Wednesday, 24 July 2013

B.O.B's Lobster - A Contender or Emperor's New Clothes?

My diet seems to consist of burgers, burgers, BBQ, ribs, fried chicken and burgers. What London is missing is quality seafood, that is reasonably priced (Michelin dishes with one small lobster tail for £50 don't count no matter how good they taste) and preferably somewhere that doesn't involve a two hour queue. A lot of restaurants and pubs nowadays have a grilled half lobster on the menu. Burger & Lobster obviously have to be mentioned when talking about seafood, their £20 lobster rolls are a decadent, but affordable, treat. Only problem is that the queues can be fearsome - especially later on in the week. There are some other good options such as the classic Sheekey's, Green's, Lobster Pot, Wright Brothers who all either do lobster or specialise in seafood, but again, price can be an issue and you usually have to book Thursday onwards.

B.O.Bs Lobster

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

#bleeckerspitroastgangbang - Inappropriate Burgers and Hashtags

For those not 'in the know', the McGangbang is not a sexual euphemism for an appalling sex act involving Scottish clowns, but a 'secret' sandwich combination available at the wonderous Golden Arches. Oh MaccyD's, where would society be without you? Its creator is unknown to us mere mortals: some speculate he was a College 'Bro' of the highest Bro-order, others that he was a bodybuilder trying to bulk up on the cheap. See, a McGangbang is a double cheeseburger, patties split in twain, and stuffed with an entire McChicken sandwich. Both items were originally on the US Dollar menu and the sandwich cost only $2.16 in total. I suspect that you would struggle to get more calories, 'meat' and minutes taken off your life at such a bargain anywhere else. Sure your HMO may adjust your premiums by a few hundred dollars a year for getting one - but that's for 'Future You' to worry about. Forgettaboutit.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Ribstock 2013: A whole lotta BBQ! We aren't in Kansas anymore.

Now from the title of my blog and if you follow me on twitter, the types of pictures I regularly post, I am a big meat eater. 800g steak, no problem. Rack of ribs and a side of brisket, done. Steaks, pork belly, lamb chops - anything with a heartbeat. I am always drawn the the slow cooked meaty ragu, off-cuts or big, bold meaty dishes in any menu. Naturally then BBQ is a deep abiding love of mine. It hits all the notes that satisfy my cravings, eating truly great BBQ with its flame licked crisp edges, succulent meat and lashings of sauce dripping down your chin, it's as close to a sensual experience with your clothes still on. Plus what sad bastards cook only veggies on a BBQ? Veggie-free zone. Heaven.

When Ribstock 2012 popped up I was only just getting involved with the whole London foodie scene and sadly I was out of London so missed it. This year I was determined to make it but when it was announced I was a little shocked by the price and more so by the fact it was double last year. That said, Tweat-up were upfront and honest with their reasons and we as customers have to respect that ultimately, this is a business. No one likes hosting backyard BBQs for friends only for them to show up with no alcohol and leaving you out of pocket and all the washing up.

Ribstock Crews (Pic courtesy of Mulia)

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Homeslice Covent Garden Review: Suprisingly Uncommon

Grabbing a great ‘pie’ - as the Americans call them - in London is about as rare as finding quality Indian food in New York. It’s there, you just can’t find it. There are only a handful of places that can justifiably be said to serve quality pizza in Zone 1. Princi and Rossopomodoro are contenders while out in other Zones, street traders such as Fundi, Well Kneaded and Pizza Pilgrims (often trade in Zone 1 and soon to be at a bricks and mortar site on Dean Street) offer even better options. Sacre Coeur and the ever-expanding Franco Manca valiantly service Zone 2's cheese-related needs.

So why the lack of great pizza parlours in Zone 1? It can’t be an issue of low profitability, pizzas are one of the higher margin products and there are far too many awful slice-microwaving takeaway kiosks in the West End fleecing tired hungry tourists before the Angus Steakhouses could (RIP) for that arguement to hold true. Maybe it’s that people are happy with the tasteless cardboard served out of Pizza Express and Zizzis? Maybe people aren’t fully aware how much better something as simple as a pizza can be? If that's the case maybe it is time for a revolution, I mean you only have to look at burgers for a precedent.

