Chicken, Mayo and Pickled Peppers at The Camberwell Arms, Camberwell

21 Mar

LOCATION: The Camberwell Arms, 65 Camberwell Church Street, SE5 [map]

PRICE: £5.

BREAD: Sourdough baguette.

FILLING: Spit roast chicken, pickled peppers, wholegrain mustard mayo, watercress.

PROS: All the ingredients are really good quality. The baguettes are from my favourite bakery, Brickhouse, I believe; the chicken is a premium bird, brined and rotisserated (new word) on their own spit. The pickled peppers are fabulous, and pop up on their menu with their charcuterie plate and I expect elsewhere. The mayo is made in house and plentiful.

CONS: This sandwich was constructed by someone who doesn’t eat sandwiches very often, and perhaps doesn’t particularly like them. They certainly haven’t tried eating this sandwich anyway. All the elements are there, but it doesn’t work as a whole and to quote J Kenji Lopez-Alt, isn’t greater than the sum of its parts, which is the number one rule of a good sandwich.

A really crusty sourdough baguette like this works as table bread, spread thickly with butter, as it appears at the beginning of every meal at The Camberwell Arms, but for this sandwich it is completely inappropriate. A chicken sandwich needs a bread with some softness to it. The sandwich is also really tricky to eat as the bread forgives NOTHING, and so when I take a bite everything squeezes out of the sides. It therefore breaks another sandwich rule effortlessly: no structural integrity. The second sandwich I try (never a quitter), basically the same fillings but with cold porchetta (I know, yum, right?) is actually inedible. The bread is like a rock and I have one bite before giving up, cursing the fact that the sandwich is in my flat and not the pub where I could be bothered to return it. It makes me really bloody angry, actually.

How do I score a sandwich that I couldn’t even eat? All these ingredients are good, so the end result must be great, right?! Wrong. So wrong. I’ve not even got into the fact that the wholegrain mustard in the mayo is not detectable, and that the allium bite of a spring onion would really bring that necessary extra dimension; the pickle can’t quite step up on its own. Sandwich rule number 3: layering.

Sigh. I want to like these sandwiches so much but they feel like an afterthought. They are leftovers slapped into too old bread. I’m really genuinely sorry, Camberwell Arms; I will continue to spend time (and a shitload of money, actually) eating the rest of your food, but your sandwiches are bloody awful.

SCORE: 3/10 

 

Highland Burger with Korean Pulled Pork at Smokehouse N1, Islington

17 Mar

LOCATION: Smokehouse N1, 63-69 Canonbury Road, N1 2DG [map]

PRICE: £15.

BREAD: Seeded burger bun.

FILLING: 5 year old Highland cow burger, pulled pork, lettuce, gochujang mayo.

PROS: Right, RIGHT! Listen up. Listen good and listen hard, because this is important. I do not give out full marks lightly. I hope you weren’t waiting for that bit at the end? Oh. Well anyway since you’re here I might as well tell you that this is one of the best burgers in London and you must go and eat it immediately. Usually I can’t stand pulled pork on a burger. CAN’T. STAND. IT. Then I remembered that’s because there is so much terrible pulled pork out there. You know, cotton wool mushy wush; squeaky flossed fibres. Then I remembered that this is cooked by one of the best BBQ chefs in London. The best, probably. Actually. Neil Rankin. As an aside from the sandwich, Smokehouse N1 is just a fabulous place to sit and eat, particularly if you get a space around the back by the kitchen, where the Big Green Eggs waft their ghostly gusts through the open door. It’s the best BBQ you’ve never been to.

So the burger is made from the chuck and carcass offcuts of 5 year old highland cow and the flavour is intense. It was described by my mate and I as ‘sick’ which is what people younger than us say instead of ‘top brass’ or ‘fookin ace’. It has me scooping at the fall out with my fingers. It’s rare as hell inside and, at the risk of sounding ‘a bit Rayner’ awakens something primal within me. I should probably say something here about needing a cardiologist.

The stuff that looks like cheese, isn’t. ‘What’s the cheese?’ Asks my friend. ‘It just looks like cheese so you think it is’. Huh. It’s mayonnaise and gochujang mixed together, which is just bafflingly tasty considering, well, it’s just mayonnaise and gochujang mixed together.

CONS: Nothing. Honestly nothing. I went on about this sandwich so much during the eating and the digesting that my friends started to blatantly ignore me. I never thought I could be excited about a burger ever again, considering, well, you know, the whole Burger Trend business but fuck my hat if this isn’t the absolute biz.

SCORE: 10/10

Croque Monsieur at Le Peche Mignon, Islington

14 Mar

LOCATION: 6 Ronalds Road, Islington, N5 1XH [map].

PRICE: £5.50.

BREAD: White sourdough.

FILLING: Ham and cheese, bechamel on top.

