Friday, 25 May 2012

Sloppy Joe Burger, Wenlock & Essex

A word of advice: don't get the burger at Wenlock & Essex.  This is not to say that it isn't good - in fact, as you'll soon read, it's much better than good - but there are many other great options on the menu.  The burger is by far their best seller though, much to the disappointment of the lovely pork fillets, the fish and chips, and the wild salmon.

But then I'm not part of the solution; rather, I'm part of the problem.  Just another lemming with tunnel vision for the burger.  But then, this isn't an ordinary burger, or even a slightly different burger.  This is its own beast, and a marvelous one at that.

James Morgan, the head chef at Wenlock & Essex, is most definitely a driven young man, and like many of us, he has a special enthusiasm for burgers.  His creations skew more towards the Hawksmoor/Ad Cod end of the spectrum as opposed to the MEATenterprise or Lucky Chip.  I headed up to the W&E for a weekday lunch with a couple of coworkers in order to sample his latest creation, the Sloppy Joe Burger.

Back in the old country, I grew up eating many a sloppy joe, and whilst tasty (to my 12-year old palate), they weren't exactly fine dining.  I was prepared to have my perceptions shifted slightly.

First hurdle cleared easily; this burger looked fantastic.  In terms of components, working our way down, the burger consisted of: thinly sliced gherkins and tomatoes, the latter covered in thyme and other spices and slow roasted; Montgomery cheddar; a thick layer of sloppy joe; the burger itself; shredded lettuce; and finally some burger sauce consisting of mustard, ketchup and mayonnaise.  This glorious combination was coddled in a delicious, squashy egg-glazed bap from Rinkoff's Bakery which proved a worthy opponent to the subsequent onslaught of juices.
I truly loved this burger.  To make the sloppy joe,pork and fore rib (I believe) had been simmered in tomatoes, stock and other assorted ingredients for over 9 hours.The sloppy joe was reminiscent of a Texas-style chili (no beans) minus the heat, and I could've eaten a pile of that thick, rich concoction on its own.  The gherkins did a fine job of providing just a touch of acidity to cut through some of the heaviness, with the lettuce playing the part of a firmer-textured component.  

Every bite yielded a traverse through the flavours, but as with every good burger, the end taste was always beef -- perfectly cooked, aggressively juicy, delicious beef.  Silence reigned for a good 5 minutes punctuated by small outbursts of inarticulate pleasure.

Skin-on, hand cut chips were lovely - and plentiful - in their own right, but they were overshadowed by their beefy friend (and rightly so).  Of course I finished them, eschewing the ketchup for the cup of burger sauce on the plate.  Did I mention that this dish only costs £10?  

I love what's happening in London at the moment - burger obsessives, street food mania, American food(!), all of it.  I realise we've reached the point where some people feel that these things have become overexposed, and to them it's become fashionable to rail against those who queue, dream nonstop about burgers or serve cocktails in slightly eccentric glassware.  There are no shortage of articles complaining about the latest food trends.  And that's a bit sad isn't it?  But then I suppose some people just love a good moan.  Anyhow, digression aside, here is a chef who really loves what he does and works virtually nonstop trying out new things that are innovative without being outlandish.  It doesn't seem like he does things just for the sake of being different - the focus is always on the most important element, the taste.  And with the sloppy joe burger, I believe he has accomplished his goal in spades.  Now when's the next creation coming?  

Wenlock & Essex
18-26 Essex Road
N1 8LN (map)

Mon - Wed: 12:00 pm - 11:30 pm
Thu: 12:00 pm - 12:00 am
Fri - Sat: 12:00 pm - 2:00 am
Sun: 12:00 pm - 11:30 pm

Monday, 12 March 2012

#BlogEATblog at Vibe Bar with Big Apple Hot Dogs

As you've undoubtedly heard all about London's famous Big Apple Hot Dogs and their equally famous purveyor Abiye Cole, I'll keep the intro short.  Abiye has been selling a variety of naturally-encased torpedos of meaty bliss for a little over a year and a half now, and he has gained a well-deserved substantial following.  

