I often find myself with two DJ gigs on a Friday or Saturday, and therefore a need to grab a bite between, or else risk serious hunger pangs in the 2nd set, usually followed by a gigantic late-night junk food binge the moment I have finished. In one such window recently, I found myself stood metres away from The Vurger Co, the day after eating my weight in chops at Blacklock. I felt like this could be a good way of restoring a little balance there, as I try to become a bit less meat-focused in my diet (as previous reviews have showed)
I’d heard from vegan friends that it’s good, and I liked the look of their offerings. I went for the Classic – black bean, chargrilled red peppers, chick peas and corn patty, tomato, red onions, gherkins, vegan cheese, and house made burger sauce. I also ordered a portion of skin-on fries, and a bottle of Karma Cola Gingerella ginger ale. That came to £14.20.
I took my seat with my little buzzy widget, and waited, collecting little tubs of ketchup and chilli mayo and a big glass of free water. The pint pots a big plus there, I hate having to go back and forth to refill constantly when the water is in a font like this was.
When the burger arrived, it looked really good. The portion of fries was huge which is fine by me. I also appreciated that the Gingerella was a 330ml bottle, rather than the 250ml cans many places stock, and often charge more for than I paid here.
Picking up the burger, it became apparent that it was a slippery beast, largely because of the abundant (and very tasty) burger sauce. My hands got very messy, and it was a constant battle to keep it together, but I just about did it til the end. The sauce had a zip to it, not exactly spicy, I guess its some combo of ketchup and mustard, and I liked it a lot. The patty is essentially a bean burger, which I have no problem with. It was cooked on a hot plate, giving it nice crispy edges, with the softer veggie fillings inside.
At this point in time, meat substitutes are serviceable, but generally not as nice as things where vegetables and pulses are allowed to shine on their own terms, so this sort of burger suits me. The bun was toasted, and given my travails keeping the burger inside the bun, held together like a champ. In truth, these travails may have been my own fault, as the burger came run-through with a wooden stick, I guess I could have used that to maintain structural integrity, but at the considerable risk of accidentally harpooning myself.
The skin on fries were fine – unremarkable, but nothing to complain about. Just perfectly decent fries, and lots of them. The chilli mayo was a good accompaniment alongside the ketchup, and to me fries are essentially edible spoons for condiments anyway!
I left very full, having enjoyed a simple, straightforward, comfort-food meal. The “burger” was hard work to handle, but tasted great. Was it something to convert a meat-eater? No, not really – but as an alternative for a bit of variety, or as a tasty choice for someone who doesn’t eat meat? Yeah, I’d give this the thumbs up.
All in all, a broadly positive experience, and would happily eat here again.
It’s been a long, long time since I reviewed a burger on this blog. Given the name, that’s a situation I have been wanting to address for a while. Expect a veritable avalanche of burger reviews in the coming months.
For now, a bite – sized review for a between-gigs pitstop.
I needed somewhere to grab a coffee. I am very reluctant to give my money to the big coffee chains, but few independent outlets are open at the time I found myself in this predicament – about 9pm.
Google maps directed me to Shoreditch Grind, and I do rate the coffee here highly – here’s my very pretty flat white.
Then I realised that they might be able to feed me, and as luck would have it the kitchen was still open (just)
I ordered the cheeseburger (£12.50) with bacon (£2 extra), which comes with skin-on fries included. At point of ordering they asked what condiments I wanted – amazing how many places don’t do this simple thing, that makes such logistical sense. Always annoying to have your food, and then the condiments arrived when you are already halfway through.
The burger came pretty quickly despite the place being packed, and looked decent – two smallish patties and plenty of melting American cheese. The bacon… £2 for that is a joke, and it was practically the texture of frazzles. The fries look great, and it was a pretty generous portion.
Picking up the sandwich, I immediately suspected something. And on taking a bite – yep. Stale bun. Disappointing that something a simple as that could happen with a not-cheap burger. As to the contents – actually very good, despite being quite thin patties, they were done just right, pink in the middle. The cheese, mayo, pickles, and I think crispy onion, made for a good, balanced burger, although as I said, the bacon was a pretty worthless addition really.
I really liked the fries – I’m a fan of this kind of skin on style, and these were done to perfection, and seasoned just right. Big plus points for that. The ketchup was cold – presumably straight out of the fridge. Not a fan of that myself, I don’t refrigerate my ketchup at home. Never have, even though it advises to do so on the bottle, and I’ve not died yet so it can’t be too big an issue.