PROS: The state of croques in the world is dire. In London it’s bad but in Paris? Even worse. Seriously. It’s depressing. This presented me with a dilemma then, about the criteria against which to judge this sandwich. Should it be judged relative to all croques in London that I know about? Or all other croques in the world, including theoretical not in actual existence yet croques? I decided upon the latter. The opinions expressed on this blog are based upon nothing if not whim, fancy and my highly variable mood, as ever.

This was one of the best croques I’ve ever had in London actually, which isn’t saying much (check out this abomination) but then it’s very surprising considering what happened when I arrived at Le Peche Mignon. I’d gone halfway up the ginger line to eat this bastard, and so when I spotted a pile of pre-made croques upon entering the cafe well, you can imagine, my little heart sank into my biker boots. I wasn’t leaving without trying it though, considering the effort of sitting on the tube for a whole 20 minutes. ‘What actually happens to cheese if you melt it twice?’ we pondered. Turns out, not a lot apart from melting, again. With reflection, I think the inside had only been melted the once, and it was just the sauce on top that had been pre-applied. Okay so it was a little crusty in places, but the sandwich in general was soft, the bread really decent, the ham perfectly good and the side salad of a little lettuce with a mustard heavy dressing, exactly as it bloody well should be. Few people seem to adequately understand that last element; there should be just a few leaves of soft, inoffensively flavoured lettuce (i.e. no sodding rocket) and a bitey dressing. No more, no less. Very well judged, Le Peche.

CONS: Okay so there’s no ignoring the fact that this was pre-made. Why won’t someone open a croque cafe? And no I don’t mean one where they start tinkering about with weird additions and combinations; I mean one that just does perfect croques, with maybe a madame and one option for the crazies. WHY?! Someone should just get the hell on with that.

So this isn’t a croque I’d ever travel to, say, North London for, but it’s certainly one I’d eat again if I lived nearby, particularly if I was hungover and had a pot of mustard in my bag which, incidentally, I often do.

SCORE: 6.5/10 (extra half point for getting the side leafage right)

Muffuletta at The Lockhart, Marble Arch

28 Jan

LOCATION: The Lockhart, 22-24 Seymour Place, W1H 7NL [map]

PRICE: £12 for 1/4 of a 34cm loaf, with crisps (REALLY good crisps which they make themselves).

BREAD: Big, round, sesame seeded loaf (bit like focaccia).

FILLING: Napoli salami, mortadella, hot capicola, provolone cheese, piquant tapenade sauciness.

PROS: I love the fact that I have to explain to at least 3 other people at the table what a muffuletta is. ‘IT’S A SANDWICH! I’VE GOT A RECIPE FOR IT IN MY BOOK!!’. They look at me with a mixture of thanks and pity. Mostly the latter. It’s a cracking sandwich though. A hollowed out loaf (traditionally a muffuletta), is rammed with layer upon layer of different meats and cheeses, and topped with a sort of zippy tapenade made of olives, capers, pickles, vinegar, herbs and olive oil. Well, that’s what’s in my recipe anyway. This tastes pretty much the same. There’s a lot to be said for layering a shitload of meats and cheeses on top of one another; the overall effect is a big protein squidge that amounts to ultimate sandwich satisfaction.

There’s a story that the sandwich was invented by a wily New Orleans grocer who spotted weary workers balancing various lunch ingredients on their knees. He thought he might be onto something by stuffing the lot rather conveniently into a sandwich and it took off immediately. What’s not to like? It’s a giant stuffed loaf, FFS. Also, I’ve not come across one anywhere else in London, so a bonus point for that.

CONS: I want to just sit in the corner and eat the whole thing to myself. We’re there for dinner though, aware that this is just a bar snack while we wait for others to arrive. We’re staring down the barrel of a meal of fried chicken, shrimp and grits, creamily dressed salads and and and and…is it wrong that I would’ve been happy with another wedge of muffuletta? I have a problem.

SCORE: 8/10

Yeah it was really dark…you get the idea. 

LROS on Tour: Hot Dog at Baejarins Beztu Pylsir, Reykjavik

8 Dec

LOCATION: Baejarins Beztu Pylsur, Reykjavik, by the harbour. You’ll find it.

PRICE: 380 ISK (£1.96).

BREAD: Hot dog bun.

FILLING: Hot dog, diced raw onion, crispy fried onions (CRONIONS), ketchup, remoulade, sweet mustard.

PROS: This is a tale of 5 hot dogs, truth be told, because that’s how many different combinations of condiments I tried before I was satisfied. This doesn’t really fit into a pros and cons format either, so I’m just going to pretend it isn’t happening and shoe horn some text in regardless.

I started with ‘the works’ which, admirably, includes two types of onion. The first is finely chopped raw onion, of which I am a huge fan; I love how the Dutch put it on chips, and I loved that the Icelandic put it on this hot dog. It was, however, a little lost under the slightly acrid but nevertheless pleasing powerhouse that is CRONIONS. These are deep fried onions which the Icelandic seem to use like salt.

