London Pizza Round-Up, Volume 10 – Another Vegan Special!

Not long ago, something caught my eye on my twitter timeline between the bitter political squabbling that fills much of it. A new pizza had been crowned the best around in some awards show – already, that is my interest piqued. But then the extra nugget that it was vegan really caught my attention. I’m not vegan, or even vegetarian, but I’m trying to limit my intake of meat when I can, and so welcome the vast leaps and bounds that are being made in those areas.

As luck would have it, a vegan friend of mine works around the corner from Purezza (which you can find in Camden or Brighton). A lunch date was set, and off I went.

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The restaurant itself is very appealing. Some seats outside, but it was too chilly for that, so we settled down to order inside, the tables and chairs a homely wooden style. Yasmine was straight on to the chocolate oreo milk shake – I stupidly didn’t try that, but at £6 it had better be pretty damned tasty. She seemed to love it – it wasn’t small, and it lasted about 90-120 seconds before she’d drained it. I had the ginger kombucha, which was lovely, certainly as good as any other brand I’ve had, and I’ve had as many as 3 others. Total expert.

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“Cheese” 😐

We shared the vegan “cheese” board, at £11.95. This, to me, was not a great start to the meal – of the 4 “cheeses” (based on cashew “milk”), only one was something I’d choose to pay for again, the parmesan-styled effort (top left in this).

The others just weren’t up to much, either on a texture or flavour level. It came with some fancy crackers that, honestly, I didn’t really care for, and two small ramekins with a creamy spread/dip and an oily one. I didn’t get involved much in them other than to quickly taste.

The more I sample vegan and vegetarian food, the more I think that it’s a bad idea to mimic meat and dairy, and a much better approach to just showcase ingredients to reflect their strengths. Shoehorning plant-based ingredients into mock cheeses or fake meats… it rarely ends well in my experience. I guess the argument is that technology will get there in the end, and these are the stepping stones to get there.

Not a great start – but I was here for the pizza, and those that were arriving at other tables looked fantastic.

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We both ordered the award-winning Parmigiana Party – fried aubergine, plant-based mozzarella, tofu sausage, tomato sauce, basil. This wasn’t a million miles away from the winning pizza at the 2017 London Pizza Festival, so I had high hopes for a real comfort-blanket of a pizza.

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It looks great. The sourdough base is excellent, the crusts rising an encouraging amount round the edge, and with plenty of flavour. I really should have taken more pics from when I’d started getting stuck into the pizza, but you get the idea, and the fact that I was too busy shovelling it into my face tells it’s own story. This is a tasty pizza. The tomato is excellent, and the various toppings work well, although personally I found the tofu sausage a bit pointless – which takes us back to my earlier point. There’s surely a tastier, better ingredient to put in here that isn’t pretending to be a meat product? Take these off and the pizza would lose nothing. Replace them with something interesting and it could lift the whole thing up a level.

The “mozzarella” stuff melted well, although wasn’t really comparable to mozzarella in my view, in flavour or mouthfeel – more like thin slices of an incredibly mild cheddar I’d say. I didn’t really notice it at the time, but I do have a bit of a pet peeve of people being stingy with basil like this, if a pizza deserves one leaf, it surely deserves a few? Hell – the menu says “topped with basil leaves”… But that is nitpicking really. The garlic mayo we got to dip the crusts in was lovely.

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Is it the best pizza around? No.

I am very surprised it won this award – it’s not even the best vegan pizza I’ve had this year (Jack To The Future at Yard Sale is my best, closely followed by the Club Mexicana effort at Radio Alice). And it’s not as good as the parmigiana pizza that I mentioned earlier, which you can get at Adommé in Streatham. I’m curious to know what it was up against, and the degree to which it’s being vegan impacted the ratings – I can’t help but suspect it was rated on a different scale to it’s competitors.

This all makes it sound like this is going to be a negative review – that’s not the case. This is a good pizza, if a little overpriced at £12.95. But I’d happily go back and eat here again. It’s just that, as someone who is fine eating dairy and meat, I’m not convinced that a pizza with fake meat and fake cheese on it is the best way forward, given where food technology is currently. It’s not quite there yet I’d say. But for a vegan convert seeking some old comforts, I can see why this would hold a lot of appeal.

The long and short of it – this is a good pizza, but no more than that. At a time when there are dozens of pizzerias serving great pizza, I’m more than a little surprised that this won the award it did, but it’s great that vegan pizza is in the frame for such things.

