Fancy Eating with Madre: Kaspar’s at The Savoy

This was a new job congratulations for me, booked many months before I actually had got my new job. Sometimes timing works out well.

Mother got this as a Bookatable. She likes Bookatable. And Wowcher. And Groupon. Previously we have got these vouchers for the Waldorf (afternoon tea for my graduation. Live music and a “congratulations” brownie. Very nice), Simpsons-in-the-Strand (for a different graduation. Some of the tastiest British food I have ever tried), Cafe Murano (for a new job two years ago. Loud, friendly staff, nice food for my less-refined palate), L’Autre Pied (for my birthday. My first Michelin, and, to date, only, Michelin taster menu. There were many depths of flavours, and I was surprised that I was full at the end of it all. I particularly enjoyed the table next to us who were having the wine pairing menu and got increasingly drunk – a glass of wine for each measly course – as the sommelier smugly corrected their wine guesses) and an afternoon tea off Hyde Park (excruciatingly hot in a conservatory during the Olympics, decidedly average afternoon tea). So, based on past experiences, I was looking forward to dinner.

I was late. Mother commented that I needed new shoes and asked what was wrong with my knee.

We were seated.

Walking through the Savoy is quite grand. Cameras were out in full force. The staff didn’t seem to mind. I suppose this is where a lot of their trade comes from, and why judge people for having a good time and wanting to treasure that when they are bringing in money.

Kaspar’s is at the far end. It was surprisingly light compared to the main entrance foyer, and I would say had the nicest decor of all the Savoytaurants.

We were seated by the window, overlooking the Thames. The northbank of the Thames is the lesser of the two banks. Still, water is a nice viewpoint.

The seafood was fresh and well cooked and seasoned, showing that expensive specialist seafood restaurants sure do know how to cook their seafood.

The meal came with champagne, which Pierre found expensive and unnecessary. Regardless, it was tasty. The staff were very nice, and were even happy to take a picture of us all at Mother’s behest.

The bread was good. It was all good in fact.

We spoke about pollution and my new job. I thought about how my accent was already changing having moved from Manchester to London just two weeks ago. It was the August bank holiday weekend and I was looking forward to going back to Canterbury, where I would continue to eat myself into oblivion.

Of all the Groupon/Wowcher/Bookatables, Kaspar’s is one of the better ones. That’s grouping it unfairly. It is some of the best seafood I have ever tried. Though evidently wasn’t filling enough, as I then went to my grandad’s and ate two bowls of Chinese soup. There was a walk in the rain in the meantime so I suppose I made some room and deserved the extra food. I then had dinner later as well. That was overboard.

Savoy2

My first flowers on a plate experience. Delicate. Light. A good starter.

Savoy4

Mother tried the steak for a main to be different but wished she went for the sea bass. The fish did beat the meat.

Savoy7

A surprising amount of flavour was got out of the summer berries and sorbet, and an impressive array of berries. Palate cleansing goodness.

Savoy6

Slightly heavier pastry, but still palate cleansing. And it was light, crisp pastry.

Savoy3

The main, slowly winning me around to celeriac. The broth was phenomenal.

Fish

The starter. Maybe this was sous-vide. Cucumber done right.

9/10 – sometimes I have expensive taste.

Kaspar’s Seafood Bar and Grill, The Savoy, Strand, London WC2R 0EU

 

Advertisements

Fancy Eating With Madre: Abode, Canterbury

Preamble

Yesterday I went to Chutney’s, an all you can eat Indian vegetarian near Euston for £6.95. I ate physically all that I could manage to eat and 24 hours on I am still full.

Sometimes it is better to eat with finesse.

Another adventure from the weekend: on Saturday evening I went to Royal Festival Hall to catch the Press Photographer of the Year exhibition which finished yesterday. It was worth visiting; sorry you missed it.

While there, I happened upon a moustache competition, as part of Movemeber. It finished and I went back to the exhibition. Halfway through walking around I realised that I had lost my ear muffs. Figuring that I probably left them on a seat, I went back to the competition area. I spoke to a member of staff who shuffled me along as I was ruining their filming and informed me that another member of staff had indeed picked them up. He flagged down the other member of staff.

“Ear muffs,” he said, gesturing in my direction.

The other member of staff then reached out her hand to introduce herself to me, thinking that the first member of staff was introducing me and that my name was Ear Muffs.

“No, she’s the person that lost her [gestures] ear muffs. Who do you know that’s called Ear Muffs?!”

“With names today, you never know.”

I got my ear muffs back and laughter was had all around.

The Review

My mum booked a table at the Abode on 5th November, because nothing says fireworks like the “nicest restaurant in Canterbury”.

I remember I once had a trial shift at a cafe – which is now closed – on the Kings Mile. A cyclist stopped in the pouring rain and asked if there was a hotel nearby. They recommended The Abode  and only The Abode. The most expensive hotel in town. To a cyclist. In the rain. I wonder where he ended up.

We went for the pre-theatre menu because it was cheaper than the usual menu.

IMG_20151107_183010

The menu was pretty chill, and I was feeling rebellious

The restaurant was smaller and less crowded than I had anticipated. The din of people reviewing their food to each other was abound. I also overheard some general theatre talk. No-one’s checking, you don’t actually have to be going to the theatre to get the deal, diners.

IMG_20151107_182524

It wasn’t too noisy. Mother doesn’t like noise. She quite likes The Abode.

Pierre was the only of us to order bread. He is a cooking teacher and is often hard to please in restaurants. We went to my grandad’s last year post-Christmas and was not amused by the Pizza Hut that was ordered in. Maybe that’s not the best example of snobbery. And he still ate four slices.

IMG_20151107_185009

We all ordered the salmon to start. It was cooked sous-vide, which, as Masterchef has taught me, is quite a lazy way to cook a fish.

“What is sous-vide?” asked Mother

“I think it’s when it’s vacuum sealed and then cooked in a bain-marie.” I replied.

“No, no, it is not that. I will have to ask for the recipe,” Pierre chimed in.

