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.

 

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