Christmas Sandwich Round-Up, with DJ Yoda!

Christmas Sandwich Round-Up!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, that time when all the retailers start stocking variations on a simple, delightful theme – the Boxing Day leftovers sandwich. This presents an excellent opportunity for any sandwich fan, but with so many options on the high street, which to part your money for?

Well, legendary disc jockey and snack-food expert DJ Yoda and I decided to take it upon ourselves to sample 8 of the leading contenders, and pass our learned judgement.

I whipped around town to collect the contenders, and headed to DJ Yoda’s London studio to get this show on the road.

The contenders, in alphabetical order…

Co-Op
Eat
Greggs
M&S
Pret
Sainsburys
Tesco
Waitrose

I tried my best to go like-for-like, essentially the generic “turkey & trimmings” leftovers sandwich. Sadly, Sainsburys had sold out of that, so we had the next-nearest option, and Boots was omitted due to their half-hearted approach – lots of variations on these flavours, but no “all-in” option.

Yoda was fresh from a recording of his brilliant song London Fields at Jazz FM, recorded with a 7-piece band, and treated me to a few of his works in progress from his forthcoming album, as well as scratching a load of The Young Ones video clips along with it all. Normal start to the week for one of the best DJs the UK has ever produced.

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A bit of chat about his forthcoming shows over the Christmas period, and his spectacular collection of novelty breakfast cereals, then we settled down to the real business at hand – our sandwiches, electing to start with those we guessed would be somewhere in the middle of the rankings. Quotes are DJ Yoda’s comments.

It was notable that there is a very generic “Christmas sandwich” visual style, right down to the shade of red used by almost all brands. Greggs were an exception in the triangular sandwich posse (a much more straightforward red, and white at the bottom end of the package), and Eat really went to a different place with their bloomer effort. We appreciated the “Carb Diem” slogan on that one. Most sandwiches clocked in around the 500 calorie mark. Prices ranged from £2.50 to £3.99

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Other trends – wholemeal/granary bread seems to be the standard, but there is a clear split about whether leafy greens belong in there, and that seems to be a choice for the more “luxury” brands, and omitted in the more budget outlets offerings. Several included a donation to charity, which is certainly something to be applauded.

Tesco – Turkey & Trimmings (£2.50)

An inauspicious beginning. Claggy, sticky bread, very heavy on mayo, VERY low on flavour. The “sausage”, discs of the worst sort of school-meal banger, the bacon completely passed us by until we noticed it on the list of ingredients. Cranberry weirdly lacking in any real taste too.

“Characterless, a poor start”. The sandwich was reasonably well filled, it’s just that the fillings were rubbish.

DJ Yoda – 3/10
Me – 4/10

Sainsburys – Turkey & Pigs Under Blankets (£2.40)

A little off-piste, but I felt Sainsburys should be represented even though they had sold out of their equivalent of the other sandwiches. This was close enough that I included it.

The sausages were still in “banger” territory, but sliced diagonally, giving much bigger pieces, and visibly contained herbs, and that was reflected in a marginal better taste. The bread had the same issue as the Tesco sandwich. Marginally better ingredients throughout, and marginally more flavour, and certainly a LOT of meat (working on the basis that there is meat in those not-great sausages)

“One for pig-lovers, more bang for your buck, and a better seasoned sausage”

DJ Yoda – 5.5/10
Me – 6/10

Co-Op – Turkey Feast (£2.95)

Surprisingly not as bad as feared, although we went to this one with spectacularly low expectations. The best bacon yet, at one point in the process this was probably in fact quite crispy (not now though, after sitting inside a sandwich for however long), and it had a little flavour to boot. Less mayo involved, and the bread not as claggy as either of the above. And yet still, it felt like there was too much mayo. We were starting to look at the sandwiches that contained some greens and wonder aloud if these sandwiches would be improved by some of that.

“Very perfunctory, one to insert in your cake hole while other shit is happening”. The overall view was that this one is a sandwich you might forget you ate 10 minutes later.

DJ Yoda – 5.5/10
Me – 5/10

Waitrose – Turkey, Stuffing & Bacon (£3.20)

One bite in and – “We’re entering the realm of flavour” This was soon mitigated somewhat by the observation “It tastes a bit like nightclub floor. Not that I taste nightclub floors”. This had a weird and not especially pleasant flavour and aftertaste, we suspect from the rather bizarre cranberry, port & orange chutney. Whether it was the alcohol or the orange, we couldn’t quite work out, but we weren’t into it. I had a bit of pretty chewy bacon fat in mine too, which wasn’t ideal.

