After my tour around various London restaurants and diners, I found myself with a couple of long journeys to go and see my parents in their respective homes. Christmas sandwiches were purchased to see me through the long trips, both well over 3 hours door-to-door. Sustenance is crucial on such days!
This was actually a pretty solid pair of sandwiches. Although in the case of Pret, that can be taken two ways – the granary bread mini-baguette was rather dense, possibly even to the very verge of being about to be stale. Or it might just have been very heavy bread. I’m not sure, but it wasn’t great.
The fillings though? Actually pretty good. I’d gone for their vegetarian option, which means this isn’t a like-for-like comparison, which is maybe a bit unfair. But hey – life ain’t fair, suck it up Pret! As a mark against M&S, they didn’t seem to have a Christmas vegetarian option at the shop I went to, which is pretty poor. Maybe they’d sold out though, as it was Christmas Eve and a lot of people were travelling that morning.
When I broke out the Pret on my way to Dad’s, it was noticeable that the sandwich had made a lot of liquid inside the plastic wrapper, and on opening you can see the effect. Not ideal if I was short on napkins, and not very appetising.
So the bread wasn’t great, the wrapping was making the sandwich a bit greasy, it’s a bad start by anyone’s reckoning. But you know what? This was a perfectly enjoyable sandwich. The chutney and parsnip puree gave it a sweet, tangy flavour, and the grilled carrots had a pleasing bite to them. The crispy onions had lost their crunch in truth, but not too much, so they were passable. And the pistachios were a great touch. The filling quantity was about right, if not generous. In a better baguette, and having not been wrapped and getting a bit sticky and wet, this would have been a very decent sandwich. Was it a Christmas sandwich…? Ehhhhh. Not to my mind, but I suppose it had some festive flavours going on if you’re avoiding the traditional Turkey dinner combinations.
I do try to buy vegetarian sandwiches if I’m forced to eat on the go, I don’t generally eat meat at home hardly at all, or at restaurants unless it’s stuff that’s been responsibly farmed etc, and I tend to be a little doubtful of sandwiches from these places to be very high quality meat. The trade-off, sadly, is that too often they are completely lacking in interesting flavours and textures. No such issues with this one, very impressive, and something I’d buy again. This was £3.75 and clocked in at 489 calories and 1.65g of salt.
Now to Marks & Spencer, although sadly I don’t have as many photos as I should really, as I was on a much busier route, and felt all embarrassed and self-conscious about taking photos of the sandwich in front of strangers!
I’ll cut to the chase – this was a bloody brilliant Christmas sandwich. The bread was very fresh, the filling amounts incredibly generous, none of that trickery some triangular sandwiches pull, this was the same amount throughout. The bacon was crispy, the stuffing full of sage & onion flavour, plenty of sauces and mayo, delicious cranberry chutney and a good amount of turkey. I could happily eat these all day long at this time of year – for a store-bought fridge-sandwich, this really was a very good effort indeed. This one clocked in at 457 calories and 2g of salt, which apparently is a third of recommended daily intake, so pretty damn high really.
Both sandwiches include a donation to homeless charities, 50p from Pret, 5% from M&S (so that’s 16p from the £3.25 price), which is a pleasing thing to see at a tough time for many people. If you feel like making a donation, I can recommend St Mungo’s, who do terrific work with the homeless.
So the verdict in this head-to-head? I’m not going to put actual scores up, as I don’t want to conflate these with the restaurant reviews, it’s a totally different game. But the M&S Turkey Feast was nigh on perfect in terms of what you could hope for from a sandwich like this, and £3.25 is excellent value. The Pret Very Merry Christmas Lunch – nowhere near as good, but a perfectly decent sandwich in it’s own right, and certainly something I’d be happy to recommend as a veggie option, and I suspect I’ll nick the basic idea for my own self-made sandwiches in future!
The winner though – no contest. Take a bow M&S, well done for a wonderful Christmas sandwich.
