You Put Your Left Leg In, Your Left Leg Out, In, Out, In, Out, Burgers All About

So, one of the fringe benefits of my job as a DJ is having my days relatively free. I obviously still have Stuff To Do, but the deadlines are often quite nebulous and regularly have to be self-imposed. As such, when I heard earlier this week that legendary LA Burger chain In-N-Out Burger were coming to London for a 4-hour pop-up, I was pretty sure that I would be there to check it out.

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In classic style I managed to accidentally get a little drunk at the gig I had the night before, but mercifully, the texts I sent to various friends looking for the next pitstop got negative responses, and no further drinking, dancing or debauchery took place. Although I did get my ass handed to me by my flatmate when I tried to play him on the new FIFA 17 demo before bed.

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The plus side of this poor planning was that I was goddamned starving on Wednesday morning. Coffee was purchased from my favourite spot (Pavilion Cafe, by the lake in Victoria Park), and then my burger buddy for the day arrived (the wonderful Ben Gomori of Turned On Podcast, who’s made an appearance in my Mixtape Monday series). Off we trotted, heading westwards to Swiss Cottage, where the pop-up was taking place.

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When we popped back above ground and wandered down towards the venue, we were met with a substantial, but not intimidating, queue. We took our place at the back of the line after stocking up on the essentials for a potentially long wait, and settled in. Arrival time was 10.15am or thereabouts, and the pop-up was scheduled for 11am-3pm. The venue itself seemed to be fairly large inside from what we could see, although strangely little effort had been made to transform the front-end, just one banner in the window, and various In-N-Out staff members in their distinctive uniform milling about, and then a counter inside that looked like some effort had gone on making it pretty close to how they presumably are stateside.

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The queue grew steadily as we waited patiently. Various baffled passers-by took photos and asked questions, numerous reporters and journalists came by to ask questions or livestream the thronging crowd of knobheads waiting hours in line for “fast” food.

I made my first appearance within Vice and marked it with a truly awful pun. Getty interviewed me on video, I have no idea if that was used, and frankly I hope I never find out [Edit – thanks to u/RichardJohn over on Reddit for finding this, turns out they not only used me, but I was the only interviewee used! http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/license/609839490%5D.

Wristbands were handed out, enabling people to chip off and come back at their allotted hourly slot – I was given gold, the 12-1 slot. The burger tab on these wristbands made it pretty obvious that we could only order one burger each, a mortifying realisation after having skipped breakfast.

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So far, I’ve said an awful lot without getting to the point. Well, here we go. After 2 or so hours of waiting, we approached the front of the line, and were greeted warmly by Eric, a genuine American fella. He was fantastic, and superbly dealt with the multiple late-comers who tried to blag their way in to get a shirt without waiting in line like the rest of us losers.

In we went, and order we did. Disappointingly, the only side available was crisps. I want to thank my friends on Facebook for asking me why a mere 91838172581 times. Apparently it was something to do with not being able to ship the fries over or get them right in the UK or something, but whatever it was, it was very disappointing to have ready salted crisps as the accompaniment to a burger you’ve queued several hours to sample. The prices were cheap as chips, ironically enough, £3 for a double double (two beef patties, two slices of cheese) which I had “animal style” (basically with a quite sweet sauce with grilled onions), a diet coke, and those bloody crisps. I was given a key-ring and a sticker, and decided to fork out £3 for one of their t-shirts, so the whole lot clocked in at a very reasonable £8! So clearly, this wasn’t an exercise in making money…

So down we sat with our drinks and goodies, and waited for the food to come to our table. One thing I was struck by was just how many empty seats there were given how slow the queue had been moving. They were clearly managing the numbers very closely to avoid any snafus with the service I guess. The food took maybe 5 minutes or so to arrive, with Ben’s being the first to land.

I have to say, the burgers looked excellent when they arrived at the table.

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EXTREEEEEME CLOSE UP!

And now we get to the important stuff. The burger – yes, it was good. If I had to try and describe it in a very simple way – it’s like the best possible Big Mac you could make. Does it get a place in my top 10. Nope. Was it worth waiting 2-3 hours for? Not really, if I’m brutally honest.

But it was very good. I would happily eat these on the go at the right price, the sauce, the beefburgers, the cheese and the bun were all lovely and complemented each other well. The salad – well, the lettuce was fine, but the tomato was almost ice cold. It wasn’t a huge issue, but it definitely detracted from the burger in the final judgement. The animal sauce was really enjoyable – I may well have a crack at making something like that at home, having discovered various websites who think they have the recipe worked out.

