Brewed Boy, Soho

Wednesday, 31 March 2010 | |

Walking down Brewer St before my visit to Byron for the 'George Hamilton' burger, I spotted the Freebird burrito stall on Rupert St and nearly started weeping at the injustice of having to skip a tasty burrito for a tasty burger. That's when I spotted an awkward looking Piaggio Ape van with the word 'brewedboy espresso' painted on the side, and a man in wellington boots serving coffee from a Fracino coffee machine. That man in wellies Rob Lockyear, otherwise known as BrewedBoy (a play on the term 'rudeboy', highlighting Rob's journalistic background). As I waited in the queue, I racked my brain as to where I had seen him before, finally placing him posing for a picture on Greedy Diva's blog. After some chatting about coffee, jealous local cafes attempting to sabotage his operation and how Rob ended up doing this (he spent eight years in Australia and fell in love with the coffee culture there) I ordered a long black.

The van. Rob admitted that he purchased it off a man and it was in a sorry state when he get a hold of it, but with a bit of Xzibit-inspired work, he got it looking like this. Certainly a job well done, but a cute look still won't endear the Piaggio to grumpy motorists within the congestion charge zone.

Long black (£1.50). A bargain. Rob was, on my visit, still using the Square Mile Winter Espresso blend, and achieving good results. A fruity and sweet tasting long black, perked up with half a teaspoon of brown sugar. I'm sure some people will get upset by the paper cups, but logistically it is impossible to serve the coffee in anything but. It doesn't detract from the flavour.


Flat white (£2). Consumed by Marcus who said: "I'm not a big coffee drinker but this flat white was outstanding. Adequately strong with the espresso base still shining through beyond the initial hit of silky and creamy milk." Rob says he plans to bring some more glass cups to serve the flat whites and espressos in, for those of you who prefer it.

Despite some early niggles and the fact the operation has only been running for less than two months, Rob is serving up good coffee at decent prices, adding yet another great option for fans of caffeine in Soho. He has plans to add a makeshift seating area for the summer and may appear at some festivals if all goes to plan. As well as selling coffee, Rob also has a 'book exchange' running from the back of his van, so bring a book you've finished with, do a swap and enjoy a long black from BrewedBoy.

The 'George Hamilton' at Byron, Soho

Monday, 29 March 2010 | |

Note: My dining companion for this meal was Marcus, who writes Ain't No Picnic, a blog dedicated to all things hamburgers. Keep track of his blog; he has plans of opening a proper burger van in London sometime soon.

The outlook is positive. Burgers in London are getting better. A culture seems to be developing and people are taking hamburgers more seriously. No longer will pre-ground, frozen and cheap meat on a crap bun with watery vegetables be accepted; it's an insult to all of those who dedicate their lives to making great hamburgers, documented by people like George Motz and written about daily on A Hamburger Today. If you read my post on Goodman which I published last week, you'll have read that I found what I would consider to be the best burger in London. That isn't to say though, that there aren't contenders (Hawksmoor being an one that comes to mind initially, for the price point). In fact, I'd be willing to state that one could separate the burgers in London and rank them by style, using the AHT guide as a point of reference. Goodman, therefore, would be the best Steakhouse/Fancy Pants burger in the city. Byron, which launched a two month trial of using 'American' (read: orange, plasticky, essential on a burger, 'Kraft Single' style) cheese would, in my opinion, come under 'Fast Food Style' and would easily come out on top. A regular visitor to Byron, I have enjoyed their burgers in the past, but moaned about the mealy and overly-floury bun to anyone who would listen. Using cheese supplied by Cheese Cellar, the 'George Hamilton' as it is colloquially known promised to make a good burger even better, but would it make up for the loss of the short-lived Big D? I had to find out.

Courgette fries (£3.00). This choice drew an excited exclamation of "good choice!" from our waitress. One bite and I couldn't believe I'd never tried them, despite visiting on numerous occasions. Clean taste of frying, the crispy and well seasoned courgette chips were a welcome side. A better bet than the skin-on chips or the meek fries on offer. Seriously moreish.

