Note: I didn't pay for this meal. I was a guest of the affable @thepubgeek.
I'll be honest: I had no idea where the hell Herne Hill was until Yianni and his Meatwagon rocked up in the garden of The Florence. Ten minutes from Victoria; fifteen minutes from Farringdon; not quite the arse-end of nowhere I thought it would be, and in fact quite a nice area with one big selling point - the aforementioned pub. The sort of pub that a lot of the people I went with for the first time agreed would be ideal as their 'local'. Despite inviting Yianni to turn on his cast-iron flat-top griddle (and allowing him a regular spot, Meatwagon fans) the Florence also employs a kitchen crew who cook up pub staples. As well as items 'in bread' - sandwiches, to you and me - they serve 'smalls' which are suitable for sharing, 'mains' which slightly larger plates and 'afters', oddly placed near the top of the menu - the belief that they will log into your memory as you're scrolling down plays a part, here. Another confession to make here: I have no idea what is on the menu apart from the things I tried. I came back to try two things in particular. The fried chicken - made to the Thomas Keller recipe - and the burger, recently tweaked after a staff visit to the Meatwagon.
Fried chicken (£6). You know that tired old quote about how 'pizza is a lot like sex'? Same applies for chicken, to be honest with you. Scrawny, battery-farmed chickens who are fed toenails and kicked about - pretty undesirable. Give them to my mate Colonel Sanders and you'll get some guiltily delicious chicken. Let's say you have two pounds in your pocket, a rumble in your stomach and a desire for multiple toilet visits the next day: go to Sam's Chicken. That isn't to say that you can't get good fried chicken though. You just have to use fresh chicken, have patience and follow the recipe of a 3* Michelin Chef. Inspired by the recipe from the fantastic volume Ad Hoc At Home, the team at the Florence put it straight on the menu. Crispy batter gives way to wonderfully tender chicken - juicy and perfectly cooked, spiced with paprika and seasoned well. A massive flick of the V at the poor old Colonel.
As would seem the trend these days, I was really here to try out the Florence's burger (£7.50). Two patties (about four ounces each, I would say), mature cheddar, lettuce, onions, sliced gherkins and a couple of sauces on the side. An impressive sight, but I immediately noted that it was too tall. Burgers that are too large to fit in your mouth aren't pleasant, and even with a bit of squishing the burger was still vertically-disproportionate. @tehbus, Samantha and I decided to dissect our burgers, going for some of the beef with a knife and fork. The 21 day aged chuck had a good beefy flavour, and it was seasoned well, with appropriate levels of salt and pepper. Surprisingly the patties also housed a crust, belying the capacity of the cooking method (chargrilled); a bite past the caramelised exterior led to 'noodled' beef mince, a hint beyond medium. The other components of the burger were of a varying standard, but mostly good. Despite being a Kraft Singles fan, the mature cheddar was a welcome accompaniment, working well with the aged beef - the musky notes complementing each other. The bun, a sesame seeded brioche from Miller's Bakery, is the right side of squishy and holds together well. The rabbit food on the whole is decent, though the lettuce is rather flappy and ultimately too large for the burger. Some shredded iceberg lettuce would suit better, but it's not a major point of consideration.
Two sauces are provided on the side: a home-made Sriracha copy, and a Special Sauce knock-off. The Sriracha is the nice kind of spicy - it mellows out and tingles at the back of your throat, rather than landing an unexpected punch. It could do with some added vinegar or some sugar to give it another dimension, but it's a good effort, and the roasted pepper flavours are very nice indeed. The Special Sauce is also a great, playful attempt. Mustard, ketchup and mayonnaise mixed together is undeniably delicious, and it just works so well with a cheeseburger. I'm a big fan.
Standard autopsy shot. I think that's with only one patty.
French fries (£2.50). Good for frozen, unlike at Lucky 7. The aioli provided was nice, with a mellow garlicky taste.
With great ales on tap, a superb beer garden and an amazing pub dog - named Barksdale, after the character in The Wire - the Florence is a firm favourite of mine already, despite being on the other side of London. Add to this list regular appearances from the Meatwagon, and I suspect they will be seeing a lot more of me, for some of that superior fried chicken, too.