Tuesday 28 June 2011

The Burgermat Show: #burgermonday with burger art!

Twitter has been alive with the buzz of Daniel Young and Burgerac's #BurgerMatShow for a few weeks now, and those who have heard of, or previously visited, Burgermonday know the format. The events are held on Monday nights in Andrew's cafe (160 Gray's Inn Road), which is one of a breed of greasy spoon caffs whose heyday was the 50s and 60s, complete with Formica tables, glass-covered 'sneeze guard' counter, and open kitchen space comprising work surfaces, and an almost wall-to-wall flat grill, which some might say is the perfect burger grilling surface (just ask Lionel or Richard!).

Over the course of the evening, a series of rolling sittings take place, of roughly two hours each, and in that time guests are served a three-course meal, with the burger taking centre stage, with free flowing beer and wine.

Where this #burgermonday differed was the addition of an art show curated by London's very own burger detective, Burgerac. The BurgermatShow included 24 illustrators and artists who each produced signed copies of their burger-themed artwork as placemats, upon which guests could create their own, unique burger juice splattered work of art. What better way to spend a fine summer's evening than with a celebration of burgers in visual and edible form, with my fellow burger lovers (by Twitter handle, namely @eatingsoho, @gubgub08, @HayleyMudge, @Dave_Rowlinson, @DanPeters, @LadyVelo82, and @Grobelaar to name but a few).

The evening's weather was pretty hot and sticky, being rather more like Washington D.C. than London, ( my sympathy goes to those running the show - it can't have been pleasant dashing around cooking and serving in that heat!) Needless to say chilled beer was in high demand, and the evening's fare was a number of different beers from North East Scotland brewer Brew Dog. The brews available were 5am Saint, Punk IPA and Trashy Blonde. 5am Saint was an interesting beer - and the label gives you some insight into how Brew Dog think - brilliant! 

An analysis of the burgermats on our table revealed art from the following artists: Know your condiments by Crispin Finn, Amazeballs! by Richard Hogg, Burgermat by Nishant Choksi, and Unnamed by Gemma Shiel. Prints of these fabulous works of art are available at Print Process.
Gemma Shiel burger mat

Our table's burger mats on display


Promptly after beers came the starter, a TV dinner-style tray of sharing nibbles and dips. Working my way around the tray, I sampled the delights of grilled Padrón peppers (classically used as part of Padrón roulette, where one unlucky diner would bite into a raging inferno of pain - lucky these were all mild and full-flavoured!), next up were thin, crispy fingers of pork crackling, and a delicious puréed apple sauce to go with them, followed by thinly sliced crostini, and the most divine taramasalata (made lovingly by hand using smoked cod roe, bread crumbs, lemon juice, olive oil and milk). The whole starter was finished off with shots of Gazpacho soup, which were fantastic (probably in part due to the fact they were chilled, and at this point it was heating up in Andrew's!).

A #burgermonday sharing platter, on Monday

Gazpacho, baby!
Starter dispatched, it was time for the main event of the evening, Fred Smith's bacon cheeseburger. No words I write can do this bad boy justice, I mean LOOK AT IT, it's just so beautiful!

So here's the science bit, let's do some deconstruction: The bun was a light yet firm brioche style bun, procured from Millers of Wimbledon (the same supplier of buns to city powerhouse Hawksmoor), it took some punishment from the burger and its toppings, and for the most part held up under the pressure - the base of my bun began to disintegrate towards my last couple of mouthfuls, but I just didn't care as I had glorious meat juice dripping down my hands and chin.

Working from the top down, the toppings were simple, bacon and cheese, and each had distinct characteristics. The bacon was a ventreche rolled pork belly and had a fabulous rich flavour, while the cheese was a new variety from William Oglethorpe (of Kappacasein Dairy), simply named Bermondsey Frier, a halloumi-like cheese with a delightful rubbery texture, which acted as a glue to hold the patty together.

