I was lucky enough to hit the new Shoreditch outlet of Dirty Bones a couple of times during their soft launch, and on the 2nd visit got chatting with a few of the staff. One thing led to another, and here is a mix I’ve put together for them celebrating our mutual love of classic hip hop, and the funk and disco sounds that inspired it.
I really enjoyed making this mix, so hopefully I will do a 2nd volume of my Boom Bap Y’all mix soon!
Brookside Dark Chocolate Coated Soft Fruit Flavoured Centres
My local Tesco is weird. It’s quite new, and I suspect the manager hasn’t lived or worked in this area before. The aisles are laid out in a bafflingly un-Tesco-like configuration. There is an outrageously large Japanese food section, that I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone stood at, in prime supermarket aisle real estate. A few weeks ago they reshuffled everything in a way that actually somehow made even less sense.
But in this reshuffle I spotted these. Naturally, not anywhere near the confectionary section, but by the biscuits.
I was immediately interested, then clocked the price – £3.40 per bag (195g contents). As a man raised in the North of England who spends a considerable amount of time around Yorkshire and Yorkshiremen due to my support of Sheffield Wednesday, this was enough to put me off instantly. Haribo cost a quid a bag or thereabouts, I like them, easy peasy. If I need chocolate, I like those mini-Boost things, again, quid a pack – Jurassic Park!
But on every visit I’d find myself in front of these, surrounded by a confusingly laid-out selection of sweet and savoury biscuits and inexplicably placed Eastern European pickled root vegetables, winking at me from the top shelf like Jo Guest in the mid-to-late 90s.
So a few weeks ago, nursing a mild hangover and with the rare promise of a night in with me, myself and I for company I took the plunge, spent dat paper, and bought dem sweets. I signed up for Netflix, started on the savoury snacks and pizza, and tuned into Stranger Things in preparation for the chocolatey denouement.
One evening, 7 episodes, and several thousand calories later, I’m delighted to report – these sweets are absolutely banging.
The chocolate is apparently 41% chocolate solids – not as much as I’d like in a bar, but certainly a lot darker than normal for this sort of sweet. They are kind of like a firm, fruity jelly sweet crossed with a milk chocolate raisin, after having sex with a bar of Green & Black’s.
Against my expectations, I found I preferred the slightly sweeter pomegranate ones. In truth though, the two complement each other nicely. I have no idea what acai is, and I suppose I should google that.
After posting on Facebook, it became apparent that these are a Canadian/American standard, which makes sense as Tesco has in recent years made a point of having an American section, full of Twinkies, Lucky Charms, and so on. The price presumably reflects the import cost and scarcity in the UK.
Since starting writing this piece, Tesco have slashed the price to £2.50 a bag in an offer (and so I naturally bought 6 bags, and keep having unfortunate incidents after midnight that undermine my efforts in the gym), although it’s not clear whether that’s a temporary measure to shift remaining stock that isn’t selling, or an attempt to drum up a fanbase, or what.
But I am basically addicted to these now. Highly recommended.
I’ve got a lot of affection for Honest Burger, and regularly mention them when asked about my favourite burgers in London. I visited their original Brixton site when they only had one outlet, and have been impressed by the speed they went from 1, to 2, to 16 restaurants in under 5 years. What I’ve been less impressed by is the negative impact this has seemingly had on the consistency and standards across the group. Today, sadly, falls into that 2nd category.
At 11.05am this morning, while taking care of a bit of life admin, an email pinged through. And I was faced with this glorious sight…
Now, this is a sexy looking sandwich. My Facebook post received dozens of salivating replies from similarly smitten fatties. Check the description
“From the bottom to the top we kick off with homemade walnut pesto, add a 30 day dry-aged beef patty, bubbling hot smoked mozzarella, homemade marinara sauce, crispy pancetta and finish with a twist of black pepper.”
The phrase “get in my belly” has never been more apt. My mind was made up – dinner was at Honest. A few text messages later and it was arranged. 6.30pm at Honest Burgers’ Bank restaurant.
Now seems a decent time to clear the air. I’ve had very mixed experiences with Honest since they commenced their rapid expansion. When they nail it, they are in the very top tier. Their Tribute burger, when done right, is superb, a cheese & bacon burger of rare brilliance. But a few too many times things have not quite been right; burgers overdone, underdone, oversalted, fries burnt, one diner’s bun toasted, the other not, and so on. But when they have got their ducks in a row, it’s good enough that I take this chance on being disappointed. To their immense credit Honest once even found a tweet to a friend where I made some very mild criticism of a burger there and gave me a free meal on my next visit, and their staff are always friendly and attentive, and they have never had a problem with fixing things if they are wrong.
Back to today.