It tasted fine. I would rather have had regular smoked salmon as I still can’t get fully behind the texture of a sous-vide dish, and there could have been more flavour in it.

Mother and Pierre enjoyed it.

The waiter came and explained what sous-vide was. Pierre discussed buying a bain-marie and vac pac machine.

I ate some bread. The olive loaf was very tasty. Olive loaf is my favourite bread for now.

The main course came.

IMG_20151107_190718

IMG_20151107_190723

No picture of the steak, just the bass twice because sometimes things are better left to the imagination.

Mother and I both ordered the sea bass. I can seldom resist the sea bass. We also ordered a side of salad and some chili spiced broccoli. The broccoli was some of the blandest that I have ever tasted, and, at £4, some of the most expensive. Last time I went home we managed to get some broccoli for 25p from Waitrose. Who said bargains weren’t to be had at the supermarket du jour of the middle classes.

French stepdad had the steak which he enjoyed, though not as much as the starter.

The sea bass was passable.

It’s a shame when they use such nice ingredients, present it quite well, but really fail to deliver on flavour.

The water was nice.

Mother and Pierre ordered Petits Fours, and I ordered the peanut butter chocolate fondant. I’m really into peanut butter at the moment. Last week I began eating copious amounts right out of the jar because I’m a filthy glutton with no decorum.

By this point I was quite full, but soldiered on to finish my dessert, and some of the Petits Fours.

IMG_20151107_193719

Chocolate soil and quenelles: never out of style.

IMG_20151107_193723

I can’t remember what this was. Pierre was quite happy with it. Also, he and I are the only two people keeping BlackBerry afloat.

IMG_20151107_194229

I thought this looked beautiful but I sent a picture to Hans who deemed it disgusting. I suppose it is both.

Mother asked by there were only three Petits Fours, and Pierre told her the French meaning of the word, which I cannot recall.

IMG_20151107_194948

They looked very pretty. Here you can see that I ate half of each. I am still not won over by macarons – the texture and the flavour (too sweet) don’t really do it for me. Apparently you should have them in Paris if you are to have them at all, but I think I would always prefer ice cream. The brownie was good.

The bill came, and a comment card. Pierre asked for the recipe of the sous-vide salmon on the comment card. He is still waiting for that email.

After going to the Abode my coat belt went missing. Probably a coincidence, but maybe not.

Mother asked me what I thought. I said I preferred the Savoy. She said that I had expensive taste. I also prefer a whole number of restaurants. To name three: Dirty Burger, my local noodle bar Hikari, and my favourite restaurant, Young Cheng.

Taste trumps pomp.

5.5/10 – Mo’ money, mo’ problems.

Abode, 30-33 High Street, Canterbury, Kent, CT1 2RX

Brick Lane Eating

“Sometimes it’s nice to just go on the journey without having a real end in mind.”

These were the words that my friend, who I will call Ilga, said to me as we embarked on a ten mile cycle around east London.

We met at Brick Lane, because, for over a month now, I have been endeavouring to try the culinary offerings of The Ribman, proud purveyor of “The Best Ribs In London.”

Annoyingly, I first found out about The Ribman the day after I first went to Brick Lane. On that day I tried some Thai Food – some type of sausage, some type of duck, both very tasty – in  a small cafe towards the Shoreditch end. Mary and I were the only people in the restaurant/cafe until a family with crying baby came in. Mary was not amused. She paid and we left.

I had been recommend Brick Lane beigels (pronounced “buy-guls”, “because they are Jewish”) and so, having just eaten, resolved to get in an out-the-door queue for a beigel. There are two beigel stores right next to each other – the yellow one and the older one – and, as the queue was longer, I opted for the older one.

Beigel

We went to some overpriced costume exhibition which Mary greatly enjoyed, then basked in the October sun on the steps of Christchurch Spitalfields (recently renovated by Dow Jones architects, who I admire for the originality of their name) while I chowed down on my cream cheese and salmon beigel. I do enjoy the dough of the beigel, and smoked salmon with cream cheese for £1.70 is an absolute steal.

Mary and I have not spoken since.

One month later, Hans and I decided to meet on the weekend for the first time since I moved to try Ribman. Hans has bought some of The Ribman’s sauces and is also a big fan of meat, so what better way to spend a Sunday?!

Hans was late.

The Ribman was sold out and had left.

For future reference (to myself) make sure you get money out either at Liverpool Street or the Sainsbury’s near Shoreditch before embarking on Brick Lane as all of the ATMs charge upwards of £1.70 for withdrawals – a full bagel lost in lieu of a cash withdrawal.

I bought a beigel from the yellow shop. We queued for a good 5-10 minutes, deciding on bacon before, at the last minute, changing out minds to ham as it looked more appealing. Hans immediately tried the beigel to see what the big deal was: tastier than a normal beigel; cheaper than most everything else on Brick Lane. Plus the history!

Mildly defeated by the lack of Ribman, we went to the indoor market.

For our first course, Hans opted for a Brazilian beef roll from Tico’s. Had he not gone for this, I would have as the smell and the point of difference made it, at the time, the most appealing stall in the vast indoor market.

BrickLane1

I messed up the picture of the actual dish, but you can see a sample beef rib bun above.

BrickLane2

Badtography

It was meaty, had a hit of spice, and was lovely and moist. I haven’t had much Brazilian food before but wouldn’t be against going to an all-you-can-meat restaurant, hopefully without the Bridesmaids results.

Next, I was up. I wandered around the entirety of the indoor market before deciding on the stall that I had seen within the first minute of walking. That’s how it often goes, but tis better to know than to be left forever wondering.

Hans specifically said that he didn’t want Cuban food, but to hell with Hans: they had a boombox, great smells and a genuine Cuban guy making it. Authenticity is the zenith of modern living. Plus, I fancied pork.

Bricklane3

Timing is often everything. The customer on the right of the above picture was, I presume, a regular. The server gave him extra – again, I presume because he was a regular – and the customer asked for skin. The skin is on a separate plate, given only to those who know to ask for it.

