In the US, where the rules of modern ten pin bowling were ratified and the game remains ever-popular, there’s a certain romanticism centred on the grimy experience that comes with a night of bowls. Lanes with divots, country and western music, cheap whisky and a very real risk of food poisoning are all part of the fun from Alaska to Maine.
But while that carefree, rugged version of the sport carries an undeniable appeal, in the UK - and particularly London - we’re treated to the flipside of the bowling coin.
In Britain, ten-pin bowling has become a pastime of the chic and trendy, where Friday nights in bustling cities can be spent knocking down strikes in between sips of a crisp mojito, or where high-end food can offset the sour taste of defeat to someone who still insists on using bumpers.
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The movement that has seen bowling “gentrified” in the last few year has been spearheaded by, among others, All Star Lanes, whose four London branches have just released a brand new menu for autumn/winter 2018.
To try it out, The Week Portfolio headed to All Star’s Holborn branch, where we settled down into an old-school booth with an atmospheric low-hanging light to sample a few of their newest items.
To start, we went for a sharing plate of their loaded nachos with spicy pico de gallo salsa, guacamole, sour cream, three cheese sauce and the interesting addition of a tangy buffalo sauce. Despite our concern that such a mix might make the nachos somewhat soggy or lead to lead to some of the stronger flavours smothering the others, the ingredients complemented each other well, aided by what can only be described as a deliciously indulgent helping of sour cream.
I moved on to the superb chicken burger consisting of succulent buttermilk fried chicken, house slaw and chipotle mayo, while my companions went for the gut-bustingly rich lobster mac and cheese, the delicate vegan Texan bean chili and a particular highlight, the crispy cod tacos with shredded lettuce, caramelised lemon and chive mayo.
The fries too are excellent, and guests can take their pick of classic skinny fries or the slightly chunkier sweet potato fries. But for my money the best bet is to cast your eyes across the menu to the cajun halloumi fries. Deep fried cheese dipped in mayo never tasted so good.
All Star Lanes’ new revamped menu also includes a unique vegan spicy sweet potato burger made with roast sweet potato and charred corn patty, while the salmon and prawn jambalaya and beef brisket bonbons make sure that their offerings remain firmly embedded in their Deep South roots.
Before moving on to the cocktails or beer (or bowling, for that matter), we treated ourselves to a couple of the Lanes’ hard milkshakes, the standout of which was the Oreo Shake: Oreo ice cream, whisky and milk swirled with chocolate sauce and topped with Chantilly cream and a whole Oreo biscuit.
We hit the lanes for a few slightly buzzed rounds of bowling with a selection of cocktails including a tart, robust margarita with El Jimador tequila and a rich, smokey old fashioned, before heading out into the night content and - more importantly - full of good food.
In the same way that a great haute-cuisine hotel establishment might be referred to as a restaurant with rooms, this is no ordinary bowling alley with a diner attached - it’s a restaurant with lanes.
All Star Lanes has launched its new menu at all four London branches (Brick Lane, Holborn, Stratford and Westfield White City) and its Manchester branch.
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