To accompany his new Sunday pitch at the Vibe Bar on Brick Lane, he came up with an idea: invite food-obsessives of all backgrounds to make a topping for these ethereal dogs.  Thus #blogEATblog was born.  I was fortunate enough to grab a slot on Sunday, March 11 alongside Rosie (@_RosieT), Chris (@chrisgreen) and Paul (@PaulLomax).

Based on the reports of the previous weekend's 1-2 punch of cold and wet, we were incredibly fortunate to have the polar opposite in terms of weather, with temperatures hovering above 15 and the late winter sun shining brightly, unencumbered by any typical thick grey cloud.  We brushed away the cobwebs with a beer or two whilst the hot dog cooking began in earnest.  By 1pm, it was time to sample and serve.

Pictured below are the four entries (clockwise from top left): My bourbon-bacon marmalade with crispy fried leeks, Rosie's chilli & cheese, Chris's which he artfully tweeted as a "relish of onions, red & green chillis, gherkins, damson sauce & 10yr old Ardbeg scotch" topped with crispy bacon bits and Paul's poutine (cheese curds, gravy and crushed crackers).  

The chilli was made with minced beef and had a sweetish edge to it that the salty cheese balanced out very well.  The damson relish was also quite sweet with a nice hint of acidity from the gherkins, and yet again it had a perfect counterbalance in the form of Jebus's greatest creation, bacon.  And finally, Paul had declared that his untested poutine would either be "really fucking good or really fucking bad."  Ladies and gents, it fell firmly in the former category.  [Edited: Thanks to Paul for pointing out my idiotic error!] The cheese curds had a flavour reminiscent of mozzarella, with a firm consistency and a lovely salty finish.  Add some gravy and crunchy cracker bits, and you've got yourself a damn fine topping that worked very well with the Big Frank I tasted it on.

So yes, in all honesty, I really enjoyed them all.  Including mine, if I do humbly say so myself.  I had done a small test batch a couple of weeks ago and managed to test a little in situ at the Old Street stand; so I knew that it wasn't too rotten a combo.  The leeks were a last-minute addition for a bit of texture, but damn if they weren't a touch moreish on their own.  I thought if even one person enjoyed it, then I'd consider it a success....and I think there were in fact two.

I managed to pull myself away about 6 hours later, having enjoyed an absolutely fantastic afternoon.  So many thanks go to Abiye for thinking it up and organising the whole thing, and to my fellow contestants as well as everyone who came down for a dog, a drink and a bit of discourse.  I can highly recommend it as an ideal Sunday afternoon, although any time you are able to get one of those dogs you should seize the opportunity.  

Bourbon-bacon marmalade
(I made 4x this recipe, and it was a massive amount - probably 2.5 litres worth).

1 lb smoked streaky bacon, chopped into 3/4" pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
¼ cup bourbon (I'm partial to Jack, but if you can go higher end then by all means)
¼ cup pure maple syrup
¼ cup cider vinegar
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 cup brewed coffee

hot sauce of choice
fresh ground black pepper

1. Fry the bacon in small batches until it's crisp (don't overdo it).  Drain the pieces on a plate or tray lined with paper towel.
2. Using the same pan/pot, fry the onion and garlic in the rendered bacon fat over medium heat until the onion becomes translucent.  
3. Add the bacon, onion and garlic together in a heavy bottomed pot (Le Creuset is ideal) with all of the remaining ingredients bar the hot sauce and pepper.  If you've been using the same pot from the beginning, get rid of any excess bacon fat first.
4. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat to low, keeping it at a steady gentle simmer.
5. Continue to simmer for 2-2½ hours, giving it a good stir every 20 minutes or so.  If it starts to dry out too much, add a splash of water.  If it's too wet, simmer it a bit longer.
6. Let it sit off of the heat for a little while, and then transfer the contents to a food processor with the standard blade fitted.
7. Give it a few short pulses to standardise the consistency, but don't overdo it - this should be a bit chunky, not smooth.
8. Add some hot sauce (I used a touch of The Ribman's HF) and lots of black pepper.  Taste.  Taste again.  Taste a 3rd time on a dog with the leeks.

