Monday, 29 October 2012

Honest Burgers

A couple of things spring to mind for me (and everyone else no doubt) when thinking about burgers in London.  Over saturation of the market and clear front runners (lucky chip, meatliquor) in the battle for London's best burger, it seems like more choices appear on a weekly basis, but can they compete with the best?

There are 3 camps I suppose, the street market, the affordable and the high end.  1 and 2 have begun to merge, think Meatliquor which began life as the Meatwagon, and Lucky Chip, who from humble market beginnings now have established residencies and are, in my opinion still offering the best burgers in town.

The high end burgers appeal to me less and less these days, the likes of Bar Boulud, Hawksmoor, Goodman, Burger & Lobster, all coming in at around the £15 mark.

Honest Burgers have been around for a few years in Brixton and recently opened just off Dean St in Soho.  I went along with some fellow burger lovers to see which category these might fall into.  They're less than £10 for starters.  The Soho outpost remains true to it's predecessor in that it's tiny, and always rammed.  You roll up, put your name on the list and wait.  On the Tuesday night that we visited the place was full and we waited for about half an hour (would have been less if I hadn't been late but my friends kindly gave up a table and waited for me).

The menu is unfussy, there's a beef burger, a cheeseburger, a chicken burger, veggie burger and a daily changing special burger.  I went for that days special, the beef burger with chipotle slaw, griddled courgettes and Welsh Monterey Jack.  As soon as it arrived I wished I'd just gone for the cheeseburger, I had to remove the courgettes to make it possible to handle and there were masses of unadvertised red peppers lurking beneath the bun.

The cheese and the chipotle were lost and barely discernible but the chips were brilliant.  The burgers are actually quite small, the meat is flavoursome and juicy and the patties were cooked nicely medium, I wasn't happy with the bun. 

The rest of the table ordered cheeseburgers with various dairy options, I had a bite of Sue's stilton which was great.  I'd perhaps like a plastic cheese option as is de riguer these days but they're not down with that at Honest.

Now you'll all have heard more than you wish to about London burgers and most reports have been favorable but, for what it's worth, I wasn't blown away by Honest Burger.  We really are spoiled for choice when it comes to burgers and 5 years ago, these would probably have made my day, but for now, I'll be sticking to Meatliquor and Slider Bar. They do a nice G&T though, great straws.

Honest Burger
4 Meard Steet

Honest Burgers (Soho) on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

St John, Smithfield

I took a wander from work one lunchtime last week to scope out the latest Burger & Lobster venture on St John Street.  I was happy to find St John, just around the corner from Smithfield's market, the former smokehouse which is both the original site and the administrative HQ of the empire.

I've been eager to visit for many years now and can't for the life of me justify why it took me so long but I shall definitely be returning, it's great to explore my new work area a bit more and discover that places I imagined might be too far to travel for lunch are actually just a stone's throw away.

Two of us walked in shortly before 1 o'clock and were seated immediately in the more formal raised dining area.  There's a casual bar area with a slightly different menu chalked on a board above the bar which I'm keen to try on my next visit, and a smaller room which is available for hire.

I drank only tap water which was presented in a jug, always excellent, and bread arrived promptly.  White and wholemeal sourdough, baked fresh on the Spitalfield premises.

We ordered 4 razor clams between us to start which came doused in a brilliant lemon garlic oil (not visible in this picture, but there was a lot of it lurking beneath the shells).  The bread proved to be the ideal vehicle to mop this up and I'd go so far as to say these are the nicest razor clams I've ever had.

An American colleague had recently been lauding the St John take on welsh rarebit and urged me to try.  I did, and this is what arrived.  LOOK AT IT!!

It was a beast, and so intensely cheesy that it defeated us.  Even the sharpness of the Worcestershire sauce didn't stand a chance to cut through the richness of the dairy hit.  It was a totally unnecessary side order but I'm really glad to have tried it at last.

For main I had the Arbroath smokie with parsnips.  The stand out thing about this dish for me was the sauce, it was smooth, buttery and creamy and a perfectly subtle complement to the deep smokiness of the haddock.  The smoky waft that filled the room once the dish arrived was pretty intense, prompting an approving nod from a neighbouring table.

Thomas had the pan fried skate and chips, which was beautifully delicate and served with a wedge of lemon and some tartar sauce.  In the fgd above is the side of sprout tops we shared.  In all, we totally overdid it for a weekday lunch, but I continue to be in equal parts surprised and impressed by the lunch options in the EC1 area. 

One thing I'd say is that there's a definite masculine air to the place, with lots of solo business diners reading their papers or perusing emails on their ipads.  From what I could tell, after twice walking through it, this is less so in the bar area and I think that more casual dining atmosphere appeals more to me.

All this came to just over £60 and around 90 minutes, but who cares about an extra half an hour here or there, when you're having such a good time?!

Incidentally, yesterday I visited the Burger & Lobster, just a few doors down and on a Monday lunchtime, it was pretty deserted.  It's a nice space though, and obviously, as they bed in, the place will very soon liven up, if what happened at the Soho branch is anything to go by.  The standard of the lobster roll was up there with those I've tried previously, and we got a free raspberry mousse for pud.  If you work in the area, get down there, and you probably need little, if any, coercing to visit St John.