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I’m glad I made the decision to check it out, as I’ve never previously really “got” this type of burger – I prefer thicker patties with them nicely pink in the middle. These thinner patties make for a totally different mouth-feel than the “gourmet” style big burgers that dominate London’s burger restaurants – often they are overdone to the point of being unpalatable meat-biscuits, but as you can see in the photo above, these are done to perfection, allowing them to remain moist and juicy, something which the melted American cheese and Animal Sauce only serves to amplify. Even as I write this out now, I’m starting to crave another one, so maybe they did make more of an impression on me than I realised – or maybe its just because I skipped breakfast again. The crisps/fries debacle… the less said the better, I don’t really understand how they can go to all the effort of this and not be able to put a proper side on the menu. And thank you to my friends for hammering that point home, relentlessly.

In truth, it’s a little unfair of me to compare In-N-Out to the top-end London “gourmet” burger places – its niche is as a really good, but really cheap, burger. A kick-ass McDonald’s. Five Guys occupies this niche in the USA too, yet is inexplicably (and totally unjustifiably) priced as a premium burger in the UK. £3 for a Double Double, animal style… now that’s phenomenal value. If they opened up over here permanently, with prices in that ballpark, they would absolutely clean up, and rightly so. If they were a tenner… just don’t bother, please. But seeing as the last pop-up was in 2012 (4 year cycle, this year in a Brazilian restaurant… I’m guessing that in 2020 they will take over a sushi restaurant…), its reasonable to guess that they are in no rush to head over to the UK – after all, they are still limited to relatively few states in the USA, which in itself probably plays its part in creating the aura that creates such daft queues as the one I was part of yesterday.

7/10

The Pizza Place That Dared To Dream

Pizza East, Shoreditch, London

I must have been to Pizza East dozens of times over the years, and it only just occurred to me to review the place. Owned and operated by the Soho House group, and with outlets in Shoreditch, Kentish Town, Portobello Road and, errr, Istanbul, Pizza East is, rather unsurprisingly, known for making very good pizza. I’d say it’s definitely a contender for a space in the top 10 in my experience. The Shoreditch one is located in The Tea Building, which is also home to Shoreditch House, and is slap bang in the heart of the area, opposite Shoreditch High Street overground station and Boxpark.

 

However, today I will focus my attention on an oft-neglected side to their menu, what could colloquially be referred to as “The Other Stuff”.

They have antipasti, a wood oven selection, vegetable-based sides, salads, a veritable pick ‘n’ mix of a menu before you even look at the pizzas. And you know what, I think that these things are even better than the pizzas.

Full disclosure before I continue – somewhere along my path, I picked up one of their fabled key-fobs that score you a 50% total bill discount every Monday (and certain other times too), so part of the reason I have been so often recently is that somewhere at the upper end of mid-range pricing becomes ridiculously cheap. But I will mention the actual, undiscounted prices and try my best to review the items based on these prices, and their relative value or expense.

On to the food. The pea, mint and pecorino croquettes are a work of art. You get 5 for £5, which are about the right size to cut in half and wolf down in 2 mouthfuls. Honestly, bring me a bucket or two of these wondrous little bastards and a bib, and leave me be. I will die a happy man several hours later. They ooze their delicate, cheesy goodness from their crunchy exterior the moment you take a knife, fork or set of teeth to them. I’ve had them for 3 visits in a row, and I doubt I will ever not order them if they are on the menu.

The lamb meatballs, served in a sweet, tangy (but not spicy) tomato sauce, with a little bonnet of melted cheese atop the trio, are good, but not quite great. About the right density you want from a good meatball, clearly made from proper meat and not sporting the weirdly processed smooth meat texture you get within some meatballs I’ve known at some places over the years, and much bigger than you would expect to be honest. These clock in at £6.

One of my recent obsessions has been Burrata – the example I’ve had at Pizza East is excellent. Incredibly creamy, served mushed up on crusty tomato bruschetta, with broad beans. Nothing allowed to overpower the very gentle flavours of the burrata itself, rather they complement each other, with the crunchy bruschetta base adding a pleasing texture to the party, again this is £6. Sadly my obsession is such that I have no photos of it. No time for that nonsense when there’s burrata to eat.