Crispy Fried Leeks

Leeks - use the white and pale green parts only
plain flour

1. Cut the leeks into 2-inch sections, then halve them lengthwise.  Cut the sections into thin strips.
2. Put the strips in a colander and rinse them well under hot water (this takes a bit of the harshness of the flavour away).
3. Dry them well, either with paper towels or in a salad spinner.
4. Add the spices to the flour, mix it up with a fork and toss the leeks in the mixture.  
5. Shake off any excess flour and deep (or shallow) fry the leeks in 180°C vegetable oil for about 3-4 minutes until they reach a deep brown colour.
6. Remove them from the oil to a plate/tray lined with paper towels, season well with salt, and then commence stuffing them uncontrollably into your mouth.

Big Apple Hot Dogs
239 Old Street
London EC1V 9EY (map)

T: 07989 387 441
Tues - Fri: 12-6pm

Sun @ Vibe Bar: 12ish onwards
91 Brick Lane
London E1 6QL (map)
T: 020 7247 3479

Also usually 1 day/week at Eat St., King's Cross

edit: added a better description of Chris's relish from his own words instead of my inadequate ones.

Friday, 17 February 2012

The Crooked Well, Camberwell

I can certainly see the allure of being a proper food critic (i.e., stringing proper sentences together, getting paid to do this, free meals), but sometimes it appears as though some of that ilk decide to nitpick just for the sake of being contrary.

Example: when I think of comfort food, I imagine the more butter-enabled, fat-laden, meatful end of the spectrum.  So when John Walsh wrote his review of the Crooked Well in Camberwell, I was a bit confused.  He went in "...looking for comfort, and, more to the point, comfort food."  He then proceeded to turn his nose up at nearly all of the mains, proclaiming the steak or venison with red cabbage and white pudding as being "too rich."  And really, isn't duck with chorizo quite a common dish, despite his reservations about the seemingly exotic-sounding combination?  Ok, enough about that (although judging by the article's comments, I wasn't alone in finding it all a bit churlish).

I made my second trip to the Crooked Well last month with a friend visiting from San Francisco.  He's over quite frequently on business, and as we weren't venturing into the heart of the City, I thought this a perfect alternative to our usual haunt, the Palmerston.  It was a Sunday night, and when we arrived at 7.30, the place was nearly empty, as opposed to the heaving atmosphere when we departed a bit after 10.

I found it to be quite warm and inviting: muted lighting with the obligatory candles on tables, lots of wood furniture slightly distressed but still attractive and comfortable.  Being that I didn't note them down, I'm sorry to say I can't recall my companion's cocktails, although I had a couple of stellar whiskey sours.  The staff are very relaxed and friendly, but make no mistake: it is a tightly run ship indeed.  Service throughout was attentive, knowledgeable and unobtrusive.

Not long after we had sat down, a jazz band struck up in the far corner of the room.  They were quite talented to be fair, but they started out far too loud.  Conversation was not an option, and it didn't set the tone for the evening very well.  However, we had a word with the staff who informed us that they'd already mentioned it to the band.  Things got a bit better, although it still was a bit loud for 8pm on a Sunday night (probably just I showing my advanced years).

The menu reads as a fairly standard British-gastro-with-French-roots offering, but each of the dishes has its own character and unique touches.  I opted for the Warm pigs head terrine whilst companion guy had the Crisp salt & pepper baby squid.  The terrine's soft breaded exterior surrounded large, fleshy chunks of slowly cooked pork.  Caramelised apple offered the perfect sweet and slightly acidic complement to the meat.  And perfectly cooked my teacher at culinary school would say, "What's not to like?"  
A crisp, delicate and perfectly seasoned batter ensconced lovely soft pieces of squid, all within a large salad of rocket, baby spinach, walnuts and some other bits.  Good start indeed.

Mains followed in pretty much the same vein.  A large disc of braised venison was wrapped in cabbage and placed atop a similarly generous blini.  Small pieces of parsnip, carrot and swede were dotted around the edges with a venison jus.  The meat had been braised all right - my knife never got near it.  So tender, delicate; it was truly fantastic.  The jus had been reduced to the point where it eventually started to solidify on the plate, and it was smooth, rich and generously portioned.  The blini acted as a sponge for all of the juices although it was a bit burnt on the bottom.  

I only had a small taste of the Calf liver, as the guy across the table wolfed it down - crisp exterior, soft melting liver-y insides , excellent flavour and texture of the get the picture.

