Burger & Beyond, and beyond

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The bait that caught us

I started hearing about Burger & Beyond last year when I attended the National Burger Day event at Hawker House. Sadly, I was unable to sample their wares that day, and despite the best of intentions I’d not made it to Kerb, the South Bank Market, or any of the other places they’d been around. Then they moved to Dinerama, in my corner of London. I had arranged to meet an old buddy for food last Sunday, we were kicking ideas around, and then it hit me – go and try these sexy looking offerings, and have the scope to test a few other things out from Dinerama’s ample selection.

We met there at 7pm on a Sunday – the place was relatively quiet but had a nice atmosphere, a gentle buzz, the DJ playing an excellent selection of nu-disco, chilled house, that sort of thing – it had me and Alfie Shazam-ing away while we were there! We ordered our burgers, £10 for a hell of a recipe – The Big Lew, with 90 day dry-aged patty (Ribeye, Brisket, Chuck, Featherblade), pancetta bacon, cold smoked American cheese, and marrownaise.

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Alfie nipped to the next hatch, Thunderbird, for some Chipuffalo wings (buffalo sauce, chipotle, coriander, pickled celery, truffled blue cheese dip) and fries (Cajun spice, awesome sauce) – I’m not mad keen on wings so I sat those out, the fries were a bit meh in honesty; nice seasoning and sauce, but they had that weirdly hollow thing going on that some thin fries get, they were good and crispy, but they didn’t have me thinking I’d ever order them myself down the line. The wings are, by Alfie and many other people’s accounts, excellent.

The burgers arrived – they seemed smaller than the impression we’d had from the pic I’d sent to him earlier to get the saliva buds going (the one at the top of the page). But in isolation they were very attractive, well presented burgers, scoring high on the filthy-stuff-that’s-probably-bad-for-you-but-probably-delicious scale.

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Dutty

On first bite, the bread was somewhat dense, heavy. Almost like a bun on the verge of going stale, but I don’t think it was that. However, it tasted great, and held together like a champ (the Kiwi Burger from Shane’s I’d had earlier in the day had disintegrated into a million pieces by the 3rd bite, the less said about that travesty the better). The smoked American cheese seemed to act like a delicious putty, holding things in place. The marrownaise was rich, the streaky bacon strips suitably crispy, if a little over-salty to my palate.

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Plenty of bacon, good good

The patty, with it’s various cuts in there, had a good, beefy flavour, but a somewhat unusual texture. I suspect they grind their meat more coarsely than is common. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it was different, and that unsettled me for the first few mouthfuls while I tried to work out what exactly was different. They’d said it would be served medium, and I’d say it was leaning towards medium-rare, but regular readers will know that is absolutely fine by me!

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It looks raw in the middle, fret not, that’s just an optical illusion from such a juicy burger with sloppy toppings! It was cooked through.

did very much enjoy this burger, but it was cursed by a common problem in this Instagram era – the sexiness of the photos that drew me here set expectations unreasonably high, and it inevitably disappointed on that level. I am keen to try another burger from these guys, as this was a very good effort indeed, but I left the experience feeling slightly let down, which on reflection is an odd thing considering the quality of the burger they served me. The jury is out to a degree, so I’ll avoid giving it a score for now, I think a 2nd sampling would be very useful for me to work out it’s place in my league table! But I would certainly recommend you try it if you see them around, it’s a very welcome addition to the city.

After this, we fancied something sweet, and found ourselves looking at You Doughnut – the options pretty straightforward, just 2 choices available. We both went for the malted milk choc doughnut over the salted popcorn peanut caramel , £3 each for a small portion (£5 for a larger one), which was plenty to sweeten up our evening. These were a delight. Freshly made, light, tiny doughnuts dusted with sugar, maltesers and digestive biscuits crumbled atop, with malted chocolate sauce to finish it off. The combination and balance was fantastic. I’ve generally not got that much of a sweet tooth, so tend to dodge desserts, but the very reasonable price encouraged me to sample these, and I’m glad I did. I will definitely have these on my next visit.

