Shoreditch Grind

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

7/10

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

London Pizza Round-Up – Vol 11

Genuine Liquorette

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As someone who has given up booze this year, my finger has somewhat slipped off the pulse of what is going on in the extremely competitive world of London drinking dens. One that has come to my attention is Genuine Liquorette, which originally hails from New York. It opened towards the end of summer this year, and has quietly been doing it’s thing ever since. So far, not all that interesting to me to be honest – when you stop drinking, cocktail bar openings aren’t very high on the priority list! But then I discovered that they are knocking out pizza, and a friend told me it was worth checking out. Well, it would be remiss for me not to at least give it a whirl…

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I popped by, and being fair, it’s a really, really great looking place, especially upstairs. I did get a pang of “I bet this would be an amazing place to get plastered in” go through my head, but thankfully they had a sufficiently interesting selection of soft drinks to keep that thought at bay!

Upstairs, they’ve put the vast majority of drinks in cabinets around the walls, meaning that patrons can casually browse them as they drink, rather than peering over the bar past the bar staff, which can sometimes make things a bit intimidating or pressured for some – the whole concept is built around blurring the lines between bar and home drinking. And as part of this casual approach to things, they have half a dozen cocktails on tap (available as take-aways, and even on Deliveroo apparently!), and a selection that are based around piercing a can of a soft drink, pouring a bit out and topping up with a flavouring and a mini-bottle tipped upside down in the top – they call these “cha-chunkers”, presumably after the sound the mad massive drill thing they use to pierce each can makes.


The “Island of Misfits” section had me experiencing flashbacks to my teen years… The previous incarnation of me would have loved all this – I made do with a mocktail (which I have to say was excellent, just based on me saying “something zesty and citrussy”) and some kombucha.

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But I’m waffling about something I wasn’t there to experience… this is about the pizza. We ordered 3. The Vegan (seemed appropriate given my recent reviews on here), and two with meat (the Hot & Bothered, & The Veal Deal).

They came out pretty promptly, and immediately I was taken aback, as these look like no pizza I have ever had before.

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The crusts are folded into 5 star points, and sliced along those lines to give 5 slices per pizza. It’s visually very striking, that’s for sure. My big fear was that the visual novelty was there to mask a deficient pizza, and also that it might mean a LOT of crust. I don’t mind crusts, so long as they are tasty, but there’s a limit!

Thankfully, the fillings go into the 5 points of these pizzas, meaning that each slice has a handle to grab on to, and once you’ve eaten the more conventional end of the slice, you are left with a kind of “hot-pocket” mini calzone thing. I do think they are missing a trick by not having a few dips available for these end bits, and when I mentioned that, it seems that’s something they are talking about.

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The base itself is a very decent sourdough – springy, light, bubbly, tasty. I’ve had a fair few pizzas recently where I was disappointed by the base – it’s such a fundamental part of a pizza that it’s strange to me that some just see it as an empty vessel to put some toppings on.

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The Veal Deal

I’ve become something of a white pizza convert this year (I almost always order white pizza when I can now), so it was a surprise to me that I didn’t fall head-over-heels for the veal pizza. It was good, don’t get me wrong – but it didn’t quite hit the heights I’d hoped. The balance, and amount, of toppings was very good, the broccoli done just right. Very, very cheesy, which can only be a good thing. I don’t know quite why I didn’t go loopy for this one, but something didn’t click to take it from good to great – still a damn fine pizza.

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The Vegan

The Vegan was a very interesting one. The vegan mozzarella, apparently made from soy, did a decent impression of melted cheese, although still wasn’t something I’d say compares in flavour or texture, and as the pizza cooled it did become a bit “claggy” and cloying compared to how real mozzarella behaves as it cools down. But one of the better efforts I’ve seen for sure.