All in all, a mixed bag. Probably better than I expected on ordering in what is essentially a cafe, but some basics that really let it down. A stale bun is a proper clanger (if I wasn’t in a hurry I’d have sent it back for that), and £2 for that amount of bacon is insulting, before to even look at the quality of it, which was not great.
I’d eat here again in a pinch, and cautiously recommend to a friend, as I suspect I was just a little unlucky with the bun. And the coffee was top notch as always.
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.
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
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.
“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.
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!
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
The format is simple – punters buy their tickets (all in mine cost me £30.77), and in exchange, 6 vendors create their pizzas, and attendees get 1/4 of each of the 6 pizzas (as well as a beer or soft drink, plus free bottled water and coffee), then vote for their favourite. The winner last year was Adomme, from Streatham, and very fine it was too (although my favourite was the Sud Italia effort!). The popularity of the event was proved by it selling out well in advance!
The weather Gods were smiling, and treated us to a gloriously sunny May afternoon at Borough Market. I was with a pair of old friends from Nottingham and their partners, and we arrived just in time for the 2pm session (to avoid massive queues it is broken up into 4 time-slots I believe).
Hordes of pizza lovers
In we went, to be instantly handed a welcome bottle of ice cold sparkling water on this lovely day. We got our bearings, and then headed to the nearest stall – ‘O ver, a new name for me.
Of all the stalls, these guys seemed to have understood the importance of presentation most, on a day when a lot of people had their cameras out! The stall was immaculately laid out, and they took great care in explaining what was on their pizza and why – even showing us the bottles of sea water that they use in creating the dough. Smoked mozzarella, chiodini mushrooms, pancetta arrotolata, black pepper, and fresh basil. This was a wise choice as the opening pizza, as it had by far the most subtle combination of flavours, which might have been spoiled slightly if we’d come to it later on.
The crust was immaculate, and the wafer thin, fatty slice of pancetta glistened as the sun above and pizza below gently melted it slightly. The tiny mushrooms popped up every few mouthfuls, and all in all it was agreed to be a very decent start to proceedings – simple, light, uncomplicated, with a very flavourful crust to enjoy once the toppings had gone down.
Next up, Hai Cenato, Jason Atherton‘s NYC/Italian place in Victoria – confit lamb neck, spiced aubergine, ras el hanout, mozzarella, yoghurt, mint. A bit of a curveball, but then the one I plumped for last year was one of the more leftfield offerings. First up – watch this video. That’s some stretchy dough right there – apologies for portrait mode, it was filmed for Instagram stories!
This probably had an even tastier crust than the first, but the group was quite split over it’s merits. I liked it, the combination of flavours worked well to my palate, but would say it was maybe only a 7 or 8 out of 10. It definitely improved when I added a few chilli flakes and a little chilli oil to it to give it some extra zip. I’m all for experimentation with pizza toppings, and this one worked in my opinion – but it was a very middle eastern experience for a pizza, which I think hurt it in the final vote.
We took this opportunity to go and grab our free drinks (I had a very nice Dalston’s Lemonade, the others mainly went for Five Points Brewing Co beers). While enjoying these we had a little wander around – there was a lovely atmosphere, a really nice friendly bunch attending, with the DJs providing the usual selection of classic funk and soul, delivered on their own 7 and 12 inch platters!
Round 3 – Mother’s Tribute pizza. Tomato sauce, Prosciutto di Bigoncia, Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, fresh basil, fresh oregano, black pepper. Of all the pizzas, this was maybe the most traditional. As we waited in line, we were able to sample some of the ham, and one of the staff sprayed a little of the sea water they use on the back of our hands to let us get a sniff of it. It was definitely sea water! I’d never known of this approach before, apparently it means using less added salt, and introduces various minerals and so on to the dough that are beneficial.
I really liked this one – It was probably my favourite so far in the afternoon, although the crust was not as good as either of it’s predecessors. A couple of the guys suggested it had too much tomato on it, but the sauce was so tasty that I was happy for it to be smothered in it! The combo of toppings worked very well together, the fresh herbs giving a lovely fresh, floral note against the sweet tomato and salty cheese and ham. It wasn’t especially adventurous, but was certainly very well executed.