Seating -space at a premium

Hawksmoor Spitalfields: Revamped Bar

The blog has been a bit slack of late, and for those of you that actually read this, I can only apologise. I have however been continuing to eat over the last month (fortunately) and so some reviews will hopefully be winging their way up onto here soon.

Anyway, as for today's post it is for the revamping launch of Hawksmoor's Spitalfield bar found in the dungeon beneath the main restaurant itself. They have also got a new food menu and as is traditional with Hawksmoor, the first month is 50% off food so I duly waddled along to partake in some inevitably meaty treats. On the meat overload I did not disappoint dear readers. Of course this 'review' should be taken with a pinch as it was only the second day of the menu and tweaks will (hopefully) be made. Until then there is the 50% off to offset some sub-par issues.

The Bar

Friday, 24 May 2013

Jose Pizzaro: Spanish Simplicity

Spain has a long and inspiring culinary history, every province resonates with such a clear cultural identity, forged from a mixture of nature, politics history and the available ingredients. Cantabria with its amazing boquerones, Castilla y León and it's superlative Iberico pork and Valencia with its paella. There's a vibrancy and passion for food that matches both France and Italy, yet is given far less credit by the external food community. While Spain boasts some of the highest ranked restaurants in the world: El Cellar de Can Roca being named the best in 2013, Mugartiz (4th), Arzak (8th) and of course the previously imperious El Bulli; a Spaniard has never even ranked in the top 3 at the fabled Bocuse D'or and the country has only half as many three starred Michelin restaurants as those sausage-eating, sauerkraut-loving Germans.


Thursday, 2 May 2013

Burger & Lobster Review [Farringdon]: Catch of the Day

Back in 2011 London slowly started mirroring a very New York trend for single-dish restaurants; so much so the Graun even wrote an article about it. By 2013 it seems that despite our love of supermarkets and the mantra of "Choice, choice, choice!"; when it comes to eating out we prefer to take the less taxing route. Virtually every Soho joint is a 'singlet': steak, noodles, falafel, burgers, meatballs, even mash potato! Clearly fans of Adam Smith's work, I can appreciate that the potential to create something truly special, when you only have one dish to focus on, is that much greater. Burger & Lobster caught on early, opening their Mayfair joint in 2011 and they took the limited menu idea one step further by offering everything at the same price. No starters just a lobster roll, a burger and a whole lobster each for £20. Needless to say they became rather popular. Since then they have opened three other locations around London in Soho (Dean St), the City (St Pauls) and Farringdon. Because of the other trend of not taking reservations and my general lack of patience for queuing when I'm hungry, I'd never actually been before. To rectify this I met up with Clerkenwell_Boy and Burger Addict at the Farringdon branch. Will, who runs the whole network, kindly showed us around the kitchens and the tanks and answered all our annoying blogger questions. Thanks again Will, t'was very kind.

I think we're gonna need a bigger boat

Friday, 26 April 2013

Burgers: A London Sampling

Two slices of bread and a slab of meat, simple ain’t it? Although bread has been eaten for thousands of years in countless forms and humans have been eating meat for just as long, it took a surprisingly long time before someone thought to combine them. Bread was the original crockery; in medieval times stale bread was used as edible plates soaking up the juices of whatever was being eaten, leading to open–faced sandwiches. Bread is even used as the delivery vehicle such as for Shooter’s sandwiches or pain surprise. Despite the vague claim of a Jewish religious leader being the inventor of the sandwich, the widely accepted factoid has it that back in the 18th century the Fourth Earl of Sandwich was the first to have the bright idea to put cold meats between two slices of bread. Handy during a game of cards as marking your hand with sticky fingers is not a good thing

Fast forward a hundred years and some bright spark decided to put some hot mincemeat in a bun and the burger was born. No one knows exactly who the innovator was and frankly I don’t care, what matters is that it was created. What seemed like a relatively simple evolution has led to waves of innovation, debate, favouritism and politics. Burgers were big news in 1950’s America with Whitecastle pioneering the fact that burgers, uniformly shaped, could be made fast. Then McDonalds created the franchise and with these two weapons they unleashed a steady torrent of meat slurry into the face of Joe Public. They ate it and they loved it. 