Being the pair of fatties that we are, our minds wandered to other places in the area, and then it hit me – Alfie had to try the brisket bun at Smokestak. Funnily enough they had a stall at Dinerama before opening their permanent site near Brick Lane, and I am not exaggerating when I say that I consider this the best sandwich I’ve ever had in my life. Better than Kappercesein’s majestic cheese toastie. Better than Katz’s Deli’s Pastrami on rye (although I’ve only had the Texas version, not the NYC effort, which looks to be a different beast). Better than the Hamish Macbeth from Deeney’s. I do not say this lightly.

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Little & Large

We ordered one small, one large – £5 and £8.50. For me, the extra is completely worth it for more of that heavenly brisket. The soft bun is toasted wonderfully, so it crackles and crunches to the bite, tiny bits of char at the edges catching your lips. The inside of the top of the bun appears to have been brushed with dripping or similar, the bottom with a sheen of delicious BBQ sauce. The brisket is coiled within the confines of the bun, and topped with a generous handful of sweet, fiery, pickled red chillies.

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Oh baby

Just writing about it has me gently shaking my head in awe at this masterpiece. The balance is flawless, the brisket juicy and tender, the combination just perfect. I’ve had this sandwich 5 times now, firstly at Meatopia 2015, and each time it has been as brilliant as that first one.

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From an earlier visit

There are other items on the menu at Smokestak worth shouting about, the smoked monkfish tail with burnt lemon is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, and the jacket potato smoked rarebit is a fantastic side dish, but on this trip we simply sat, ordered brisket buns, ate, paid, left, in approximately a 15 minute sitting, something I expect I will do many more times in the future.

So all-in-all, a deeply satisfying evening with a good friend and some lovely food. I need to revisit Burger & Beyond to decide whether it deserves a place at the very top table of London’s burger contenders, but it certainly is in contention. London is in a great place right now in terms of the quality and variety of food available, long may this continue.

 

When Novelty Burgers Go Wrong

I’m hardly a war journalist, but I do make little sacrifices here and there in pursuit of interesting burgers to write about – yesterday was one such little disaster, when faced with a menu seemingly full of delights, at a restaurant I’d been wanting to try out for some time, Red’s True Barbecue.

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Photo shamelessly stolen from here

Yesterday, I did something I never thought I would, and can say with complete certainty will never do again. I had a doughnut burger. Typing that out, I feel like an idiot. What did I expect? I have a thoroughly British palate – if I treat myself to a cooked breakfast, the condiment I reach for is tomato ketchup (sorry, brown sauce advocates). The one thing that never, ever crosses my mind is “You know what this deliciously savoury mess needs? Syrup!”.

So why on earth did I think that sticking a double bacon burger between 2 glazed doughnuts was something I might find enjoyable?

Well, basically, novelty value. I eat more burgers than is probably healthy. Now, I realise that sticking them between deep fried sugary dough isn’t a great way to make them healthier, but it does vary things up a little. I saw something online about a charity offer, a one-day-only buy-one-get-one-free doughnut burger event with a mandatory donation built in to the price. I have a couple of friends who I’ve been saying I’d go to Red’s with for months. The visit scripted itself.

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So in we went, early evening on a Monday. After a little bit of strangely awkward and complicated to-and-fro with our waiter about some free beer vouchers my friend had been emailed (which we were told were only valid after we’d spent £10, so we should scan at the end of the meal, which is fair enough in order to prevent abuse of the offer), we ordered. It was decided to get 2 of the doughnut burgers to share, with some BBQ and sides to complement things.

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And so this arrived. Times two. I’d love to say it looked appetising, that it was a glorious mess. But tbh, it filled me with dread. In there you’ve got 2 beef patties, smoked peppered bacon, cheese and dirty sauce, served between those two glazed doughnuts, sprinkled with what they call “frickles”. I’d prepared appropriately – lunch had been a vegetarian affair, worth about 250 calories to my daily intake. A lap of Victoria Park had been run, weights lifted, 30 minutes pedalled on an exercise bike. I had plenty of spare calories to play with for my dinner, and here they all were, in one rather scary looking Frankensandwich.