The sweet potatoes were great, almost melted in the mouth, done thoroughly so as to not add any unpleasant hardness to the bite when chomping through a slice. There was maybe a touch more spinach on there then I would have liked, but I was able to take that off if I wanted, and the pine nuts were a lovely touch. The balance of flavours was excellent, with the red onions giving a touch of acidity to offset the sweetness elsewhere. Really a very good pizza – I actually think I preferred this to the Purezza one I had the other week, and that has won awards, so they’re doing something right here.

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Hot & Bothered

And finally, the star of the stars. This one was banging. I’d only had honey on a pizza before, the winning effort at this year’s London Pizza Festival. I’d actually found that a little overwhelming in the mouth-feel department, whereas this seemed to be done a bit more sparingly, so you just got the occasional hit of sweetness in between the spicy salami and jalapeno chillis and chilli flakes. The heat isn’t overpowering for anyone that likes it spicy, and the salami is obviously good quality stuff.

I was also pleasantly surprised to see the Bo Derek-themed wallpaper of the gents when nature called. All very in keeping with a distinctly retro, 80s kitsch aesthetic that pops up throughout the venue.

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All in all, this was a very good meal – generously topped, tasty pizzas. What’s not to like there? I do think that the design of these still means you are left with a pretty doughy handful at the end, hence why dips would make a lot of sense, to maximise enjoyment of this style. But I will definitely be back (in fact I popped in yesterday to meet a visiting friend, and we shared a Hot & Bothered!), and for the booze-hounds amongst you, this looks like a fun place to get drunk and eat some jolly good pizza.

The Veal Deal 7/10
The Vegan 8/10
Hot & Bothered 9/10

Final Score – 8/10

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.

 

London Pizza Round-Up, Vol 8 – Vegan Edition!

Yard Sale, Clapton

It’s been a long while since I added to the London Pizza Round-Up, and this time it’s with a slight twist – trying out Yard Sale‘s guest vegan pizza, the Jack To The Future. I’m intending to try out a lot more vegan and vegetarian pizzas and burgers when the opportunity arises – for the last few years I’ve gone from a very meat-heavy diet to one where I hardly eat it at all at home. This has seemed to coincide with an explosion in the popularity and availability of vegan and vegetarian food around London – much of it very good indeed.

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The pizza that brought me and my friends here is a collaboration with Biff’s Jack Shack – a jackfruit themed vegan-friendly street food trader. I’ve come to really quite like jackfruit – I usually have a few cans knocking about at home, and I’ve had some excellent meals with that in there as a meat substitute. I don’t subscribe to the idea that it’s indistinguishable from pulled pork. Anyone that says that, I can only assume they’ve either never actually had pulled pork, or it’s been so long they’ve forgotten what it’s really like. But, jackfruit is a tasty and versatile ingredient in it’s own right, and it works well for the things I’ve seen it used in.

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Dough!

So to this meal. Yard Sale are a very well-regarded pizza joint – they were awarded “Best Cheap Eats” in the 2017 Observer Food Monthly awards, and best restaurant in the 2016 Time Out awards. They have 3 locations (Clapton, Finsbury Park, Walthamstow), with a 4th in the pipeline in Leyton. Full disclosure – I have done paid work for Yard Sale as a DJ, and they comp’d this Jack To The Future off as a freebie. I’d rather be open and honest about that – I hope you will still trust my judgement on the pizzas here.

In the pizza that brought us here, the jackfruit is served in Biff’s crispy fried style, with chipotle slaw, buffalo sauce, and blue “cheese” sauce. We also ordered a 50/50, TSB (tender stem broccoli, manchego, pine nuts, garlic and olive oil) and The Aubergine (garlic roasted aubergine, parmesan crumb and fresh basil).

 

As you can see from the pics, these are big ol’ pizzas – 18 inchers. Prices are about consistent with their obvious rival, Homeslice, where a 20 incher is £20.

The first we tried was the Jack To The Future. And I have to say, it is really good. The combination of flavours works brilliantly. The chipotle slaw had a surprising kick to it, and would make an excellent side in it’s own right elsewhere – I guess maybe it is at Biff’s? If it isn’t, it should be.