Cheeseburger (£7.25). The standard Byron patty comes topped with two slices of 'American' cheese, which is nicely melted and has a mild, creamy flavour. The good quality meat is well seasoned and has a nice charred flavour, but as Marcus pointed out, there's no way you will get an even cooking when using this technique. A flat-top griddle would insure this, but is it worth sacrificing the beautiful smoky flavour of the coals for a better crust? I'm not sure. One thing I am sure of - and I'm sorry for going on about burger buns so much - is that the bread is simply not a good enough match for the filling within. The quality of the meat demands a better bun, or at least one which is steamed after toasting, by putting a lid or an upturned bowl on the buns whilst they're on the grill. Ultimately, it's not enough to detract from a seriously enjoyable burger experience, but it's a gripe that is ever-present, though the average customer probably doesn't study types of burger buns (Martin's Potato Rolls would be exquisite with this burger).

Oh yeah, and another thing: the pickle spear. Slice them so that they're round and put them in the burger. People that don't like gherkins can pick them out. They're essential.

Autopsy shot. Perfectly medium-rare, as requested and appropriately juicy. Good grilling skills on show from the kitchen.

One last delicious morsel.

The total bill for two burgers, two root beers, one shared bowl of courgette fries (I'm so glad they don't call them zucchini fries) and one espresso was £24.75, and we added £3.25 for the service, which we were told is distributed between the front of house and the team in the kitchen, quite sensibly. This brought the total up to £28 for the two of us, a few quid shy of the final bill at Goodman a few days earlier. Was the burger at Byron as good? No, but nearly. If they can sort the bun out and the issue with the gherkins, then it'll certainly be up there, and the introduction of the American cheese is definitely a step in the right direction. Right now, I will just repeat what I've said before: Byron is head and shoulders above anything else as widely available in the city, and is a good option at the price range.

Byron on Urbanspoon

Goodman, Mayfair

Thursday, 25 March 2010 | |

Note: The pictures in this blog post were taken by my friend Danny Morris with his Bronica SQ-A.

If you've ever read a London-based food blog before, you'll know all about Goodman, with their hamburger in particular garnering a lot of praise from foodies. For those of you who are die-hard Will Eat For Money fans, swearing that you'll never set eyes on another blog, then let me explain a couple of things. Goodman is located on Maddox Street, a side street branching off Regent St and is what some may call a 'steakhouse', whilst others prefer to avoid the Angus trap and dub it a 'steak restaurant'. Whatever you wish to title this Russian-owned, American-inspired restaurant, it promises fantastic, USDA prime quality meat which is dry-aged in a specially built room in house. After attempting to make a reservation the night before and failing to get a table as they were apparently fully booked, we decided we would attempt a walk-in and found, to our surprise, that the restaurant was half-empty. Or half-full, with a 100% hit rate of men in suits. Feeling under-dressed and overly-indie in my customary checkered shirt, we sidled in to a table at the back of the dark-brown/leather heavy restaurant, perusing the a la carte and set lunch menus. The set lunch seemed a good value at £15 for two courses (with a £3 supplement if you wanted steak, so lets just say it was £18 for two courses) but we were here for burgers. Ordering a Meantime Pilsner (£4) from the waiter (who wore the same clothes as the chef that day, how embarrassing) we continued to pretend we were reading the menu before we each placed an order for a medium-rare burger with grilled onions and crispy bacon. The extras here are free of charge, and you have a choice of the aforementioned onions and bacon as well as sautéed mushrooms, a fried egg or some cheddar cheese. My recommendation would be to skip the temptation of ordering a burger with everything, as the meat speaks for itself and you won't want the unnecessary toppings hiding that flavour.

The Goodman burger.

The Goodman burger autopsy shot.

The burger was an unbridled joy, and halfway through I mumbled that the 50% of brioche bun and loosely packed, juicy meat sandwich I had just eaten was probably the best example of the genre I'd ever consumed. My dining partner, who had advanced in his eating, wiped down his nectar-drenched forearms and claimed that, without wanting to reveal anything, the other half was just as good. The 'rabbit food' (lettuce, tomato and [red] onion) were fresh and crunchy, working well with the luscious meat. Condiments included ketchup, mayonnaise and strong, sinus-clearing English mustard, sensibly served on the side. The burger did not need anything added, not even a smearing of Special Sauce, as it was perfectly seasoned and the prime offcuts spoke for themselves.

