Lego Downtown Diner Review: A Retro Aesthetic That Modernises the Modular Range

By Tom Pritchard on at

Last year was a great year for Lego sets, and 2018 is looking to be no different. We've already seen Ideas' first contribution, the Ship in a Bottle, but we also managed to get our hands on the first big Lego-exclusive set of the year: The Downtown Diner modular set. It's the latest contribution to the long-standing modular range, producing another set that involves a layered urban building that can attach to other sets in the range.

The set is £130, and involves 2,480 pieces. Let's take a look at what it has to offer.

The Build

In terms of the build, the Downtown Diner was split into five sections. The first two build up the actual diner on the ground floor, part three is the gym on the first floor, part four is a recording studio, and finally part five is the roof and the classic 50s-era pink car.

I completely forgot to time myself here, but it wasn't a particularly quick build. More than a few hours, but less than several. It's certainly nowhere near as bad as the 21 1/2 hours needed to build the UCS Millennium Falcon. Like a lot of big Lego sets, though, most of the time came from the fact there are a lot of small details that require small fiddly pieces to be put together.

Thankfully that fiddling only relates to Lego pieces, since there aren't any stickers in this set. Zero, despite some of the custom artwork that appears up and down the place. Everything is printed on, which is always a good thing because stickers are the absolute worst.

But the fiddling pays off. It's a lot harder to get the small details right with large easy-to-place Lego pieces, not unless they're pre-sculpted that way. The small flat pieces on the front of the building are the best example of this, all locking together to form a brickwork pattern that's far nicer to look at than what could be accomplished with the larger bricks. The 'roof', for want of a better word, of the diner itself is as well, with three separate layers that needed to be fit together to create that curved '50s-esque aesthetic. Again that could be done with pre-sculpted pieces but those would need to be built from scratch which is expensive. The same goes for the spiral staircase at the back of the building: a pain to put together, but the payoff was worth it.

Speaking of building new pieces, though, there aren't really any new pieces to consider here. Everything has appeared in some shape or form in sets of the past, although the teal bricks seem to be a new addition. It might be a colour we now associate more with the design-based anarchy of the '90s, but it certainly fits in with the retro-aesthetic here. Plus it makes it more interesting to look at than using something more common, like red.

The build itself wasn't too taxing, despite the fact this is an 'Expert' difficulty set. It helps that the instructions these days have started highlighting changes in yellow, so it's much harder to miss the little changes that can easily go unnoticed until you're five or six pages down the line. Still the number of small pieces and detail put into everything means you do have to be patient. There are 2,480 pieces to get through, so this was never going to be like the cheap £20 sets you can put together in less than 20 minutes.

There were a few points where attaching stuff was a little tricky, because the force needed to properly affix the bricks ended up detaching some of the things underneath. If you've ever built sets with quite thin sections, you know what I'm talking about. It's not like these points would cause areas of the build to shatter and force a backtrack, but it's something to look out for none-the-less.

Things I Liked

There are a lot of little details and parts in the Downtown Diner that make it great. Here's a list

The hanging punching bag was a great little touch, particularly since it isn't fixed in place. It actually does swing around as one would expect from a real hanging punching bag, even though the minifigures themselves will never really go head to head with it. I just wish the floor wasn't totally smooth, so I could place the boxer next to the punching bag without him slipping over. Same goes for the boxing ring, actually.

The gold vinyl record is a small silly piece, but I like it none the less. The fact that it's there really helps you to believe that this floor is a legitimate serious recording studio belonging to a record label - not just a soundproof room used to record YouTube videos for children.

Similarly the sound booth itself is quite nice, with the jagged pieces on the wall to 'soundproof' it from the mixing desk While it's pretty bare on the inside, it's those touches on the wall that bring everything together.

I liked the skylight too, even though it's a very simple design. It's not just a window built into the roof, it's a glass door with an adjustable arm to keep it open. It's one of those minor touches that shows how much Lego evolves, when you compare it to older sets.

Finally is the stove. Or more specifically the area just above it, where the extractor fan would be in a real life restaurant. It's an upside down piece, but it fits into place perfectly and is a great example of how versatile raw pieces can be.

This is also the first modular set to have minifigures with actual expressions, rather than the classic Lego smile that's existed for decades. Frankly that's a change that's long overdue, and it's really quite surprising it's taken until now to do something so simple.

Things I didn't like

The car wasn't a particularly necessary inclusion, and like ones from past modular sets (I'm specifically thinking about the Palace Theatre) it doesn't really have much to do. Lego's tried to emulate the look of classic '50s convertibles, particularly with the rear wings, but it seems overly blocky and not really up to the same standard as the rest of the set. Adding a lot of detail into such a small space is a challenge, and Lego's done an admirable job, but it still feels like it could be better. And to be honest it's not really necessary for the rest of the set, I feel like it wasn't worth the effort of building.

I'm also not particularly fond of the 'back alley' area behind the diner. While the front of the set its covered in flat pieces to mimic a pavement, the back has just been left bare for some reason. Why? I don't know, but it would have been nice to have something back there rather than bare beige studs. It does, however, provide just enough space to park the car.

My final gripe are all the little pieces that are suppose to live in one place for aesthetic reasons, but are left completely loose. There's a pancake in the diner, some glasses, gym equipment, and more, that are completely free to fly around unimpeded. It's kind of annoying, especially when you're moving it around to try and find a place for the set to live.

Overall

The Downtown Diner is a lovely set, and while some casual brick-fans might be put off by the £130 price tag, anyone who's ever bought and loved any of the previous modular sets won't be disappointed. The design is unique among sets too, with lots of curves and rounded shapes shattering the idea that Lego has to be blocky and somewhat ugly because of it. If you don't have any modular sets, this is probably the best one to get started with. If you do, then this is going to be a fantastic addition to your plastic street.

It's not perfect, and there are some flaws to contend with, but it's a great set to go out and buy - regardless of whether you're buying it for play or as a set piece. It's not overly taxing, but it's not so simple you feel like you're not getting your money's worth out of the build. The building process is part of the fun after all, so you don't want to spend £130 and finish it off in a couple of hours. Lucky that's not the case here.

The Downtown Diner is available now, and is a Lego exclusive. That means it's only available in official Lego stores, or the Lego website.

TL;DR

  • The first modular set to ditch Lego's classic blank face in favour of something better
  • Great for play or display
  • No goddamn stickers
  • Fiddly build in places, but the payoff is worth it with the extra detail
  • A number of pieces don't actually lock into place, which is a pain
  • A big build, but it's not too challenging or time-consuming
  • Some may be put off by the price, but it'd a must have for Lego fans - especially those with older modular sets