Sides of Pommes frites and Seasonal greens - in this case, kale cooked simply with some olive oil and salt - were summarily inhaled in the most delicate manner possible.  I can normally identify straight away whether chips are fresh or frozen, although these had me on the fence.  But If they're well cooked, hot and taste fresh, them I'm generally satisfied.  These ticked the boxes.

We had a bottle of Tabali 2010 Pinot Noir which was young but complex with soft tannins and a buttery feel to it.  Markup was probably just nudging above the top end of what's standard (£27.50 as opposed to £10.50 in the shop).

I had just about enough room for the Rhubarb mousse; it was smooth and not too sweet, allowing the fruit flavour to take centre stage.  It was topped with a thin disc of rhubarb jelly, a curly rhubarb tuile and a mini chocolate log.  A biscuit base held up the ensemble, strongly reminiscent of that on a cheesecake.  It provided the majority of the sweetness, along with a crunchy texture to offset the smoothness atop it all.  Broken record here - it was delicious.  The cinnamon ice cream on the other side of the table was refreshing and - here's a surprise - tasted overwhelmingly of cinnamon.
And back to the paid food critics: I would probably eat a couple of meals at a mediocre place in order to give it a proper - as objective as possible - review.  But as the above prose more than details, I sadly am not.  So it should come as no surprise that I've returned to a place I absolutely love.  Many in the food writing / blogging / tweeting world cringe at the term "gastropub," feeling it to be in turns pretentious, asinine, nonsensical, and so on.  But if it has a more benign definition, encompassing a pub that aims to provide truly special food not traditionally found on a pub menu, then the Crooked Well hits the mark.  Quite spectacularly as well I might add.

The Crooked Well
16 Grove Lane
SE5 8SY (map)

Phone: 020 7252 7798
Mon: 17:00—00:00
Tues-Thurs: 12:00—00:00
Fri-Sat: 12:00—01:00
Sun: 12:00—23:00

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Burger Monday w/ Ben Spalding, Andrew's Café

The man can cook.  It's safe to say that when the Mrs. and I went to Roganic over 8 months ago, we were suitably blown away by nearly all of the dishes placed in front of us.  Ben Spalding's cooking most definitely belies his years, incorporating a multitude of ingredients, many of them unknown to me, in his dishes.  However, despite the exotic sounding plant names and dizzying stylish presentation, he always seems to put flavour first.  My kind of guy.

So when the email announcing him manning the helm for a Burger Monday hit my inbox, I didn't hesitate in booking a couple of spots.  And as many of you know, Burger Monday tickets don't last long (understatement); I'm sure Daniel can give the exact figure, but I'd be shocked if they lasted 10 minutes.  And we were well up for this one.
I love Andrew's café - it's around the corner from my office and the go-to spot for a proper Bacon sandwich -- white bread, lots of butter, fatty bacon and brown sauce.  Might just pop out in a minute.  Anyhow, as usual, Andrew's is always a bright, warm, buzzy refuge during Daniel's events, and this night was no different.  I really enjoy the group seatings as we've met some lovely people, and the two sisters we broke bread with last night were great company indeed.

Not long after we sat down, we were presented with what the menu called "Nibbles."  These turned out to be Pig skin; Veal breast; and Salt beef, horseradish mayonnaise & sourdough.  

I gobbled the pig skin far too quickly to take a photo, but I think the table was unanimous in agreement that we could've eaten a meal of just that.  Imagine the lightest pork flavoured prawn cracker with a touch of salt that literally melts in your mouth, and you're there.  Aside: among my litany of grammar grumbles, near the top of my list is a hatred for the misuse of "literally;" so, yes, I mean it when I say it.  Ben was not permitted to have his entire FOH staff, but he was allowed one gentleman who informed us that the skin was simply dried for 16 hours or so and then quickly deep fried in olive oil.  I am going to try this at home.  Oh yes.

The almost gamey salt beef was perfectly complemented by some smoked horseradish, with the crisp sourdough adding more texture than flavour.  Again, a success.

The veal breast was breaded and deep fried and then topped with pickled shallots and mayweed (no, I'd never heard of it either).  The flavour of the meat was lovely and deep, although it was a bit dry.  I loved the acidity of the shallots and the crunch of the breading (although who doesn't?), and the mayweed was attractive if not overwhelmingly flavourful.