Next up, we made out way to The Perfectionist Cafe queue – a simple sidestep from where we were already. Having done literally no research about the contenders until the day of the event, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there was a Heston Blumenthal offering, having recently been to his incredible, triple Michelin-starred restaurant The Fat Duck for one of the most amazing meals of my life. I should really knock up a little write up for that, keep your eyes peeled!
The Perfectionist Cafe can be found at Heathrow of all places, airport food must be improving! Anyway, to the pizza – San Marzano Tomato, buffalo mozzarella, buffalo ricotta, ‘Nduja, confit tomatoes, Parmigiano Reggiano. The mountain of incredibly fresh ricotta (apparently made less than a week ago) was incredible (they let us have a little spoon of it each, as well as the blobs on our pizza).
This one… this one was the star of the show for me. A truly excellent pizza. The flavours combined brilliantly, one moment the heat of the ‘Nduja rolling in, the next the intense sweetness of the confit tomatoes, the blobs of that ricotta and the mozzarella bringing light, creamy notes to proceedings, and the sprinkling of Parmigianno Reggiano a little umami touch. The crust was excellent too. I absolutely loved this slice.
But from glancing occasionally at the scoreboard, we could see that it was developing into a 2-horse between Perfectionist Cafe and our next pitstop, Wandercrust.
Their pizza showcased San Marzano Tomato, mozzarella, Ventricina salami, Roquito peppers, Moon chilli honey and fresh basil. This one was a beauty to look at, and their finishing touch of drizzling the Moon chilli honey (a London-made honey infused with scotch bonnets) across the pizza was one to get the people salivating.
This was another belter of a pizza, the dominant sensations being the dalliance between sweet and spicy, as embodied in the Roquito peppers. I personally felt that the Moon chilli honey was a misstep – the flavour was pleasant enough, but I didn’t care for the slick mouth-feel that honey brought to the party. But in spite of this, I would probably have this down as my 2nd or 3rd favourite slice of the day. The salami was excellent, and the overall pizza thoroughly delicious. Indeed, this pizza did get at least one vote from our group (possibly more, my memory is failing me there though!). As the photos and short video above suggests, the crust was excellent too.
And the final pizza was one I was looking forward to – Santa Maria. I’d eaten at their Ealing restaurant a few years ago, and recently at their new Fitzrovia outlet. Both times the pizza has been excellent, although served on a plate to be eaten with a knife and fork, so a somewhat different experience to this slice extravaganza!
SO MUCH BURRATA
Their offering comprised San Marzano tomato, smoked mozzarella (and how beautiful that was to look at as they sliced away at it!), salami piccante, burrata, crumbled tarallo, Grana Padano, and fresh basil. The crumbled tarallo was the eye catcher here – taralli being a kind of biscuit or cracker from southern Italy. This added a lovely crunchy note, I think there may have been nuts in the taralli too. It brought to mind a pizza I had at Yard Sale by Anthony Falco, which has breadcrumbs on it. It’s a detail I’ve rarely seen, but I’m a fan.
The toppings on this were fantastic, right up there with the Perfectionists’ Cafe effort – however, I felt that the base and crust let it down somewhat. By comparison to the other 5, it seemed a doughy and heavy – I’d have to go back to Santa Maria to try another to check if that’s by design, I’d never noticed it before there, but of course when I’ve eaten there before I’ve not sampled 5 other pizzas in advance! It was still tasty – it just had a texture I didn’t much care for by comparison.
Despite that, I would still have this one slipping into 3rd place behind Wandercrust, as the toppings selection was right on the money. I’m a sucker for Burrata, which paired off well against the smoked mozzarella, the salami had just enough spice, and the tomato (San Marzano again, proving it’s worth by being the sauce on my 3 favourites) absolutely spot on. These toppings on one of the other bases may well have been my winner, but there you go – it takes all sorts to make up the pizza galaxy!
And there you have it – 6 very good slices indeed. As I’ve mentioned, my pick was Perfectionists’ Cafe, with Wandercrust and then Santa Maria in silver and bronze positions. But the other 3 were all damn fine slices in their own right too, I’d say that not a single slice was less than a 7 or 8 out of 10. I will certainly be adding them all to my “to-do” pizza list!
The dream team!
FREE COFFEE WOOOOOO
We treated ourselves to a much needed pick me up from the free coffee stall to stave off the food coma, and made our way off into the sunny London afternoon!