The skin is definitely worth asking for.

I can’t believe I didn’t add any additional hot sauce to my dish. Oh well.

For £5 (the Brazilian dish, above, was also £5) you get quite a substantial meal.

BrickLane4

The salad and sauce helped to cut through the meatiness of the pork, and also the meatiness of the first course. Hans commented that the plantain “has an almost fruity quality” to it. He then learned what a plantain was. Rice is also under the bed of food. On the whole it was a bit drier than I would have liked, but still wholly enjoyable.

For dessert, Hans opted for a Filthy Banana, pictured in his hand. This was £4.50. The staff were quite “cool”, and the putting together of really, what is banana and ecoutrements in a pot, was quite theatrical. A standard dessert.

We wandered the streets  until dusk (4pm) before bidding each other adieu. I went off and had a passable roast.

Which brings us to a week later.

Ilga and I had not met in nearly a month, and she had just broken up with her boyfriend. It’s important to meet up more regularly in these situations as a friend in need is a friend indeed, and friends going through stuff often want to eat more.

We met in Brick Lane.

She was running late.

Ribman was nearly sold out – or so his Twitter said.

“Sad or not, she better not make me miss Ribman again, dammit,” I thought to myself.

A man came up to me and gave me his card.

“That’s a lovely bike you have there. Give me a call if it every needs fixing. And get a brillo pad to buff that rust off. Then all the boys will be after you.”

Ilga showed up. We rushed through the market, straight past Ribman.

I looked on Ribman’s Twitter and deduced where he was: about midway up Brick Lane, near the stall with lots of fruit cups and smoothies; opposite the churro stand.

“I am so glad you’re still here! I missed out last week and have heard good things.”

“Hopefully you won’t be disappointed.”

“I’m sure I won’t be.”

We went for a medium (yes, the picture below is medium. There are small (£5) and large (£10) options as well) to share, which was £7. He asked if we wanted hot sauce or barbecue sauce. Get both. Barbecue on the meat, hot on the sheet (side).

There’s a park just off that stretch of Brick Lane which is ideal for sitting.

And eating.

IMG_20151122_132539

Goodness, it was quite majestic! Tender, moist and tasty: the trifecta of perfection for street food. Or any food. It was slightly colder than I would have liked it to have been, but it was street food on a cold day and was still quite hot, so stop picking holes!

The best ribs in London? They may not be ribs (“I’ve never seen ribs off the bone before. There is so much meat!” Oh, Ilga.) but they sure are damn tasty.

Mark ‘The Ribman’ said that he tends to sell out at about 1.30/2.00 every week. Maybe he should make more? As it goes on until 5pm. But this type of hype doesn’t lie. Get there early and make your Sunday.

Ilga then suggested that we go to Hackney City Farm and Haggerston Park for an explore for the rest of the day. This took us 45 minutes total, including travel.

“Being from the countryside, do you find city farms a strange and backwards concept?”

“No, they’re great. Otherwise you have to trek out the countryside to teach children about farms and that’s more of an ordeal than it should be. This is lovely.”

I stand by my sentiment.

Duck

This duck is achieving everything that I want to achieve with my yoga practice.

It was lovely. Farms are great. Take yourself, and especially your children (if you have any) to the farm today!

There is a lovely cycle route from Haggerston Park along the Regents Canal up to Victoria Park, which you should stop off and go round, then continue up the Canal where it says to walk your bike, but just cycle slowly and carefully otherwise it’ll add a good 30-45 minutes to your journey with the extent of the works, up through Mile End, and finally to Limehouse Basin.

Dismount at Limehouse, lock up your bike well – Ilga got her’s stolen there once – and enjoy some apple crumble/pie.

IMG_20151122_154147

A 15 mile cycle means pork and pie is guilt free.

Buns of pork > buns of steel.

Though protein can mean buns of pork –> buns of steel.

All in all, if you’re hungree on a Sundee, head to Brick Lane markee. (hungry, Sunday, market).

Also, if your bike is ever stolen, apparently it may turn up on Brick Lane market. Take a look!

Ole!

Pseudo-lebrity Chefs: Wahaca

I first went to Wahaca several Fridays ago. The following day I went to Manchester, sad that my dress was ruined but happy that the food tasted good.

Waterloo Wahaca on a Friday night unsurprisingly requires a roughly half hour wait. They give you a buzzer and allow you to sit at the bar. How kind.

The bartender recommended a new cocktail – the spiced daquiri, with rum, winter spices and fresh lime. It was sweet, refreshing and indeed spicy, and better than the Wahaca Colada that Paul had. Men can have fruity cocktails too. He tried my daquiri and agreed. The bartender was clearly after a tip. He did not get one.

Half an hour later we were plonked on a small table next to a family of three. I get the feeling that they may have had to move the child to seat us, but I’m sure that the staff had more decorum than to do that.

They should maybe have given us a menu while we were waiting at the bar as it took another ten or so minutes to decide on what to have. The one thing that I knew that I definitely wanted was the black bean starter which came recommended by Hans. Being able to read well, I, of course, ordered the wrong thing, opting for the black bean and tomatillo tostada when what I meant to order was the frijoles and tortilla chips.

After much looking at the menu (link below), we opted for “an adventure”, because we were feeling adventurous and decisions are hard.

Wahaca_menu_Oct2015

Plus an addition of the black bean tostada. I wanted to try the fish tacos, but that’s for another time I suppose.

There are seven dishes on the “an adventure” menu, plus churros as a dessert. Add the addition of the tostada, and we ended up trying nine menu items in total. All were very good.

This is probably an unfashionable thing to say, as Wahaca is a chain and chains have no soul. But chains happen for a reason, and Thomasina Miers did win Masterchef – fine, before it was really difficult and “cheffy”, but in the series that made me fall in love with Masterchef and expose me to the world of professional cooking – so clearly has a somewhat good palate and passion from cooking. Tasting the food from Wahaca, there is no “somewhat” about it; it’s just damn tasty food. Even the cauliflower cheese was notably delicious.

