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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

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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

Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich at Spit & Roast, King’s X

16 Oct

LOCATION: Spit & Roast at Kerb, King’s Boulevard, King’s X (vendors change daily; your best bet at the moment is to check Twitter for details) [map].

PRICE: £5

BREAD: Floury white bap.

FILLING: Buttermilk fried chicken, apple coleslaw and Korean chilli sauce.

PROS: The chicken had been marinated in buttermilk which we all know by now is the ONLY way to prep fried chicken. The meat is obviously good quality, full of flavour, generously proportioned and mega succulent from the buttermilk treatment. The coating is really well spiced too; a touch of the colonel about it but like he’s levelled up one in the sophistication stakes. Apple slaw is fresh, not claggy, and it compliments the fried chicken nicely, if hardly breaking the mould. Korean chilli sauce has a good flavour, mainly of gojuchang (Korean chilli paste); it’s mild and sweet yet distinctive, having as it does a touch of the funk about it.

CONS: There is one major sin when it comes to fried chicken and that is an under-crisped coating. It’s such a shame to undermine the work that has gone into the spicing by retrieving that bird from the fryer too soon. It’s difficult to get fried chicken right, I know that, but still..them’s the facts. Also, the coleslaw, advertised as apple, did not appear to have any apple in it; at least I couldn’t taste it and I wanted to. I was promised it after all. More citrus is also needed to give the fat in the chicken skin what for. The Korean sauce could use more heat; no-one can blame them for erring on the side of caution when it comes to chilli, but I did find myself returning to get some of the extra hot sauce sensibly provided on the counter.

It’s a sandwich with mega potential; even the floury bun worked and I was sceptical. There’s something about the flour from a bun like that getting EVERYWHERE that annoys me to unreasonable levels. Spit and Roast are clearly on to a good thing but really, just Spit and Roast? Where’s the Fry?

SCORE: 7/10

Pork Belly Bun at Yum Bun, King’s X

19 Feb

LOCATION: Eat.St at King’s Cross, King’s Boulevard, N1 – see Eat.St website for location, opening times and stalls.

PRICE: £3 for 1, £5 for 2.

BREAD: Chinese steamed bun.

FILLING: Pork belly, cucumber slices, spring onion, hoisin sauce, Sriracha chilli sauce.

PROS: Oh sweet, sweet happy joy! This is a stunning sandwich. The main event is a thick slice of tender pork belly, including a very important strip of wibbly wobbly silken fat. I think the pork belly is pre-simmered with aromatics (e.g. star anise and Chinese cinnamon), then re-heated in the steamer to serve. Whatever, it’s lush. The richness of the soft meat and gleaming fat is offset by discs of crunchy cuke and the punch of shredded spring onion. A drizzle of sticky hoisin provides sweet n’ spice, and Sriracha sauce, gentle heat. And the textures! That bun is a cloud-like bundle of pure pillowy heaven; the fluffiest example I’ve eaten. My friend declared it better than any he’s tried in New York, including the Momofuku version. I wouldn’t know because I haven’t been. What I can say however is that I went back for a second, despite that fact I’d demolished the first one plus another sandwich from another stall (I was very hungry), because I couldn’t take my mind off the thing the whole way back to the station.

CONS: None. Will I ever give anyone a perfect 10/10? It’s possible, but something incredible needs to happen. This bun is faultless nonetheless. Yum Bun, indeed.

SCORE: 9/10