Several weeks back, we declined a PR invitation to celebrate the Legendary Burger at Hard Rock Cafe, but instead, thought we should check it out in our own time, on our dime and so get the real experience. There's not so many blog posts on Hard Rock, I think Chris Pople pretty much killed those dead in their tracks with his devastating assessment back in 2011 (read the post here). According to UrbanSpoon, this was the first, and to date, the only independent blogger assessment of the place, strange for a restaurant that is so popular, there is almost always a queue and a wait time to get in. Accordingly, it simply has to be worth a look (and after Reform, I'm prepared for anything).
Our conclusion might be surprising to many: there is a genuine and valid place for Hard Rock Cafe in the London hospitality sector in our opinion. To be clear, Hard Rock Cafe isn't a place for food bloggers. It's not even a place for people who read food blogs. And it's certainly not a place for people who can name London's top ten burger joints faster than most people can name their own children. The small amount of food that I tried was bland and instantly forgettable, even as I was still chewing it, but it never scaled the heights of being totally awful. So why then am I being so kind?
The reason that I can forgive them the food is that while sitting there, watching everything with my beady blogger eye, I came to appreciate that HRC had created a proper service culture that puts to shame many a 'better' restaurant. The greeting on the door is a smile and welcome, approach the door and a member of staff is there to open it for you, the staff seem to genuinely like people (it's amazing how many waiters in other restaurants can perform their task professionally but fundamentally don't actually like people).
Nothing seemed too much trouble for them. If you are one of those fussy eaters (the table next to me was - can I have that without the mustard, this on the side, and I don' t like....), the answer from staff was always 'no problem' said with all the appearance of sincerity. Sodas at Hard Rock are 'bottomless': my glass never sat empty for more than 30 seconds before my waiter Erik (we're on first name terms) breezed in to swoop up the empty glass and replace it with a full one. And when one family with two smallish children were leaving, their waitress, who had clearly engaged with the munchkins, walked out with them to the pavement to say goodbye; it all ended with high fives for the little people. For sure, high fives are not what I want as a food blogger, but if I were a parent with children in tow, I'd be thrilled. Perhaps that approach to service (and of course an undeniably impressive rock memorabilia collection) is why my fellow diners were a remarkably diverse group of individuals.
The no problem approach also meant I could order my burger medium rare 'no problem' and that's actually how they cooked it, it just didn't taste of much and the cheese on top was a scary fluorescent yellow. The bacon, and I have to point out that I'm never a fan of bacon on burgers here, there or anywhere, only served to add an unwelcome chew and make it a little salty. To be honest, I didn't bother finishing my Legendary Burger, couldn't really see the point. But if, as most, you're too busy trying to read the inscription on Eric Clapton's guitar to really worry about the shade of yellow of the cheddar, you're in solid company. The meal is something else to do, something to chew, while your attention darts around the room clocking the display: most probably finish their food without realising they've actually eaten something (other than now feeling full up, food quantities are decent enough). And to be properly fair, the food here is if anything better than most available 'pub grub' meals in London that tourists would otherwise find themselves eating and the surrounds are ten times more exciting.
So while I didn't see much point to their Legendary Burger, I did see a point to Hard Rock Cafe. You don't go there for the food, you go there for the experience, and that's why we think it has a place in the London hospitality scene. We've been in plenty of restaurants this year, good restaurants with great food, where the service was not a patch on what HRC offered, so seeing us not wanting to go back. A rude waiter can dampen your day just as much as a shitty burger, sometimes more. So even though I didn't like the food, and even though the place overall is not my thing, they treat you well in a unique surround, and for the majority of people I'm sure, that's more important than queuing for an hour and a half in a quest to discover London's best burger.