We got to business. As there were 2 sandwiches, and 3 of the group eating, we sliced them in half, which in truth made them much easier to manipulate mouthwards. The first thing I noticed was the burgers were definitely at the “well done” end of the spectrum. This to me tends to mean one of two things – either they’re overdone, or they’re done just right as the meat isn’t of the quality where they can be served pink. Given that this was a BBQ place, I’d hope it was the former, and that they mince their own beef onsite. My friend who has eaten there plenty seemed to think that these were not cooked to their usual level, and I’ll take him at his word!

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What can I say of the burger? Well, I would say I will never eat such a thing again. The patties seemed to be of good quality meat, if overdone to my tastes. The bacon was excellent and pleasingly crispy, and the cheese suitably molten. The dirty sauce was intriguing, and something I’d like to try in a different context. Somewhat like a peppercorn sauce, maybe some garlic going on in there. But why on earth had I thought that sticking this lot between doughnuts would be a pleasant thing to experience? They had a cloying, almost caramel flavour. The glaze was soon all over my hands, and any pleasure I took from the traditionally “burger” parts of this meal were cancelled out (and then some) by the overwhelming sweetness of what it arrived between. Every mouthful was completely dominated by that aspect of the burger. When you are dealing with such big, bold flavours as these, and they are struggling to get a word in edgeways, you know it’s a completely imbalanced package. But then, that’s not really the point is it? It’s novelty island writ large, more about social media shares than a delicious dining experience, and I feel a little bit ashamed for being part of the machine that helps this trend rumble on.

Reading around online, there’s talk of this being a 2000 calorie burger. When I think of the things I could eat for that sort of calorific value (so many slices of pizza…), and how many laps of Victoria Park I’ll have to run to cancel that out today, it makes me want to shed a tear. What was interesting was how this sugary, stodgy feeling stayed with me through the evening. I was halfway to meeting a friend for some drinks after leaving Red’s, and decided to turn on my heel and head home, so intense was the feeling of an insulin-fuelled food coma, and I didn’t rid myself of the unpleasant aftertaste and feeling of sickliness until I woke up this morning. I wanted something to cleanse my palate last night when I got home, but God knows what would have worked in the context. A bowl of Marmite perhaps? And this after only eating fractionally over half of a doughnut burger, with a fair amount being left unfinished by those sharing them.

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Brisket and Burnt Ends – the photo doesn’t really do this one justice, it was very nice. The “Mustard Caviar” is basically a mustard seed condiment.

To be fair, the rest of the meal was decent, with some strong highlights. The brisket and burnt ends were thoroughly enjoyable, with the brisket positively melting in the mouth, and the burnt ends being a crunchy counterpoint with good flavour. The sauces provided at the table were all excellent, the fries pretty much done to perfection.

The deep fried pickles were really very good indeed. I’d never been a massive fan of the ones from Meat Liquor – which are flat strips in batter. These ones are a half pickle, a whole one cleft in twain from top to bottom, which means that they retain a happy crunch after deep frying. The creamed corn wasn’t to my taste, and apparently is a new recipe that isn’t as good as the old.

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Creamed corn

The onion rings side was an odd one. We got 1 onion ring. We definitely asked for onion ringSWe clarified this when this sad, lonely, overweight ring arrived with no company, and were informed that it was because they thought we’d ordered it as part of the free accompaniments for the burger, which seems odd to me – I would have thought a portion is a portion is a portion, the same size whatever the context. They brought us one more ring, and the bill showed one English pound for this reinforcement. There were 3 of us eating. A portion of onion rings is listed as £2.95. I don’t really understand what happened there. TBH, there were a series of communication breakdowns with the waiter from start to finish.

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Top, top camerawork from me here.