In the popular vote, Wandercrust triumphed, pipping Perfectionsts’ Cafe by 219 votes to 215! An incredibly tight result, reflecting the quality of both.
I’d like to also say thank you to Daniel Young and his team, for making such a brilliant event for pizza lovers. The whole thing ran incredibly smoothly, the crowd was lovely, the teams competing all fantastic, friendly and helpful, the queues short, and crucially, the pizza excellent.
At a time when lots of amateurs are trying to hop on the food festival bandwagon without a clue how to do it properly, this is a shining beacon of how to run an event, and I for one know that I will be buying a ticket for next year’s the moment they become available!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the rather annoying quirks of an otherwise lovely job is that I miss out on some weekend based activities. With the previous London Pizza Festivals I had been out of town for gigs elsewhere, and so each time had to pass up the opportunity to sample the increasingly excellent offerings that the best pizzerias in London bring to the table.
No such problems this year! After a little assistance from the very helpful host, the esteemed Daniel Young (of Young & Foodish fame) I managed to purchase a pair of tickets to the shenanigans, and I invited a regular pizza compadre along for the adventure.
The event itself is held at Jubilee Place at Borough Market, and takes the form of a 6-way contest, with attendees sampling 6 quarter-pizzas, and a beer or soft drink thrown in, the tickets clocking in at £28 plus booking fee. This year, the contenders were L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, Radio Alice, Sud Italia, Addommé, Napoli On The Road, and 2015 champion Made of Dough.
First up was Addommé, from Streatham. Aubergine, tomato sauce, basil, mozzarella, parmigiano reggiano. Kind of like aubergine parmigiana on a pizza, but far more delicious than that description makes it sound! The host of the event referred to it (if memory serves!) as being real home style, comfort pizza, and that’s a great way to describe it. I loved it, as did my friend Amy. The base was pretty floppy, so it necessitated rolling and stuffing into my waiting pizza-hole, the tomato sauce was just the right level of sweetness and a great consistency for pizza, the aubergine basically melted in the mouth. A really strong start to proceedings!
Next up was Sud Italia. A bold selection of ingredients here – pumpkin, nduja, mozzarella, basil, Bleu de Laqueuille (a lovely strong, salty blue cheese), pecorino sardo DOP, parmigiano reggiano. The flames in the oven of their mobile unit were absolutely hypnotic as they snaked round, the photos don’t come close to doing justice.
The pizza – majestic. I was stunned at how good this one was – I’ve had the pumpkin sauce one at Homeslice, and to be honest it was not good and I didn’t finish it (which is quite something for my favourite pizza place). This was a delight, each mouthful a slightly different combination of sweet, savoury, salty, spicy. Just a joy to eat, even if it doesn’t look like much visually! They more than made up for this with the brilliant design of their pizza van. Loved the Naples themed art, anything to do with Maradona is alright by me!
Next up, another rather experimental selection of toppings, from Napoli on the Road. Tuna carpaccio, grated bottarga, mozzarella, yellow tomatoes, lemon oil. Amy is so militantly against fish on pizza that she declined the tuna (double tuna for me wooooooo!).
This was a strange one – I have to say I enjoyed it, but there’s no way I could have eaten a whole one. The freshness of the lemon oil worked well with the tuna, but the yellow tomatoes seemed to still have their skins on, which I personally found rather unpleasant as they were a little tough and chewy, although the flavour made up for that somewhat. A very interesting combination, a slice I’m happy I have sampled, but for me it was a gamble that didn’t quite land.
On to the 2015 champs, Made of Dough. I suspect their previous experience (and success) in this festival was brought to bear in the selection of their pizza – a crowd-pleasing Brindisa chorizo, piquillo peppers, tomato, mozzarella, basil. It looked the business, and was served with a delicious aoili (with basil in if memory serves, but I didn’t write it down), for dipping the crusts at the end, which was lovely and fragrant, very summery.
The pizza itself was very good, but we both agreed it was just lacking… something. The chorizo or the peppers could have used a fraction more heat I think, but my friend Phill who attended the first sitting had this as his favourite, and cited the subtle flavours as a big part of why.
5th, was L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, serving their famous margherita – tomato, double mozzarella, Pecorino Romano & basil. Initially, there was a very upsetting moment, when they dropped God’s own food on the Borough Market concrete. A terrible waste, and so we had to wait the very short time it takes them to knock up a new pizza in their ferociously hot ovens.