Over the years our love affair for the burger has waned, becoming a symbol of everything that is wrong with modern society – greed, lust and excess. Greasy, fatty fried meat in a carbohydrate-packed bun served with oily chips, washed down with high-fructose corn syrup. Soon governments and media declared fast food as the 'food of the poor, the stupid and the gluttonous'. "Shame on all those that eat it!” they cried. Do it, and do it now; lest we have time to look at ourselves dunking our chocolate digestives in our tea and dripping on our copies of the Daily Mail. Acres of trees are cut down every week to ensure thousands of column inches can be dedicated to how we are eating and drinking ourselves to an early grave and taking the taxpayer with us. The face of this epidemic: the humble burger.

Outside of the world the Daily Mail seems to have created, the burger has made a comeback. The food culture of this, and many European countries, has exploded and people have decided that they will eat anything as long as it tastes good. Fuck the diets, what matters is taste. A form of self-fellatio, people run around endlessly like food junkies desperate to get their next fix. McDonalds is scorned and mocked, not because it is unhealthy, but because it’s shitty solidified grey sludge. Look at American chains such as In-N-Out. They are heralded by both the press and the public, yet the offerings are essentially the same. The only real difference is taste and one saying they care about the quality of what they are serving. Both are still high fat, high carb foods.

London has more than its own fair share of burger joints. Mega-chains such as McD's and BK as well as smaller chains and independents. Below I present six very different offerings from around the capital. A street food van, small independent types, dirty slices of Americana and one supposedly down-on-its-luck chain. Forgive me for not visiting the Golden Arches for comparison - I think we all know what that tastes like.

Bleecker Street - Simply The Best
I've written about these guys before and to signpost where this is going: this is, in my opinion, the best burger in London. Full stop, hands down, shake it all around. A more controversial point would be that I don’t even think anyone else is even close - maybe only the guys directly below. When I tell friends this I find it hard to describe why exactly. The bun is pretty straightforward and there are none of my favourite accompaniments such as pickles, pickled/caramelised onions or a spicy sauce. What it does have however is exceptional beef, tasty cheese and some moreish burger sauce. The bun is beautifully toasted giving a nice crunch and there are two thin circles of charred onion that gives a light smokey flavour. The cheese is pure Americana and gives a creamy blanket for the patty. Overall though, the star is the beef.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Alba: Unfortunately Forgettable

Just that morning my flatmate was asking about reasonably priced Italian places in London. I was racking my brain, at half past eight in the morning refused to work. Bocco di Lupo, Locanda Locatelli, L'Anima? All bit OTT for your average Londoner in search of a better-than-average bruschetta. Polpo and Trullo probably comes closest but one doesn't take reservations, and at the other trying to get a table at a time approaching normality is a rarity. Plus, Islington is a right slog for us staunch Southeners. 

So then, that night I was meeting my father for our usual father-son catch-up dinner and he had booked Alba in Clerkenwell. A quick peruse of the menu showed it to be a mid-priced Italian jobbie with underwhelming choices. My hopes were that the quality of the ingredients would gild the otherwise unimpressive lily. Unfortunately my instinctive apprehension was well placed as it proved to be correct as the food was simply rather forgettable and the interior was a little lacking in style and seemed a little dated. There were several tables of elderly folk tucking into the set menu. I'm not one to bash the elderly, but a general rule of thumb is that if a restaurant has a large number of them, the food is often less than inspiring.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Yum Bun: Best Buns in Town

You have to respect anyone who actually chases their ambitions above and beyond just sending out a few CVs and sloshing back a few glasses of mid-priced overly acidic Sauvignon Blanc at another networking event. To look at your life, with a solid job and steady income and say “fuck it, i’m out”, takes balls that require a wheel-barrow for transport. Everyone thinks about it, everyone talks about it: “Oh yeah, recruitment is like totally just a short-term thing. What I REALLY want to do is move to Indonesia and become a scuba instructor.” Well, fuck me Mr Cousteau, please don't let me be the one to stand in the way of your dreams. Just this morning on the tube I had an idea about peer-to-peer medical services done over video chat. Doctors from around the world would log on whenever they were free and patients would be matched by language proficiencies. The video diagnoses could even be checked by a cloud of doctors for an additional fee. I thought about who to contact, how the business model would work etc. Am I ever going to do any of this? Come on, I can’t even get the motivation to change the batteries in the TV remote and just sit rolling them back and forth trying to eek out the last electrical drips.