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The buffalo and blue “cheese” wings sauce combo is an old classic, and works as well as you would expect – and the blue cheese sauce is quite amazing considering that it’s actually vegan. No idea how they did that, but it’s really good. The base at Yard Sale is one of their real strengths – very tasty, and done to perfection on both pizzas here. One of my few criticisms of Homeslice is that they sometimes under-do their pizzas a bit, so you struggle to pick them up as a slice – no such issues here.

 

All in all a success – ironically, it’s the jackfruit that is the least impressive ingredient. It does add a little crunch to the texture, but is only a bit-part player to the overall pizza. And for saying how many toppings are on there, and how generous they are with the sauce, the base doesn’t get at all soggy, even after it’s been sitting there for a while.

 

The other pizza (half TSB, half Aubergine) was a good pizza too, if not at the level of the Jack To The Future. The better half was The Aubergine, the garlic aubergine and parmesan crumb working really well together, with the generous fistful of fresh, aromatic basil a nice touch – the TSB was something of an anti-climax after being heavily recommended by several friends. It was perfectly decent, but probably the least impressive of the pizzas I’ve had at Yard Sale (I’ve been 4 times now and sampled 7 or 8 different toppings). The broccoli was cooked well, and it looked the business, but after the flavour-party of the Jack To The Future it didn’t grab me how I expected it might given the manchego and garlic combo. I think they suffered in comparison to a really interesting, unusual and well-executed special. Saying that, the tomato sauce at Yard Sale was as excellent as usual on both pizzas.

We also had a green chimichurri dip for the crusts that was amazing. Like, really, really good, I’d happily have bought a jar of that there and then for whatever it might have cost, absolutely lovely with a fresh, complex and slowly developing flavour that followed through with some real heat. 10/10 for that stuff.

So at the end of it all, a very enjoyable meal, and an excellent guest pizza (that I strongly think should become a fixture on the menu). The TSB and The Aubergine weren’t outstanding, but were good enough in their own right to recommend as vegetarian options for pizza lovers. Having eaten plenty of their offerings now, I’m happy to say Yard Sale are in my top handful of pizza joints around London.

My scores

Jack To The Future (£21) – 9/10

TSB (£9 for half) – 7/10

The Aubergine (£9.50 for half) – 7.5/10

Flo’s Scores

Jack To The Future – 9.5/10

TSB – 7/10

The Aubergine – 7/10

Amy’s score

Jack To The Future – 10/10

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

Pizza Burger, Burger Pizza.

Yard Sale x Patty & Bun 

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A few weeks ago I spotted a very intriguing piece on Twitter regarding a forthcoming collaboration between my favourite burger joint and one of my favourite pizza places. Fast forward to last weekend, and I clocked that they were having a pre-launch launch at Patty & Bun‘s test kitchen facility in London Fields. On my birthday. I sent a few messages back and forth – full disclosure here, I have provided playlists for Yard Sale and DJ’d at a yard party they had one Sunday while famed pizziaolo Anthony Falco was doing a guest residency for them – and they very kindly agreed to let me and a few close friends join them to sample the new additions.

I’m going to try my best to keep this review brief, as it was a very informal affair, food eaten standing up, ducking in and out of a rainy evening. But lets deal with the important stuff first, the ingredients.

Yard Sale’s end of the situation is the Smokey Robinson Pizza, with crumbled H.G Walter beef patty, caramelised onions, bacon and smokey P&B mayo with Fior Di latte mozzarella – basically a Smoky Robinson burger, on a pizza.

The  ‘Holy Pepperoni’ Burger takes in a P&B burger patty, two types of Cobble Lane cured pepperoni (which they crisp off on the hot plate before adding to the mix), nduja mayo, Fior Di Latte Mozzarella, Yard Sale’s signature tomato base sauce, basil and rocket.