The rest of the sandwich was fine, although we observed that turkey is quite possibly the most uniformly bland meat ever committed to a sandwich. In all 4 it had been identical, in that it had been entirely flavourless, dry protein chunks.

“I appreciate the effort, at least something is going on. It at least felt like I was eating an actual lunch”

DJ Yoda – 6.5/10
Me – 5.5/10

We took a moment to refresh our palettes with a bit of watermelon, and discussed Yoda’s forthcoming trip down under (gig details for him at the end of the piece), his love of open water swimming when away for gigs, something he tries to do whenever possible to maintain mind & body, and combat the fatiguing effects of long distance travel.

And then onwards to Sandwich #5 – a bit of a wild card in my mind, as I really think of them as a pasty shop

Greggs – Xmas Lunch (£2.70)

Most will be familiar with their famous Festive Bake, I had my first of the year a couple of weeks ago (it seems to get earlier each year!), and lord knows I’ll have plenty more before the end of 2018. This sandwich was very well filled, bursting at the seams inside it’s packaging.

This had by far the best bread yet, which an excellent, tasty crust – which makes sense, coming from a bakers. It was quite unevenly filled, but actually very decent. The lettuce inside was poor choice of leafy green – that had simply become soggy. There was good flavour to the stuffing, and while it was a little uneven in the fillings, there was plenty in there.

DJ Yoda – 7/10
Me – 6/10

Pret a Manger – Christmas (£3.75)

And now the clear favourite at the bookies, Pret’s near-legendary Christmas sandwich. I hadn’t realised how revered this was until a couple of years ago, when I foolishly chose a Pret veggie option in a taste-off, angering legions of devoted fans.

The packaging was oozing the confidence they clearly feel – no description, name, ingredients. It was verging on arrogance to my mind, but that’s just me being a tit.

“Well proportioned, with a good balance of texture and flavour”. The bread is genuinely tasty, and it’s filled with decent quality ingredients. Hard to criticise it, although for me I didn’t think it was quite the beast many make it out to be.

DJ Yoda – 8/10
Me – 7.5/10

Marks & Spencer – Turkey Feast (£3.50)

“Bread very processed, not very good. High marks for creativity, but doesn’t all work, a little bitter”. Yoda immediately picked up on the onion flavour even before we noticed them on the ingredients list – this contains fried onions, but looking, they seemed to be more of the crispy fried onion variety, which are as much about texture as flavour – in a sandwich the crunch disappears entirely once it’s been on the shelf a while. And since when are onions a flavour we associate with Christmas?

The rest of the sandwich was decent, but any praise tempered by the issues above.

After the comments made, I was a little surprised at the score Yoda gave here, but here it is.

DJ Yoda – 7/10
Me – 6/10

Eat – Festive Full Works Bloomer (£3.99)

And finally, another slight wild card – I only included this after hearing that Eat had a great Christmas sandwich, and it just happening to be near some of the other shops I was buying from. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten from here before – there’s something about the name “Eat” that I really dislike, and that has put me off them. Yoda concurred – “It’s like those homeware shops called “Dwell” or whatever, just a literal description of the thing they are selling”

It has to be said, by bucking the triangle-slice trend, this stood out, and it looked the business. Well layered, well balanced, and extremely well filled. A clear focus on slices for the ingredients – even down to the stuffing.

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“Substantial – it had the best texture, wasn’t mushy, but wasn’t dry.” The choice of smoked ham instead of bacon was a wise one, and worked very well indeed. The chicken stock mayo was subtle – “Mayo is like special FX in films – it works best when you don’t notice it”

For me, this was by far the best sandwich – each mouthful was a satisfying balance on textures and flavours, plus the bread was great (I really liked the oats on the crust which gave a little crunch, and the multiseed bloomer bread was tasty in it’s own right). Carb Diem, the packaging boasted – and at 614 calories, this one is a bit over it’s rivals (other than the 2nd placed Pret sandwich, which clocks in at 617 calories – interesting that the top 2 should have a lot more calories than the others…). But is anyone eating these to lose weight? For both of us, a clear winner anyway.

