Burger League: Tongue ‘n’ Cheek

The Heartbreaker Burger

The Food Stand:  Tongue ‘n’ Cheek, Brockley Market (Saturdays Only)

The Hungry Ones:

Left to right: Gemma (The Boozy Rouge), Ollie (Burger King)

Left to right: Gemma (The Boozy Rouge), Ollie (Burger King)

Gemma and Ollie ordered:  The Heartbreaker Burger (beef and ox heart patty, cheddar, lettuce, dill pickles, ketchup and mustard)

The Scores:

Screen shot 2013-11-17 at 19.03.48

Tongue 'n' Cheek at Brockley Market

Tongue ‘n’ Cheek at Brockley Market

Brockley Market has been a Saturday morning habit for me since it opened about two years ago.  I have made it my mission to try all of the street food stands from Mike & Ollie, who have been there more or less since the market started, to Rainbo, who I discovered there only a few weeks ago, to Spit & Roast, very, very often.  A visit to Tongue ‘n’ Cheek this weekend was a first for me, and it was about time.  The stall always looks a little quieter than the others, I’m guessing because people are iffy about offal, but those who have been sing its praises very highly. Apparently the Philly Cheese Steak (£8 and bloody enormous) is the best in London.  The Heartbreaker Burger is a mix of beef and ox heart, not for the squeamish, but a great alternative to the generic beef patties found across town.  It had a delicious moist texture and a subtle offaly hum.  The bread was decent, the cheese was good quality and the pickles sharp, however I couldn’t help but think it was missing something in the toppings – perhaps an extra slick of sauce to bring it all together.  For £5.50 this is an excellent value burger, especially considering the high quality of meat that goes into it.  A must for the burger lover who thinks they’ve seen it all.

About Burger League

Burger League: Byron Westfield

The Byron Burger

The Byron Burger

The Restaurant:  Byron, The Loft, Westfield Shopping Centre, London W12 7GF

The Hungry Ones:

The Panel, left to right: Gemma (The Boozy Rouge), David (Stats Man), Trish (Token Veggie)

Left to right: Gemma (The Boozy Rouge), David (Stats Man), Trish (Token Veggie)

Gemma ordered:  Byron Burger (dry cured bacon, mature cheddar, lettuce, tomato, red onion and Byron sauce), French Fries, Ginger Beer.

David ordered:  Byron Burger (dry cured bacon, mature cheddar, lettuce, tomato, red onion and Byron sauce), French Fries, Strawberry Milkshake.

Trish ordered: Veggie (grilled portobello mushroom, roasted red pepper, goats cheese, baby spinach, tomato, red onion and aioli), Strawberry Milkshake.

The Scores:

The inside of the Byron Burger: medium rare

The inside of the Byron Burger: medium rare

Eating in a shopping centre is never a particularly thrilling experience, however when you work in this particular corner of West London, there is little choice for lunch.  Byron has been something of a saviour in a land of pre-packaged sandwiches, fast food chains and chicken shops.  The menu is the same in all of the 36 restaurants and, thankfully, they have stuck to a few simple classics and a good selection of drinks – it is very much ‘what you see is what you get’, but this need not necessarily be a bad thing.  I rather like the burgers at Byron, and will often try the seasonal specials when they pop up on the menu, such as last year’s Mo Burger, the proceeds of which went to Movember, however I sometimes find the patties just a little bland.  They are always cooked perfectly – when I order medium rare, I get medium-rare, but I can’t help but think a little extra seasoning would improve them enormously.  I also have issues with the sloppiness of the toppings and the ‘Byron sauce’ is also a little bland, basically a lightly seasoned mayonnaise.  That being said, the bread is excellent and holds together well and the fries, if you can manage them, are very good.  If you’re in an unknown place and you spot a Byron, you know you can get a good lunch, but it probably falls far short of your favourite burger bar.