I took on the burger first, which rolls out across Patty & Bun for the next month. Regular readers may remember my rather scathing review of Honest Burgers’ poor effort at a pizza burger. But watching them prepare these burgers, I was immediately confident that they knew what they were up to. In typically P&B style, they were not shy about slathering loads of sauces on to the buns. Handing them over in their trademark waxed paper wrappers, I unburdened the burger of it’s clothing and immediately was struck by the delicious smell of the combination.

The first bite was confirmation of my suspicions – this is a really, really good burger. The crispy pepperoni added a crunch to the middle, the nduja a little heat, the basil some light freshness, the mozzarella was as melted as you’d hope (at one point giving that incredibly satisfying cheese stretch you always see on pizza adverts!), the patty itself was as juicy and pink as P&B always seem to be. There’s a certain tingling sensation I get in my mouth when I eat a really great steak or burger, I call it a mouthgasm, and this delivered!

Each ingredient brought something worthwhile to the party, I absolutely demolished it, and my friends all agreed that this was an absolute corker. I ended up having a 2nd burger later on before they shut up shop, and that was every bit as good. I firmly expect at some point to pay for a 3rd during the month that this special is on!

On to the pizza that Yard Sale will be selling – as mentioned, essentially the ingredients of P&B’s Smoky Robinson burger on a pizza. This one is a really interesting one – quite an unusual pizza, and it’s probably not for everyone as a result. But you know what, I am fully on board. I was curious to see how they dealt with the burger aspect, and in turns out they literally crumble bits of a patty on to the pizza, which are small enough to cook in the short time it spends in the pizza oven. The caramelised onion is reduced down far more than I’ve ever seen, and so sits well on a pizza, not being too moist, rather being a set of sticky little flavour bombs to add a note of sweetness every so often, amongst the savoury aspect of little burger nuggets and the bacon.

The most curious aspect is the smoky mayo that goes on top – this is where it will probably split the room to a degree. I’m intrigued as to what goes in this – it had a hint of mustard or chilli, it certainly added a heat note to the pizza, just I couldn’t quite put my finger on what exactly it was. I liked it, but it added quite an unusual flavour for a pizza – some may not get on with it I suspect. The base and tomato were as good as I’ve come to expect from Yard Sale, the delicious char on the crusts being right up my alley – sounds a silly thing to highlight, but makes a big difference in my opinion. It doesn’t rank with their best pizzas, and I marginally preferred the Falco special they did, but it’s still very good indeed, and well worth sampling.

So, all-in-all, a triumphant pair of specials. I don’t want anyone labouring under misapprehensions about my relationship with Yard Sale – I ate and drank for free last night, I’ve done paid work for them, I’ll be completely open about these facts. But there is no agenda here, I wasn’t brought in on the expectation I would write this, and if they were not up to muster I wouldn’t be doing so (maybe some will take exception to that, hey ho).

Simply put, the burger is possibly a classic, and the pizza, although probably not for everyone, is banging too.

Pizza Burger – 9/10

Burger Pizza – 8/10

Available until Tuesday 19th September 2017

The Triple Burger Taste-Off, Round 1, Heat 1

My old flatmate ThePetebox texted me a while ago with a ridiculous, but appealing, idea. Go out into London, and sample 3 of the finest burgers around, each time choosing a winner. Do this a bunch of times, then you do the winners in 3’s, down to a grand final, thus working out the best of the best of the best.

We’ve faffed for a few months, but finally made the leap. Meeting up at Patty & Bun in Soho after Pete had bizarrely been teaching Iain Duncan-Smith to beatbox on Radio 2, we had a loose plan involving Lucky Chip and A N Other, which we hadn’t quite worked out yet.

So, to business. The rules of engagement are simple – 3 burgers, not necessarily the same burgers, just the one that we think sounds the best or that is their signature, or that we know to be kick-ass. For me at Patty & Bun, that’s the Jose Jose – in my opinion the finest burger that is permanently on a menu in London.