DJ Yoda – 8.5/10
Me – 9/10

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DJ Yoda looking delighted to be about to eat his 8th Christmas sandwich

Average scores

Eat – 8.75/10
Pret – 7.75/10

Greggs – 6.5/10
M&S – 6.5/10
Waitrose – 6/10

Sainsburys – 5.75/1-
Tesco – 3.5/10
Co-Op – 5.25/10

Eat are crowned champions of the Christmas sandwich, with Pret a worthy runner-up!

As we sat and dissected our findings, Yoda opined that 8.5 was as high as he was prepared to go for something that is inherently never going to match the full majesty of a proper leftovers sandwich. We noted that the clear winner was the one that looked and felt the most like an authentic experience – does anyone at home slice their sandwiches into triangles? There was a uniform blandness to many of these sandwiches (and a LOT of mayo at times), just about rescued by the fact that it’s hard to go too wrong with these basic component parts.

It was certainly a big surprise to me that Pret didn’t come out on top, I had next to no expectations for the Eat one, and everybody I’ve told in the time between tasting and publication has responded with a sort of “huh… maybe I should try them out, I’ve never been in there before”, which is interesting given how many seem to be around.

For now, happy hunting with your Christmas sandwiches, if you find any that I should sample, leave a comment, and look out for a Christmas Crisp round-up with Rob Pursey (Merry Crispmas?), and possibly a mince pie one too if I can find a co-taster to join me for that!

Catch DJ Yoda at these shows in December

Sat 8th December – The Red Lion, Leytonstone, London
Fri 14th December – Winterville, London
Sat 15th December – St Ives Theatre, St Ives
Wed 26th December – Breakfest, Upper Swan WA, Australia
Thurs 27th December – Fitzroy, Vic, Australia

Snack Attack, Vol 9

Co-op Irresistible Hand-Cooked Christmas Dinner crisps

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I spotted these in my mum’s local co-op on a trip to my home land, and felt the need to see what on earth was going on.

On opening the bag and having a sniff, I was struck by an incredibly pungent (in a bad way) odour. Stale, sweaty feet mixed with ready salted walkers.

I poured some on to a plate to examine – they look the part. The sprout crisps (which I presume to be the green ones) appeared at first to be composites of mushed up sprouts, unless they’d found some huge candidates, but on closer inspection turned out to be potato crisps dyed green, which was confirmed by the blurb on the back of the packet.

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First up I went to the parsnip ones. Initially, my mind was put at ease. These tasted like many parsnip crisps I’ve tried when feeling bold, nothing I’m amazingly fond of, but not disastrous . Then the wave of nauseating sweetness struck. The maple. Maple parsnips. Cloying, sickening sweetness overpowering any pleasure from the parsnips natural flavour. Utterly revolting. They taste like the syrup has been sieved through a bin outside a particularly bad restaurant.

The sprout crisps – like a bad ready salted. Very crunchy, to give them their dues, although after the initial snap they disintegrate in a truly odd way – presumably that’s the type of potato at fault, or the manner of cooking? The taste was somewhere between nothing, salt and the inevitable deathly grip of human mortality.

The regular crisps – again, impressive snap on first bite followed by bafflingly unpleasant aftermath. The seasoning – yeah, I suppose I can taste turkey and stuffing, in the same way roast beef crisps represent that flavour (ie barely, but you know what it’s supposed to be).
The carrot crisps- why? These are not a good vegetable to make into a crisp if this is anything to go by. I pulled a fantastically comical face on my first try at these. Hideous, both the snack and the face pulled.

I deeply regret buying these crisps.  The parsnip crisps are quite possibly the most disgusting crisp I’ve ever eaten in my entire life. I really can’t begin to describe what an unpleasant experience this was.

0/10

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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

The Christmas Food Chronicles, Vol 5

MEATmission – XXXmas Burger

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.

 

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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.

XXXmas Burger – 8/10

Christmassyness – 9/10

Piggies in Blankets – 8.5/10

Sazerac – Boozy/10

Overall 8/10

The Christmas Food Chronicles, Vol 4

Mac & Wild Xmas Burger

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…

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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!

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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.

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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.

The Christmas Burger

 

Cross-section of the Christmas Burger

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.

Scotch Egg – super crunchy crumbs!
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Will you look at that egg… LOOK AT IT!

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.