Goodman chips.

The chips which accompanied the burger were huge, man-sized chips. With a crunchy exterior on about 30% of the chips, I wasn't thrilled by them, but they did retain a good flavour and the pillowy, white potato beneath the often limp skin was a pleasant enough accompaniment to the burger, and a good vehicle for the sauces on the side.

The final bill for two burgers, chips and two beers was £36 (including an already added-on, 'optional' service charge of 12.5%, at £4). We decided to skip dessert, to the surprise of our friendly waiter, who took a look at me and said "REALLY?" when I claimed I was full.
The question which arose when we were finishing up was not a new debate: is a burger meal ever worth £12, or £18 if you figure in the service and a pint of beer, with no starter or dessert? I was firmly in the 'yes' camp, claiming that it was basically a minced up steak, in which you could quite clearly taste the provenance of the meat and it was perhaps the best burger either of us had ever had. My friend couldn't agree, stating it is a burger, the food of the everyman and it simply should not cost £12. For comparison, a burger and some chips from Byron will cost you about £10, and that's just for the basic burger, as the price would slowly increase if you were to include extras such as cheese or bacon. The famed burger from The Hawksmoor goes for £15, or £16.50 if you include some of the incredible smoked streaky bacon. 

Ultimately, Goodman now stands at the top of the London burger pile for me, and actually may surpass the stunners I had in New York City from Shake Shack and Corner Bistro. It's hardly a surprise though, as the burger was the culmination of two weeks of burger geekery in which I read through the story of In-n-Out and George Motz's superior volume Hamburger America, whilst also checking A Hamburger Today religiously and keeping up with the Ain't No Picnic burger blog. Motz uses the term 'whole burger experience' to describe a great burger which is enjoyed in the right setting and I was completely in that mindset eating this burger. 

Goodman on Urbanspoon

Tosa, Hammersmith

Wednesday, 17 March 2010 | |

Note: I visited Tosa in April 2009 (i.e. before I started this blog). I'm clearing my archives.

Bit of a cheat post this, I gather, but someone mentioned Tosa to me the other day and I remembered that I quite enjoyed the place. Here are a couple of pictures:

Aspara maki (literally 'asparagus roll'). Asparagus wrapped in smoky bacon and cooked on their robata grill. Absolutely delicious.

Yakitori (foreground) and tebasaki (background). Above average from what I can remember, but not dramatically better than other izakaya-type Japanese places in London. We also got torikawa (chicken skin) which was fantastic. Topped with salt rather than tare.

Tonkatsu cutlet. Served with karashi on the side and bulldog sauce was also provided. A fine bit of fried meat, nothing more than average.

Gyoza. Filled with pork and chives. Good gyoza: crispy skin at the bottom and generous and well seasoned filling, though rather expensive at £5.50 for 5 pieces.

Unagi nigiri. Ordered as an afterthought more than anything, just because I can never resisted a bit of grilled eel, the version at Tosa was good, with the smoky flavour from the grilling a definite advantage over other versions.

Not pictured: grilled sea bass head, which housed a surprising amount of fresh-tasting flesh.

The final bill with two beers and service was £36, and we felt quite full, though a couple more items could have been added. A good choice if you're ever in the Stamford Brook end of King St, or if you're looking for a yakitori-ya to sate your appetite for meat on a stick.