One thing I’ve discovered in recent visits is the excellence of the seafood at Pizza East – a couple of notable example, costing £8 each, are the razor clams, soppressata (a type of italian sausage) and green beans, and the sea bream carpaccio, which comes with new potatoes and a duck egg. The razor clams have this wonderful breadcrumb type of something or another (and I have no idea what that actually is) which gives each mouthful the most fantastic texture. I’d always been slightly obsessed with the idea of razor clams after seeing a TV show where they dived for a load then cooked them there on the beach. Razor clams are long and thin, but here are served sliced into bite sized pieces, with the meat not a million miles away from the texture of well-prepared octopus.And the sea bream is again wonderful, much like the burrata, this one is very delicately balanced flavours balanced against each other, so it pays to start with these lighter dishes before getting into the stronger tastes.

On the recommendation of a friend I tried the salt-baked salmon main course – this was a revelation, and possibly my favourite dish of all that I’ve had at Pizza East, clocking in at £17. Apparently a whole salmon is salt-baked and then dished out as needed, with varying sides – when I had it, it came with greens, capers, what I think was butternut squash, and a lovely creamy dressing/sauce with diced tomato. I hadn’t realised quite what a substantial plate of food this is – it’s easily enough for a meal on its own, having a side with it took it into food coma territory! The salmon is just magnificent, so full of flavour and with a superbly meaty texture, the exposed edges of the salmon pleasingly crusted by exposure to the heat.

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Salt Baked Salmon

Another big favourite of mine, which I may start to order again now summer is heading out, is their magnificent beef lasagne. This is remarkably meaty, and served in the dish they baked it in. Not one of those sloppy, all-sauce monstrosities, this bolognese has clearly been reduced down to the very essence of what it is, and they don’t go overboard with the bechamel. This is £11, which at full price is still, in my view, one of the best bargains in London’s restaurant scene. I make a mean lasagne (using this recipe), but this one is pretty special. I imagine some would prefer a bit more tomato or bechamel, but I’m definitely a big fan.

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Beef Lasagne

One antipasti I’ve missed is this ox cheek, pea & spaghetti thing which I can’t find a menu for, so I can’t remember what it cost or exactly what was in it – it was really very tasty though. The beef in particular was delicious, as these slow-cooked cuts tend to be.I’d never seen spaghetti used in this manner before, but with the heavy taste of the beef, the freshness of the peas, the little smattering of pasta in there worked really well.

In truth, I’ve had very few disappointing dishes at Pizza East from The Other Stuff – probably less than I’ve had disappointing pizzas (I find when I go off-piste there from the tomato-sauce-based ones its very hit and miss). One item which didn’t work for me was the fried cauliflower, coated in breadcrumbs, served with yoghurt and salsa verde. The fried cauliflower dishes at Pull & Punch and City Social are both exceptional, so I was excited to see this on the menu, but it was bland, and a little heavy for a vegetable based dish.

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Deep Fried Cauliflower, with Yoghurt & Salsa Verde

One vegetable dish that is on the money though, is the sweet potato, quinoa and chive side, which is £8. The sweet potato is done to perfection, huge wedges that have been cooked through but retained a little bite (you could cut them with the side of a fork with a little effort, but they aren’t the mush that you can get if you overdo sweet potato), this is a staple side for me on my visits, also including a bit of roasted red onion, broccoli and a nice big blob of yoghurt/creme freche on top, within which you’ll find many of the chives the dish mentions on the menu!

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Sweet potato, quinoa, chives

They have an extensive salad selection on the menu too, one of my favourites there is the butter lettuce, avacado and vinaigrette dish. Nice and light with the vinaigrette absolutely spot on, I’m not quite sure how they get the avacado this soft without going brown, but they do it, and I’m not complaining! This clocks in at £6, with the various salads ranging up to £12 for more substantial items.

I don’t have any pics, but the brill, clams and fregola dish is a superb seafood main, the white fish done to perfection, fantastic with a salad on the side.

I’m generally not a big one for the dessert menu (mainly because I’m such a fat pig in the hour or so prior to being handed that menu). But I have sampled a few things from the menu – the cinnamon churros look amazing. They don’t taste that way, a huge disappointment, the delicious chocolate sauce not enough to save the day.

The white chocolate semifreddo with pistachios and cherries on the other hand… my goodness, what a dish. Outstanding, and certainly something I will order to myself after sampling a mouthful of my friend’s on my last visit. A semifreddo is a semi frozen dessert made usually from eggs, sugar and cream. I have no idea if this is an exceptional example, or an ordinary example of an exceptional dish, what I do know is that it is delicious, the sweetness just at the right level, and helped along by the sharpness of the cherries and savoury crunch of the pistachios.