Appetites sufficiently whetted, it was on to the proper first course, "Soup & burnt toast."  Ben was kind enough to provide a detailed list of ingredients for each course at the end of the meal, hence my actual descriptions of what we ate.  This course was a cauliflower soup with pickled cauliflower, roasted cauliflower cream, pearl barley and chervil.  The burnt toast was squid toast -- presumably, squid ink had been mixed in during the dough formulation.  

Picture Homer Simpson on a mountain of donuts, and you'll see my face whilst eating this.  Before last night, I certainly would never have said, "I could live on this pickled cauliflower," but what a difference a dish makes.  The bread was crumbly and crisp, more suited to dropping in the soup than mopping up bits, but it worked.

By this time I was very eagerly awaiting what the menu described quite thoroughly as "Burger & Chips."  We had caught a glance of some at the adjoining tables; so we knew what to expect in terms of presentation:

Quite humorous.  I loved the fact that he rigged the burger boxes with a rubber band to give them a spring-loaded effect when opened.  All of the chips bags had messages scrawled on them....well, all but mine.  I said that I wasn't hurt, but perhaps I just buried my feelings.

The chips themselves were hot, crisp, fluffy and well-seasoned, but if I'm being honest, I did feel that at £41 a pop, getting only 7 chips was a bit mean.

On to the main event: the final menu described the burger's elements as chuck steak & 45 day aged rib fat burger, iceberg lettuce, onion jam, cucumber pickle, mild cheddar and a granary seed bun.  The patty, replete with well-melted cheese, sat atop the other ingredients.  The thin slice of pickle was very tasty and quite reminiscent of a typical USA deli pickle style.  I usually enjoy the crunch of iceberg on a burger, and this was no different.  The onion jam was sweet, perhaps a bit too much so, but they had a bit of firmness to them which was good.

The bun: we were told that it was air dried to hold up to the juice of the burger, but I didn't enjoy it at all.  I'm sure some of it is a personal bias, as I'm generally not fond of buns encrusted with a variety of seeds.  I like sesame seeds on a burger bun, or poppy seeds on a deli kaiser roll, but when they're tossed together with sunflower seeds thrown in, I'm not usually thrilled.  And to me, it was far too firm.  I feel that burger buns should be soft and yielding but able to stand up to any juice onslaught.

Perhaps I was also less than impressed with the bready wrapper due to the fact that it didn't have many juices to stand up to.  My burger was overcooked.  It didn't have the pinkish interior of those in my fellow diners' clutches, and the overall package suffered sorely as a result.  The flavour of the meat itself was deep and pleasant, but my enthusiasm was sorely dampened by the lack of juices.  

The dessert had yet another dizzying array of ingredients: salted caramel; mint & lemon granita; toasted hazelnuts; white chocolate rocks; iced milk mousse; lingon berries; cloudberries; coffee tequila, amaretto & maple syrup soaked sponge; classic wafers and half baked cookies.  With that many elements you'd never be able to taste each one completely distinctly, but it also meant that each bite offered up a different flavour.  With the exception of the slightly-too-powerful mint in the granita, I thought it was fantastic: a wide variety of textures, lots of memory-triggering flavours, and not too thick or cloying.

So was it a success?  I left mostly satisfied, as I'd had some very tasty dishes and bites, but I couldn't help feeling let down by the main event.  I know that it's tough to sling a whole mess of burgers simultaneously and get them all right, but I was pretty disappointed with the burger itself.  That said, I can't wait to have a bit saved up for a return trip to Roganic.

Andrews Café
160 Gray's Inn Road

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Grab Burger, the Diner Soho

When it comes to food, I think that I can be easily satisfied but not easily impressed.  I'm not averse to trying, well, just about anything; as long as it lives up to expectations, then I'm happy.  Pizza almost always falls into this category - I've been experimenting with different dough formulations for quite a number of years now, but even so, I love a dirty street slice at the proper time.  There's only one place near Leicester Square (shock) where I couldn't actually finish my slice, and this was post-many-a-tipple.  Shame on them, putting melted plastic on top of a sponge -- that's what it tasted like.

Can you digress before even starting?  Well it appears as though I have.  I was very lucky to be invited, along with other much more established burger enthusiasts, bloggers, etc. to sample a new limited run burger from The Diner, the grab burger.  In the invite, the burger was described as:
  • 2 x 3oz USDA short rib patties heartily seasoned and cooked medium rare 
  • Each topped with a melted slice of US cheese
  • Served in a Harvey Rinkoff “big slider” bun 
  • With shredded lettuce, dill pickles and USA sauce
  • Presented in your grab bag with fries and topper
  • A no frills celebration of the good old American cheeseburger

Sounds good to me.  We tasters were ushered to a cluster of booths in the corner, and a bourbon sour was promptly placed in front of me.  Now, there is a fast lane to my heart (and liver), and it is via aged-in-charred-oak-barrels-American-corn-whiskey.  The night was already a success.  Not long after that, the very attentive staff started bringing out fistfuls of grab bags.

Inside was a massive cup of chips sitting alongside the main event.  First impressions were good: I saw meat and lots of oozing cheese.  So how did it taste?

Well, I was definitely satisfied.  Not blown out of the water, and there were obvious bits that could've been improved straight away, but it wasn't bad.  Immediate negative impressions: patties weren't heartily seasoned enough for my taste, resulting in no real crust on the meat, and they had hurtled passed medium rare a while ago.  As a result, there was a decided lack of juice to the patties, and I imagine that some of the short rib flavour was left on the flattop as well.

That said, I thought that the cut of beef still retained a good amount of meaty flavour, and the cheese, lettuce, pickles and sauce complemented each other quite well.  There was a good bit of sauciness from the ketchup and sauce, which was a clear Thousand Island derivative.  The bun was soft, yielded easily to my mastication efforts and had a light, open crumb.  It remains to be seen how it would stand up to a seriously juicy burger, but it fit the bill here very well indeed.

I lived in California for over 8 years, and as such was fortunate enough to eat a Mini Cooper's worth of In-N-Out (both in weight and cost, I imagine).  And this burger definitely was reminiscent of that -- not the same, and it certainly didn't reach that level, but it was enjoyable nonetheless.  Fries were crisp and plentiful - again, not mind-blowing, but I'm much more easily satisfied by most types of hot potato sides.

And so I had a few more drinks (also on the house!), chatted with the burger crème de la crème, and made my way home.  Great bourbon, great company, and a tasty burger.  That's me happy.  They're on the menu from 31/1 for 10 days; so a very limited run indeed.

The Diner
5 Locations

Grab burger available from 31/01 - 09/02

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Mother Flipper, Brockley Market

I haven't been to Borough Market on a Saturday (or Friday for that matter) for ages.  It's a shame, really, as there are some fantastic foods on offer.  But with two mini-me's it's just a nightmare to navigate - mostly attempting to push by weekend photographers with horribly loud American accents, me all the while saying to myself, "Do I sound like that too?  No, please say I don't."  

So I've retreated to other markets on the weekends; the vendors at Maltby Street are absolutely amazing, the queue at the Monmouth there takes but a few minutes, and there are St. John doughnuts.  If you have never had one, then you don't know how life-changing they can be.  The custard is almost a slightly thickened crème anglaise, and it's heaven (I'm drooling Homer-style as I type this).

Back to the burger trail: I have also recently discovered Brockley Market, another great market near me.  It's not massive by any means, but the selection is top-notch, and even all of the posh produce is very reasonably priced.  And this past Saturday, 17/12, saw the debut of London's newest street burger purveyor, Mother Flipper Burgers.  Naturally, I was there.

The first thing that I saw as I approached the stall was unsurprisingly the menu, and it appeared to tick most of my burger boxes - decent sounding beef which has been "course"ly [sic] minced, light brioche bun, and the obligatory clever burger names.  What is it with burger joints and odd names for the sandwiches?  Not a complaint, just a query.
The buns were out on display, and I must admit that they looked quite shiny and lovely; I'm often wary of brioche buns, as I fear that they might be too sweet, but let's just wait and see.  The presence of multiple cloches to melt the cheese also warmed the burger-shaped cockles of my heart.
The gentleman behind the counter did tell me that the chuck contained somewhere around the industry-standard 20% fat mark, and that their burgers were served with American (hooray!) cheese.  As it was my first time, I thought I'd have a plain cheeseburger, but there was a Chilli Flipper ready to go, so my decision was made for me.  

I popped down on one of the benches in the market and took it out of its plain brown wrapper.  First impressions were quite favourable: coarsely ground, loosely packed meat covered in an oozing layer of American cheese.  Nice.
 Atop the patty was the "chilli" element of the burger; he had described it as onions and hot peppers (I forgot to ask which kind) slow cooked to produce a sort of relish.  It hadn't been cooked long enough to achieve that; it was comprised of larger slices of the aforementioned ingredients that still had a bit of bite to them.  Underneath the burger were some pickles, red onion slices, lettuce and some ketchup.

The chilli portion was tasty, if unspectacular.  It had the slightest hint of heat, but along with the onions they had been cooked long enough to release a lot of their sweetness to complement the meat/cheese combination.

And as for the main event: it was a very good meat patty indeed.  The depth of the beef flavour betrayed its 28 days of ageing, bordering on that almost steak-like taste.  The meat was packed quite loosely, and although it wasn't a river of juices like a MEATliquor burger, it was far from dry.  The raw elements underneath provided a crunchy texture to counteract the meaty softness, and the American cheese was generously applied, properly molten, and wholly dirty-delicious.

The bun had only the slightest element of sweetness on its top, and it yielded easily to my gaping jaw.  I suppose that it was good, if unremarkable, but it did its job, stayed out of the way of the meat flavour and didn't break down; so in my book that's a success.

As mentioned, the chilli was nice, but I'd probably go straight burger next time.  I'm still having trouble accepting that a "chilli burger" isn't covered with a mountain of Tex-Mex chili con carne, but again, that's my issue.

So altogether it was a very competent effort with just a few small adjustments required to make it amazing.  But it was still quite delicious, and at a fiver it more than washed the taste of last Monday's burger from my mouth.  And given that I've never had a good burger at Borough Market (although I haven't yet been to Elliot's Café), I am probably not going to be going there too often thanks to the vendors of Brockley Market and Mother Flipper.

Mother Flipper
Brockley Market
Lewisham College Car Park
Lewisham Way
SE4 1UT (map)

Saturdays, 10.00-14.00

Friday, 16 December 2011

SpagWednesday, Andrew's Café

Ah, the humble food cliché.  It seems that a day doesn't go by without another lovely turn of gastronomic phrase being thrust into our lexicon.  All you need to do is watch an episode or two of Masterchef to suffer an aural assault of tired terminology: "source everything locally," "let the ingredients speak for themselves," "artisanal endangered organic napkin rings," to name but a few.  

However, some of these are used in actual, earnest, wonderful situations where they are surprisingly accurate, in this case the tried and true duo of just a few simple, fresh ingredients cooked well coupled with the aforementioned let the ingredients speak for themselves.  The occasion for trotting out these phrases was the SpagWednesday "Made-In-Sicily Pop-up" with Giorgio Locatelli.  I have never had the pleasure of dining in Mr. Locatelli's eponymous restaurant - on the occasions where I've been looking for a place a bit special, they generally have nothing available within my 15-day window.  And as I am a huge fan of all of the events I've been to run by Young & Foodish aka Daniel Young, I snapped up tickets for this as soon as I got the announcement email.

The Mrs. and I took our seats with 4 others at our table, the communal element of these events always being a fun bonus (we have yet to meet any unpleasant people, generally like-minded eaters on the whole).  Wine was already poured, and a few minutes later our starter of Arancini, Panelle e Insalata di Mare (Rice balls, Chickpea Fritters & Seafood Salad) appeared.  The small square panelle had a delightfully flaky texture and retained the chickpea flavour quite well; I thought that the oil they were cooked in tasted a bit old, and that gave the slightest hint of  bitterness to them.  Not that this stopped me from scoffing them all.  

The rice in the arancini was just right: soft saffron-infused grains sticking together gently as day-old rice will do, but the centres still retained a hint of bite.  This surrounded a healthy dollop of ragù with a handful of peas in there as well.  The ball was covered in a light breadcrumb coating and fried.  Not a revelation, but a very competent effort that tasted very good indeed.

Rounding out the opening course was the Insalata di Mare.  Unfortunately my lexicon is currently bereft of many (or indeed any) Italian superlatives.  So feel free to insert your own here.  This dish was absolutely outstanding, and I was highly impressed.  Mussels, prawns, octopus and squid had all been boiled to perfection and then tossed with thin slices of celery and chopped parsley.  A squeeze of lemon on top added the perfect hint of acidity.  But nothing got in the way of the freshest flavours imaginable from all of the seafood; I honestly didn't have one imperfect bite.  It was highly pleasing to have one of those "eyes closed" moments so early on.

Bear with me, because it's a bit of a recurring theme.  We had a couple of minutes of reflection and wine drinking before the pasta course arrived, Busiate al pesto trapanese, which isn't easily translatable.  Busiate is usually a hollow corkscrew pasta made from durum wheat and water - no eggs.  I didn't ask, but given the colour of last night's pasta I suspect this might've been an egg-based variation (please correct me if I'm wrong).  Pesto trapanese is a sauce from the Trapani province in Northwest Sicily.  It usually consists of almonds, fresh tomatoes, basil, garlic, a bit of pecorino and some oil and seasoning.  In this case, mint was substituted for basil, and I didn't taste much garlic.  The tomatoes were puréed raw and tossed with the pasta, mint and oil, and then a healthy handful of almond bits topped the pile.  

This was special.  Expertly made pasta, which is then cooked correctly, will always make me inordinately happy, and this was no exception.  Add to this just a few ingredients that are all perfect indicators of just how good each individual bit can be and you've got a damn fine dish indeed.  The extra virgin olive oil had a deep, earthy flavour to it, and we agreed that we could've drunk it by the glass.  So far, so damn good - my comment at the time was "annoyingly revelatory."

There was a bit of a pause in between courses for us to steel ourselves for the second half of the meal.  The meat course was a sea-bound variety, Braciolette di pesce spada (Swordfish steaks with breadcrumbs, capers and cheese).  3 thin slices of swordfish had been seasoned, breaded, rolled and fried with some whole bay leaves, and they were served on a bed of couscous that contained capers, tomatoes, fresh parsley and cucumber.  A lightly dressed green salad filled out the other side of the plate/bowl.

The fish was incredibly fresh and delicate, but I found it a tad overcooked.  I realise that swordfish won't have the firmness of other standard, fish-and-chips-type white fish, but it was quite mushy if I'm honest.  The breadcrumb coating was a touch on the greasy side, but the flavour was still overall highly enjoyable.  The couscous salad was fresh and complemented the fish well, although there were a good number of clumps suggesting that it hadn't been fully fork fluffed during preparation.  Green salad was unremarkable if tasty.  The cucumber added a bit of a contrasting texture to the rest of the dish, although I personally would've liked a bit more of it.  Overall though it was a tasty success.

On to the final course, which was La cassata della Locanda.  Cassata is essentially a layered cake, with sponge, ricotta, candied peel and a cream similar to that found in cannoli.  Daniel described Chef Locatelli's version as "his own interpretation;" he retained all of these ingredients with the addition of some other elements.  Candied peel, squares of pistchio-infused sponge and nibs of chocolate were mixed into a combination of the cream and ricotta - imagine a delicate, airy semi-sweet whipped cream with a salty edge from the cheese.  Atop the pile lay a glistening quenelle of silky smooth pistachio ice cream.  An absolutely heavenly combination, and I was happy that the word "deconstructed" never made an appearance.

Whilst enjoying a perfectly made Illy macchiato, Daniel brought Chef Locatelli out of the kitchen briefly to allow us to express our thanks.  The Chef spoke of how he would frequent Ferraris Snack Bar in Smithfield when he came to London in the mid-80's, and that he loved the "English Cafe" as an eating and gathering spot.  He truly enjoys running his Michelin- starred restaurant, but he also loved the idea of running a simple trattoria, and this was a great experience for him to cook for eager punters outside of his normal white tablecloth-ed realm.

And thus ended another special night from Daniel where we felt truly privileged to be eating splendid food from a very talented chef.  I continue to be highly impressed with all of the Young & Foodish events I've been fortunate enough to attend, and this one was no different.  

It was some fresh, simple ingredients cooked perfectly, allowing the individual flavours to truly shine THAT is one clichéd sentence.  (*whispers* but it's true)

Andrews Café
160 Gray's Inn Road