St John
26 St John Street

St John (Farringdon) on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

MEATmarket and London Cocktail Week

After a crazy week at work I can't really think of a better way to unwind than an afternoon celebrating London Cocktail Week around Seven Dials, followed by my first MEATmarket experience to soak up all the gin.

Thanks to John, I had a wristband waiting for me and we began the day at Smatt's rum and ice cream shack on Monmouth St.  I'm not a rum fan and made a massive error in ordering a cocktail that practically had visible vapors emitting from it, I forget the name, something about death and bitterness.

We cruised around Covent Garden's various gin pop ups, trying Hendrick's teas at the Monin Mad Hatter tea club, G & T with a twist of grapefruit from The Ginstitute, more G &T at the Fever-Tree Botanical Bicycle as well as Kamm & Sons punch & Judy Bar and The Gran Marnier Punch House.

It was a pretty boozy afternoon and by the end of it, we needed sustenance.  We head to MEATmarket where they were offering a vodka laced slush puppy type thing as their nod to London Cocktail Week, though the programme promised a Woodford Reserve cocktail.  Fortunately, we were just about done with cocktails.

I ordered a dead hippy (£7.50), so I could do a direct comparison to MEATliquor and I found their version lacking actually, and overall my heart still lies with MEATliquor, but we walked straight in and got a table at MEATmarket, so you can't argue with the plan to make things more accessible.  The girl at the counter was rather curt and dismissive, but then we can't have been the first woosy customers to amble in after a gutful of grog.

What I did LOVE were the poppaz (£4), little deepfried morsels filled with jalepenos and cheese.  I could eat these all day, they're quite fiery, but so moreish, I didn't let anyone else get a look in.  We also had the chicken wings with blue cheese sauce and the chilli cheese fries, all of which I know and love from MEATliquor.

I've heard talk about the buns here not being steamed like the MEATliquor ones, and whilst I don't recall them being in any way dry, there is something lacking in both atmosphere and quality of the food at MEATmarket.  The venue is less of a destination, it's more of a takeaway bar, and I know this is the idea and I'm all for avoiding queues if at all possible, but I don't mind queuing for MEATliquior, because it's MEATliquor!

Having said all that, a dead hippy was just what the doctor ordered to soak up all that gin at this point in the day, and it certainly did the job.  I hope the next MEAT appears in EC1!  It's dirty, it's cheap and it's hugely satisfying and still the talk of the town.
NB. Announced today (17th Oct) was the opening of MEATmission, Hoxton market, before the end of 2012, and they'll take bookings!  Hurrah, I work just down the road.

The Mezzanine
Jubilee Market Hall
Covent Garden

MEATmarket on Urbanspoon

Friday, 5 October 2012

Bubbledogs& - Kitchen Table

Having sampled the bubbles and the dogs at Bubbledogs& back in September, Art and I were 2 of the lucky few to bag seats at the official launch night of the '&' part of the name, James Knappett's Kitchen Table.

The room through the heavy curtain at the rear of the restaurant reveals 16 bar seats surrounding a small kitchen.  There is a seasonal menu with an ever changing rotation of dishes, served as a tasting menu.  The thing that really struck me about Bubbledogs& on my first visit was the outstanding service, every individual we spoke to was courteous and went out of their way to ensure we had a great time.  This continued on my 2nd visit, and at every step of the meal we felt amazingly well looked after. 

Dishes are described on the menu by highlighting what the main ingredient is.  We settled in with a glass of Kentish Hush Heath Estate, Balfour Sparkling Rose.  The room quiet as everybody eyed thekitchen crew in anticipation.  Here's what we ate:-

  Scallop - Raw scallop with pineapple marinated in fish sauce

Cod - roe mousse with pork scratchings

Chicken - skin topped with mascarpone and bacon jam

Cauliflower - raw, steamed and crumbed, on black pepper yoghurt

Seabass - served on sea astor with vanilla butter

Mussels - wood chip smoked mussels and razor clams.  
Foraged and pickled sea pursalane and sea astor

Beef - shortrib ravioli with butternut squash, wild boar cress and beef consomme

Duck - hearts with raw onion and onion powder, 
caper and wild garlic sauce with peanuts and chickweed

Burrata - with concord grape puree and D.O.C basil

Fig - pan fried with caramelized white chocolate, fig sorbet and frozen fig carpaccio

Pear - roasted pear cake with fresh pear slices, licorice ice cream and fennel tops

Blackberry - teacake with frozen blackberry meringue

The standout dishes for me were the chicken skin, the beef ravioli, and the pear dessert.  That cake was unbelievably good, I'm inspired to attempt to create something similar next weekend for a friend's Macmillan coffee morning fundraiser.

Our wine choice was from the North Island of New Zealand, Gem pinot noir Wairarapa and was a perfect match for the pigeon but also the less meaty dishes because it was very light. 

The personal touch offered here is quite unlike any dining experience I've had before.  There are kitchen tables in other restaurants, but here, they plan to have 3 sittings a night, every night that the restaurant is open, with the chefs introducing each dish as much of the prep, cooking and plating up is done before your eyes.  It really is like theatre and a 13 course menu for £68 is also very good value.

70 Charlotte Street


Bubbledogs& on Urbanspoon