Nearly a century and a half ago, Walter Scott, a hawker in Providence, Rhode Island, converted a horse-drawn freight wagon into a self-contained mobile restaurant, which served pies, sandwiches and hot coffee. This inauspicious event was the birth of the diner, which by the turn of the century had become elaborate wagons in fixed locations throughout North Eastern USA. They were the first fast food places until they were eclipsed in the 1950s by burger joints.
There has been a revival in retro chrome plated Deco diners. For the first time a Michelin-starred chef has created a haute cuisine diner in the middle of Paris – Pavyllon – the Gastronomic Counter. Yannick Alléno, the only chef with two three-star Michelin restaurants in France, has converted a section of the ground floor of Ledoyen, his grand Parisian restaurant, into a 50-seat diner, complete with semi-rectangular bar in front of the exposed kitchen. There are a handful of small tables along the wall, but the real action is at the counter. The elegant spare design seems more Japanese than the juke box look of the classical diner, but the homage is definitely there. When it comes to the food though, the similarities fall away – this is inspired three-star cooking in a fast food setting. Other chefs, such as Joel Robuchon, created counter dining with his L’Atelier de Robuchon concept, but these are smaller and more inspired by the pintxos bars of Spain.