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Instagram strikes again – the Venimoo
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Yes, it’s upside down

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.

Damian in his happy place

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)

The Christmas Food Chronicles, Vol 3

The Christmas Sandwich, Blacklock

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.

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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.

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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.

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Yes, there’s an Instagram filter on this picture

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.

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Hnnnnnnnng….

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…

Christmas Sandwich – 9.9/10

Christmassyness – 9/10

Steak – 8.5/10

Sides – 7.5/10

Service – 8/10

Overall – 9/10

 

The Christmas Food Chronicles, Vol 2

Lucky Chip – Rudolph Burger

Lucky Chip is, by my reckoning, one of the most consistently excellent burger joints in London. Quite why it hasn’t grown in the way Honest, Patty & Bun or Meat Liquor have, I don’t know. But they have always given good burger.

However, the big standout compared to others is that they consistently produce burger specials that not only look good on paper and Instagram, but also taste incredible. Their World Peace Burger in collaboration with Bleecker Street was a work of art, probably the 2nd best burger I’ve ever eaten.

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So the unveiling of their Christmas menu immediately grabbed my attention. The instagram picture of the Rudolph Burger, a deer-based offering, held it.

So a lunch date was set with a buddy, and in we went.

For me it was quite easy; a Rudolph Burger, and something else festive, so turkey nuggets jumped off the page. My friend went for a Santa’s Little Helper hot dog, chilli cheese fries & buffalo wings, which weirdly don’t seem to be on the above menu.

When the burger landed, it wasn’t the most beautifully presented thing in the world, but this is junk food, and I know how deceptive appearances can be with this stuff.

The wings and some cheesey fries arrived with it, with a mention that the rest would be with us shortly. Thus began a strange and confusing back and forth!

But first things first – the burger. I have to say, it was delicious. We were both struck at how little the burger itself tasted like venison as we know it, maybe that’s a product of it being minced and cooked burger style, but it did have a note of the gaminess you’d expect from that meat. The other fillings were generous in quantity and nicely spread throughout the sandwich, giving each mouthful a great balance of flavours and textures. The blueberry, blackberry & gin jam gave a lovely hit of sweetness and just enough acidity, which counterbalanced the stilton very well indeed. It was cooked to around medium, and even though there was a lot of juice flying around, the bun held together excellently throughout my demolition job.

The wings were decent – although that’s my verdict as someone who isn’t much of a wings connoisseur. I have to say that the pepper sauce was extremely good, delivering an excellent slap of heat to the tastebuds and having a nice thick, sticky, viscous character. They weren’t the meatiest wings I’ve ever had, and I’m not the biggest “on the bone” chicken fan in general, but yeah – these did what you’d hope, and I’d happily recommend them, although I’d have preferred a blue cheese dip to the more herby one we got.

So far so good, except for the fact they’d brought the wrong fries out, and no hot dog or nuggets. We pointed this out and they took the fries very apologetically, and promised the rest would be with us soon. And lo, the nuggets arrived.

The turkey nuggets were very enjoyable indeed – big, solid chunks of turkey breast meat, breaded and presumably deep-fried, and served with garlic aioli. Turkey being what it is, they didn’t have a strong flavour in and of themselves, but were well seasoned and the breadcrumb was pleasingly crunchy to the bite. The aioli could have handled a touch more garlic, but then I like to smash my tastebuds with a hammer with flavours and seasoning, and there was nothing really “wrong” with it, I’d just like everything to have more garlic in it really!

After a little while longer, the chili cheese fries and hot dog arrived. Look at how happy he is! This was a temporary pleasure, until I pointed out that his dog was missing it’s onions and cheese. Another quick back and forth later, and after much apologising and offering of refunds, a ramekin of lovely, sweet caramelised onions and a massive tray of grated cheese (it seemed to be something like a Leerdammer, which is great for melting in food like this) arrived.

I should note – the staff were all lovely, all this happened in a very friendly context, they offered refunds/free rounds of drinks against our protestations not to worry – it was a bit chaotic but it was mid afternoon on a Saturday, the pub was pretty quiet, I suspect there was just a slightly less-than-alert kitchen staff member nursing a hangover and taking their eye off the ball. It really didn’t spoil the experience, and they handled it like champs.