We ordered, and they were with us in literally a couple of minutes. As always, opening them was a risky business if you weren’t careful, due to the very messy nature of the burger. But it was as glorious as every other time I’ve had one – sweet, spicy sobrassada chorizo relish mixing with smoky mayonnaise and ketchup, the beef perfectly medium-rare (as they’d advised it would be unless we wanted it done longer) and seasoned just right, the springy, light brioche bun holding together like a champ (especially impressive given how sloppy a sandwich this is). But what I’ve come to realise with this one is that the masterstroke is the pickled onions – the acidity of these cuts through the sauces just enough to stop it being sickly, a crucial note in a symphonic burger. We were off to a flying start. The 2 burgers, service and a donation to a charity that was included and explained to us came in at £21.38.

Patty & Bun – Jose Jose Burger – 9/10

After some consideration about where to head next, we decided to include Tommi’s Burger Joint, which is a relatively new addition to the Soho area. I’d been to the Mayfair joint some time ago, and been impressed, but this was only my 2nd crack of the whip. We both ordered cheeseburgers (which come medium), and a pot of chipotle mayo. The price was a very impressively cheap £12.50 for everything. The burgers arrived quickly, wrapped quite similarly to Patty & Bun’s, yet somehow looking nothing like as appealing due to poor branding and presentation. We unwrapped, and being honest they didn’t excite – they looked a bit dry, dull, and overdone. I popped a big blob of chipotle mayo in there and chowed down.

The first couple of bites were a let-down, but once I hit the chipotle mayo, ketchup and so on, it took on an extra dimension – the chipotle mayo in particular was very tasty. However, it was far from as good a burger as I’d remembered from my first trip – the patty is quite thin, I think the burger was marginally overdone, and not as tasty meat as I recalled it having – also Pete mentioned his was a tad gristly. It wasn’t bad – indeed, for £6.25 it is incredible value for central London. But after the Jose Jose this seemed very pedestrian.

Tommi’s Burger Joint – Burger with cheese and chipotle mayo – 6/10

We took a small interlude here to grab an excellent coffee from Soho Bikes

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And then, a short hop on the tube over to Angel, and Lucky Chip at the Old Queen’s Head for their wonderful El Chappo burger.

Beef patty, smoked bacon, roasted jalapeños, blue cheese & aioli. I’ve had this burger 3 times now, and it’s a good un for sure. Chatting to our server, it turns out they press the blue cheese (a lovely, salty, almost spicy cheese) into a disc which melts atop the burger. The aioli is smeared generously over the bottom half of the bun and brings plenty of garlic to the party, the smoked bacon is excellent and cooked as it needs to be in a burger – just crispy enough to be easy to break through, but not a salty pork biscuit. The occasional jalapeño hit is very welcome amongst this all.

The combination here is delicious, but it did bring to mind the clever move of the Jose Jose – those pickled onions.

The melted cheese and aioli, and a quite fatty patty (which is a good thing for flavour, but still), make for a somewhat oily, greasy mouth-feel after a few bites. It could probably use something in there to cut through this – pickled chillies might do this, but the roasted jalapeños here didn’t, even while being very tasty. It’s nit-picking – I really like this burger. But it’s something I feel could improve it. The burgers were £9.50 each, no service as we ordered and paid at the bar.

Lucky Chip – El Chappo – 8/10

So, a clear winner in Patty & Bun’s Jose Jose, despite my affection for the El Chappo. Tommi’s disappointed this time out, although I’m sure I will give them another crack – the price is excellent and the first time I went it was a corker, so this could be an aberration. On to the next trio!

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Remaining heats in this stage (subject to change!)
Honest Burgers, Hawksmoor, Burger & Beyond

Mother Flipper, Dip n Flip, Haché

MeatMission, Burger Bear, Hoi Polloi

Dirty Burger, Bleecker Street, Smokehouse Islington

Mac & Wild, Elliot’s Cafe, Shake Shack

There’s a few obvious contenders I’ve left out because they are only available on specific days that don’t really suit my schedule, and also some well known brands that I feel don’t deserve comparison with most of these. But feel free to leave suggestions for wild cards in the comments, as I suspect I’ve missed a few out!

