All Star Lanes, Victoria House, Bloomsbury Place, London WC1

There comes a time when the over-fed, over-pampered restaurant critic waddles to his bathroom mirror, examines the wreckage of his jowly, cross-hatched physiognomy, feels that dyspeptic groaning that comes from too many suprêmes de volaille or tournedos Rossini, and says to himself: "Enough fine dining. I want some crazy fun involving burgers and milkshakes. I want to stand around doing something vaguely sporty. I want to go where the kids go." That's when someone will tell you about the All Star Lanes franchise.

It was started up in 2006 by two chaps, Mark von Westenholz and Adam Breeden, as a tribute to the golden age of American bowling – a golden age that's about as grounded in reality as the soda fountain in Happy Days, but what it lacks in authenticity it makes up for in charm. Descend the stairs under the neon sign in Bloomsbury Square, push the door and you're in a 1950s world, full of chrome, bright colours and waitresses in Pink Ladies jackets.

Cocktails, bowling, dinner – that's the drill and you're expected to stick to it, as if to the Protocols of Zion. The bar is cavernous, brightly lit and full of young things sprawling picturesquely on the banquettes, as if they're too cool to do anything but bowl. My slug of Old Fashioned was Maker's Mark bourbon whisky and nothing else, but it hit the spot. My friends complained that their bison juleps and elderflower mojitos were under-alcoholicised, but they are all on the verge of Seeking Professional Help.

The bowling lasts an hour and costs £8.75 per person. It's the usual giddying switchback ride of acute embarrassment (when the heaviest ball flies from your fingers on the backstroke and lands on the toes of Jamie Cullum in Lane Two) and triumphant idiocy, when you hit a strike and feel you must perform one of those why-am-I-doing-this little dances to your cheering buddies. By the time you head for dinner, you're flushed, mildly sloshed (one cocktail, two beers) and very hilarious.

You sit at booths for four or six, under little Tiffany lamps. Beside you, the period murals feature saucy lady bowlers showing off their stocking-tops. The music switches from Creedence Clearwater Revival to Led Zeppelin. You hope nobody will think of leaving for several hours.

The menu is an attractive throwback to a Manhattan diner in the 1960s. It has Char-grills and Appetisers, it calls coriander "cilantro" and chicory "endive" and throws in some home-grown dishes you've never heard of (Bacon succotash? Me neither). A quesadilla of chicken, cilantro and jalapeno was like toasted pitta bread containing a deliciously spicy salsa. "Salt and pepper popcorn squid" was battered squid with an aioli dip, a little on the soggy/greasy side. (If you're going to call it "popcorn", it should be crispy, surely?) The girls cooed over the avocado, baby gem and pecorino salad with parmesan dressing.

Main courses were just as hit-and-miss. Andreas thought his Slow Cooked Boston Butt Pork with Old Style Baked Beans "a hefty butt, certainly, but it hasn't benefited from the sauce or gravy – which tastes rather Marmite-y, like barbecue sauce out of a bottle". I'm unfamiliar with Boston Butt, but it tasted a bit woolly to me. Gina's Corn Dipped Catfish Po' Boy Sandwich was not a success – a small battered fish in a toasted baguette. "It resembles a Filet-O-Fish from McDonald's," she says, "only less tasty. Perhaps catfish doesn't travel."

My chilli con carne was one of the best I've ever eaten, hot and well-spiced, studded with peppers and mushrooms. Angie's All Star Lanes Prime Beef Burger is clearly a signature dish, and needs to be perfect. Her burger arrived barely tepid, and served rare rather than medium, as requested. It was high-quality fast food, but cooked without much attention to individual requirements. That's the trouble with chains.

Encouraged by our charming waitress, Jade, we ordered puddings. Baked New York Vanilla Cheesecake was a massive slab of rather dry polystyrene, impervious to the fruit compote that accompanied it. (Is this what they sell in Mindy's? Surely not.) The Banana Praline Split, by comparison, was fantastic, densely satisfying with crunchy nuts and clouds of squirty cream.

We left the All Star Lanes determined to return. Perhaps next time, we'll head for the one in Brick Lane – the latest addition. It's a very invigorating experience – what with the juleps, the rumble and crash of the bowling alley, the milkshakes (did I mention the Oh Sweet Jeez!, with peanut butter, banana, chocolate and caramel? It's like a liquefied Dime Bar) and the excellent chips, you can ignore the patchiness of the food. But a bit more quality control in the kitchen would lift this four-star night out into something even better.

All Star Lanes, Victoria House, Bloomsbury Place, London WC1 (020-7025 2676)

Food 2 stars
Ambience 4 stars
Service 4 stars

About £90 for two, including drinks and bowling

Tipping policy: "Service charge is 12.5 per cent discretionary, of which 100 per cent goes to the staff; all tips go to the staff"

Side Orders: Diners' club

Ed's Easy Diner

Old Compton St, London W1 (020-7434 4439)

This Soho joint is the real deal – think rockabilly memorabilia, classic burgers and delicious rum and chocolate 'alco-shakes'.

7 Hotel & Diner

London Rd, Polhill, Halstead, Kent (01959 535 890)

Make sure you try the giant T-bone steak and American waffles at this sleek black-and-white-tiled Fifties-style diner.

Damn Yankee

4 Stn Parade, Harrogate (01423 561424)

Devour a 'Scooby Snack' (bacon burger with cheese, onion and chilli) while admiring the Marilyn Monroe and Elvis ephemera on show.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Ashdown Group: Print Designer - High Wycombe - Permanent £28K

    £25000 - £28000 per annum + 24 days holiday, bonus, etc.: Ashdown Group: Print...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Travel Consultant

    £20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in London, Manches...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer and Brand Manager

    £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer and Brand Manager required for ...

    Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator

    £25000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator A...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent