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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

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)

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

Buffalo Chicken Sub at Chooks, Muswell Hill

28 Oct

LOCATION: Chooks, 43 The Broadway, Muswell Hill, N10 3HA [map].

PRICE: £8.25.

BREAD: Soft white sub.

FILLING: Buffalo chicken pieces, cabbage and watercress slaw, mega tousle of watercress on top.

PROS: They were certainly generous with the filling, which they damn well should be for £8.25.

CONS: What do you mean that’s not the actual sandwich in the picture? You dissing my food photography skills or what? Shocking. Okay so I couldn’t take a picture of the sandwich because it’s too dark in Chooks. There is an extraordinary amount of red neon strip lighting though. Mmmmm, brothel chic. I have therefore gifted you with a stunningly accurate representation which I created using the magic of Paint. I’m particularly pleased with the watercress. It wasn’t what I actually ordered, by the way. I actually ordered the ‘chooks philly’ but the waitress cocked it up and brought the wrong thing, and not for the first time during the meal.

The buffalo chicken itself was fine, I suppose. It’s quite hard to balls up buffalo sauce to be honest, and although not the best, it was mediocre rather than downright bad. Underneath it however, lurked a truly insipid ‘cabbage and watercress slaw’ which my mate rather eloquently described as tasting like ‘cabbage in milk’. On top was that magnificent tangle of undressed watercress. No, I’ve no idea either. We began by taking a bite and finished by picking out the bits of strangely watery chicken, leaving bun, cabbage and leaves to think about what they’d had done to them.

EIGHT POUNDS AND TWENTY FIVE PENCE.

Chooks is trying hard to be cool in an identikit, ticking off current trends kind of way; cocktails in jam jars; tin cups and plates a la Spuntino; dark interior like Meatliquor; food on trays with paper like Meatliquor; ‘house rules’ posted on the wall like er, Meatliquor; waitresses walking around looking cocky like, you’ve guessed it, Meatliquor. Table sauce in squeezy plastic chef bottles like Pitt Cue. It’s the restaurant equivalent of a fashion victim.

Also, the food is shit.

SCORE: 1/10 

I was invited to review Chooks

Chooks on Urbanspoon

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