As I live but a few jumps up the Jubilee Line from The O2 at North Greenwich, I’m not the sort to quibble about its middle-of-nowhere inaccessibility. I’m sure it feels, if you’re from Tulse Hill, like a remote, far-off land, when 20,000 people in merch-stall cowboy hats, drunk on Smirnoff Ice, are stampeding towards the southbound platform escalator at 11pm.
But I’m not sure anybody, including me, really adores a trip to The O2, and that’s mainly down to the pre-show dining experience: varied in choice, uniformly abominable in service and standard. At around 6.15pm most evenings, the Harvester at The O2 puts me in mind of Wilfred Owen’s First World War poem Apologia Pro Poemate Meo: ‘Past the entanglement where hopes lie strewn.’ One can eat the contents of Harvester’s freezer, hastily deep-fried, for just shy of £20 per head.
I have experienced the culinary splendour of a Chiquito’s Tex-Mex sharing platter and I have stared sadly at the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet at Water Margin as it was ransacked by Duran Duran fans of all of its prawn crackers and pork balls in orange gloop. Booking a loved one dinner at Garfunkel’s or Frankie & Benny’s at The O2 is a perfect way to communicate: ‘We just want different things: you want to be in this relationship; I want you to take your bin bag of tat back to your mother’s.’
And then into the mix came Brooklyn Bowl, a rock’n’roll-themed bowling, dining and live music experience. American fare, local craft beer, Queens of the Stone Age blaring. Things, for me, were looking up. I love bowling, much as I love any ‘sport’ — darts, karaoke, roulette — where booze randomly appears on a tray. If Brooklyn Bowl were run correctly, by people with the remotest interest in hospitality, it could be the perfect rainy bank holiday bolt hole.
Instead, it is one of those London experiences that leaves you wanting a shower, a Rennie and a little cry. A ray of sunshine with a clipboard grumped ‘Name?’ as we entered. Two plastic menus were slapped on to a charmless table beside a muted mega-screen playing music videos, while the speakers blared out different songs.
The O2 has surpassed itself by creating a restaurant that isn’t even a restaurant, but instead a drab, joyless bowling alley with a space for live music in which they stand tables and serve food so abysmal that I didn’t even take home a doggy bag for my Labrador.
We ordered two Brooklyn lagers along with two whiskey chasers (to numb the pain). The servers found this so confusing they clarified the order three times and finally delivered it to the wrong table. Rock and roll fries, a snip at only £7, was a large serving of drab, thin, opposite-of-homemade chips, sprinkled enthusiastically with a brown ‘Cajun’ powder, covered in Cheddar cheese and microwaved into a sturdy lump.
The famous fried chicken platters, served on trays with white bread and a bottle of honey, were a solid-gold abomination. Unseasoned, sweating chicken in a sludge-flavoured breadcrumb crust begins at £18 for eight pieces. This terrifying meat burned in my memory for days after. It turned me temporarily vegetarian. A side of grim, inedible, overly stewed collard greens arrived featuring lumps of wobbly pork gristle. A cucumber salad sat forlornly on our table, thoroughly ashamed of itself.
It is an art form for a restaurant to sell food so resolutely insulting and still remain open for business. I left wondering if there is a very long German word for the sensation of leaving a restaurant where the food is so bad that you eat almost nothing, but feel full because you’ve been completely put off eating.
As the 7pm pre-gig rush evacuated, silence descended over the cavernous room. All the tables, despite hours of service remaining, were now empty. I doubt that worried the management. It’s The O2. There will be 20,000 more idiots passing through tomorrow.
The O2, Peninsula Square, SE10 (020 7412 8778;london.brooklynbowl.com)
3 Brooklyn lagers £17.70
2 whiskies £10
1 rock and roll fries £7
1 eight-piece fried chicken platter £18
1 collard greens £5
1 cucumber salad £4
1 glass Merlot £6
12.5% service £8.46