Blythburgh belly pork with hoisin, sriracha, cucumber and spring onion

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

BrooklynFeast: A Cold Feast in Dalston

Streetfeast is one of a handful of London organisations that seek to bring street food to the masses. Between them, WeFeast and KERB, multiple events run every month to serving up incredible food at interesting locations with an party atmosphere.

Streetfeast had been in hiatus for a while and the BrooklynFeast was their return to the forefront with a rather trendy event in Dalston on a bitterly cold Tuesday evening. The venue was as hipsterish as it gets, an old car park which itself was a disused building full of shipping containers and beaten up old bangers. The team in charge had done a great job in filling the space. Plastic chairs and some floodlights this was not. Glow lights and back-lit signs were hung in and around and across the open spaces between the traders vans. Several large marquees were put up and filled with plentiful seating for a change. Best of all, they actually stuck their head out the window, realised it was beyond ‘just a bit nippy’ and rented a dozen heat lamps. For more pictures I’m sure Kate Beard from took some great pictures so keep a look out on her blog.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Lucky Fried Chicken at The Grafton: Clucking Brilliant

Lucky Chip are known for their top quality burgers with celebrity inspired names. What you may not know is that they have also started doing some pretty phenomenal fried chicken. The bad news is that they are only doing it till the end of this week. You can find them at the Grafton Arms, however don't be a twat and simply Google the pub and end up somewhere near Warren Street like I did. They are based in the Grafton Arms near Kentish Town tube.

The Grafton itself is one of those vast expansive pubs that likely seem very lonely during the day when its half empty. Fortunately full with punters the atmosphere was great and it was slightly surreal seeing dozens of sober people calmly tucking into family sized buckets of chicken. Upstairs is a smaller space with beautifully tiled walls and comfy booths while  above the bar is the traditional back-lit takeaway menus complete with retro 70s font. As for choices, the only real choice is what size bucket you want your chicken to come in. Alongside your bucket you get some authentic Southern sides: mash slathered with gravy, slaw and hot rolls. Fries are a optional extra. They also have two burger options but these were unfortunately off the menu the night we went.
Picture says it all

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Yauatcha: How Not to Treat A Customer

Food blogs are funny things. Ultimately it is just one person's snapshot view of a restaurant. What would bring you to read my views on a restaurant you may well never visit? I guess like all critics, as a s/he is read more and more, the reader compares it with their own experiences and they learn to trust the critic's opinion, or not. They may also come for the writing, or they may even come to satisfy their raging food-porn obsession if the blogger has spent a suitably grotesque amount of money on the latest SLR wonder box of tricks. Did you SEE the bokeh on those?!

Food critics for the New York Times have rules about the number of times they have to eat at a restaurant before they can review it. As to with the Michelin process. Too many times have I seen negative reviews because the kitchen sent a few bad plates out of the thousands that week. It may even have been the only bad plates to get through the pass all year. Nonetheless, bloggers often write up a scathing review and move on to the next terrified bastard holding everyone to Michelin levels. For things that are cheaper like burgers/street food, I will generally try to go several times before writing it up. I understand that everyone pays the same amount for each plate but if only 1% of the orders are duds then it is unfair to say the quality is poor if you’ve only been once and gotten unlucky.

The Karczma: Cultural Oasis in Birmingham

Every country has deep-rooted divisions between its peoples, often stemming from jealousy (or arrogance, depending on which side of the fence you are on). Germany has Bavaria, France has Paris (and Cote D'Azure) and the UK has those living south of the Watford Gap. The UK North/South divide is interesting as it encompasses more than just monetary differences. It’s how you vote, the way you take your tea, what sort of beer you drink, if the person in the next town can understand you. For those of us not fortunate to have been born in this green and pleasant land, it essentially boils down to those in the South thinking the North is a giant barren wasteland full of ugly, smelly, alcoholics on benefits, while the North think Southerners are weak arrogant tossers that think even their farts smell of sunshine and roses. The jury is out as to who is more accurate.