Me and my friend Charlotte arrived exactly at the same time, 6.30pm on the dot. Londoners, it really isn’t that hard. We always do it, and as a result we are always the first people by ages in our groups. How do people find it so hard to be punctual? Anyway, I digress. The restaurant follows their usual wooden and steel design, pretty basic but comfortably so, and we went downstairs to our booth, the restaurant having maybe only a dozen diners across 2 floors, which surprised me somewhat at that time midweek in The City.
Charlotte ordered the Tribute on my recommendation, I ordered the Pizza Burger, a bit of bacon ketchup to help the party along, a beer for the lady, and for me a very nicely presented bottomless supply of sparkling water, a bargain at just a quid (this year it’s my 4th Sober October in a row).
The burgers arrived, and first impressions weren’t great. I mean, I knew it wasn’t going to look like the advert, but I expected something vaguely close. I was expecting a messy beast of a burger, cheese oozing out of the sides, gravity pulling it down the sides, marinara sauce dribbling alongside the molten trails of smoked mozzarella, something more Patty & Bun than Honest’s usual style.
What I got was this.
Now, this is where I have to be honest with myself, and you (no pun intended).
I should asked whether the mozzarella should be melted. Smoked mozzarella is a funny beast, very different to regular mozzarella balls, or the grated hard stuff you get in supermarkets for pizzas etc. But tbh, I just wanted to eat. And I guess part of me was thinking “I want to judge what they serve me, not what they serve me 2nd time round”. Also, I had managed to completely forget that they’d claimed it to be “bubbling hot smoked mozzarella”, as I was engrossed in a typically in-depth conversation with Charlotte.
I’d asked for medium-rare, and this is how it came – I’d say this is on the rarer side of things right in the centre, but nothing I’m offended by, and I’d rather this than overdone.
You can also see that the mozzarella is a long way away from being melted – it was also cold. And again, I should have just said something – I had ample opportunity, as we were asked 3 times if everything was ok, an unusual situation. I’m not sure if this was overzealous staff (one came before we’d taken a bite, and again after, then another staff member a few minutes later), whether it was because they’d noticed me taking pics and were getting paranoid, whether it was because they weren’t confident in the chefs, or what. But either way, it’s on me that I didn’t send it back, which I should have done, as it wasn’t what was advertised and what had brought me out for the night.
The burger patty itself was typically flavoursome, the strong, savoury beefiness that I’ve come to expect from Honest, seasoned just right. I would say that next time I’d order it medium, but given that I’ve had them come well-done when I’ve ordered medium-rare, I don’t really know how to offset that level of erratic production. It’s really strange, as these guys are superb maybe 70-80% of the time – I guess it’s just a numbers game, there’s only so many staff who are reliably able to hit the mark every single time, and when you expand this quickly it must be tricky to maintain the highest standards. But they risk becoming the next Byron if they don’t arrest this trend – well known, but a 2nd division player. Byron is just a bit average – in Honest’s case, they have brilliance in their locker, but too often slip up.
The bun held together well and was pretty neutral taste-wise – it didn’t fight against the flavours it was holding, although the walnut pesto offered nothing much that I noticed (I literally forgot it was in there until Charlotte asked what that was like!). The marinara was pleasant, and had a zesty tang to it. But there was nowhere near enough of it – much had absorbed into the top half of the bun, and I was expecting it to be a messy beast to handle. Look at the photo at the top – you know full well that if you squeezed that and bit down on to it, the marinara is going all over the shop, and that’s what I thought I’d signed up for! Same with the pesto – it’s spilling all over the shop in the advert! The pancetta was great – I really liked that – very thin, with a lovely crispy crunch, and I think that makes for an excellent substitute for bacon just as a general observation, if done this way. Sometimes bacon for burgers is underdone and the fat becomes something of an obstacle to be chewed through.
The rosemary fries were outstanding, as they almost always are. They seemed ever so slightly thicker than I remembered, although that might be a trick of my memory. Cooked to perfection, cripsy outside, fluffy inside, just the right amount of salt, a decent kick from the rosemary. And the bacon ketchup… the sooner Honest start selling that stuff, the better! Amazing. This stuff is actually possibly even better – highly recommend it, I picked up a jar at home in the Peak District last Christmas, yet turns out it’s made up the road from me in East London!
I demolished every last crumb in my dish, but there’s no getting away from the fact that this was a crushing disappointment. I was entering tonight thinking that this was a possibility for my favourite ever burger, and I got… that.
It wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t particularly good either. This has happened before at Honest actually – at Spitalfields I had a special (I forget which), and again was bitterly disappointed. I should just order the Tribute, it’s genuinely superb, but they keep creating these Instagram-friendly beasts, and I keep falling for it!
A friend who works for Street Feast says she’s had it, it looked nothing like mine, and was delicious – and that may well be true, but then just adds weight to the other issue, the wild inconsistency from kitchen to kitchen. Hopefully they can address this, as Honest have it in them to be the top burger joint in London.
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.
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!
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!