Which brings us to the end, which was nearly as messy as the burger itself (incidentally, they provided wet-wipe napkins to clean our hands, which was very necessary!). I had known about the 2-for-1 burger deal, the free beer offer was news to me on the day, but certainly very welcome. Yet when it came to that moment and we proffered our voucher codes to redeem them, we were suddenly informed that the small print said it was one beer per table. The small print didn’t say this. This hadn’t been mentioned at the top when we said we had these vouchers. The waiter basically said “hey, what can I do, I’m just a waiter? You want to speak with the manager?”.

Now, I’m not a big complainer at restaurants, but likewise I don’t have that very British terror of “making a scene” that many do. When he came over, he again said “small print”, we pointed out the absence of what he was claiming. He was a little ruffled and flustered (which I think was the restaurant starting to fill up for the evening rather than a reaction to us or anything we were saying or doing), and shot off, came back with a new bill which he chucked on the table with few words, then ran off again, firmly clobbering the chair next to me into mine. With this they’d taken 1 more beer off the bill, despite 4 vouchers being redeemed within the group. Now, this whole episode in and of itself isn’t that big a deal to me, but I think worth mentioning – I was left with a feeling of “is this offer trying to trick people through the door?”

I was going there whatever, the free beer offer was unknown to me until minutes before I arrived, so my indignation was barely existent, but I was struck with how poorly they handled a pretty simple situation, and this was in stark contrast to a story my friends had told me about a visit one Sunday breakfast when a manager there had observed them wait too long for their meal, and without prompting knocked a substantial amount of their final bill. So it’s not like they don’t know what great service is, it’s just that this time was a bit of a chaotic mess, and it did leave me with a 2nd funny taste in my mouth – one free beer per table is a really weird offer to advertise (especially when you don’t actually mention that stipulation anywhere), and is going to lead to odd, awkward moments like this.

All that being said, I enjoyed the BBQ enough to say I’ll probably be back at some point given the location, within walking distance of where I live. The service was a bit erratic, which is a bugbear of mine – cooking great food is hard, being organised, friendly and polite simple by comparison, and there’s really never a good excuse for getting that aspect of a restaurant wrong. Even if it’s stupidly busy and things take a long time, a friendly word and some management of expectations goes a long way – last night was a hodge podge of confusion, misunderstandings and errors.

The doughnut burger however… I highly recommend that you never, ever order one.

Red’s True BBQ Doughnut Burger – 2/10

Brisket & Burnt Ends – 7.5/10

Overall Experience – 5.5/10

A London Food Legend – The Ribman

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I don’t really remember where I first heard about The Ribman, aka Mark Gervaux. I imagine it must have been not long after moving to London in 2011, as I remember making the trip from my flat in Camberwell to his stall at Brick Lane’s Sunday market. Whenever it was, and however I came to hear about him, I’m glad I did.

What I didn’t know at that time were the layers to his craft. As far as I was concerned, I was off to go and get some really tasty meat, eat it, and that was basically it. That’s how it is with most places. And let’s get one thing clear – the meat he makes is fantastic. I don’t know if it’s a phenomenon that has a name, but when I eat a really good meat dish, there’s this tingly mouth sensation I get, this explosion of the senses, it goes far beyond just tasting nice, it seems to emanate from the very roots of my teeth, from my cheeks, the roof of my mouth, saliva glands going into overdrive. This is a party with no door policy, everyone in that gob is invited, and they all want to get down. This is the sensation I get from The Ribman’s rib meat.

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The Ribman’s Rib Roll

The main thing he serves is pretty straightforward – a rib roll. A big white bun stuffed full of pork rib meat, pulled from the bones and smothered in whatever sauce you prefer – either BBQ, or his own Holy Fuck sauce. More on the hot sauces later… It’s unfussy, unpretentious, and pretty much impossible to eat as a sandwich! I could try to describe how he makes his rib meat, but all I’d be doing is paraphrasing this video, so here you go. The standard goes for £6, or if you want to go all-in, you can get an absolute monster for £10.