This, I felt, was slightly better than the already excellent margherita I had sampled when they first opened in Stoke Newington. On a day where all the pizzas had outstanding dough, this one was exceptional, and the tomato very good indeed. I am still left with my non-purist view though – at the end of the day it’s “just” a margherita. An outstandingly good margherita, but I like the variety of flavours and textures that experimentation brings.
The final contender was Radio Alice. By this point we were flagging badly – 6 quarter pizzas each is a substantial amount of food, even for a pair of pigs like us (we demolished 2 x 18″ pizzas on a Yard Sale review trip I’ll be publishing soon). This was by far the most attractive pizza slice on show – a work of art. Naturally I didn’t get a good picture of it. Well done brain. But it was gorgeous to look at.
Topping this pizza was Yorkshire fennel & pork sausage, tomato, lemon thyme & parmigiano reggiano, which I’d tried in my review a few months back. Again, this seemed better than the one I’d had in the restaurant – the fennel and lemon thyme both seemed more prominent, which added a lot, and I’d forgotten just how good their tomato sauce is, definitely the outstanding effort of the day for me in that department, they use Pelati peeled tomatoes, and I will be hunting those down for my pizza parties!
The sourdough base on this one was very different to the others, much crispier on the bottom, and a wonderfully airy, springy crust, presumably partially a result of using quite a different oven to their competitors.
So, at the end we sat, barely able to move, let alone think. But think we did, we talked through our preferences, and ultimately both ended up lending our vote to Sud Italia’s bonkers-but-brilliant effort. A close 2nd for the pair of us was Addommé, with Radio Alice tucked in a close 3rd for me.
But I have to say, the standard of pizzas was impressively high. All of them were done to perfection, the bread was at worst tasty, at best delicious, something that I feel is underrated in its importance by some pizza restaurants.
The 6 contestants provided a really broad spectrum of what the modern London pizza scene has to offer, and when you consider the amount of big hitters that were absent, you have to say that for lovers of this magnificent dish this is a great time to be in London. I did see some people complaining about the cost of the tickets, and honestly I can only assume they hadn’t thought their complaint through – where else could you sample 6 outstanding pizzas in one setting for that sort of price? And the mark-up vs what it would cost to buy one and half pizzas and a beer in a restaurant (with service added of course) is negligible really.
As a side note, I loved the all-vinyl selection of funk & soul classics the DJs treated us to!
However, our choices didn’t quite chime with the rest of the attendees – above isn’t the final tally, but gives you and idea. Addommé and Made Of Dough were clearly the crowd favourites. In the final count, Addommé emerged as the 2017 champions, and despite my affection for the Sud Italia entry, I certainly have no problem is proclaiming them worthy victors, and I hope to visit their restaurant soon for my 2nd go on their brilliant pizza!
As a post-script, I’m publishing this the day after Borough Market re-opened following the awful events of the evening of June 3rd. I have lived in London for 6 years, and Borough Market is absolutely one of my favourite places to go, or to take visitors. This pizza festival took place less than a week before the attacks, and I was there just a couple of days before. It’s a wonderful place that fully celebrates one of life’s great joys, food.
I really can’t recommend enough that you sample it if you’ve never been before, if you are visiting London try and take the time to check it out (although expect it to be very busy if that’s a Saturday!), if you’re a Londoner and live or work nearby, pop down for lunch one day and show your support for the oldest market in an even older city.
One thing I know – when the arseholes who committed this attack are completely forgotten, barely even a footnote in history, Borough Market and London will be getting on with what they do so well – being awesome.
Today’s review will be relatively short and sweet, as I did a full review last year, which you can find here. This is more of a quick recap, with a couple of relevant observations based on some trips since that review.
Last night I headed down with my old buddy ThePetebox to stuff my face with half of one of Homeslice’s 20″ wonders. Before I tackle this trip though, a quick mention of a meal I had in the week between Christmas and New Year.
I went with a vegetarian friend, which was no biggie as I actually am pretty much vegetarian in my diet at home, but in a restaurant obviously restricts our selections considerably. We went half & half – mushroom, ricotta, pumpkin seeds & chilli flakes on one side, and butternut pumpkin, broccoli, pecorino & crispy onions the other. The former did look spectacular when I’d seen others ordering on previous visits, and my dining companion enjoyed it, but I found it below average, with a strangely pungent scent. The latter combination I really didn’t like at all. And the pizza was, to my mind, underdone – Homeslice do tend to have their pizzas right on the line between flopping around and crispy, so a few times they’ve come out slightly underdone compared to how I like them, and when you are dealing with slice from a 20″ pizza, and no knives and forks, that can be a pain in the neck to handle.