My highlight would either be the salmon sashimi tostada, with the texture edging it ahead, or the pork pibil tacos, although I did add quite a bit of sauce to this. That’s what table sauces are for though.

The family next to us were replaced by a loud gaggle of American students.Four were seated at the table for two. I wondered how Paul could stand to work with American students every day, then I thought I should stop being such a dastardly misery.

We ordered more drinks. Again I grappled with the order and went with the waiter’s recommendation of the passion fruit margarita. Ten minutes later he came by to ask how are cocktails were. We had not yet received them. He stormed to the bar and shortly afterwards we received our cocktails.

The churros were the biggest disappointment of the meal, not least because I am a klutz and spilled chocolate sauce all down Friday Dress. The chocolate was very nice and rich, but I remain unconvinced by churros. Give me a doughnut, or most other desserts, any day.

I went to get an early night for my 5.30am wake up call.

Round 2 #FatFriday

Hans was determined to celebrate Fat Friday this week. I was not really particularly bothered so just figured that we would go for a walk and see what happened.

We walked down Leather Lane.

He did not fancy Leather Lane.

We “headed North West”, but somehow ended up back at the Exmouth Market Post Office: the great magnet of the EC region.

We continued walking up, passed Sadlers Wells, and I decided that we would venture to Angel. Getting there in good time, we went further down Upper Street. At this point Hans realised that his sister lived very close by and I realised that I had eaten at a Pizza Express there with Muriel two years earlier. Muriel and I also returned £100 that the person in front of us at the ATM forgot to take. He didn’t seem very bothered, but another woman came up to us and exclaimed that she saw what we did and we were good people. We didn’t end up in Metro Good Deed Feed, so how good was our deed really?

Time was getting on so we figured that we should turn around. Hans suggested that we walk through Islington Green as our turning point. He then suggested that we went to Chipotle.

“If you want Mexican we might as well go to that Wahaca across the road.”

“They don’t do takeout.”

“We’ll see. I quite fancy that black bean stuff that I ordered wrong last time.”

They did do takeout, but their menu was limited to burritos and basic sides.

Hans ordered a pork burrito. I ordered the off-menu frijoles, which they happily obliged in putting through for takeout.

We spotted a fooseball table and played that until our food came (10 minutes maybe?). In this time, Hans managed to beat me three times over. We had far too much fun with such a basic game. I really am terrible at it.

A load of customers came in. Upper Street gets busy on a lunchtime. Our food came. We left.

Walking Lunch: they gave us two big bags of tortillas and a pot of salsa with our frijoles. I dipped in. Refried beans (and some crumbly cheese) shouldn’t really be that tasty. Why have refried beans not overtaken salsa as the dip of choice? It was a perfect “nibble”/starter to any Mexican meal.

Once I inhaled the frijoles I realised that I had been holding the pot of salsa but not tried it. Hans suggested I eat it at my desk. I did. It was disappointing.

The burrito had a crisp wrap – I would suggest that all burrito places follow suit as it adds a pleasant texture to an otherwise excess part of the meal (excess, except for the purpose of holding the food together).

A Side Note

Hans loves Mexican food but is quite blasé about burritos. Our first #business #lunch was at Daddy Donkey which I very much enjoyed and he thought was fine. I spiced mine better, asking for chunky corn and smoky chipotle, whereas he just went for the chile de arbol. It was the fastest burrito I have ever seen made, and is the biggest that I have had so far. Not bad for £5.95 (for pulled pork). I even said that it was my favourite burrito in London.

Back to Review

Wahaca knocked Daddy Donkey, and every other burrito that I’ve had, out of the water. The flavours were complex and interesting (often burritos are very much of a muchness), and the way that the sauce dripped meant that it got tastier the more you ate of it.

My gloves are now dirty, as is Hans’ suit, but by gum was it worth it! That, and taking a lunch break 15 minutes over my allotted time. The absolute greed.

The tastiest burrito that I’ve ever had. And Hans has ever had.

Freshly cooking it certainly makes a difference. This may be the end of my fast food burrito days. Crisp up those tortillas, all.

I didn’t eat for a while after just so I could savour the aftertaste.

Play it again, Thomasina. I don’t know how to finish this.

9/10 – you can’t stay clean if you’re doing Wahaca right. A darn tasty Mexican joint (I speak like this now).

 

 

 

A Vague Journey Through Burgers: Bleecker Street Burger

I completely misjudged my evening plans. “Winter Wonderland” was suggested. I thought that this meant the Christmas stuff around Southbank, but what it actually meant was the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park.

So I suggested that we go to Bleecker Street Burger, which I have been keen to try for a while now (two weeks is quite a while in today’s fast-paced society. It has topped a number of “Best Of” lists, and also came recommended by someone who had never tried it. I wanted to check their clairvoyance). Consequently we were very late to Winter Wonderland and only got to go on the ferris wheel, wasting a load of tickets. Alas.

The Southbank “restaurant” is simply a van on the riverside with two picnic tables for seating.

untitled2

Not my picture. Picnic tables not pictured. Is this even the correct location? Who knows.

The menu, as with most good burger places, is quite limited. Take a look for yourself:

9d4713cdc3076ea12ba107724a0f9dd7

Paul ordered the bacon cheeseburger. I asked what the Bleecker Black was (it didn’t have the description on the side of the van) and they told me, while also up-selling like an American (it’s late, I can’t simile well) saying that it won an award. He then tried to up-sell on the drinks, but we stayed soft.

They asked how well we wanted our burgers cooked: medium rare is the default, and who are we to argue.

I like trying new things. I was excited.

We were told that we were next to be served. We could see that, being that there was no-one else around and all.

Our chips were called as ready. Our burgers were not. They probably could have waited with the chips.

The burgers came.

IMG_20151120_200028

I looked at it and felt that it was quite small, though looking at the picture now I see that itw as indeed two patties with a black pudding in the middle. Quite a bit of meat there, greedy Sophia. #FatFriday. Paul’s bacon cheeseburger had the top off for some reason; mine was cut in half, I presume to show that it was big.

