Few press invites have required such a careful selecting of a plus one as this one. Usually it’s just a case of finding someone local, who I get on well with and who is available at the right time. This time I wanted all that, but also someone who is up for new experiences and prepared to try something a bit different. Luckily my selected victim said yes, so we rocked up to Karen’s Diner on Tuesday night.
The Brummie Karen is in Grand Central, next to the Kitty Cafe. If you are walking into New Street Station from Stephenson Street, head straight up the escalator as you walk in. I loved the decor: there was a lot of pink and it had that American diner vibe. There were some lovely touches, including the pink phones which bore the legend ‘stay away from my phone by order of the peaky f*ckin Karen’s’. I liked that they’d adapted their look to suit the city.
We were greeted rather rudely, as you’d expect, but the staff at the door did make sure that you knew what you were letting yourself in. There was a very casual handing over of menus and we were told to find our own table (we were given the number of it). The menu is quite simple. You don’t want to be asking these staff for a load of explanations. To be honest I don’t think you’d come somewhere like this, if you were a fussy eater or had a lot of stuff you needed to avoid. Despite the apparent dislike of Karen of vegans, there are gluten free and vegan options available. Expect to get some teasing about ordering a vegan burger though.
The first thing that happened was that we were given a colouring sheet and crayons. The crayons were dropped one by one on the table with a frown. Don’t expect this to be therapeutic colouring – the paper is too shiny and the crayons are poor quality. To be honest though it just added to the experience. We coloured in our Karens and studied the menu. Whilst we were doing that some diners were told to come up for a game – a sort of punishment I think. They spun the wheel and the person that had been picked on had to do the dare. The first victim was soon crawling around on the floor and barking as part of her dog impression. She took it all in good part. The next victim got karaoke, but didn’t seem too keen. The staff seemed to realise his genuine discomfort and instead got the whole section up on their feet for a quick round of head, shoulders, knees and toes. It’s a bit noisy in the restaurant, so your embarrassing experience is unlikely to be heard by anyone sitting more than a couple of tables away.
Ordering was certainly an experience – expect to have the micky taken. We picked out some cocktails: The Tropical Karen and The Sour Karen (can you guess which is which?). Whilst we were waiting for our food, we got to do a lot of people watching. Lots of people were coming up for a look at the diner and then seemed to chicken out of coming in.
Our meals came and were put down rather roughly. We had to bravely ask for some napkins, which were brought over straight away and dumped on a nearby empty table. We saw other people having one meal put down in the correct place and another meal on an empty table or a drink left on the server’s station. Underlying the attitude though the service was very good. We didn’t have to wait long for anything and it was all correct. They have a lot of serving staff because of the theatrical side of things, so you actually get fairly few tables to each member of staff.
We ordered the ‘I want to see the manager’ Karen burger and the Basic Karen Burger. They were good quality and very tasty – the meat was good quality and nice and juicy. We were full after we’d finished. The only slight downside was that the burger bun was a bit flimsy underneath. I’m glad I got up the nerve to ask for the napkins because I needed them.
Karen’s Diner is not the place to come for a romantic candlelit dinner, but it’s a fun restaurant that really is a bit different. I actually found the sullen service quite refreshing, rather than the usual ‘Is your meal alright?’ just as you have taken a big mouthful of food. Don’t come if you don’t have a sense of humour or prefer a more traditional restaurant experience. I’d happily go to the Brummie Karen (or one of the other branches) again.
Disclosure: I was given a free meal for myself and a plus one for the purposes of this review.