Byron on Urbanspoon

Brioche Burger Buns

Home-Made Burger

When burgers hit the big time in London a few years ago, it became clear very quickly that the only bread for burger buns was brioche.  The restaurants all caught on very quickly and brioche was snuggling burgers all over town, but the shops and bakeries were a little slower off the mark.  As the humble burger graduated from late night shame-food to gourmet menu centrepiece, what inevitably followed was a tidal wave of home cooks seeking to create their own at home. Suddenly we were stocking up on mince, bacon, American cheese and gherkins and scouring food blogs for tips on creating the perfect burger.  As summer came around and friends with gardens fired up their barbecues, we had the perfect opportunity for showcasing our concoctions.  There was only one problem: the bread.

When it comes to stocking up for a BBQ, bread is often an afterthought. The meat, obviously, is of paramount importance, the booze also, but the bread is usually chucked in the trolley at the last minute and barely given any attention at all.  Consequently, the bread table at a BBQ would often consist of those dry, anaemic looking multi-pack supermarket baps or finger rolls.  The kind that disintegrate the minute you get any kind of moisture or sauce near them.  The kind that stick to the roof of your mouth.  The kind that have no flavour whatsoever.  When we upped our game with our homemade burgers, this no longer became an option, the bread had to live up to the other components.  The problem was, hardly anywhere sold ready-made brioche buns.  Early in the summer, we used to get ours from Kindred Bakery in Herne Hill.  After the burst water main put them out of action, we found a stall in Brockley Market that sells them, but both are fairly pricey.  In recent months, the supermarkets have woken up to this trend and  you can now buy brioche buns in Marks & Spencer and Tesco, although both look a bit shiny and processed.  It seems that you definitely get what you pay for.

The other option, of course, is baking your own.  Brioche is a bit of a faff but need not be too laborious.  You will need about 12 hours or so to complete the whole process, but the active time you spend is barely more than you would spend ordering and collecting the buns from a local bakery.  My buns are based on a savoury brioche recipe by Paul Hollywood.  I was lucky enough to take part in Paul’s Bread series and got to taste a savoury brioche couronne he made. It was filled with mozzarella, basil and parma ham and was one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten.  The bread dough is enriched with milk, eggs and butter and proved in the fridge overnight.  Once firm enough to work with, the dough is then shaped into balls and baked.  The end result is a light, malleable bun that holds together well.  You could add sugar if you prefer your brioche a little sweeter.  The recipe below makes about eight buns.

Brioche Burger Buns

Brioche Burger Buns

Brioche Burger Buns

  • 500g strong white bread flour
  • 10g salt
  • 10g instant yeast
  • 170ml warm full-fat milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 egg, beaten, for glazing
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds

Put the flour, salt, yeast, milk and eggs into the bowl of a free-standing mixer and, using the paddle attachment, mix until the dough becomes smooth and shiny.  Continue to mix for another five minutes, adding the butter a teaspoon at a time until all of the butter incorporated into the dough.  It is important to add the butter gradually.

Tip the dough into an oiled plastic container with a lid.  The volume of the container should be a minimum of one litre so the dough has room to expand.  Leave to prove in the fridge overnight.

Line two baking sheets with greaseproof paper.  Remove the dough from the fridge and divide into eight equal portions.  To make the bun shape, flatten out the dough into a disc and bring the edges into the centre and pinch together.  Turn upside down and place on the baking tray.  Place four buns on each tray, ensuring that there is enough space between them to allow them to expand.  Cover the rays with clingfilm or a clean plastic bag and leave to rise in a warm place for 1-2 hours or until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 190ºc / 375ºf / gas 5.  Brush the buns with a little beaten egg and sprinkle with the sesame seeds.  Bake in the oven for 20 minutes until risen and golden.  If you tap the bottom of the buns, they should sound hollow.  Leave to cool on a rack.

Southampton: A Tale of Two Burgers

EDIT:  Since writing this post I have revisited 7Bone – a more recent review can be found here.

