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Friday 20 September 2013

Ronnie Saunders' Diners Union

Friday 6th September - Two weeks ago I made it over to Ronnie Saunders' Diners Union in Shoreditch (with Team Flattersea - Maggie, Ali and Rich) which has popped up outside Red Gallery on Rivington Street.  It is open from 6-11.30pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and is aiming to stay there for the foreseeable future.  The premise is simple - 5 courses for £15 and BYOB.  Everyone pays the same, and everyone gets the same.  The eponymous Ronnie Saunders was the granddad of head chef Rolan Dack who describes Ronnie as a "champion of equality and a proper London character".  This project is Rolan's tribute to Ronnie, with the central aim being to bring people together with outstanding food.

A couple of our group were late, but this wasn't an issue at all as it is a free for all seating wise, and the booking times are there to roughly ensure that everyone doesn't arrive at the same time.  It is all under cover in a huge marquee, with long tables stretching the length of the tent.  We were given our trays and wine glasses on the way in, where we also paid our £3.50 corkage fee.  We then settled down and opened up the first of our four bottles of wine, and enjoyed the live jazz coming from the other end of the room.

To get your food, you queue up in the right line for course 1,2,3,4 or 5 where it is served to you directly by the chefs.  Make sure you take your wine with you!  It takes a bit of time as the chefs try and talk through the food with everyone which obviously slows things down, but is a very nice personal touch.  We never had to queue for that long, and I'm sure they will make it more efficient as the weeks go by.  Giving everyone a detailed paper menu (on the tray?) would possibly help.  Our first two courses were a Langue de boeuf, brioche and horseradish "club sandwich", and Brixham landings catch of the day, Bouillabaisse style.  1 & 2 were scribbled on our trays to signify that we had received them both.

Maggie encountered a couple of "First World Problems" at this stage:

1. "Oh no, I've got Bouillabaisse on my trousers" - tough times

2. "Whoops, I accidentally poured Villa Maria into your Oyster Bay" - ruined  

Having got through 2 bottles of wine, we started to make friends with our entertaining neighbours, Roger and Simon.  Roger is the author of "A Natural History of Ghosts : 500 Years of Hunting for Proof" (available to buy here), so it didn't take long for us to start swapping ghosts stories.  "What is more believable - ghosts or heaven?" kept us going for a while, before we went off in search of courses 3 & 4 - Leeks a la Grecque, and Coq au Vin.  Just in case you were wondering, they have an entirely vegetarian menu too.  We chatted to some of the corkage staff (including an old friend of mine) in the queue who were clearly having a great time, with BYOB applying to them too.  The atmosphere was really buzzing by this point, and everyone was in a sociable mood.  

When we returned to our tables, we were sought out by the Diners Union co-founder Cameron, who had been monitoring our happy tweets and decided to come and say hello!  He currently handles all of the bookings himself, and replies individually to every request - I'm not sure how long he will be able to keep this up, but the hands on approach is really refreshing.  He was also happy to chat to others down the table who weren't too happy about the queuing, and he was very open to their suggestions for improvement.  Courses 3 & 4 meanwhile were going down very nicely, especially the excellent Leeks a la Grecque.  We then ran out of wine, which was completely unacceptable, so our new neighbour friend Simon was sent out to buy some more from Sainsbury's over the road.

Head Chef Rolan and Maggie top left - Ali and Roger "Ghosts" Clarke bottom left
We eventually dragged ourselves away from the vino to get our dessert course - beautifully presented, delicious "Croquembouche" profiteroles.  I could happily have eaten 100 of them - I wonder how many the chefs tested just to be sure?  Cameron came back for another chat, this time with head chef Rolan (trained in the kitchens of Corrigan and Pierre White) who was doing the rounds.  He sat himself down and chatted for a while about fine tuning the experience.  He was mainly concerned with providing ample portion sizes whilst keeping costs down after a few comments that the starters were perhaps on the small side.  This potentially wouldn't be so noticeable if they called it 3 courses for £15, since we did receive courses 1&2 simultaneously, and similarly 3&4 together. However you word it though, it is great value and the food was high quality throughout.

Head Chef Rolan getting involved - Centre
We ended up staying all night with our friendly neighbours until a very friendly "bouncer" moved us on. I hardly ever stay that long in a restaurant as the cost of drinks gets too high, so BYOB makes a huge difference here.  The sociable atmosphere that they have created is wonderful, and made it one of the best nights out that Team List has had so far.  I have so much on my list that needs to be done on Fridays and Saturdays, but I am definitely going to leave some free and book Diners Union again before too long, and I strongly suggest that you do the same.  The menu changes every week so keep an eye on the website.  That said, I wouldn't really need to look as I trust that whatever they serve will be excellent!  Congratulations to Rolan, Cameron and everyone else involved - Ronnie would be proud!

I am currently trying out a fairly new website called Triptease for short posts - have a look and let me know what you think.  Click HERE to see my little page on Diners Union.


  1. Hi Matt,
    Thanks for the Triptease mention. Love your quirky finds!

  2. Thanks for the great write up Matt! Hope to see you at the restaurant again soon, Jessica x

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