Radio Alice x Club Mexicana

This will be short and sweet – I’ve reviewed Radio Alice before, although I think I was a little harsh in the score I gave (7.5/10 at the time); it has since become a firm favourite in my pizza adventures.

To business – for 5 weeks Radio Alice is hosting a different guest pizza each week. I missed the opening week with Bubble Dogs, the hotdog specialists. This week, it’s Club Mexicana. They are based at The Spread Eagle, a vegan pub (more fun than it sounds apparently), and are very highly thought of by many of my friends.

This offering brings jackfruit carnitas, pink onion, salsa verde, sour “cream” and coriander to Radio Alice’s incredible trademark sourdough bases.

First up – it looks beautiful.

Next, it is absolutely delicious, a very gentle Mexican spice note underpinning it, a welcome crunch to the pink onion, the tomato just sweet enough, a genuinely excellent combination of toppings. The base is light and flavourful, the crusts bubbling up delightfully. I’m generally not a fan of coriander, but this worked really well both aesthetically and to the palate. For a pizza it is very light and fresh feeling thanks to the great combination

All in all, an absolute triumph, I think possibly even better than the Yard Sale x Biff’s Jack Shack “Jack To The Future” pizza which I reviewed here. I’ve always wondered how a pizza could exist without cheese, and these two have made me sure that it can be done. I mean, I still would prefer it to be smothered in lovely melted cheese and all that, but vegan pizzas appear to have worked out how to please even committed cheesaholics such as myself. More power to them, and for now, I heartily recommend that you try to get down to Radio Alice and try this before it’s gone.

Score – 9/10

Dirty Vegan

As I’ve mentioned previously, in recent years I have switched to a much more plant-heavy diet. I’m certainly not vegetarian or vegan, but I eat maybe 20% of the meat I did a few years ago. So when things like Dirty Bones‘ venture Dirty Vegan pop along, I’m always curious to try them out (and by pure coincidence, this is National Vegetarian Week!).

Full disclosure – I DJ at Dirty Bones every so often, including the Saturday before this visit. I hope you will trust me to be fair in my review.

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I knew little of how this would operate – I assumed a menu much like their regular one, only with vegan food instead. In fact, it was a fixed menu at £25pp, with sharing plates. They also had a selection of vegan cocktails – not something I’d ever really thought about, but it makes sense for certain things that use dairy and so on.

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Happy idiot

Very generously, they brought over a pair of glasses of bubbly to welcome us. I’m not drinking, so my dining companion was able to drink in stereo. She was very, very happy about this.

So – the openers. Padron peppers, and mac balls. The Padron peppers were pretty much as you’d expect – I love them, and as far as I can tell, any half decent restaurant struggles to get them wrong. I’d maybe have had a tad more salt on them, but then I’m a salty sod.

The mac balls were a revelation though! Super crunchy panko crumbed, deep fried balls of macaroni – the pasilla chilli and cashew cheese filling worked well as a filling alongside the macaroni, but the key was the amazing sweet chilli sauce they were served with. The texture was very different to the sweet chilli sauces I’ve had before – this was more like if a really high quality spicy chutney was blitzed in a blender, smooth but with a tiny little residual coarseness. Sweet up front, with a gently glowing heat following through. Addictive stuff! I could happily have been given a bucket of these balls and left to my own devices. All in all, a very promising start

Next up, the main courses – buffalo aubergine wings, cauliflower chicken waffle, mac & cashew cheese and a gem lettuce side salad.

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Buffalo Aubergine “Wings”

These were visually all very appealing. We waited til we had the full lot in front of us before deciding which to go with, and dived in on the Buffalo aubergine “wings”. Now, obviously they had a completely different texture to a standard chicken wing – and frankly, having tried the “chicken” at Temple of Seitan (which was rank, and made me feel ill for the next day or so), I’m happy for restaurants to use these things as jump off points to showcase veggie items, rather than just badly mimic meat.

These were tempura-battered, giving a satisfying crunch to the bite, which masked the inherent mushiness of cooked aubergine. The cashew ranch dressing and buffalo combined really well, the buffalo having just enough of a vinegary-peppery punch. They weren’t anywhere near as satisfying to me as a good chicken wing (Randy’s Wing Bar, Wingmans and The Orange Buffalo are probably the best I’ve tried). But they are a fine dish in their own right, and a very imaginative use of aubergine, one of those vegetables I rarely think to cook at home.

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Cauliflower “Chicken” Waffle

The cauliflower waffle was probably the most interesting looking dish. The huge block of cauliflower itself was served brined and then “chicken fried” (not entirely sure what that means in a vegan context tbh!) in a crunchy coating, atop a sizeable waffle wedge. Incredibly, I don’t think I’ve ever had this style of waffle, so I’m poorly qualified to judge it’s quality relative to others, but the cauliflower was fantastic, cooked through really well, satisfyingly surrounded by that coating to give it some crunchy textures. The grilled lemon and maple syrup combo was a bit of a moment for me – the citrus really lifting the whole dish, and working well against the sweetness of the syrup. I’ve never really “got” maple syrup, but in this dish, with the acidity of the grilled lemon there to offset it, it suddenly made sense to me.