And then comes the meat. And the fireworks. This was possibly the most orgasmic beef patty I've ever eaten. The patty was composed of a thick grind mix of Chuck (50%), Short Rib (25%)  and Rib Cap (25%) with Chef Fred Smith estimating a fat ratio of close to 25%. Cooked as rare as I think it's possible to get, the meat was fatty, drippy, gooey and lots of other dwarves. 11/10!

But that wasn't it. Below the patty sat a layer of gherkins, connected to the thin slice of beef tomato, which in turn was connected to a moreish wholegrain mustard and iceberg lettuce slaw - reminiscent of the big mac burger sauce, but with much more punch - a fantastic way to finish this burger in style!

Dessert was a New York Cheesecake that was light, biscuity and far too much after that massive burger (though I finished every last crumb!)

The chefs in the kitchen did a fabulous job of rolling through the covers in the pretty hot and humid conditions, as did the waitresses:

Burger Monday chefs, Niall, Fred, Cary and Simon
And of course, you know it's good when Daniel gets excited!

While Chef Fred Smith (of Admiral Codrington fame) created his masterpieces in the kitchen, we created masterpieces of our own on our burgermats, beer, burger juice, sauce, and wine made it a unique evening, and left everyone buzzing!

For all the latest photos from event attendees visit the BurgerMonday facebook page, and join the Young & Foodish email list, and never miss out on another #burgermonday!

Friday 24 June 2011

6/10 - The Last, Shoe Lane, off Fleet Street, City of London

Tucked away on Shoe Lane, The Last is a proper City institution, located near the infamous Punch tavern, the Cartoonist and other old school hack pubs. As part of the Ball Brothers network of bars, this one breaks the mold a little with some pumping 'modern' music, a farmhouse kitchen feel complete with stripped wooden tables and chairs, mini potted plastic plant-in-a-bucket, and tea lights on the tables. Menus are thankfully relatively short with some simple, timeless dishes, and a bevy of sharing platters.

Dining with two fellow burgerites (one who'd already had a Byron burger for lunch), we plumped for two burgers and a chicken sandwich - provenance of meat: unknown!

Bacon and Cheeseburger with chips: £10.50. Caramelised onions £0.50.

Ok. This burger was presented in a do it yourself theme. Lid on one side with big chunk of beef tomato and lettuce, burger patty resting on the bun bottom, glistening resplendent in cheddar and bacon. Chip portion was generous, and the whole thing was finished off with a little pot of burger relish. A solid, if standard, burger presentation.

Bacon, cheddar, and caramelised onions (extra). The bacon was pretty good, a thick tongue of salty bacon, with a high meat to fat ratio was very tasty, likewise the cheddar was flavoursome without overpowering the meat. Caramelised onions were...interestingly bright red and dripping pickle juice, stuffed under the meat patty. Their taste was sharp and rather vinegary, but actually worked quite well in the ensemble.

Could do better. I asked for my burger to be cooked medium rare, but the waitress came back to tell me they only cook the meat one way 'all the way through'. I hopefully asked whether that meant it would be pink in the middle, but the response was 'it'll be cooked all the way through'. At this point Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy sprang into my mind - you know the bit where the Vogon guard is yelling "Resistance is futile", so I caved in as it was clear this was a non-negotiable. Needless to say the meat was overcooked, which is a shame as it was actually fairly thick, minced beef, as you can see below. Sadly thought the texture and flavour were ruined with the overcooking, and the taste of the meat was pretty homogeneous, and the grey beef, although not dry, was lacking the juice of rarer cooked meat. I've had Morrisons burgers that were similar in texture.

What a let down. A slightly stale, un-toasted, cheap-ass sesame seed hamburger bun that looks like it was baked at Asda, and fell down the side of the oven, a week ago. Tasteless, and completely not up to the task, especially with the drippy caramelised onions on the base. Total bun fail.

Plate accessories:
Bloody good chips. Whether it was fresh oil, or double frying, the chips were crisp, and satisfyingly tasty. The relish was also quite good, big chunks of pepper and tomato, and complemented the chips.

Overall rating: 6/10
Not awful but for £11 I expected more. The presentation and toppings were promising, but the essence of any good burger is how the meat and bun combine with the rest of the ingredients to produce an experience. And this experience was less The Times, and much more News of the World...The Last has some work to do to convince me the burger is worth coming back for, but failing that I wouldn't mind trying some of those sharing platters!