Patty & Bun – A Patty’s For Life Not Just For Christmas
Patty & Bun are responsible for my current favourite burger-that-you-could-buy-tomorrow (i.e. not a special), the frankly wondrous, messy Jose Jose. So it was only right and proper that I should head along to sample their festive offering!
I arranged a lunch to catch up with an old DJ buddy from my Ministry of Sound days, and exchange notes from a good year for us both professionally.
We met at the Soho branch of P&B, on Old Compton Street, it was busy and buzzing, but we were seated immediately, which was a pleasant surprise (queues at their restaurants are pretty standard).
I treated myself to a full fat can of Ting (one of the finest soft drinks on God’s green earth, although i actually slightly prefer Ting Light), and we ordered – their famous wings for Martin, and a Christmas burger and smoked pork nuggets for me. Cos I’m a fat little piggy.
The food arrived, the burger in P&B’s trademark wrapper, which doubles as a quasi-plate once you open it up. The burger inside was as impressive looking and obviously messy to handle as you’d expect from this place, completely over the top! Little sprouts, bits of sausage, red cabbage – on lifting the lid it revealed the bacon and stuffing, and a huge splodge of mayo.
Being brutally honest, I was ordering this burger more out of duty than a desire to have this particular sandwich. The beef patties here are really a work of art, and I’m not the world’s biggest fried chicken/turkey fan. This was pretty good though, as the multitude of ingredients, and the generous servings of them, made for a fun taste-a-rama. The actual turkey burger part was mercifully thin, making eating the thing practical, but maybe as a result of this, just a touch dry. The flavours were strangely muted for a P&B burger, which normally slap you upside the head like a hopped-up Rick James. I’m a huge fan of red cabbage at Christmas for instance, but this was a very poor relation to the recipe my mum makes at this time of year, and which makes the Boxing Day sandwiches an utter joy to wolf down. This pickled cabbage was fine, but had nothing much going on other than acidity from being pickled and the flavour of the cabbage itself, which is not anything exciting. Likewise, the sprouts were a bit overdone, and really lacking in oomph – there’s loads of ways to do them that add interest, with bacon, with ginger, butter, all sorts. It was a decent effort, but slightly missed the bullseye for me.
The smoked pork nuggets however – wow! I can’t believe I forgot to take a photo of these after biting into them, you can see the 4 balls in the pic of the food arriving. These were finely minced pork, breaded and fried, the smokiness was only a hint, but the pork was incredibly juicy and tasty, with the jalapeno ketchup absolutely magnificent as a dipping sauce – I’d happily pay a fiver for a bottle of that to take home. These were great, and I can’t recommend them highly enough.
Martin had their famous Winger Winger Chicken Dinner confit wings, which are breaded and coated in a sweet BBQ sauce, and absolutely drop off the bone as you eat them – they also are incredibly messy to eat! Many people rate these as the best wings in London, and they are certainly right up there in my relatively limited experience.
The service was a little off-key as well – nothing terrible, they seated me immediately, but then tried to take our order about 5 seconds after Martin had sat down to join me a few minutes later, then I had to ask several times to get a water after my Ting was finished meaning I was without a drink for a large part of the meal, and one of the waiting staff was giving off that weird “serving you and being civil but giving off an I don’t want to be here” surly vibe – I know everyone has bad days, but if you’re doing American-style food joints, I think service is fundamental.
So a mixed bag of an experience really – it’s not changed my view that it’s the premium burger place in London, but it’s not covered itself in glory for this 2016 Christmas round-up!
I’ve never reviewed MEATmission or MEATliquor, as I felt that my involvement with their now defunct MEATtransMISSION radio show made it a bit of a conflict of interests, but now that I don’t have that issue, my first time casting judgement on one of the big hitters of the London burger game.
I managed to sneak in between a pair of gigs on a Friday night, and it was a simple task for me to choose the sustenance from the offerings available – piggies in blankets and the XXXmas Burger, as well as one of their excellent sazeracs. As the meal was an in-and-out hit job, so too will this review be a lot shorter than the others I’ve done so far.