The Bleecker Black was the tastier of the two; it had a richer flavour, and the size of it made for a more satisfying bite. There were a few stray onions that were probably unnecessary, and the cheese was surplus to requirements but did give some added moisture.

The chips were standard, and, being outdoors in the first real wintery day of the year, went cold quite quickly.

The skaters opposite had a fight with fire extinguishers. Where did they get them from? Did they go out and buy fire extinguishers? Is there an office block somewhere at risk of burning to the ground because their extinguishers have been stolen?

I enjoy sitting on the South Bank watching people. It was quite cold this evening, so I expect it would be moreso on a warmer day.

It pains me to say,  I was wholly expecting to be won over, that Bleecker Street Burger is overhyped. Maybe I have become accustomed to the finer things in life (brioche buns), but it didn’t leave me speechless, or really much of anything.

A queue formed after us.

We left.

6.5/10 – Tender meat, the black pudding made for a rich eat, but I don’t see why this tops so many lists. Dirty Burger still reigns supreme.

Search for the Perfect Pizza: Pizza Pilgrims

Tempt fate and it will happen the next day. At the end of my post yesterday I wrote a brief review, courtesy of Paul, of Pizza Pilgrims. Today I lived it. Or went.

#FatThursday

Hans texted me, as he does most days, “business lunch?” We pushed back the time several times as it was raining, then it got quite late and we left in peak rain.

“How fortunate, Sophia, that we waited for the rain to stop so that I could come for lunch without an umbrella.”

I previously had said that the rain was due to stop at 2pm. It did not. This is the second time this week that I have such wild assumptions and been proven wrong.

Hans wanted pizza. I had already eaten so would just be company. He suggested ECCo, I said fine, then remembered that there was a new Pizza Pilgrims that had opened nearer my work, meaning that I wouldn’t have to undertake the long slog down Hi-Ho in the rain.

“I presume you would still rather go to ECCo as I expect that the pizza you want will by £9, rather than the £4.50 of ECCo.”

“You presume wrong. New is good. Let’s go.”

We passed the Post Office that all roads seem to lead to, turned onto Exmouth Market and saw the light.

Seating was swift, as was service. There were about 15 covers upstairs, all of which were taken, so we were seated downstairs, which had an addition 20 or so covers. Don’t quote me on this.

The decor is my favourite of any pizza place so far, as was the general vibe. This was the first lunch pizza that I had (in a non-competitive means at least) so it was brighter and quieter than it would be of an evening I suppose. I should maybe have taken a photo, but my words are picture enough: wood; Italian paraphernalia, including a picture of a woman pouring olive oil onto salad with quite some liberty; big bags o’ flour on the stairs. Voila!

We looked at the menu.

menu

Here is the menu

The prices are slightly cheaper at Exmouth Market than in Soho. Hans remembered that I said £9 so looked to see what I was guessing. I informed him of the price differences. He turned the menu round and said that he had picked and asked me to guess. Nduja. I was correct.

Poor old predictable Hans.

There was a “white pizza” on the Exmouth menu, which we presume meant beschamel sauce instead of tomato, which doesn’t appeal to me. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t try it though. Harvey said that if he ever wanted to check whether I had been replaced with an alien he would offer me some gross food for free, knowing that the real me will eat anything.

“Hi are you ready to order?”

“Sure. One Nduja [pronounced “en-doo-ja”] and one Diet Coke please.”

“I’m fine thanks.”

“Okay. One “Un-Ja” and one Diet Coke. My name’s Rob by the way. I’ll be your waiter so just shout if you need me.”

He went and swiftly came back with a Diet Coke.

“We should make a point of always calling him by his name.”

A conversation about Christmas shopping and work.

“Here’s some tap water for the table.”

*in unison “Thanks Rob!”

Laughter into drinks.

Yesterday while watching Masterchef The Professionals, there was a guy who was 26 and looked 45. “He does not look 26”, Harvey and I both said. I should spend less time with my friends and more time thinking original thoughts.

Hans looked around the restaurant. Everyone else at all the other tables were looking at or talking to each other.

“Do you think they’re all related? Or is that just how Italians are?”

I had noticed before that there were Italian customers in which I remarked was a good thing. I didn’t realise that they were all together.

“I think they are. They must have to get a mini bus.”

The pizza came.

IMG_20151119_145304

Twas not Rob who brought us the ‘za. The waitress gave us two side plates (not pictured, but you can see that) and a ton of extra cutlery.

I had two slices, as Hans wanted pizza, “but not that much pizza.”

Too big for the plate, too big for his appetite. Kudos to his self control.

“Go back and make me a smaller one.” He could have said, but thankfully didn’t.

Paul was right in his assessment: sloppy but tasty. However, it was too thin and didn’t have nearly enough toppings – cheese in particular. It was a sourdough base which was nice for an autumn afternoon, but Franco Manca edges it out.

We asked Rob, by name, for the bill. It came to £10.50. £2 for a can of Diet Coke is mildly insane. As was the menu option of adding Nduja, olives or something else for £2 a pop. Restaurants live by their mark-ups though so who am I to criticise. A valued customer, that’s who. Cheaper olives for all!

The card machine wasn’t working. Rob said that we should have been told when we came in. We should have. Hans only had £10.20 so we had to go to a cash point. They let us leave, which really was very trusting of them. I had the impulse to dine and dash (this was not my meal so really it would have been Hans dining and dashing) but Hans says that it was hardly worth it for such a small bill, and we’d be coming back when Dirty Burger opens anyway so best not to get a bad rep on Ex-Ma (all shortening all the time). Ah Hans and his restraint.

The cash point at the Post Office was easy to reach. We returned and the entire Italian family were standing outside.

Paul Winch-Furness / Photographer

Picture from Pizza Pilgrims

“Huh, looks like they were together.”

We went in and down and Rob was there.

“A glass has been broken.”

“Was it the family?” [me trying to verify if it was a family]

“It was a poltergeist. Or me.”

“Heh.”

