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The Theatre Cafe Diner – 154 Shaftesbury Avenue, London

There was a short-lived venture down the road from the new Theatre Café Diner: the Shaftesbury Avenue branch of Leon is still there, but having launched in 2017 as a diner where the staff were hired for their ability to sing showtunes as much as their ability to get the right order to the right table, it wasn’t long before it rebranded and, well, became a regular branch of the Leon restaurant chain. In New York, meanwhile, Ellen’s Stardust Diner has been going strong since 1987, and seems to be a bucket list item for musical theatre fans who find themselves in NYC.

Theatre Cafe Diner (c) Jack Malin.
Theatre Cafe Diner (c) Jack Malin.

This is almost the sort of place one would relish taking someone who doesn’t like showtunes, just to expose them to the experience of having someone sing, say ‘Dancing Through Life’ from Wicked from just a few feet away. The singers are the waiters, and the waiters are the singers: if anything, watching someone go for it with a microphone, and receive applause at the end of their number, before putting the microphone down and pick up a tablet to take another order has to be seen to be believed.

It’s a young cast, largely filled with people who aspire to be treading the boards at one of the many nearby theatres, and their enthusiasm seems boundless. The song choices also seem to be reflective of the singers’ age profiles: don’t expect very much of the Great American Songbook to be served with your burger and fries. My fellow diner put in a request for a song from the Jonathan Larson musical Rent – we eventually got it, but there seemed to be a bit of a scramble to find people who knew the lyrics to ‘Seasons of Love’. The mischievous part of me felt like asking for an Ivor Novello number just to see what would happen.

Interestingly, I had a couple of messages from people who said they had attended the diner the night before, and having waited two-and-a-half hours for their main courses, the food had failed to materialise. I had devised backup plans in case (I recommend the Heliot Steak House in the Hippodrome Casino for carnivores, or otherwise Sagar Vegan & Vegetarian opposite the Theatre Royal Drury Lane) but our starters showed up after forty minutes, and the mains half an hour after that. Even so, they will need to keep working on getting that waiting time down – I would not want to be waiting seventy minutes for a burger either before or after a show.

The menu has some awesome, or cringey, or awesomely cringey, names for items: ‘La Vegan Boheme!’, which is probably what precipitated a craving for a song from Rent from my friend, has a nice ring to it, as does a chicken starter called ‘Whistle Down The Wings’. I can’t, alas, comment on prices, as there weren’t any listed for the press launch, but as far as the food itself goes, it was perfectly acceptable without being exceptional. It’s not one for the calorie counters, but if you don’t mind ‘battered onion rings’, ‘crispy fried mac and cheese balls with Caesar dressing’ and ‘double beef patty, cheese and bacon’, this will be right up your street. It’s always a challenge to open a new venture, but particularly so during a cost of living crisis – I wish the diner well. The litmus test, of course, is whether I would go again, and on balance, I honestly would. It’s fun with a capital F.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Across two floors, the diner has exclusive areas themed to some of the West End’s most-loved productions, such as Cats, & Juliet, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, The Play That Goes Wrong, Shrek The Musical, Kinky Boots, Frozen The Musical and many more! The diner’s walls will be covered in theatrical memorabilia with exclusive costumes and props from the shows we can’t stop talking about from London’s West End. Superfans can also book two special booths custom designed around Six and Heathers The Musical as well as a table in The Theatre Cafe Diner’s Royal Box, where customers can look down on the special Yellow Brick Road stage.

The Theatre Cafe Diner will operate alongside The Theatre Cafe, which will also be used to host special events such as West End Musical brunches, live performances from the stars of the West End and Broadway and an exclusive space to book for special theatrical events.
Though the diner will be taking walk ups, advance booking is strongly recommended.

Location 154 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8HL
Opening Times Mon & Tues: 3:30pm to 11:30pm
Wed – Sat: 12pm – 11:30pm
Sun: 12pm – 10:30pm

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