I go back and I ask for another but with double raw onion. Better. But wait, what is this strangeness? There is brown goo on my hot dog and boy, does it take some getting used to. It is described as mustard but I just can’t get behind that…sweet n spiced goo? Sticky slicky brown sauce? Weird ass savoury icing? It’s unusual, and odd, so I ask for a third, but without.

It doesn’t work. I miss the mind bending sauce. This surprising turn of events unnerves me but I soldier on, drunk and insatiable. I haven’t mentioned the remoulade yet, which should be horrible, being as it is a mixture of mayo and relish. I try one without. Doesn’t work.

Finally, I try double raw onion, single CRONION, remoulade and double ketchup but this makes the dog taste too American. What I want now is the original dog, in all its over sauced, unfamiliar glory.

So there it is. I got drunk and ate five different hot dogs only to conclude that the first was the best. This is a public service.

CONS: I was very full.

SCORE: 7/10

Patty Melt at Dip and Flip, Battersea

17 Nov

LOCATION: Dip and Flip, 87 Battersea Rise, SW11 1HW [map]

PRICE: £5.25

BREAD: Brown and slightly grainy.

FILLING: Ground beef and cheese.

PROS: When I wrote my sandwich book, I had to cut 72 sandwiches, and the patty melt was one of them. This is a shame because it’s a fantastic sandwich, but you know what? I’m relieved. Relieved because I know that I would not have made a version as good as this. This is one seriously juicy number. The amount of beef is just right, meaning you get a finished product which is so easily scarfable it leaves you wanting more rather than feeling like you need a disco nap. What really seals the deal however is the cheese; the recipe was painstakingly developed for the burgers at The Ship, and it’s just perfect, more like a thick cheese sauce; a glue of guilty pleasure that melds the whole sandwich together. Then of course, there’s the gravy for dipping; it’s made with beef and crucially, is not too thick or over reduced so as to challenge the richness of the sandwiches.

The bread threw me a curveball, being brown and slightly grainy. Uh huh. Think about the number of sandwiches where that choice of bread really works. Not many, is it? Kudos. Oh and special mention must go to the pickles, served on the side, but sliced lengthways so as to actually fit in the sandwich. How many burgers or sandwiches have you eaten where the pickle comes in an awkward fat length? WHY? Why do you want me to take a bite of my pickle and and then a bite of my sandwich? Am I not allowed to put it inside? Bog off.

CONS: I had to share half of it with my mate. Mistake.

SCORE: 9/10

The Devastator, Red Dog Saloon, Hoxton

21 Oct

LOCATION: Red Dog Saloon, 37 Hoxton Square, N1 6NN [map]

PRICE: £22.75

BREAD: Seedless burger bun.

FILLING: 3 x 6oz burgers, 200g pulled pork, 6 rashers applewood smoked bacon, 6 slices American cheese, lettuce, onion, pickles. Some sort of generic BBQ sauce.

PROS: Sweet titty Jesus, this is big.

CONS:  Sometimes I see something on a menu and it just looks so ridiculous that I can’t resist trying it even though I know it will be bad. It’s like gastronomic self-harming.

I mean, look at it. LOOK AT IT.

I round up 3 others – full informed consent obtained – to eat this with me. It arrives, skewered down the middle out of genuine necessity, which makes a nice change. We quickly decide that separating it in the traditional way is not an option so we just push it over and pick out bits of each filling.

I am assured by the owner of Red Dog Saloon that the meat is of high quality, which is a shame because I couldn’t taste it due to the sheer quantity of ingredients piled inside. The overall effect was the way London looks on a really shitty overcast day; dreary, grey, nothing. The pulled pork is what really annoys me though, particularly considering their claim to ‘authentic BBQ’. It’s a lesson in how not to do pulled pork; cooked for too long and saturated with sauce, leaving it with that curious texture , like chewing on wet cotton wool. The bacon is….I can’t remember.

They’ve tried to make a man vs. food style challenge here and have ended up with, well, a man vs. food style challenge, but one from the later episodes  - you know, when they’d run out of good places to visit and just ended up doing challenges with any old joint serving food in large quantities. Poor Adam Richman got tired of it and started approaching the challenges with a weary look; not just because he was tired of the sheer vast grotesque amounts of food but because it didn’t even taste great any more.

I’ve got nothing against food challenges per se, and this is obviously intended as a bit of fun. Fine! Great! No problemo. What I REALLY have a problem with is claims about the quality of the food. It’s AUTHENTIC! This is PROPER BBQ! That’s the real killer. Serve whatever food floats your boat but do not start pretending you’re something entirely different. There’s a handy little phrase that sums up what exactly what you’re doing and it is this:

‘Taking the piss’.

SCORE: 2/10

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