Those of you who watched the video will have seen him making his hot sauces. I’ve said enough about the rib-roll, and these sauces deserve their own time. His signature sauce (the brilliantly name Holy Fuck) is just a magnificent example of how to do it. For starters, it is devilishly hot. Those who are not acclimatised to properly spicy condiments will struggle to get past this heat. Those who are, they are in for a treat. Holy Fuck is one of the best hot sauces I’ve ever had the pleasure of sampling, a wonderfully fruity complexity that you have to treat with the respect naga jolokia and scotch bonnet chillies deserve. Go over the top and you will be coughing and spluttering, get it right and you have an evolving experience in your mouth that takes you through to a warming, satisfying finish that stays with you long after you’ve finished eating, waves of chilli hitting you as your mouth discovers little pockets of chilli that have hidden away!

As well as this signature (which he once did as a frankly sensational bacon Holy Fuck, apparently sadly never to be repeated), he also makes the even hotter, and even more brilliantly named Christ on a Bike and Holy Mother of God, as well as an excellent Japanese influenced variant, Fuck Yuzu (which I think is probably my overall favourite). Christ on a Bike has 3 times the naga chillies as Holy Fuck, and Holy Mother of God is hotter still, so be warned – they will blow your head off! Many of London’s burger joints have taken notice – Ribman specials have been spotted in the wild at numerous outlets, either featuring his sauces or meat. The Honest Burger Ribman Special was fantastic in particular, but in truth there are few dishes that aren’t improved with a dash of Holy Fuck – it utterly transformed a Chicken Parma Burger at MeatMission, and I’d love to see someone do something with Mac & Cheese and his sauces… Maybe deep fried balls of Mac & Cheese with a blob of Holy Fuck in the middle? Come on people, lets make this happen!

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The now traditional stocking-up-before-heading-to-see-my-family-oop-north order

Less celebrated than his sauces are his rib rubs. I’ve never actually used these for the prescribed purpose, although I hope to give it a whirl this summer. However, I have found a handful of uses for them, and tbh I could happily use it as a substitute for salt & pepper. A personal favourite is to cut sweet potato into wedges, lightly oil them, sprinkle liberally with the Holy Fuck rib rub, and then roast. They are fantastic served hot, even better when reheated a day or two later as they take on an extra crunch, and work brilliantly cold in salads and packed lunches. I also almost always chuck a nice big pinch in with a bowl of mixed nuts and seeds for giving a healthy snack some fire! I’ve not tried the standard rub, just the Holy Fuck one – I find the rubs a gentler heat than the sauces, with some more sweetness in there. The chilli seems to glow from your tongue, and isn’t as prone to hitting the back of your throat with a sledgehammer if you overdo it!

Speaking of hammers, as you might have noticed from the logo, Gervaux is a committed West Ham fan, and seems to be loving life in the Bilic/Payet era! He can be found knocking out his rib rolls at The Boleyn Tavern on match days, although I assume he’ll be heading elsewhere with the move to the Olympic Stadium that is on the way next season. He’s also a very engaging and entertaining Twitter user, and commendably forthright about the liberties some street market companies take with their traders – it’s good to have someone as prominent and respected as him holding the less fair operators to account given the explosion in popularity of street markets across London in recent years.

As you can tell, I’m a big fan, and I’m happy to offer my whole-hearted recommendation for what The Ribman is selling!

Gevaux

The Holy Cheezus – Shoreditch Blues Kitchen

I’ve a backlog of various food reviews to finish and publish on here, but I thought I’d get this one out there as it’s a limited time offer, and so anyone interested will need to act fast! And I imagine that burger obsessives will be very curious to try this one out – the Holy Cheezus from Shoreditch Blues Kitchen.

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The carefully assembled and photographed promo version of the burger!

The venue is an old haunt of mine – before the site was bought by The Columbo Group, it was known as Bar Music Hall and I used to play there a couple of times a month as either Santero or Little 15 depending on the night. It has been completely transformed, and my dining companion and I were hugely impressed by the attention to detail they’ve gone to in sourcing the weathered and worn furnishings, decor and assorted nick-nacks to give it a run-down, rustic bluesy Americana feeling.