The piggies in blankets were absolutely bloody lovely. Fantastically juicy and meaty, with a wonderful flavour that danced around savoury with a hint of sweetness in there, you could tell that these chipolatas are made from great pork. The bacon they were wrapped in was as crispy as you’d hope, giving the right combination of textures as you bit through that and into the softer sausage they encased. A little blob of mustard to add heat made for a genuinely delicious side dish.
The main event didn’t massively impress me at first glance. The turkey is thin slices kind of folded up in there, going against the grain in the Christmas burger which seems to favour a big lump of, breaded, deep-fried breast.
But if we’re looking at this logically, MEATmission’s approach is more “authentic” – a lot more people will have thin slices on their Christmas dinner plates than breaded, deep fried pieces! The top filling is the rather clever bacon disk they make – basically smushing and cooking a load of bacon so it fits in the bun better than the more normal slices people would use. The stuffing crumbles were a little dry I thought, presumably because of being smaller pieces, but a good touch – stuffing is quintessentially Christmassy for me. The Old Spot patty was excellent, with the cranberry adding that traditional sweetness aspect of a Christmas sarnie. The turkey was super juicy, a result of it being sort of “basted” with the gravy it mentions. An extra tray of gravy to the side to dip this in, a la Blacklock, now that would have been fantastic.
It was a really proper feast of flavours and textures – the turkey was so juicy, savoury and succulent in particular. I demolished the thing in no time at all, and it really did evoke the season to my palate. As I mentioned, stuffing is a big Christmas food at my home – sage & onion being my favourite. A lot of these specials seem to use that as the vehicle for pork, but personally I’ve never really gone down the meaty stuffing route, so this was a welcome choice for me and my tastes. All in all, a success, if not quite at the level of Blacklock or Mac & Wild.
JFB – Red Bull Thre3style World Final Qualifying Heat
This last week or so, Chile played host to the annual Red Bull Thre3style World Final. This has grown immensely from the first World Final in Paris, which I was lucky enough to take part in back in 2010 – it now comprises qualifying heats before the Grand Final.
The UK hasn’t featured in the World Final line-up for a few years, but this year the incredible JFB won a wild card place, and headed out to fly the flag!
Sadly it wasn’t to be in the Grand Final – I’ve yet to see the winning set from DJ Puffy, but it must have been impressive. But I have seen JFB’s extraordinary qualifying heat set that got him his place in the Grand Final, and seriously, it is 15 minutes of stunning skill, inch-perfect preparation, inventive transitions and fun tunes. Enjoy!
Mac & Wild is a restaurant I’ve been wanting to sample after seeing this frankly filthy piece of food smut on the Facebook timeline of a friend who works there…
And so I naturally sought to find out whether they were doing a Christmas burger – it was a yes, a table was booked, friends bailed at the last minute, all seemed lost, and then a 2nd opportunity arose. Booyakasha. And then 2 of the 3 friends bailed on that one, but I’ll take it, the friend that was left knows his stuff, being responsible for some of the finest drinking dens and food outlets London has seen in the last few years.
In we went, and what a lovely place it is. Tucked away on Great Titchfield Street near Oxford Circus, it wears it’s rustic charm proudly, with ample nods to the hunting and game that are the backbone of this restaurant. Even the door handles are rifles!
Wooden surfaces, hunting memorabilia, Scottish bits and bobs – all abound inside the restaurant. It is a cosy little place, with room for more seating downstairs, and stock stuffed in every little nook and cranny they can find, including this rather impressive stash of bottled Irn Bru (which as everyone knows, is made in Scotland from girders). They also have loads of bottles of their pre-mixed cocktails around – more on that later.