Hans paid.

“Thanks guys.”

“Thanks Rob.”

Never introduce yourself by name as a waiter lest two terrible people are seated at your table.

Another not the best pizza in London, but so far the most enjoyable business lunch experience. I would be interested to try the £5 “pizza soup and calzone” deal (or £7 with Nduja, because it’s £2 you know).

Based on their Food Network slot I kind of found them annoying before going and was looking to not like them, but if you have a weird, fun lunch, sins can be forgiven.

7.5/10 – mostly from the ambiance and decor. Needs more toppings. Sourdough fo sho. Ho ho ho. Gotta go. Whoa!

Pizza Pilgrims, 15 Exmouth Market, London, EC1R 4QD

Search for the Perfect Pizza: Soho Joe

This recommendation comes courtesy of my flatmate who I’m sure I’ve given an alias too before but can’t remember it right now so I’ll name him Harvey.

Having worked in the theatre district and then the legal district for six years total now, Harvey has quite the affinity for Soho. Being that we live together, speak often, and much of my conversation revolves around pizza, I decided to try Soho Joe’s sooner rather than later.

I went to a yoga class then crossed the river.

Even though it really is quite a small area, I find Soho a very difficult area to navigate. This is really more my problem than the town planner’s, but, considering that I, too, used to work there, I should feel less enthused whenever I “happen upon” Soho Square, Frith Street, or Dean Street, which is home to Soho Joe.

Soho

A map of Soho. It could be better planned I suppose, but also it really could be so much worse.

Lobster rolls also seem to be very in in Soho.

Also, apparently the Gay Hussar (or something else that has the word “gay” in it; who am I to remember facts correctly?!) predates Soho’s reputation as the gay district.

Another fun fact is that Smithfield, not Soho, was London’s original red light district (again, who am I to remember or verify facts correctly?!).

soho-joe

Not my picture. Didn’t visit in the day. Just seemed like text needed to be broken up right now.

We arrived at about 7.15. There was a board outside saying “2 cocktails for £10”, which is very reasonable for central London. Note that they have to be two of the same cocktail, so Paul had to eschew his manlier-sounding drink (I can’t remember what he chose; something with whisky), for a Soho Ho, chosen because of its name and because it included both rum and gin, two of my favourite spirits.

The cocktail was fine. We didn’t have another.

Moving back in time, we asked for a table for two. They then did that annoying thing of looking around a clearly only half full (feeling more optimistic today) restaurant, told us to wait while the host spoke to someone else, then finally managed to squeeze us in.

An Aside About Seating

Last week I went to The Fable in Clerkenwell for lunch. I went with my dad, who read it as “The Table”, so they need to work on their typography.

fi

Not my picture; image purely to illustrate font.

We entered via the Holborn Viaduct entrance rather than the, I presume, more popular Farringdon Street entrance. The restaurant was completely empty.

“I hope we can get a table”, I thought out loud.

The waitress was on the phone.

“Sorry about the wait.”

“Table for two, please.”

“Have you booked?”

“No.”

“Oh. One moment please.”

She spoke into a walkie talkie for a while and then told us to make our way downstairs.

The sound from downstairs carried up somewhat so I figured that maybe it was deceptively full, and for some reason they couldn’t seat us in the empty upstairs. This was not the case. There were five or six tables of people. Granted, some had a party of nearly ten, but still, there were so many free seats.

Lunch was nice and we got a good seat by the window looking down onto Farringdon Street.

Here’s a picture of my pulled pork burger:

IMG_20151112_132259.jpg

As promised, a picture of the pulled pork burger

It came recommended by the downstairs waitress. It could have been otter and more flavourful, but it was adequate for lunch. The sweet potato fries were the star.

A 6/10. Maybe it’s too “businessy” a lunch spot for me, and ridiculous with its walkie talkie emptiness.

800px-walkie-talkie2c_londres2c_inglaterra2c_2014-08-112c_dd_098

WALKIE TALKIES HAVE NO PLACE IN THIS CITY!

Back to Soho Joe.

Back to Soho Joe

We got seated, decided what to eat and drink, and Paul went up to order (you have to go up to order). I then continued to read the menu and check my phone, saw Paul leave the restaurant, continued reading the menu and checking my phone, looked at the couple next to me and saw that they weren’t talking or looking at each other, noticed that this went on for quite a while, texted this observation, continued observing, then Paul returned.

“They only take cash.”

Soho Joe bills itself as the “best value” London pizza. I guess this must be an SEO thing, but I can tell you, search engine user, that this is not the best value pizza: ECCo, ICCo and Franco Manco all top it in value terms. They were about £10 each, from memory, which is double the price of ECCo and £3 more than the next most expensive.

Here is the menu, you lucky thing:

Soho Joe

I went for the Joe’s Special – because I’m worth it, because I tend to go for a place’s special, and because really it’s just a jazzed up CapriCciosa – and Paul went for the Diavola.

Here’s a picture of a pizza. The lighting was no good in there for pictures, but good for mood:

IMG_20151104_201705

Another restaurant that refuses to cut ham, presumably because it’s too sticky.

I will say that it is the biggest of the pizzas that I tried, excepting the six slices of the Pixxa Challenge.

The base was good, though, if anything, too thin and cooked more than I would have wanted. Gotta have some slop with that pizza base. And the toppings weren’t the most tongue tingling. Looking at that picture I am as underwhelmed as when I saw it in the flesh.

The Diavola fared better, if only because it had some spice to zazz up the pizza.

The couple next to us shared a pizza. For people with a normal appetite, I would say that they are personal pizzas rather than sharing pizzas. They again ate in silence, then the girl got up and kissed the guy repeatedly.

They left soon after.

I will go to my grave wondering what their relationship was.

Paul and I chatted about despair then left.

Sorry Harvey. You are incorrect. Soho Joe does not have the best pizza in London. I did quite enjoy the ambiance though, and admittedly it was a tasty, Italian-style pizza.

6.5/10 – Not a Soho Ho for Soho Joe. Good for strange dates (?)