London Pizza Round-Up, Vol 7

Mama Dough, Brixton

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So far in my round up for London’s best pizza joints, there’s been a definite Eastern bias, a product of where I live and where I spend the majority of my time socially and with gigs. However, this last Sunday I had the opportunity to expand my horizons somewhat, courtesy of a Bonobo gig at Brixton Academy (Bonobo featuring on the blog last May in fact!). I have been eyeing up Theo’s in Camberwell for some time, and hopefully will be visiting them later this week, but for this one I looked closer to my final destination, and hit upon Mama Dough. I’ve passed by that a couple of times and fancied that it looks good, the reviews online were generally favorable, and so a booking was made.

On arrival at 6pm on a Sunday it was relatively quiet, somewhere around 1/3 full. The restaurant is a spacious, open well-lit place on a street corner on the way toward Camberwell, the kitchen and pizza oven in full view, and some nice modern art adorning the walls, with a rough & ready decor of exposed brick and wood. I ordered a glass of very decent Rioja (£4) and waited for my friend to arrive while I took in what they had on offer.

The menu certainly appealed to me, and had a decent amount of variation in the pizza toppings, especially when you factored in the specials board (which annoyingly I forgot to take a picture of, whoops). The starter selection is a bit on the thin side, but that’s forgivable. The drinks selection is pretty simple and, from what we had, high quality stuff at very reasonable prices.

We ended up ordering a special,the Lady Royale (with tomato, burratina, basil and pesto, £11), and the cured meat pizza (with tomato, mozzarella, salami napoli, salami calabrese, parma ham and chilli, £10.50). My friend order a Kraken rum and homemade ginger ale (£6) which was nice enough that it became my 2nd drink of the night.

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When the pizzas arrived, I have to say they were beautiful – in particular, the Lady Royale which was like Jackson Pollock in a more orderly moment had turned his hand to Italian food. And this proved to be the star of the show – the cured meat pizza was decent, but not outstanding. The base was pleasingly crispy and bubbly, and held together well throughout, but not especially flavourful for a sourdough effort. The meats were larger cuts, which made divvying the pizza into slices a little bit trickier than it really needed to be. The meat itself was good quality and tasty though, so I’m nitpicking a little there.

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The Lady Royale, on the other hand, was outstanding. Absolutely delicious, and quite different to any pizza I’ve had before. There was a lot more tomato on this than the other offering, a deep red covering the whole base, and atop this the incredibly creamy, delicate burratina, the generous drizzlings of a lovely, fresh-tasting pesto and a huge handful of fresh basil. The flavours combined wonderfully well, the abundance of sauces and burratina making for an incredibly satisfying, juicy mouthful each time, yet even by the last slice the base was still doing it’s job as a handheld vessel to safely get this delicious team of tastes into my mouth.

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The service was more than a little wonky, even while being friendly – more than a few times I needed service, but ended up waving and trying to call attention to no avail, so was sat without a drink a few times. Also, we had to wait ages for the bill, then after that arrived they never came to take payment, so we had to walk to the bar to make payment; as a result, this was one of the very rare occasions that I didn’t tip (I’m normally a pretty generous tipper by UK standards, about 15-20% if I’ve been treated well, and very, very rarely fail to tip or ask to take off the service, which in London is usually 12.5%). They only had two waiting staff on, and by the time we left it was pretty much full, but there was no indication from them to us that they were struggling with the numbers or short-staffed, and none of the turbo “walking” from A to B that I’ve seen at so many busy restaurants over the years when they are trying to manage a busy room. They just came across as a bit lackadaisical, with a blind spot for us in the far corner.

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But that Lady Royale pizza… make no mistake, if I get chance to eat that again, I will do, sketchy service or not. It was absolutely wonderful.

Lady Royale – 9/10

Cured Meat Pizza – 7.5/10

Service 5/10

Overall score – 7.5/10