We decided that the best approach for the two of us (juuuuust the twoooo of us) was to share a Christmas burger (based around venison and turkey), and their highly rated Venimoo burger – a venison patty and a beef patty, apparently a prize winning combination. After my pleasant experience with Lucky Chip’s Rudolph Burger, I was ready to give more deer a whirl. We also ordered some haggis pops, hispi cabbage with black pudding, cheesy chips, and a venison scotch egg.
The pops arrived first, and they were a fantastic “small bites” type of dish. Little nuggets of haggis in incredibly crispy crumb, served with a dipping sauce called “Red Jon”, a delicious, sweet, sticky, mustardy concoction of redcurrant jelly and mustard. The crispiness of the crumbs was a recurring theme, I have to say that whatever the hell they are doing with their panko crumbs, it is working. If you are going to bread something, and fry it, then serve it and it’s not as crunchy AF… why I oughtta! No issues around that here.
When the rest of the food arrived, I have to say I loved the presentation. There was something about the way the Venimoo was served that really tickled me pink. The bun was darker than your average, with sesame seeds, and maybe it was the divot from some chefs thumb in the top half of the bun, maybe it was the two slightly overlapping patties seemingly drenched in melted cheese, tossed in seemingly carefree and slightly off-kilter… I don’t know, but I had a mental food boner for that sandwich just looking at it.
The Christmas Burger was less impressive to look at, but that’s a bit like saying so and so isn’t as attractive as George Clooney. It’s a high bar they’re being compared against, and there’s no shame in not reaching it. The Scotch Egg was, well, a scotch egg, with a smear of mustard on it’s platter the only visually exciting thing about that – bearing in mind I’m not really a big scotch egg fan. The cabbage – that really didn’t look like much, and had a huge amount of liquid in it, to the point that it bordered towards soupiness, although the chunks of black pudding in there were admirably large. The chips came with a little bowl of cheesy sauce to dip them in.
Where to start..?
Let’s start with what we’re here for – the Christmas Burger. It was… it was… good. Not outstanding, for reasons more of assembly and ease of consumption than anything else.
It was very tasty. The confit turkey was juicy, and as mentioned earlier, outstandingly crispy. It was also massive, which meant that on top of the other fillings it was a nightmare to try and eat. We may have made this trickier by cutting in half, I can’t say as I’ve not eaten one without cutting in half, but the Blacklock burger was actually far easier to handle when cleft in twain (as I did on my return visit earlier this week). At one point the last bit of the venison patty squirted out and landed in my lap, so it wasn’t ideal construction from an engineering point of view. The turkey element was simply so thick it just made the whole sandwich very hard to eat in the way God intended. Which is a dreadful shame, as the component parts were actually delicious, the two meat elements working very nicely with the brie and cranberry. The venison sausage patty was fantastic. It had bread sauce in there alongside the cranberry , which practically made me squeal with delight (I’ve become a bit fixated on what Christmassy elements make it into these sandwiches), but I suspect it’s that lubricant that made the patties slip around so much as I tried to eat them.
The cabbage really was a bit of a let-down, especially at the price. It just seemed to be lacking any really bold flavours, it needed more seasoning to my palate, the black pudding was nice enough, but that dish was definitely the poor relation of this meal. I didn’t get any real hit of heat from the mustard, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend that as a side dish.
The chips were good, if nothing to write home about – I’m not someone who is easy to impress with chips, but am quick to fault bad ones. These were crispy, and fluffy inside, the cheese sauce was great (although this seems an odd way to serve cheese sauce to me, but there you go, and you could always pour it over the chips when they arrive). The price is about par for the course for London, and I’ve no negative things to say about these. They were chips, executed well.
The venison scotch egg was, to me, the surprise package. I would never normally go for a scotch egg, for the simple reason that I rarely eat egg. This was, as with the other breaded items, phenomenally crunchy. The venison inside was juicy and moist and flavourful, and just a little pink. The egg… I don’t really understand how the chef did it to be honest. It was remarkable. My companion called it the perfect sous vide egg I think. It was jelly-like, but distinctly cooked. The yolks was runny but glutinous, all at once. It was delicious, I could happily stick one of those in my packed lunch any time. The mustard was a great, warming, sharp accompaniment.
