Cafe Society: Hard act to follow

The Hard Rock Cafe deserves a chorus of boos for starting, way back in 1971, the trend that would become theme restaurants.

A shame, then, that the food is actually quite good, as Serena Mackesy found out

We didn't know better when they started. In the UK, as a general rule, a hamburger was a thing you bought from a vat of greasy water from the side of a van, wrapped in a soft white bap with stewed onions and a choice of ketchup or mustard. To the British palate, chargrilling arrived as little short of a miracle; that you could indulge in it while looking at Jimi Hendrix's Stratocaster and David Bowie's Laughing Gnome awards, seemed to the youth of '71 the apotheosis of revolutionary chic. How were we to know it would all end with the Fashion Cafe?

For the last 10-odd years, the Hard Rock Cafe has been one of those phrases that your average Londoner can only say by curling their lip. This attitude is based more on the sights of it from the top of the No 19 bus that any hands-on knowledge. Only bridge-and-tunnellers or godparents would queue for a hamburger, let alone a t-shirt, and the view of two separate lines, one for each, hands in pockets along the side of the building, can send the average bus traveller into cackles of laughter.

The surprise, though, is that, if you put yourself through the ritual humiliation of applying cap-in-hand for entry and the slightly rushed manner of a staff who seem unimpressed by your achievement, the interior experience is really quite a pleasant one.

Okay, so you may not be able to drum up any great enthusiasm for the hoards of overpriced cast-offs lining the walls, but you can still get a good meal here: huge portions of burger, steak, corn-cob, sugary stuff with cream, really nice chips; this type of fast-food often has the Chinese- menu effect of leaving your stomach groaning for only half an hour, but a meal at Hard Rock demands a good hour's kip in Green Park afterward. All that, and you can say all sorts of mean things about your fellow diners in the knowledge that, beneath the carefully sussed decibel level, they will never hear you.

The Hard Rock Cafe, 150 Old Park Lane, W1 (0171-629 0382)