Tosa on Urbanspoon

Chilango, Fleet St

Friday, 12 March 2010 | |

Chilango: Ever since I tried the tacos at a Lucha Libre event at the Roundhouse in December of 2008 (where I was rewarded with a voucher for a free burrito) I've been a fan. They were, at the time, the best tacos I had tried in London, and they're still up there, along with the efforts by fella who has a stall on Lower Marsh in Waterloo, and those from Daddy Donkey. Unashamedly spicy and full of flavour, they pulled no punches; a refreshing change from the myriad of bland and ultimately lazy tacos and burritos available in the city, pre the recent burrito-craze. Of course, restaurants such as Taqueria and wahaca are attempting to bring a more 'Mex-Mex' (rather than Tex-Mex) slant to Mexican food in London, but Chilango's burritos remain a firm favourite. I've had a countless number of burritos from both the Angel and Fleet St stores; some have been paid for by myself, whilst others have been generously handed to me gratis, either to say thank you for being a loyal customer or to entice me in and draw my regular custom (it worked). The burritos always taste incredibly fresh: the fillings are never meagre or bland, packing a punch in both the flavour and spiciness ranks on their own. The chicken, for example, is a recent favourite of mine with its hot and spicy chipotle marinade leaving a trail of fire on my lips. That's not to underestimate the chargrilled, tender steak, a firm fallback in any situation. Additionally, the other components of the burrito are also paid a great deal of attention it seems. The coriander and lime rice is probably the best example thereof in London, whilst the pico de gallo is delicious enough to eat on its own - zingy and fresh tasting. I like that they give away free burritos whenever a store opens, and that they're always willing to support a good cause. The negatives for me are the usual in any burrito joint: you have to pay for guacamole (a mammoth 80p here!) and the tortilla wraps aren't as good as those at Luardos.

P.S. Have a look at a couple of pictures:

Steak burrito (£5.90)

Agua Fresca (£1.60 - unlimited refills)

Chilango on Urbanspoon

Hawksmoor, Shoreditch

Monday, 8 March 2010 | |

Note: This menu launches on the 13th of March, as per Hawksmoor's new weekend, day-time opening hours.

The Hawksmoor on Commercial Street, Shoreditch: some have been known to get the meat sweats from just thinking about entering the place. A true meat-lovers paradise, serving up New York steakhouse inspired fare, with meats from the fantastic suppliers at The Ginger Pig. Great steaks, a much talked about burger, and now a weekend brunch menu. You can either go for breakfast (which I did) or lunch. The latter is a traditional roast lunch, with a rib of beef available, as well as a fillet of beef roast. I wasn't sure if I was going to blog this occasion, as it was a sort of 'soft opening' for the brunch menu, and all items are under scrutiny so might be revised. Have a look at some pictures, anyway, courtesy of Samantha once again.

Sausage and Egg HkMuffin (£8). Described on the menu as a 'guilty pleasure', this was quite simply one of the best things I've eaten so far this year. Incredibly playful take on the 'McMuffin', this went beyond my expectations. A beef, mutton and pork sausage (devised especially for the Hawksmoor) sits on top of two fried, free range eggs. A slice of Ogleshield cheese gently melted on top of the grilled meat completes the transformation. The sausage is a complete and utter joy, qualifying my idea that three animals minced together are better than just one; the eggs are fried competently, whilst the cheese adds a welcome creaminess, and some fruity notes. I'll be honest and say that I'd much rather have a Kraft Single - or a gourmet take on the processed favourite - on the HkMuffin, but the Ogleshield works well. The only others issues are to do with the size, and how easy it is to hold the thing without it going all over the place, something the team are going to work on.

Full English Breakfast (£30 for two to share). Not exactly the best picture, unfortunately, but have a look at this picture by Niamh from the eat like a girl blog, for a run down of the components. Good things: smoked bacon chop, gravy, short-rib bubble and squeak (genius), trotter beans, bone marrow, dripping toast, eggs, mushrooms and those Hawksmoor sausages. The only negatives for me were with items I just don't get on with: the black pudding and roast tomatoes. It may seem like a big price to pay for breakfast, though at £15 each, you do get a lot for your money. The smoked bacon chop, alone, would be worth a few quid - a hefty piece of meat, beautifully cooked to perfection, making a mockery of the rashers you're used to. A nod to the short-rib bubble and squeak too, which was absolutely delicious. A very good breakfast, so far removed from your average greasy-spoon effort, but not done with any great pretension. The ingredients are all good and cooked well, taken to another level but with traceable roots.

Also on offer is a Vegetarian English (£8) which we didn't try, but comes with eggs (fried or poached), grilled mushrooms, roast tomatoes, bubble and squeak, and Heinz baked beans.