A note that The Last have happy hour with 50% off drinks from 5-8pm - my fellow diners (Ant and Stu) and I polished off several bottles of Rioja with our meals for a mere £12 a bottle, now that makes it worth going back...

Last on Urbanspoon

Tuesday 21 June 2011

7/10 - Bishop's Finger, West Smithfield, City of London

Location: On the corner of Long Acre and West Smithfield, sandwiched between Carluccio's and Ferrari's, resides The Bishop's Finger pub - part of the Shepherd Neame stable. We arrived early on a Tuesday lunchtime, and had our pick of the tables outside (a reckless decision during rare period of rain-free weather in the City this summer). The pub offers a range of real ales, which I will have to return to sample another day, as sadly this bear had to head back to work after lunch...

From the menu, a laminated affair that appears to be a pub staple, I didn't have very high expectations.

Straight burger (£7.95), Add Bacon and Cheese (£1), includes chips

Our meals came with the old 'wooden chopping board' classic execution. Even though it was not displayed quite as nicely as the Bistro du Vin burger (and costing a good £5 less), the burger was nevertheless almost as impressive looking. A large, roughly hewn and hand packed burger patty, in a dense, sourdough bun, bowl of skin-on chips, and a little pot of relish, served with a bucket of cutlery and condiments. Things were looking good.

Mature Cheddar and Bacon. Though the latter was somewhat lacking in quantity it was, at least, quite tasty. The cheddar on the other hand was completely tasteless. Add to that the fat in the burger, and the liberal spreading of mayo under the 'lid', it made for quite a greasy experience. The undersalad was solid, and the lambs lettuce worked quite well.

Pretty good. Speaking to the landlady, the meat used in the burger patty came fresh from Smithfields market daily, and is hand-moulded into the maxi-sized burger by the chef prior to cooking. It came out charred on the outside, and pink in the middle, with rough ground, course mince, and not even a hint of circular edge! The one problem with the meat was the amount of fat in the mince - as you can see below there was a veritable pool of grease that poured out, and with our slightly wonky outside table, it threatened to cover me with a tsunami of lard - luckily we had plenty of napkins! This however was minor compared to the size, and quality of the patty.

Actually pretty good. A sourdough bun, lightly grilled and very fresh was dense and yeilding, while holding the whole meaty munch-fest together.

Plate Accessories:
The accessories on the wooden board were fair, the tomato burger relish (straight out of a booker tub) was passable, but slightly acidic - which actually managed to cut through the grease a bit. The chips were single fried with skins on, and were fine, but needed a good dose of salt to bring the flavour out. All in all the combination worked well with the burger, and while I finished my portion (just!) my dining companion was defeated with just a few chips down...

Overall Rating: 7/10

This gets a grand 7/10 as for pub fayre under £10, it's pretty good. The Bishop's Finger burger has good meat, a great bun, but is sadly let down by the toppings and the slapped on wave of mayo on the bun - a bit of tweaking and this could be some much better. I'd recommend this as a jolly filling, and impressive looking burger - and next time I'll be having a pint of Whitstable Bay with it!

Bishop's Finger on Urbanspoon

Saturday 18 June 2011

7/10 - Bistro du Vin, St John Street, London

Location: Bistro du Vin is situated on the uber fashionable St John Street (home to St John Restaurant and Vinoteca, amongst others). Adorned with it's green, classically French bistro awning out front, the restaurant has two distinct personalities - the main dining room sits in an 'L' around the open kitchen - the centre of which holds the mother of all ovens, the Josper - decked out in dark wood with leather-covered booths along the walls. The second dining room (dark wood's alter ego) is a more relaxed, lounge-style room off the side of the kitchen, and much less fun!

I was extremely pleased to be dining with some fellow burgerati from Twitter (namely @burgeracblog, @Fredsmith_, @nialldavidson, @eatingsoho, and @jingangyoung) and had heard great things about the BdV burger, so was really keen to get stuck in and give it the Burger Me! once over.  (And thank you Alex for loan of a camera with a flash - it really was quite dark!)