Whilst in my parents house, I am often the object of much teasing for being a Londonphile.  It is true that since moving to the capital nearly ten years ago, I have come to appreciate its superiority in a number of areas –  public transport, cultural life, fashion, parks and open spaces and, thankfully, the food.  I am firm in my belief that London has the best, the most diverse  the most innovative food in the UK, possibly even in the world – where else can you find three-Michelin star restaurants next to all-night street food events combining our national love of gourmet fast food and loud music? – however, it is not so firm that I share the view of many of my fellow capital-dwellers that you can’t get decent food outside of London.  Manchester, in my view, has an excellent food scene. Abergavenny Food Festival is as fine as any and, after conquering the legendary Lockjaw burger at Bristol’s Grillstock, I have a renewed faith in the offerings of the Westcountry.  Southampton, however, despite being my beloved birthplace, does not have the kind of food culture that inspires people to get out and eat – which is a shame.  Chain restaurants, not unexpectedly, dominate the high street and many of the independent restaurants are reservation-only.  There is a complete lack of street food and an attempt at creativity often leads to some confused ideas – Caribbean roast dinners and Thai ‘tapas’ (I rather like the Thai food at this particular restaurant, the soft shell crab is outstanding – I just wish they wouldn’t call it ‘tapas’).  There are, of course, some hidden gems, but there is also the terrifying  The Food Factory, ‘Southampton’s First Multi-Cuisine Restaurant’, which makes me want to retreat back up the M3 as quickly as possible.  I find myself craving something a little more inspiring, left-field or on trend and, finally, this is starting to happen.

About six months ago, I received an email from a friend informing me that there was a pub called The Rockstone in the Bevois Valley area of Southampton selling some excellent, and rather enormous, burgers.  Apparently the place was a roaring success and I simply had to go, they said.  I had scarcely finished texting my best friend to invite her to lunch there when she emailed me informing me of the very same place.  Then, only last weekend, on an impromptu visit to Southampton, I was informed of the new and eagerly-anticipated 7Bone, Portswood’s first dive-bar-cum-burger bar.  Two hyped-up burger joints on one strip of road? Were things finally beginning to change?

The Rockstone, Bevois Valley

The Rockstone, Southampton

The Rockstone, housed in a pub previously known as The Bevois Castle that I vaguely remember from one infamous Bevois Valley pub crawl on which I consumed little more than house double vodka and tonics and copious Marlboro Lights, claims to have the best burgers in Southampton and has featured on MSN’s list of the “21 Best Burger Places” – an accolade to which they are extremely proud.  A swift glance at their TripAdvisor page showed a stream of excellent reviews – both of the food and atmosphere. Had gourmet fast food finally reached my hometown?

The quick answer was: no, not exactly.  Although the darkened room / drinks in jam jars / neon signs / ironic cocktails clichés of burger bars are the cause of many an eye roll, The Rockstone was so far removed from this that I thought I had walked into the wrong pub.  Burgundy patterned carpets, mahogany tables and chairs and faux ivy draped around the corkboards – you can see why they style themselves as a ‘country pub in the city’, but this is more like a country pub in the city…. ten years ago. Despite this, the music (probably from around ten years ago) was excellent and the staff incredibly friendly and helpful.

The Rockstone, Southampton

The Rockstone has a jaw-droppingly extensive menu with 17 burger options and a number of ‘light bites’ and main courses.  Most of the burgers are priced at £12.50 and served with fries and salad, and there is a £2 surcharge for sweet potato fries or ‘chunky fat chips’.  The menu states that the patties weigh in at 12-14oz uncooked and are cooked medium-rare as standard, but can be served rare or ‘cremated’ on request.  These burgers are more expensive than many of the better London burgers which, although hardly surprising given their size, still makes for quite a pricey lunch.  After seeing a few burgers leave the kitchen, I abandoned all thoughts about getting creative with the toppings and instead opted for a classic cheese and bacon burger.