Trotter baked beans. Part of the Full English Breakfast. Very nicely done, especially when put on some dripping toast.

Orange juice (£3). Simply the most orange, orange juice I've ever seen in my life. Very odd, though not a bad drink. Far too much ice.

The bill. Of course, would have been a few quid more if it weren't for the 50% off. Would I pay full whack for brunch at the Hawksmoor? Absolutely, though it would obviously be a rare treat, as with their hamburger. I'm already dreaming of my next HkMuffin, quite honestly.

Hawksmoor on Urbanspoon

Luardos, Barbican

Friday, 5 March 2010 | |

I recently wrote about a disappointing burrito at Poncho no 8 in Spitalfields. In that review I explained I had previously heard good things about Luardos, a van selling Mexican street food on Whitecross St. I had to try it ASAP. A bright, sunny day (one of the first of the year) was all the convincing I needed: I'd phone Samantha and get her to buy me a burrito. She's good to me. She said she couldn't see the front of the queue, and had heard from others standing there that the wait would be anything up to an hour and half. 90 minutes for a burrito! In the end, it was closer to about twenty minutes, though by the time she got to the ordering, there was only the chicken option available - they usually have slow-cooked beef, the aforementioned chicken and carnitas. Additionally, there is a vegetarian option which comes with free guacamole. None of these are over a fiver.

Chicken and chorizo burrito (£5). The chicken burrito costs £4.50 usually, but add some chorizo for 50p extra to turn a decent burrito into a great one. The flour tortilla here is superlative, probably the best of any burrito joint I've tried in London, with good blisters and tasting homemade. The fillings were hit and miss: decent pico de gallo; great spiciness from the oily chorizo; good flavour but a dry and mealy texture to the chunks of chicken breast; fairly judged rice. They did work well together, and with the great flavour of the tortilla (something a lot of places don't pay enough attention to, I feel) it was a good burrito. I'd say that Luardos is one of the top burritos in the city, along with Chilango and Daddy Donkey, though you have to be quick to beat the queues and have a choice of filling.

Prufrock Coffee, Shoreditch

Tuesday, 2 March 2010 | |

I go through phases. I'm a very 'phasey' sort of person. There's one, though, that keeps creeping back on me: coffee. Every so often I go crazy for coffee, buying bags and bags of different blends, buying new gadgetry to make the brew and trying out new coffee shops. I'm in a coffee phase right now, to be honest; I've recently reintroduced myself to my Vietnamese coffee drip from Ca Phe VN. It was sparked off by Time Out's best cup of coffee in London search, published the other week. It reminded that Prufrock Coffee existed, created by Gwilym Davies, the 2009 World Barista Champion who is present and serving at the weekend. During the week the onus is on Tim Styles and Mattias Björklund (Swedish barista champ) to serve exceptional espressos and flat whites. Made with a Nuova Simonelli espresso machine, using the Square Mile winter blend, they do a steady business serving fashionable East Londoners in the front of trendy menswear shop Present.

Flat white (£2.20). Sam said it was the best flat white she has ever tasted, even better than the efforts from Flat Whitedose espresso and Monmouth. I had a little sip: it was like drinking butter. In a good way. Outstandingly creamy and silky, with a good fruity flavour to the coffee.

Long black (£2). I had this. Eager to taste it, I burned my mouth (I didn't like having taste buds, anyway) but I could still appreciate it was a great cup of coffee. I'm not exactly a coffee purist, and I believe a spoonful of brown sugar can draw more flavours out of the cup and add caramel notes. This coffee didn't need anything added; the fruitiness of dates and prunes was clear on the palate, with apricots and burned orange peel coming through, as well.

Whilst there, I picked up a dis-loyalty card, with the general idea being the antithesis of a traditional 'loyalty card': instead of going to the same place eighteen times to be rewarded a cup of undrinkable coffee, you visit eight of London's best coffee shops and after doing so, you'll have a cup of coffee made for you by Gwilym. Great idea. I'll be going to all of the places on the card and doing a round-up blog of them soon.