£14.50 for the BdV Bacon Cheeseburger inc. chips

Awesome. This is how burgers should be presented. Period.

Bacon, Cheese, Onion, Tomato, Lettuce. The burger had a kind of topsy-turvy, 'under-salad' underneath the patty thing going on - no doubt to avoid taking away from the melted cheese on top, and allowing it to weld itself to the bun. Bacon was ok, but the smoked flavour wasn't great, and it got lost somewhat under the cheese. Cheese was good, American-style, classic and gooey - and lots of it!

Very good. An aged, coarsely-ground beef patty that was cooked to order (rare, of course).   It was a big, fat patty, so wide I could barely fit my mouth around it, but oh joyous moment as I took my first bite, and the juices poured down my chin and hands onto the wooden burger board. The meat was beautifully drippy and beefy, a joy to masticate!

Not up to the job. Sadly, as good as this bun looked, it wasn't. It was a promising start, the bun was big, bold, and had a seared grill mark (reminiscent of a branded cow) on the crown of the bap, but this is where the bun love ended. It was too firm, almost stale, and had been inexpertly cut so the top was far bigger than the bottom. This resulted in almost immediate splittage from the lower bun, and I was grateful for the lettuce leaf holding my meat in, as it ended up as my pseudo-bun for the majority of the munch. A bit later on other burgers were served with a new, seeded bun - possibly confirming that these were left-overs from a previous service, and sadly letting the side down.

Plate Accessories:
Very good. A spicy, thousand island style dressing resided in a mini copper pot, and shoe string fries served in greaseproof paper in a small pewter cup. I felt like a giant which is incredibly satisfying. Fries were fantastic, and burger sauce equally awesome - these, people, are accessories every good burger should have.

Overall rating: 7/10
With all the good things I'd heard, I wanted this burger to be good, and bits of it were very good, however on balance I was underwhelmed with the poorly executed bun, and strange 'under-salad'. Not the experience I was hoping for. To use a theatrical analogy on the elements of this - all the actors were there, but to me, the director was sleeping on the job.

Finally, honourable mention must go to the fabulous Lebanese wine we had - it was an exceptional pairing with our burgers - so a big thank you to our Sommelier.

On an unrelated note, with the aid of a certain butcher we dined with, I may be acquiring half a cow's worth of meat, but that's a story for another day...

Bistro du Vin on Urbanspoon

Thursday 9 June 2011

An audience with some burgers from ELSCo.

This post will be short on text, and large on #burgerporn, as it involves so mouthwatering shots of some very delicious East London Steak Co. burgers, along with some other complementary ingredients.

The burgers ordered were supposed to be Gray's Inn burgers, from the very excellent #burgermonday event with Richard Turner, however I clearly hit crossover weekend when I ordered, and these were Spitalfields burgers (a blend of Prime Rib, Short Rib, and Rib Cap). I also ordered some Black Label burgers, 1.7kg rolled topside, and some steak rub.

What follows is a pictorial story of the evening's cuisine...

ELSCo. Steak rub, and their beautifully branded box

Deli Montery Jack and sliced gherkins (and a cheeky claret in the background)

John Cadieux (Goodman) style buns

The preparation, pre-cooking

Sizzle, sizzle...

Mmm...melted cheese!
The finished products!



So the finished product was a spitalfields burger, steak-rubbed, topped with melted Montery Jack cheese, with a homemade thousand-isle dressing style burger sauce spread on freshly baked sourdough brioche buns...stonking!

A couple of learning points that I'll get right next time:
  • Buns need more time to proof, and oven needs to be a bit hotter
  • Don't cook for quite as long, as these were medium, rather than med-rare/rare
Still, good excuse to give it another go...!


Just as an addendum, I tried the ELSCo Dexter burgers a couple of nights later with bacon and montery jack - here are a couple of piccies to show the love!

Bacon cheeseburgers anyone...!

Rare dexter in a Waitrose large white bap...sooooooooo good!

I don't want this to end!

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