Rating – 7/10

 

London Pizza Round-Up, Vol 9

LovenPresents, Seven Sisters

One thing that is a simple reality for an amateur food blogger like myself – the restaurants visited will tend to be skewed towards the area I live and work in, which in my case is around the more central parts of East London. But when arranging a get-together of some old friends, we decided to strike out to Seven Sisters as one of the party had to get a train from Tottenham Hale. I donned my explorer’s outfit, and set off into the unknown.

A quick google for pizza places threw up LovenPresents, and some very favourable reviews.

We grabbed a drink nearby at a bar called Five Miles. A particularly sketchy man stomped into the beer garden, downed the dregs of the unattended drinks near us, sat around on his own for few minutes rubbing his head in some anguish, stomped inside, and then moments after I told the others about him, he chose to come and join us, asking us to buy him a pint before sitting down and asking all our names. We decided against inviting him into our circle, and made our way to the pizzeria. I mention this detail because it is something that some will want to consider – this is not (yet) a gentrified area, although it looks inevitable that it’s heading that way from what I saw. It’s definitely still pretty rough round the edges, it has the feel of Hackney Wick a few years ago. Essentially an industrial estate surrounded by a load of housing. Upper Street it is not. That doesn’t especially bother me, but some will find it very unsettling if they aren’t used to it. Obviously, we may have just been very unlucky. And plenty of sketchy people stomp around the more salubrious parts of Nottingham. But it feels like a relevant piece of the jigsaw, so there it is.

Lovenpresents itself is squirelled away upstairs in some sort of industrial unit, and it’s not at all obvious that there is a restaurant there unless you are looking for it. The place itself is a decent size, with the giant pizza oven and kitchen open to the left. A Tribe Called Quest – We’ve Got The Jazz was playing on arrival, which pleased me greatly, and they played ATCQ albums for the whole time we were there. Definite bonus points for this.


I was with 3 friends, so we decided the sensible thing to do was order 4 different pizzas and have a quarter of each. After much back and forth we settled on Buffalina (cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, basil), Zola (Mozzarella, Gorgonzola, raddicchio, pistachios), Piccante (tomato, mozzarella, spicy salami, nduja, chillies, jalapenos), and Margot (smoked provola, sausage, mushrooms, truffle oil, parmesan). Drinks were very reasonably priced – the pizzas I felt were priced at quite a premium level given the location, so was curious to see how they were.

When they came out, they weren’t the prettiest pizzas I’ve ever been served, certainly in the case of the Zola and the Buffalina anyway, which had pretty large spaces toward the crust with no toppings. I’m not militant about pizzas being visually perfect, but that was notable. But visuals aren’t really what matters – how did they taste?

The Zola (£10) was decent, I’m a sucker for blue cheese on a pizza, although I felt that maybe there was a bit too much raddicchio and not enough pistachio. But the combo of flavours worked well. The Buffalina had it’s merits too – but 4 cherry tomato halves? Really? So the slice with a tomato was one thing, the other slice I had a very different experience. Surely a £9.50 pizza can stretch to an extra couple of cherry tomatoes so that each slice has a bit of the sweetness the set it off? And both the Zola and Buffalina had crusts that extended way too far towards the middle of the pizza for me. Nitpicking maybe? Maybe. But that’s my take, especially at the price point these were at.


I really liked both the Piccante (£11) and the Margot (£12), and no major complaints on the way these were topped either. The Piccante really had a serious kick to it, not for anyone who isn’t into genuinely spicy food. A whole one of those would get the brow sweating! The Margot was a lovely combo of flavours, with the sausage a decent quality, and the truffle oil present but not overpowering, bringing an aromatic indulgence to that one. Looking back at the pic, again it seems like the toppings were all a bit towards the centre, but I didn’t really notice that at the time, and enjoyed the pizza on it’s own terms.

The crusts on the pizzas were decent but not exceptional – a little bit doughy for my personal preference, but some prefer them that way. Not especially tasty crusts, but nothing wrong with them either.

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All in all, a perfectly decent meal, but not something I’d go out of my way to repeat, and for most people in London, to go here is pretty far out of their way. Given the location (both area, and where it is in that area) I’m a little surprised that the prices are what they are, given what the prices are at competitors who I feel make pizza as good or better, but of course, I don’t know what the costs etc are in any given place, and tbf, the drinks were very well priced too.

7/10

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The Triple Burger Taste-Off, Round 1, Heat 1

My old flatmate ThePetebox texted me a while ago with a ridiculous, but appealing, idea. Go out into London, and sample 3 of the finest burgers around, each time choosing a winner. Do this a bunch of times, then you do the winners in 3’s, down to a grand final, thus working out the best of the best of the best.

We’ve faffed for a few months, but finally made the leap. Meeting up at Patty & Bun in Soho after Pete had bizarrely been teaching Iain Duncan-Smith to beatbox on Radio 2, we had a loose plan involving Lucky Chip and A N Other, which we hadn’t quite worked out yet.