Soho Joe, 22-25 Dean Street, Soho, London, W1D 3RY

Another Note

Paul went to Pizza Pilgrims on Monday (without me, the heathen!) and, on my asking “how was the pizza, pilgrim” (I am a laugh riot), rated it “good value, sloppy, but tasty.” You can also book a table for 15 (or however big your party may be), which is why he went there over Franco Manca. Maybe I’ll try the newly-opened Exmouth Market one on a #FatFriday, but maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll stop hashtagging sentences. Huh, who knows. #LiveForTheMoment #Blessed #BoutDatLife #IllStopNow #SorryNotSorry #End

A Vague Journey Through Burgers: Dirty Burger

 

Preamble

This is the second burger that I had after moving to London the second time. IN my “meeting new people” phase of moving to London, I was recommended Dirty Burger.

“I spend too much money in Dirty Burger”, they said.

“I find marketing interesting”, they also said. I can’t remember much else of the conversation.

I like the name Dirty Burger, I suppose because I like the word “dirty”, so colour me intrigued, I thought. They recommended the Vauxhall one. I didn’t really take their recommendation to heart because of the whole marketing thing, but sometimes timing comes together just perfectly.

Also, sometimes it doesn’t. They also recommended Zeitgeist/The Jolly Gardener which has only otherwise been of note as it was in close proximity to the Lambeth rave.

The following week I was going to a gig in Kentish Town and it was National Burger Day. I had arranged to meet Hans prior to the gig and to have a burger. In what I’m sure is poor form for my second week of a new job, I spent much of the afternoon Googling. The other options were MEATLiquor (Hans went and said that it was too greasy), Patty and Bun, and Honest. As we needed to be in Kentish Town anyway, I figured that it would be easier to be there, eat, then gig rather than going to Soho then rushing to the gig. You can’t put a price on not having to rush, or ambling.

I finished work late and ran much of the two and half miles to Kentish Town. I passed the hospital that I was born in. Ah the circle of life, and the run for burger.

I got to Kentish Town in 35 minutes then spent a further 15-20 minutes looking for the tube station. Google Maps will be my undoing. I was still 5 minutes early, so decided to do the exciting errand of attaching my Young Persons Railcard to my Oyster.

“Can I put my Young Person’s Railcard on my Oyster?”

“Fill out this form.”

“I think I’ve already registered my Oyster.”

“That was online. This is here now. I DON’T KNOW WHO YOU ARE!”

This was the first unfriendly interaction that I since moving. Not bad for two weeks in.

Hans was 15 minutes late. A mildly annoying thing about London is that if people are running late on the tube there is no way of communicating this fact.

He arrived. I berated him for being late (jovially), we walked through that rain that’s only bad for straightened hair, and again relied heavily on Google Maps to find us the restaurant. Being from Kent, we also made terrible jokes of how similar and dissimilar Kentish Town is to Kent. Oh how we laughed and talked and laughed and realised that we hadn’t properly spoken in many months and this was how we were flimsily reconnecting.

“I don’t know if we’ve gone the wrong way,” I said, standing 10m away from the restaurant.

(side note: when looking up the restaurant that it’s next to, I saw that the description for the Bethnal Green outpost is “bustling hipster’s burger joint”, which I enjoyed reading. Side side note, if you were wondering, the Kentish Town description is “Simple shack for breakfast and burgers” and is Zagat rated for “Best Gourmet Fast Food”.)

If you too have a poor sense of place, the restaurant is located down the side of Pizza East and Chicken Shop.

It has an inviting exterior.

db_10257

Picture from Dirty Burger

The Review

And an equally inviting interior.

pizza_east_10079

Picture from Dirty Burger

Sure, it’s quite hipster, but I do like how rough and ready it is: the minimal, communal seating; the corrugated iron; the fact that they trust people with a drinks fridge and a coffee machine.

I was also impressed and surprised that we managed to easily get a seat and the food queue was only about three deep on National Burger Day. I suppose Kentish Town isn’t really the place to be at 7pm on a Thursday.

Dirty Burger possibly has the most minimal of all of the burger menus: Cheese Burger, Dirty Bacon, Dirty Cop-Out (vegetarian), with side options of Crinkle Cut Fries and Onion Fries.

Hans went for the Cheese Burger with Crinkle Cut Fries, I went for the Dirty Bacon with Onion Fries. Thus, between the two of us we tried pretty much the whole menu.

The food didn’t take long to come, but it did give me enough time to bore Hans with details of my work day.

Our ticket number was called.

dai_williams_photography_dirtyburgerimg_0145

Not my picture (from Time Out)

It’s not the prettiest burger to look at. Or the biggest. It, and the whole restaurant, smelled amazing though and I couldn’t wait to try it.

I could wait to try it as I tried quite a few of the chips. Usually I’m not a big chips person but the crinkle cuts were good all round on taste and texture and the onion fries, which I only got for the sake of trying, were the best onion sides (rings, fries, whatever) that I have ever tasted. I’m usually very ambivalent to onion sides, but they managed to avoid the pitfalls of being too greasy, too heavy, or too oniony (too oniony? From a fried onion? Whatever next?!).

Then the burger.

Wow, the burger.

My goodness, the burger.

I wish I hadn’t waited to try the burger as they’re always best hot. But even after several minutes of chips eating, it was still the best damn burger that I’ve ever tasted.

Perfectly cooked meat. Flavours with a punch. Ideal texture. A brioche bun. Bacon. Listing ingredients. Yes.

Hans and I swapped burgers. Both are divine (divine I say!) but I would edge the bacon ahead, though maybe that is because I am an unashamed glutton.

“Oh, I forgot, I said I’d take a picture of this for my mum.” (Hans’ mum had recently been admitted to hospital for back surgery and at this point was immobile. Apparently she sought solace in pictures of her son’s food.)

Here is the picture:

Dirty Burger

“Utterly burgasmic”  is what he captioned it. Just your regular mother-son relationship. They’re getting Mexican tomorrow. It’s good that she can walk again.