And finally the Venimoo. A beef patty and a venison patty with cheese, bearnaise and caramelised onions, and we added the candied bacon. I’d insisted we order this, as frankly it sounded amazing. You know what? It was amazing. It is amazing. It knocked the Christmas Burger out of the park. I need to go back and try it again to really be sure, but its a real contender for my favourite burger that you could go and buy tomorrow (the best two I’ve ever had were limited editions that are apparently not to be repeated sadly, the Super Fatty Patty and the World Peace Burger).
The marriage of the venison and beef as flavours and textures was just superb. The melted cheese and bearnaise sauce gave it an incredible juicy succulence, aided by the sweet caramelised onions. The candied bacon added snap and another touch of sweetness, but also salt. It really is a phenomenal burger. I was actually a little taken aback by how much I enjoyed it – I’d remarked to my server about how burger’d out I was after so many trips for this Christmas specials project! At a tenner (or £11.70 with the bacon), it’s actually pretty reasonable value in the grand scheme of fancy London burgers, bearing in mind the Fitzrovia location and the fact that you get two substantial patties in there.
As for the drinks, I had a Drygate Bearface lager (heavy on the hops, light on the tongue it proclaimed on the bottle, and that was pretty much accurate), I liked this, Damian did not, c’est la vie.
I then tried glass of their Forager bottled cocktail that so impressed me a bottle was purchased for a Christmas present for my dad, kind of reminiscent of an old fashioned, but the honey in there was tangible on the tongue, giving it a somewhat velvety mouth-feel, and there was a almost a note of cinnamon or something in there, presumably something to do with the pine leaf tincture? Not that I have the faintest clue what a tincture is. And finally a warm mug of their Yuletide bottled cocktail, which was a great hot toddy type of drink, lovely spiced, warming flavours perfect for the season.
I’m not much of a desserts man, but we got a sticky toffee pudding in too. This was sensational. Probably the best I’ve ever had, and that’s saying something considering how good the Hawksmoor one is. Much lighter sponge than many, the warm sauce and ice cream combined for a delightful sensation. Highly recommended, although there’s no way I’d be able to handle a full one on my own, that would be a bit too sweet for my palate.
So all in all, a bloody brilliant meal. I’ll definitely be back, that’s for sure. The Christmas Burger maybe didn’t quite hit the heights I’d hoped, but the Venimoo is a marvel, and I’m genuinely wondering if it might be my new favourite burger, I can’t wait to try that again.
The rest of the food was excellent, apart from the rather disappointing cabbage. But there’s a heap of other items I’m keen to sample, and I could easily see this restaurant being a regular haunt for me in the future.
Christmas Burger – 8/10 (would have been higher if it was a little more manageable as a sandwich!)
Venimoo – 9/10
Breadcrumb Crunchiness where applicable – 10/10
Yolk sexiness – 17/10
Value – 8/10
Overall – 8.5/10 (Can’t justify it matching the Blacklock score, but a better side choice than the cabbage and it might have matched it)
When I declared my intent to review as many leading Christmas burgers as possible, I had several people send me pictures and info about this one, and by gum, it was something to get the loins twitching.
I’d eaten at Blacklock once before, gorging myself on their delicious chops of lamb, pork and beef that they cook over charcoal, and so I had high expectations, which were only amplified by the pictures and descriptions sent my way.
To business. This sandwich is a beast. It costs £15, so it needs to be special to justify itself. “What’s in it?” you cry? Well, it’s there below, but I’ll type it out too – Chargrilled Norfolk Turkey Breast, sausage and onion patty, middlewhite bacon, greens and cranberry ketchup in a demi brioche bun, served with turkey gravy for dipping.