What is a fact though is that London is the best city for food in the UK by both quality and diversity. Vietnamese? Yeah, I know a lovely authentic place run by a family in Camberwell, Korean BBQ - New Malden, Cambodian - a great little place in Camden. French and Spanish is covered on every street in Soho - tapas to cordon bleu - just pick your fancy. 

Lavish Interior Design

Monday, 18 February 2013

London Street Food 2.0: Brick Lane, Kerb, Brockley, Red & Borough

The last time I wrote a street food post it included a multitude of traders over multiple locations. I thought it was an easy way of showing the range of cheap, quality fast food available to the average Londoner. This is the same. I appreciate its rather long but there are also lots of lovely pretty pictures to entertain those with shorter attention spans. 

I was happy when I saw the post getting widely retweeted because these guys work fucking hard and deserve greater publicity than they currently get. The London street food scene has exploded over the last year and there are some great characters and custom modified vans that are beginning to rival the culture found in New York or California. I love street food because it's a great equaliser. Huge bank rolls can only do so much if your product is pants. Put McDonalds onto the streets next to the likes of Burger Bear or BleeckerSt and they wouldn't last a day. Your advertising is limited to who can see your sign, twitter, and people like me. It's capitalism as its most simplistic - those that create a superior product thrive. those that can't match them fall away. Hopefully that means they'll be a race to the top, not the bottom as demonstrated by the recent Horsegate scandal in supermarkets.

Its a well known fact across continental Europe that markets give an area a sense of community and that's what is beginning to happen in and around these sites. Come summer I expect it'll be at its height. Cyncial or overly-manufactured vendors will be shunned. Passionate, hard-working, talented traders will continue to thrive. Vive la révolution. The (Burger)King is dead, long live the King.
Market Happiness

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Fairuz: Warm Welcomes

Overly sweet and sour pork with boil in the bag rice; microwaved salmon and tomato pasta; a leg of lamb, still in a roaring oven, whose last traces of blushing pink was lost some 20 minutes ago. Childhood memories, hardly Larousse Gastronomique. It may surprise you however to hear that these are some of my fondest meals. Why? Because they were cooked by my mother. It doesn’t matter if your mother was Delia or a Ramsay kitchen nightmare; her food will always have a special place. Part of the reason for this is the strong emotional bonds between the cook and the customer.

Restaurateurs either ignore this fact, or grossly misjudge it and try to be cringingly 'matey' (read: Jamie's Italian). It is a rare treat in a gastro-joint, or Michelin-starred tasting menu food-palace, that you forge even an inkling of a bond with the chef or his food. You are there to be wowed and to stand in awe at the expensive ingredients and fancy techniques. Too often customers are served the chef’s vision. Emotional attachment is rarely forged through perfection and more from endearing flaws and genuine warmth in the way it is served.


Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Diner Soho: Superbowl Burger Excess

The Diner kindly invited several burger enthusiasts for a tasting of a new monster burger they are rolling out for their Superbowl party. Now although they are sold out for that evening (see bottom of this post), for those that aren't fans of 'football', but are fans of burgers as big as your head, this beast will be rolled out for the week following the event, 4 - 10 February.

Its called the Stiff-arm burger (see this for explanation) and is one of those plates that actually get you a little worried when its brought to the table. That little flutter of "fuck, am I actually going to finish that?! How do i even start it?!" while people turn to stare from other tables. You'd be right to be worried. The Stiff-arm contains a 5oz beef patty, an 8oz Jucy Lucy (we'll come to that), jalapeno slaw and 'football' sauce all in cased in a poppy-seed Rinkoff bun. So that's 13oz of meat give or take. Its a fearsome plate of food.

