a milkshake, said perhaps a small scoop of ice cream would be okay, but nothing of the sort existed on the menu – of course, being American-style, only offered slightly overpriced syrup covered sundaes which, frankly given the kids’ sugar intake these holidays, might well tip them over to a future of American-style early-onset diabetes.
And given our Christmas expenditure, and the fact I’m currently between jobs – and possibly going long-term freelance as I hate office life so much, I guess the whole ordeal was starting to feel a little frivolous, so I was forced to back track on pudding, and this time, it was the straw that finally broke Jonah’s good humour. Queue moaning all the way up Brick Lane, about how I’d got his hopes up and let him down, which after a Christmas spent essentially pandering to the kids’ hopes, felt like a long slow slap in the face, but in a nutshell demonstrates the pitfalls of spoiling one’s offspring. And given we still had friends with us, whose children were behaving angelically, it was all a bit embarrassing.
Eventually, just outside the Brick Lane Beigel Shop – a long term favourite with the tigers for its salt beef, solid cake selection, and rock bottom prices, I caved, told the kids to pick something to share, which I then used as an opportunity to tell them exactly how horrible they were being and how ashamed I was of them, in a Bramble-fulled rant. It worked a treat. Jonah apologised profusely, offered me his bit of cake (which I certainly didn’t need) and has been moreorless delightful ever since. Which is why, sometimes it’s okay to let them eat cake, as long as it’s on my terms.
Next time we go bowling (Tom swears never again, but he loves an idle threat – probably another reason why the kids can be such shitbags sometimes), we’ll sack of the burgers and eat salt beef. Now that’s a resolution I think I can actually stick to.
A half-arsed meal for four cost around £40, excluding my salad. The 4 Hungry Tigers rated our meal ***