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I used to DJ over in that corner!

On to the food – the lunch menu was full of things I liked the look of, BBQ and burgers dominate, with nods to jambalaya and gumbo. I was on the verge of ordering the Beef Rib Sandwich (which my friend had, and was by his account fantastic), when I paid closer attention to the special. I’d initially kind of glossed over that due to the hefty £15.50 price tag. But when I properly read it and clocked that instead of a bun, it was encased in grilled cheese. So basically, its a pair of grilled cheese sandwiches with a burger inside. I ummed and ah’d for a good 15 seconds before settling on that as my order.

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Before we get to the main event, a word about the service – this aspect was absolutely spot on. Really friendly welcome at the door, I asked to be seated by a window but was made to feel entirely comfortable about them preferring to sit me on a smaller table due to the expected lunchtime rush (I arrived around noon), then without prompting they brought tap water and glasses with ice to the table, and unobtrusively kept checking in while I waited for my friend to see if I wanted anything. I interacted with probably 5 members of staff and they were all brilliant, so gold stars all round. At the end a guy called Toby who I assume was the duty manager came over to ask us how we’d enjoyed it and we had a lovely chat, exchanged names and recommendations for some hot sauces and seasonings, all in all that side of things was absolutely flawless. I also fell slightly in love with one of the waitresses, but that’s another story.

So, on to the food.

The burger arrived, alongside a decent portion of seasoned fries. It didn’t look anything like the above promo picture – although I just downloaded that now so there was no aspect of feeling cheated!

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I’d been asked for how I’d like it and had gone with medium-rare, however the patty seemed to be slightly lop-sided and as a result was only pink on one side really, not a big deal in the grand scheme of things but worth noting. The toast had just the sort of crunchy bite I’d been hoping for, to keep it manageable they’d used thin slices of white bread, while inside the cheese was a pleasant addition but in my view could have used something a little sharper in there to add a little zip – either a bit of a strong cheese added to the mix, or maybe some diced onions/shallots or something, a la Kappacasein‘s famous cheese toastie. The burger itself was pleasingly beefy, too often these days I find some joints seem to have virtually flavourless patties and mask this with outlandish toppings and sauces (I’m looking at you Byron…). As with the bread, the patty was thinner than the average, presumably for 2 reasons – to make it possible to fit the thing in your gob, and also as it needed to cover more real estate than on a bun while still clocking in at 7oz.

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The bacon added a salty punch and was pleasingly crispy (I really can’t be doing with soggy bacon in my burgers). The béchamel and glazed onions allied with basically 2 cheese toasties around the burger made it a touch too rich for me at first, but then I clocked the generous selection of sauces – the addition of their mustard BBQ sauce (according to Toby a mix of wholegrain, Dijon and English mustard cooked up with their BBQ sauce if memory serves) took it to another level, gave it that little bit of sharpness that it had been missing. I think there’s a decent case for either some mustard in the fillings, or onions in the cheese toasties, or maybe even both, to embed that extra element in the recipe, but it wasn’t a hard puzzle to solve.

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As for the fries, I was impressed – often these seem a bit of an afterthought, and often rather stingy in how many you get considering the relative cost of some spuds cooked in oil. They were seasoned with a gentle cajun spice mixture, just the right mixture of crunchy exterior, fluffy interior, and stayed warm until the last one was munched. I have no idea how the science of that works, but that seems to be an achievement in itself based on previous experience.

So in conclusion, a very enjoyable lunch time trip. The price tag is a little steep vs my usual orders, but then it’s a bit of a novelty and a hell of a filling meal. It’s not perfect by any measure, but certainly good enough that I would happily recommend it to people wanting to try something a bit different, and I will certainly be back to try a good handful of the other things on their excellent looking menu. The service was exceptional, the atmosphere and decor spot on, and its a 5 minute walk from my studio. Looks like I might be needing to go on slightly longer runs than previously to work off these calories…

7.5/10 (with 10/10 for the service)