The Stiff-Arm

Monday, 28 January 2013

A Little Slice of History: Ben Spalding @ John Salt

A lost post of 2012, a wonderful evening at John Salt with Ben Spalding at the helm. This is probably the most pointless post of the, still young, year. Why post about a restaurant, whose head chef was usually mentioned in the sentence before his employer's, when he there anymore? Well, two reasons. Firstly, for preservation: to carbonite the evening in space. To 'Han Solo' Ben's cooking if you will. The main reason however is to show people a glimpse of what Ben's cooking is about and that like his Stripped Back street food joint proved, a chef doesn't actually have to have some fancy digs to be a great cook. As I write, this Ben is publicising the first of a series of events on EventBrite.

As was announed late last year, Ben and John Salt parted ways pre-maturely, leaving those with bookings a bit miffed I'd imagine (although provided with a very reasonable 50% discount). That being said, Neil Rankin who best known for wearing the gloves at Pitt Cue, has taken up the rather large mantle and by the look of my twitter feed doing a damn fine job. I'll be going along as soon as I can and I'm as excited as I was the first time around. This post wont go into the reasons why Ben left and frankly, I do not care. That's only half true. I don't care why he left, he is talented enough to pop-up somewhere else soon enough. I do care that I have to wait for that. See, beneath all the crowing and beard-stroking about his techniques, passion, skill and obscene work ethic (he produced his own salt for gods sake), Ben does indeed understand why things should be on a plate. Sure there are some air-balls - kiwi scallops and caramel covered bricks were duds. But there are also some wonderful little gems in things as ridiculous to see on a menu as 'rotten mango juice'. His is a talent that could no more be ignored than that guy who insists on trying to continue the conversation inside a lift.

Weekday 9 Course Menu

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Battle of the Giants: Steak Wars

Prost - Senna, Ali - Frazier, Borg - McEnroe, Hendry - O'Sullivan. Since the first person to kick a rock into a cave opening, past an outstretched monkey, man has competed. And competition breeds rivalry. More enthralling than the rivalries and the heights they push themselves to be the best, are the spectators' intense love or hatred for one of the two. Great rivalries: the ones that last, are those where the two competitors are polar opposites. One cool, laid back and usually Nordic. The other an angry, brass young upstart, usually American. You can tell a lot about a person's character by whom they pick out of Ovett or Coe.

Sport and its competitive nature is a metaphor for many things in life. One of those mentioned less often is the rivalry within the food world. There are great examples: the American v Lafayette Coney hotdog war in Detroit, North Carolina v Kansas City for BBQ and the most famous the race-to-the-bottom: McDonalds v Burger King, to make the least edible burger (congratulations McDonalds, you just sneaked it with the McRib)

The reason I live (Note: Not a McRib)

Sunday, 20 January 2013

The Green Man and French Horn: Gem of St. Martins

London has always felt a great amount of envy towards its culinary superpower across the channel. While the French sipped their cafe au lait and nibbled warm buttery croissants; Brits shoveled down ham and cheese toasties washed down with milky tea. We have always been defensive about our traditional cooking, the French usually guffawing at our attempts at bold flavours and delicate desserts. London has been hit by the food revolution and it seems we have more French restaurants than Paris. Typically, the market is skewed towards Café Rouges and Chez Gerards - serving over-cooked, toughened steak frites and pre-made deserts straight from the fridge. The top of the market is well-catered for by the Rouxs, Ducasses and Koffmans. What has been missing is the simple, passionate cooking reminiscent of the brasseries and auberges. Recently there have been some strides in the right direction such as Brasserie Zedel dominating the Piccadilly area. 

The Green Man and the French Horn is nestled down in St Martin in the Lanes, a stones throw from J.Sheekeys and Asia de Cuba with Le Garrick just round the corner. It's somewhere I've had had my eye on ever since reading The Perfect Trough's review. The venue was formerly a pub and it has the usual narrow entrance which makes for a slightly awkward wasted space. The interior isn't too far off some of the auberges of the Loire region, each table is different design and the plates seemingly odds and ends. This is a deliberate design plan, not a lack of money (the owners are behind Terroirs and Soif), however it still has a sense of charm. The ambiance suffered due to it being midday on a wet and cold January, but when full during a dinner service, it would undoubtedly be a cozy bolt-hole busy with chatter.