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Mac & Cashew Cheese

The 3rd main was actually a bit of a reimagining of the mac balls – essentially the filling of that served as conventional mac & cheese, with toasted almond panko breadcrumbs sprinkled atop. According the menu, this was a slightly different version (pasilla chilli, garlic and almond milk vs the balls’ pasilla chilli and cashew cheese), but it was very similar. It was ok, but in my opinion not a patch on the mac balls, and I felt like have two mac & cheese based dishes out of 5 was a little unimaginative. We’d actually requested a pot of the sweet chilli to have as a condiment for the mains, and that gave this dish a little more zip, but while it was a perfectly serviceable mac & cheese (especially considering it is vegan, in that context it was actually really rather good), this was the one false note for me. Saying that, we pretty much licked the dish clean, so it certainly wasn’t that bad

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It was all served with a side salad of gem lettuce, shaved radishes, avocado, savoury mixed granola, and green-goodness vinaigrette (again, not entirely sure what that means!).

This was ok – it’s a side salad, not a lot much more to say, but added a nice fresh note to offset the heavier main dishes.

Between the pair of us, there wasn’t a crumb left with either the starters or the mains, so it certainly kept us happy.

The final dish was chocolate pudding – pure cacao and tofu pudding with whipped coconut cream, and cacao nibs sprinkled on top.
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My first mouthful, I wasn’t at all sure what to think – but that was partially because I hadn’t bothered to read the menu properly, so the coconut flavour took me aback slightly!

After that it was swift work to get to the bottom of the glass. I think I would have liked it to have had a slightly thicker texture and more intense, darker chocolateyness, but it was certainly still a tasty and satisfying way to end a thoroughly enjoyable meal, with the nibs giving a little crunch to proceedings, and the coconut and chocolate flavours playing well off each other in the silky feeling pudding.

We managed to forget to order either of the vegan cocktails, so sadly can’t report in on those, but the meal in general was a real pleasure. I don’t imagine a time where I will ever become fully vegan, I just love cheese too much, and a good steak or burger is one of my life’s great joys, but I’m delighted that more and more places are offering options like this. I tend to take the view that if you double the number of vegans or vegetarians, then sure, that would make an impact – but if you get everyone who eats meat and/or dairy to halve their consumption, that would actually have a far greater effect. And so there being this kind of option available on a night out is fantastic news.

For £25 a head (plus service), we’d had 6 dishes, and were extremely satisfied with our night out. I imagine some meat-eaters will scoff at this – the idea of deep fried cauliflower instead of chicken on the waffles, the absence of real cheese and so on – and I am not going to pretend that this was as good to my palate as it might have been with those alternatives when done well.

But on it’s own terms, this was a really good meal at an excellent price. If you are vegan and seeking this style of American comfort food, I highly recommend trying to get a table either during this run of Tuesdays (I believe it’s on until June 5th, but I’ve a feeling it may already be sold out), or down the line if they repeat it, which I’m sure they will based on this.

Reviewing this from a non-vegan perspective, I reckon I’d give this 7/10.

In the context of my experiences with vegan food (which have been generally decent, but occasionally a little sketchy), I’d say this is deserves 8.5/10.

 

Black Bear Burger

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I found myself in Shoreditch ahead of a gig last night with an hour to kill, and a stomach to fill. The universe clearly detected this, and a picture was placed in front of me on Instagram that made my decision quite simple.

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I set to finding the vendor, Black Bear Burger – you’ll find them upstairs at Boxpark, by the outside area on the Shoreditch High Street Station side.

Here’s what they had available

I ordered myself the Brisket Burger and a portion of nuggets, and took a seat outside while I waited for them to make my order. The burger was offered to me as medium, and I gladly agreed to that. There was an abundance of seating space up there, and a view out over a busy, bustling part of the area.

My radio buzzer went off after 5 minutes or so, and I went to collect my food. Both the burger and the nuggets looked the business.

I started with the nuggets. These were little chunks of chicken breast, in a wonderfully crunchy buttermilk coating that was well seasoned, and apparently still subject to regular tweaks to improve it as they go along. If they get any better they will be getting towards being one of my favourite side dishes going, and at £5 they are an absolute bargain. The buffalo sauce was superb – based on Frank’s buffalo sauce, and mixed with mayo. The blue cheese dip was only so-so, that could handle being a lot blue cheesier in my view, but then I am a sucker for a strong, sharp blue cheese so maybe others would prefer it’s subtle tone.

The burger was very good indeed too – super juicy, and the slab of brisket on top was incredibly tender, easily pulling apart when I tugged an edge. The combination of quite a fatty patty and this moist brisket made the addition of the pickled red onions very necessary. The American cheese in there was fully melted, and the garlic mayo added to the luxurious, indulgent tone of the burger. It maybe was a little too indulgent on that note for some palates – the onion fought bravely alongside the other ingredients to create the balance you want from a great burger, but I’d imagine some might find it a bit rich. The seeded bun held together very well considering the content of the sandwich, and allowed the contents to speak for themselves without adding loads of sweetness as some buns do. The burger patty itself was decent, and served medium as promised. It didn’t, however, quite have that mouthgasm effect that my absolute favourite burgers have delivered, I’m not sure if that’s the beef they use or the degree to which they seasoned it or what.

That, however, is nitpicking. This was a really very enjoyable meal. Served fast, by friendly staff. Very reasonably priced indeed. Tasty, attractive, and it filled me up for the night.

I will happily be back here to try their other burger out, and ordering plenty more of those excellent nuggets.

Burger – 8/10

Nuggets – 9/10

Overall – 8.5/10

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)