We ravaged the remained of the meal.

“You know, even if this gig goes terribly, I have still had a great night and am happy enough with that.”

The gig went well. All in all, it was one of the greats.

My only little qualm is that it’s owned by Soho House and really I do wish that I liked a group restaurant less, but they know what they’re doing and taste trumps my independent ideals. Better than Living Ventures I suppose.

I have since had at least one other person say that Dirty Burger is their vote for best burger in London, bringing the total to four people (myself included). That is a 100% hit rate as I do not trust anyone else’s opinion apart from those who choose Dirty Burger. Maybe that’ll change when I try Honest, Patty and Bun and Bleecker Street. But for now, Dirty Burger reigns supreme.

The Best Burger In London and in Life (so far). Dirty dirty thoughts about those dirty dirty burgers. Ooh baby. 

Dirty Burger, 79 Highgate Road, Kentish Town, NW5 1TL. Restaurants also in Vauxhall, Bethnal Green, Mile End, and (soon) Clerkenwell.

 

A Vague Journey Through Burgers: The Lord Nelson, Southwark

Having just finished my first ever Pilates class, I met Paul who proudly undid my good work by suggesting that we tried The Lord Nelson for a drink. It had been recommended to him by someone else, someone who clearly enjoys a ramshackle mish mash of furniture.

“I feel like my gym clothes aren’t quite cutting it in here. Or maybe they’re really cutting it. There’s a lot to take in.”

Suarez

A distracting and disturbing decoration, in equal measure. #Suarez #Rawr

I ordered an Appletiser, to be healthy, and a beer, to treat myself. The name was funny. I can’t remember it. It was nice. Do feel free to ask for another of my recommendations.

We had a chat and a drink for a while and I kept glancing at the menu.

I was intrigued by the menu as, outside the pub, The Lord Nelson proudly proclaimed that it had the “best burgers in London”.

The waiting staff came round to tell us that the kitchen was closing. We both half looked at the menu. I was intrigued by some of the items. The waiting staff took the menus. Paul went to retrieve the menus and we perused.

The two that intrigued me the most was The Elvis (topped with peanut butter and bacon), which Paul went for, and the Hoff (served with calamari), which I had. Apparently The Hoff has actually eaten The Hoff at The Lord Nelson. Good for him, and for them.

At £10.50 and £14 respectively, they’re not the cheapest burgers around. But the portions are quite something. “Good luck”, said the waiter when he gave us our dishes, then “well done” when he collected them and saw that I had finished.

IMG_20150914_201143

First, The Hoff. I had kind of expected the calamari to be in the burger – and I ended up doing so – but I should have read the menu more carefully I suppose as it does say “surf and turf style”. I like calamari and I like burgers, but it was nothing really to write home about.

I often feel like a Joey in Friends with the beef wellington trifle: as long as there are foods that I like, I could eat them alongside each other with no qualms.

The burger was less burnt than it looks here, but it fell apart and required me to eat it with a knife and fork like a damn lady that I am not. It was a little dry so I slathered it with ketchup. The chips were good.

IMG_20150914_201147

On paper, peanut butter seems to be somewhat of an odd burger topping. Especially with bacon. I’ve seen this around a few places, so maybe it’s the topping du jour. And it should be! I’m in quite a peanut butter phase at the moment, eating sandwiches (yep, people still eat those) daily, and yesterday having a peanut butter and oreo cheesecake (from The Ship Tavern. I would recommend it. The roast was recommended but, aside from the meat, it was only so-so), so put peanut butter on anything (anything?!) and I’m happy. It brings out the saltiness of the bacon and the meatiness of the burger. I only had two bites but I immediately wished that I had ordered it instead. Call me a heathen, call me a convert, but I would happily call a peanut butter burger a winner.

Alas, though, The Lord Nelson is not the best burger in London. It is up there as a pub burger, and the toppings are good for when you’re feeling adventurous, but when you get down to the meat of the matter, there are several places that are a-better.

6.5/10: Filling.

The Lord Nelson, 243 Union Street, Southwark, London, SE1 OLR

A Vague Journey Through Burgers: Five Guys

Preamble

On my first day at work at my new job I arranged to meet Hans and Maude after work. First day burgers seem to be somewhat of a trend. Only somewhat, mind you, as it has only happened twice. Trends have to start somewhere.

Hans suggested that we meet in Covent Garden, that hip, underground place. I went to Covent Garden on my lunch today as Hans needed to go to the Apple Store. Not knowing where the Apple Store was, I somehow managed to hone in on it almost instantaneously. Big old Apple Store. Retrofitted very nicely.

I needed to pick up some clothes from Uni Qlo so met them at Be At One (that hip, underground bar) half an hour later. It was happy hour and they already had a buzz on.

They were undecided about restaurants and left it to me, the newbie in the city, to decided. As a newbie in the city, I chose Five Guys.

The Review

I’ve heard hype about Five Guys from about five different guys (two people). There are apparently a lot of Cokes to try. Cokes are where your choices are, as the menu is limited to hamburger, cheeseburger, bacon burger, bacon cheeseburger, little options of each, some hot dogs, sandwiches (for the weak), five guys fries, and cajun fries.

I went for the cheeseburger and the five guys fries to share with Maude. Hans went for the cajun fries and didn’t much like them so I had quite a bit of them. They have a bit of spice and are not unlike Nando’s peri chips.

The decor was fast food fifties diner. There were quotes across the walls about how good Five Guys is. We’re there, Five Guys, we’re eating, we can decide. I suppose they can’t really advertise in a Byron or whatever, but it is wasted wall space.

five-guys

Not my picture. A generously sized burger a la foil. Chips in cups, how rustic.

We commented the the burgers were like a really good McDonalds; what we expect McDonalds used to be like before their burgers tasted of cardboard and guilt. And yes, the Five Guys burgers are enjoyable, but only as enjoyable as a fast food burger could be.

As for the Cokes, the only Coke that Hans liked was Diet. So many flavours, so many empty sugar calories.

For those in a hurry.