I ordered a sorbet selection, which was nice in the moment (a hot day in summer), but really didn’t do much else for me, and ended up being 2 blobs of sorbet, and one of ice cream as they were out of stock of the last one – but I suspect that’s because I’m not a massive fan of ice-creams and sorbets, they were perfectly lovely examples of posh frozen desserts if that’s your bag!

The cocktails are uniformly excellent, and if you wish you can order cold cuts of meat or cheeses as small dishes to complement your meal. The wine list is extensive, and I’ve never yet had a bad bottle. I did in fact discover my favourite red wine here, the Cycles Gladiator Pinot Noir 2013 – £39 a bottle at Pizza East, so not something I’d normally order, thank God for the keyring! But good enough that I ordered myself a half crate ahead of Christmas, lets see if it lasts that long…

As you can see I’m a bit of a fan – it would be easy to dismiss this as being because of my discounted experienced, but the fact is that I’ve eaten there many more times at full price than with the benefit of the 50% off. Some of the dishes are a little steep perhaps, but only a tad, and it’s rare to see such a broad menu, with something for pretty much everyone, alongside such excellent drinks and such a friendly, pleasant dining environment. I’ve had a tiny handful of disappointing dishes here over the years, and most of those were carelessly ordered pizzas – I do tend to find pizzas without tomato on a bit fatiguing on the palate about halfway through, not sure why but there you go. But generally, this is a hugely dependable and thoroughly recommended Italian restaurant, and I will be there many more times while ever I live in London!

8.5/10

Snack Attack, Vol 6

Walkers Bacon & Heinz Tomato Ketchup flavour crisps 


The main take home I got from these crisps, and a few of this other limited edition range of sandwich-combo based flavours, is that whoever is in charge of tasting at Walkers is rubbish at tasting.

Ketchup… Maybe. Like, Iceland own-brand vinegary stuff (I’m not even sure that exists tbh), the sort of shit you convince yourself is ok when you are a student and can’t afford Heinz, or even Daddies.

But bacon? Where? There’s a musty undertone to the aroma, is that supposed to be smoked bacon? Or socks? Brined and smoked socks maybe?

I have to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of regular Walkers crisps as a rule – I don’t enjoy the texture (while not being offended by it), and the only flavour I’ve had which tickles my fancy is the marmite ones – the classic flavours don’t do it for me, and these ones… Yikes. I’ve also sampled the salad cream/cucumber and chicken/mayonnaise oriented flavours in this limited edition range, I doubt I’ll go out of my way to locate the other 3… Might review those, but not sure I want to relive the dubious experiences tbh.

These are rubbish unless you like the taste of terrible tomato ketchup. I’m assuming that Heinz paid to have their logo featured – quite why is beyond me, as these are a terrible advert for their industry standard ketchup.

2/10

Mixtape Monday, Vol 24

Beats in Space 850 – Jackmaster

A regular contributor to my Mixtape Monday posts, we are back to the Beats In Space guys! And this time, a bit of a growing legend from the dance music scene, Jackmaster. Jack is extremely well known both in the UK and globally as a truly excellent DJ, and a real tastemaker. Running his influential record label Numbers, he has built a status as one of the very few famous DJs to not really be known for their production work, rather simply for being dead good at playing records well. And this mix neatly shows that off, on the more underground side of his work (many of you may be familiar with his 80s influenced Tweakaholic mix series that showcases his ear for more catchy, poppy dance tracks).

As you can see from his picture for this mix, and as he mentions in the interview at the end, this is around the time that Fabric received the shattering news that Islington council have revoked their license. Jack had a long and fruitful relationship with Fabric, which in a way encapsulates what made that venue such a special place – they saw his talent and booked him for that reason, and pushed his career forward immeasurably as a result. Funnily enough, the last but one time I saw Jack was a very sweaty embrace at about 8.30am in Room 1 of Fabric at the Acid Future after party (which we’d both performed at for the day time party at Tobacco Dock, Jack carrying on to do Room 2 at Fabric for the afters).

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Hard to believe that London is going to lose such a unique and brilliant institution, and in doing so it will become that little bit harder for talents like Jackmaster to emerge – the Columbo Group are doing their bit to maintain that ethos with Phonox‘s Saturday residents, but Fabric had a scale and scope that is difficult to match given it’s opening hours and 3 rooms.

In the meantime, enjoy a fantastic mix from a master of the craft, which really does take the listener on a fantastic voyage.