So, to business. The rules of engagement are simple – 3 burgers, not necessarily the same burgers, just the one that we think sounds the best or that is their signature, or that we know to be kick-ass. For me at Patty & Bun, that’s the Jose Jose – in my opinion the finest burger that is permanently on a menu in London.

We ordered, and they were with us in literally a couple of minutes. As always, opening them was a risky business if you weren’t careful, due to the very messy nature of the burger. But it was as glorious as every other time I’ve had one – sweet, spicy sobrassada chorizo relish mixing with smoky mayonnaise and ketchup, the beef perfectly medium-rare (as they’d advised it would be unless we wanted it done longer) and seasoned just right, the springy, light brioche bun holding together like a champ (especially impressive given how sloppy a sandwich this is). But what I’ve come to realise with this one is that the masterstroke is the pickled onions – the acidity of these cuts through the sauces just enough to stop it being sickly, a crucial note in a symphonic burger. We were off to a flying start. The 2 burgers, service and a donation to a charity that was included and explained to us came in at £21.38.

Patty & Bun – Jose Jose Burger – 9/10

After some consideration about where to head next, we decided to include Tommi’s Burger Joint, which is a relatively new addition to the Soho area. I’d been to the Mayfair joint some time ago, and been impressed, but this was only my 2nd crack of the whip. We both ordered cheeseburgers (which come medium), and a pot of chipotle mayo. The price was a very impressively cheap £12.50 for everything. The burgers arrived quickly, wrapped quite similarly to Patty & Bun’s, yet somehow looking nothing like as appealing due to poor branding and presentation. We unwrapped, and being honest they didn’t excite – they looked a bit dry, dull, and overdone. I popped a big blob of chipotle mayo in there and chowed down.

The first couple of bites were a let-down, but once I hit the chipotle mayo, ketchup and so on, it took on an extra dimension – the chipotle mayo in particular was very tasty. However, it was far from as good a burger as I’d remembered from my first trip – the patty is quite thin, I think the burger was marginally overdone, and not as tasty meat as I recalled it having – also Pete mentioned his was a tad gristly. It wasn’t bad – indeed, for £6.25 it is incredible value for central London. But after the Jose Jose this seemed very pedestrian.

Tommi’s Burger Joint – Burger with cheese and chipotle mayo – 6/10

We took a small interlude here to grab an excellent coffee from Soho Bikes

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And then, a short hop on the tube over to Angel, and Lucky Chip at the Old Queen’s Head for their wonderful El Chappo burger.

Beef patty, smoked bacon, roasted jalapeños, blue cheese & aioli. I’ve had this burger 3 times now, and it’s a good un for sure. Chatting to our server, it turns out they press the blue cheese (a lovely, salty, almost spicy cheese) into a disc which melts atop the burger. The aioli is smeared generously over the bottom half of the bun and brings plenty of garlic to the party, the smoked bacon is excellent and cooked as it needs to be in a burger – just crispy enough to be easy to break through, but not a salty pork biscuit. The occasional jalapeño hit is very welcome amongst this all.

The combination here is delicious, but it did bring to mind the clever move of the Jose Jose – those pickled onions.

The melted cheese and aioli, and a quite fatty patty (which is a good thing for flavour, but still), make for a somewhat oily, greasy mouth-feel after a few bites. It could probably use something in there to cut through this – pickled chillies might do this, but the roasted jalapeños here didn’t, even while being very tasty. It’s nit-picking – I really like this burger. But it’s something I feel could improve it. The burgers were £9.50 each, no service as we ordered and paid at the bar.

Lucky Chip – El Chappo – 8/10

So, a clear winner in Patty & Bun’s Jose Jose, despite my affection for the El Chappo. Tommi’s disappointed this time out, although I’m sure I will give them another crack – the price is excellent and the first time I went it was a corker, so this could be an aberration. On to the next trio!

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Remaining heats in this stage (subject to change!)
Honest Burgers, Hawksmoor, Burger & Beyond

Mother Flipper, Dip n Flip, Haché

MeatMission, Burger Bear, Hoi Polloi

Dirty Burger, Bleecker Street, Smokehouse Islington

Mac & Wild, Elliot’s Cafe, Shake Shack

There’s a few obvious contenders I’ve left out because they are only available on specific days that don’t really suit my schedule, and also some well known brands that I feel don’t deserve comparison with most of these. But feel free to leave suggestions for wild cards in the comments, as I suspect I’ve missed a few out!

The Christmas Food Chronicles, Vol 6

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!

Christmas Burger – 7/10

Sides – 9/10

Service 5/10

Overall 7/10