That was the first time I’ve ever been disappointed by a trip to a Homeslice, and it shook me somewhat. But this was mitigated by the knowledge that I’d have happily chosen basically any of the topping combinations with meat over these two, so I am not going to condemn them too harshly for one bad experience.
With that out of the way, let’s rattle through this one. I met Pete, we asked for a table and were seated immediately. The servers were friendly and helpful. We went for a classic (salami, parmesan & rocket with tomato sauce) and then a new one I’ve not seen before, XO pig cheek, collard greens & crackling furikake with tomato sauce. A few minutes later it arrived at the table on their signature wooden board with pizza slicer, and we got to business.
I’m a big fan of the salami pizza they do, this was maybe the 4th time I’ve had it, and it was as good as ever. Pete reckoned that the parmesan was overpowering the other flavours, and I can see where he was coming from there, but I don’t care, I like it the way it is, therefore he must be wrong. Worth noting that the salami is great stuff, and cooked to perfection – not too crispy, but just enough crunch around the edges of each slice to add a little something.
However, the pig cheek pizza – wow. This was absolutely delicious – big, juicy blobs of what seemed to be a thick, rich, slow cooked pig cheek stew, which interacted with the tomato sauce in a delightful way. The little crunchy bits of crackling added a fantastic textural aspect to the slices, the cheese melted into the mix almost imperceptibly, and the collard greens added a touch of freshness and lightness. Really, really very good indeed. Maybe even my favourite toppings combination at Homeslice yet, which is saying something. My mouth absolutely luxuriated in the flavours on offer with this one, it knocked the salami into a cocked hat, which is saying something.
The base was done pretty much to perfection, right in my sweet spot between super floppy neapolitan style and mega crispy NY style slices. However, during the meal I kept thinking “something is different, something is missing”, but just couldn’t place what. When we retired to a nearby pub after the meal, I was midway through my pint when I suddenly exclaimed “SALT!” to a bemused Pete. It was his first visit to Homeslice, so he had no way of knowing, but they have this neat trick where I think they sprinkle sea salt flakes on the wooden serving board before the pizza goes on there, which means the base ends up lightly encrusted with little flavour bombs that explode periodically in your mouth. It wasn’t a deal-breaker, but that would have elevated this pizza even higher, and I’m curious to know if they just forgot or it was a deliberate choice for these toppings to exclude this, or what.
In conclusion, a triumphant return to form for my favourite pizza place after the Christmas aberration. I can’t recommend them highly enough, they do some amazing and unexpected toppings, including some really leftfield sauce bases (creamed corn, blitzed cauliflower cheese and so on), so you can go quite far off piste. This, as I found, carries some risk, but the rewards are so great when they get it right that I’ll happily forgive them. The total bill for the 20″ pizza, a pint of Camden Hells lager and a fruit juice was £30 including service, which is quite a bargain in London.
I’m endlessly fascinated by the American shelves at my local Tesco – ludicrously overpriced imported goods of a remarkably unhealthy nature. Every so often my curiosity gets so great that I simply have to try something out. It’s a patchy record so far.
These are disgusting. Sticks of sawdust glued together with some of the least punchy chilli seasoning that you will ever put near your face. I guess the consistency is somewhat like that of cheese puffs/cheetos, so maybe fans of those won’t hate them as much as me, but the flavour claims on the bag are a downright lie. I know extreme heat, and it is not to be found within this bag. Plus they were really bloody expensive, being a novelty imported item.
Since commencing this attempt at going round London’s pizza scene, I’ve been inundated with recommendations for places I’d not previously heard of. Arguably the most surprising to me was Radio Alice, as I have a monthly residency DJing a few yards away at Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen‘s Friday night party Night Call. But several people told me it is excellent, and so a dinner was booked alongside my friends Rich and Elliot (a fine pair with excellent knowledge of food and drink from their work in hospitality over the years).