We also ordered a whole heck load of other bits and bobs, including a whopping big piece of Prime Rib to share, at the bargain Monday price of £5/100g – our piece was, I believe, 950g or thereabouts. Apparently this is a normal deal here on Mondays, discounted prices on the meat that are more or less what they paid the butchers. The staff were all incredibly friendly and nice, although to give full disclosure I knew one of the waitresses, my companions knew one or two other staff members, so it was probably a lot more informal than for a regular diner. However, the atmosphere around the the whole basement venue seemed to reflect this very laid back vibe. Old fashioneds arrived at the table to much moaning and groaning (2pm on a Monday is pretty early to be back on the hard stuff!), but waste not, want not, down they went, and very lovely they were too.
The conversation and company was lively enough that I have no idea how long it took for the food to come out, but it seemed very prompt. And you know what? The Christmas Sandwich was a thing of true beauty.
I’m going to talk you through this before dealing with the rest of the meal, because this was the star of the show. I mean look at it… its a beast. It’s also a beauty. So it has everything you need to turn this into a Disney film.
Happily, despite it’s enormous size, this is a sandwich that you can eat with your hands. I get really quite annoyed at the trend towards novelty burgers that no human could pick up and eat as a sandwich, and therefore require a knife and fork. That’s a failure of design and execution, straight off the bat. This required careful handling, but I ate the whole damn thing with my hands, dipping merrily away into the gravy.
I remarked during my review of the Honest Christmas Burger that the flavour combination wasn’t sufficiently “Christmassy” – no such concerns here. This hit most of the notes I listed in that review – sage and onion in the sausage patty, the cranberry ketchup gave the perfect note of sweetness, the bacon shone through powerfully, while the grilled turkey and turkey gravy made sure that the birds of the season did their bit. The combination of textures and flavours was just outstanding – savoury, salty, sweet. Charred edges on the grilled turkey, perfectly crispy bacon, the sausage patty in there… my God, what a creation. On it’s own it’s a bloody brilliant sandwich – with the gravy to dip it in? Wow. Just awesome.
You’ll note on this picture how evenly spread the component parts are too – meaning each mouthful was a great combination of the various elements. The greens were fantastic too – giving a little touch of freshness in something that could have been overpoweringly dense. Even with such a packed sandwich, being dipped over and over into a gravy boat, the bun held together like a champ until the last mouthful, and wasn’t too sweet, as some brioche buns can be.
Have to spare a moment for the cranberry ketchup, which was a million miles better than any cranberry sauce/jam/pickle or whatever else I’ve ever had. Rich, sweet, some acidity in there, thick and sticky and oozing throughout the sandwich as I ate it, it was absolutely what this needed with so many savoury notes surrounding it. I really can’t emphasise enough how superb this sandwich is.
The rest of the meal stood up as excellent in its own right – superb prime rib that practically melted in the mouth, and had all the flavour you’d hope for from such a cut of beef. Delicious side dishes across the board, the stand-out probably the 10-hour ash roasted sweet potatoes – apparently they chuck these in the embers at the end of the night and they are ready the next day, and they are delicious, the perfectly cooked flesh complemented with lovely seasoning and the charred skins giving great texture and flavour. The courgettes with Doddington cheese were a delight too – thick cut but succulent and juicy, and the cheese adds some oomph to a vegetable that lacks much of it’s own character when up against more extrovert foods! The barbecued baby gems hiding behind someone’s hand there (I’m still ironing out some kinks in my reviewing haha!)… I could take or leave them to be honest, but one of the group bloody loves them, and he’s one of the best managers in the hospitality game, so his opinion is worth more than mine!
All in all, there was little to fault in this whole experience – from the corny 80s rock anthem blasting away inside the front door where you take the steps down into the restaurant, the friendly welcome, knowledgable staff, but most importantly, the absolutely bloody brilliant food. The Christmas sandwich really was outstanding, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s too early for a coronation, but this will take some beating – if you want to know just how highly I think of it, well, take a wild guess where I’m going for lunch just 7 days after eating the one I’m reviewing here…