The fries were pretty good – not at the God-level of Meat Liquor’s incredible chilli cheese fries, which are possibly my favourite side in london, but these were sufficiently different to occupy their own corner of the map. The chilli contained both minced beef and pulled pork, and was very mildly spiced. The ample cheese was thoroughly melted within the mix, creating huge conjoined blobs of fries, chilli and cheese – to my mind, this was a happy outcome. I enjoyed the different textures from the two types of meat in there.

The hot dog was ok – obviously it was a bit of a cock-up how it was served, and that detracted from it. Having seen and tested the excellence of Dirty Bones’ hot dogs, this was a pretty poor effort really by comparison, although at a slightly lower price point – it didn’t look great, and tasted pretty meh. It improved hugely with the addition of the onions and cheese, and it was a perfectly decent frankfurter in there, but when you’re eating out you want something you couldn’t do at home – this, when it first arrived, looked like something I might drunkenly cobble together at home at 4am after a night out.

So all in all, a mixed bag as an experience, but a cracking Christmas burger at the heart of it. I’ve never had these service issues there before, and as I mentioned. they handled it all really well. The hot dog and sides ranged from mediocre to good – but I’d have no hesitation in recommending the Rudolph burger.

Burger – 8/10

Christmassyness – 8/10

Sides – 6/10

Service – Doh!/10

Overall score – 7.5/10

The Christmas Food Chronicles, Vol 1

Simply put, I’ll be eating and reviewing as many Christmas-related items of food as I can lay my hands on in the coming weeks in the gaps between probably the busiest month of my life, while trying to avoid becoming a total blimp.

Up first – the Honest Christmas Burger.

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I’d wanted to start elsewhere as my most recent burger review was a rather unflattering take on their pizza burger, and I was concerned that if I didn’t enjoy this then it would seem like I have it in for them, which I don’t (the Tribute is one of the best burgers in London).

But due to logistics and time constraints, this was the sensible choice, the Soho branch, just up from the theatre where me and my friend were off to watch some comedy later that Sunday night (God bless Leicester Square Theatre‘s work-in-progress events, where I’ve seen Vic & Bob, Stewart Lee and Jack Whitehall, all for about £15 each).

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Happily, it looked almost exactly as advertised, which was huge progress after the Pizza Burger Incident. The cheese oozed satisfyingly out of the huge slab of deep-fried camembert when I picked it up and aimed it towards my hopeful mouth.

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Generous blobs of thick, sticky cranberry sauce tumbled out and into the tray. I bit in, and while it was pretty tasty, the overwhelming flavour was the cheese, which almost entirely buried Honest’s excellent patty, which was done exactly as I like it, the perfect medium-rare, as requested.

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Flavours dominating others is occupational hazard with novelty specials in the burger game, and I’m certainly not saying it was an unpleasant flavour. However, I would have to say that other than the cranberry sauce, there wasn’t much about the combination I was getting that screamed “IIIIIITTTTTT’S CHRIIIIIIISTMAS” in the manner my tastebuds had been hoping. The bacon was a little lost in the mix too, smothered in an unashamedly gluttonous cheese-fest.

Christmas cheese is of course a huge part of the festive experience for many people – my family included. I’m often tasked with bringing several hundredweight of dairy up to the seasonal get together because of my proximity to Borough and Broadway markets. But if you asked me to name the definitive Christmas cheese, it would be stilton. And if you asked me to name the flavours that characterise Christmas, you’d have sage & onion stuffing, pigs in blankets, turkey, chestnuts in that list alongside cranberry sauce, with deep-fried camembert not really anywhere near my radar – maybe I’m out of the loop on that one, but that’s my perspective anyway.

The rosemary fries were standardly brilliant and generous in portion-size, Honest really do put a lot of burger joints to shame with that side of things. We tried their Christmas cocktail too – combined with the burger and fries that was a bit of a meal-deal-steal at £16, the cocktail featuring cranberry, maple syrup and bourbon, and suited the experience nicely.

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All-in-all, I’d class this as a good burger, but other than the cranberry sauce, not really a very good Christmas burger.

I have a laundry list of places I’m aiming to try out – Lucky Chip, Blacklock, Mac & Wild, Patty & Bun, Meat Liquor off the top of my head for starters – but if you have any London-based suggestions feel free to add a comment below and I’ll try to include them too!

Taste 7/10

Value 10/10

Christmasssyness 4/10

Overall score 7/10