We took our seats and perused the very appealing menus. After a little discussion we settled on Burrata (£5.50), speck and apricots (£6) and anchovies with bread and butter (£3) as our starters, and then the pork sausage (£9.90), Anchovy (£8.50) & nduja (£10) pizzas. We were asked if we’d like the pizzas to arrive together or as soon they came out of the oven – as we were sharing we asked for the latter.
The starters arrived, and very well presented they were too. In particular, the burrata excited my tingle zone. I love burrata. This was an excellent example, one of the best I’ve had in London. Delicate and creamy, with the oil, pepper and oregano generously added to it offering a wonderful counterpoint. The speck was fragrant, delicious, and remarkably lean. I actually would have preferred a tiny bit more fat on there, which is not something I would normally say about cooked meats. The anchovies were pleasantly meaty and as salty as you’d expect, although personally I far prefer the white anchovies known as boquerones. Given the progressing strength of the flavours in play, it was pretty much essential to eat the items in the order I just described them, or risk spoiling the experience of something as simple and light on the tongue as a good burrata.
Pizza number one to arrive was the anchovy one. Presentation was immaculate, and cheese was notable by it’s absence. As the photo above shows, the bread was cooked to perfection, with seemingly a little sprinkling of semolina flour giving it that particular dusted texture on the crusts, which were springy and spongey in just the right way, while the base held together to be eaten by hand as slices brilliantly. They weren’t quite as tasty as the crusts at Franco Manca at it’s best or Homeslice. The tomato was relatively crudely chopped/crushed compared to the sauces most pizzas would have on, and I rather liked that. The sweetness of the tomato and red onion worked nicely against the saltiness of the anchovy, and I have to say that the lemon zest (which was one of the main reasons I ordered this one, from sheer curiosity) was a stroke of genius, lifting the whole thing with it’s citrus notes. So we were off to an excellent start with a very good pizza indeed.
Up next was the nduja offering. I was first made aware of this spicy, spreadable meat through it’s use by Pizza Pilgrims (who will feature soon in this round-up), and it does work well on a pizza. This presentation did confuse me somewhat though – the caciocavallo cheese was clearly added immediately before being sent to the table, resulting in a pile of unmelted dairy atop the blob of nduja. The base was perfectly cooked again, the tomato once more very tasty in it’s somewhat cruder form than most use. But the cheese… why not just show it to the heat of their oven for a moment to creating a little cheesy envelope for the nduja? That would seem the obvious approach, whereas this left a pile of grated, sweating cheese that didn’t really do it for me visually or on my palate. The nduja itself seemed strangely tame as well, and the pizza as a whole didn’t quite sing. A perfectly respectable effort in the grand scheme of things, but we were all a little disappointed after the slightly unexpected heights of the first arrival at the table.
Pizza number 3, and the meal was sitting on the edge of a razor blade – able to be a true top contender, or merely in the chasing pack. This one – pork sausage, parmigiana reggiano, tomato, black pepper. Interestingly, although again seeming to using the crudely crushed tomatoes as seen on the previous two pizzas, this one seemed a lot “wetter” than the previous two, with some small amount of standing liquid. But it looked the business – a good sausage pizza can really be fantastic, and if I’d had to choose one ahead of the meal to have, it would have been this. The sausage was good and meaty, but the pizza as a whole lacked a certain something. To me, the sausage wasn’t strongly flavoured enough – it needed a much more herby, aromatic meat on there, or the addition of something alongside it to bring the package to life. On the first, the lemon zest just elevated the whole thing to a higher level – both of the follow ups lacked that killer “punch”, that certain something on your tastebuds that really excites you. A more interesting, intense sausage flavour on this and it would have been excellent – as it was it was “just” pretty good.
To be clear, these were not bad pizzas at all. The bases were all absolutely bang on, the ingredients clearly high quality, and I did like the tomato very much. I also appreciate that there is clearly thought going into doing these in somewhat unusual ways that differ from pizza to pizza. But 2 of the 3 were unfortunately in the “nearly, but not quite” category where they didn’t get my juices flowing in the way they had been ready to.
The service was very friendly and helpful, and the meal with a few beers and a bottle of very good house red wine clocked in at about £30 each including service. It is a restaurant I would happily recommend, and will almost certainly revisit to try some more of their pizzas as they are definitely a place that takes pizza very seriously – hell, look at this for a pizza oven, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one so high-tech.
In summary, a qualified success from a restaurant that is obviously unafraid to try out some ideas others might back away from. Worth seeking out and giving a go if you are in the area.