The Rockstone Classic (Front) and The Quarter Pounder Vegetable Burger (Back)

The gargantuan patties make for a burger so enormous that, unless your party trick is putting a pint glass or your entire fist in your mouth, it is unlikely that you will be able to take a bite.  I even attempted to eat mine after cutting it in half and instead gave up and went with the knife and fork approach.  I managed to eat half – quite an achievement, I feel – and spent the following ten minutes, defeated, huffing and puffing and idly picking at the fries.  The actual burger itself was rather good – well seasoned and well cooked, with a good amount of pinkness in the middle as promised.  The bacon was crisp and there was a decent amount of cheese.  I would have loved to have seen a different bun on the burger – possibly brioche – as the bread is crumbly and looks a bit anaemic and unappetising.  The veggie burger that my friend ordered was also well-seasoned and well-cooked and the accompanying salad was dressed well.  I felt a little sad that I was not able to finish my burger and, although I understand that the go-large-or-go-home approach is part of the charm of The Rockstone, I couldn’t help but wish that there were sliders on the menu so that I could taste a few different varieties and not feel that I needed to be rolled to the nearest taxi rank.

The Rockstone Classic

Honestly, this is the biggest burger I have ever eaten and if quantity is your thing, you could in no way be disappointed here. It’s not gourmet, but it is good.

7Bone, Portswood

7-Bone, Southampton

On first glance, 7Bone’s online menu is very impressive – a small range of well-thought out burgers, a handful of sides, Sipsmith gin and vodka and Kernel beer – and all very reasonably priced.  It was created by two guys who obviously know their stuff and have a passion for good-quality meat.  Judging by the current hype around burgers in London and the various queues I have stood in to get one (Patty & Bun, I’m looking at you), and the fact that it was opening weekend, I anticipated a bit of a wait before eating, so was very surprised when we were seated, almost immediately, at a table for four.

7-Bone, Southampton

7Bone is not quite, as it claims, a ‘dive bar’ when compared to similar establishments with the same name – it is a little too clean, has too many windows and too few unsavoury characters, although this may change over time – however the decor is interesting, with the stripped bare walls and neon signs you would expect to see in a burger bar.  Above the bar is a sign coaxing burger lovers to order here (politely) – serving to both raise a smile and remind you that you are not in a dive bar, so no need to shout or throw your glass.  There are a number of things I particularly liked – utalitarian kitchen rolls on the tables (napkins are always insufficient with burgers), there was enough space between the tables and the staff were happy and enthusiastic.

Chilli Cheese Fries (Left) and Prince Charles is Overrated (Right)

The burgers on offer at 7Bone are exactly the kind that I like – a little sloppy, covered in sauce, housed in a brioche-style bun and with a pickle (there is never an excuse not to have a pickle – I actually lose respect for people who pick them out).  I opted, once again for the cheese and bacon burger, amusingly named Prince Charles is Overrated and a bargain at £6.50, a side of chilli cheese fries and a large gin and tonic.  There was absolutely no point in practicing restraint – heck, I even promised myself a further order of the IPA onion straws later on in the meal if I thought I could manage it.  My companions ordered a buttermilk fried chicken burger and a chilli cheeseburger named ‘Peter Green’ (not quite sure why).

The Peter Green – Chilli Cheeseburger

The Prince Charles is Overrated

When our waitress put down my portion of chilli cheese fries I, almost involuntarily, wailed “where are the jalapenos?”  I could see all of the usual ingredients: fries – check, beef chilli – check, cheese – check…. but no jalapenos.  One of the reasons I love the chilli cheese fries at MEATLiqour is the scattering of spicy jalapenos.  The richness of meat, cheese and potato definitely needs something more to cut through it. This might just be my personal taste, but those fries need to be a lot more spicy!  My companion felt that the chilli cheeseburger could also benefit from a few jalapenos.  The burger itself was very good, if a tiny bit overcooked for my taste, the beef patty was among the tastiest I have had and very well-seasoned, the bacon was crisp and sweet, the mush of cheese and ‘dirty sauce’ (basically a paprika-spiked mayo) was delicious and they were not stingy with the pickles (hurrah!). Best of all, it had a decent bun, which is the least you can really hope for with a burger.  In the end I decided against the IPA onion straws as I was fuller than expected, but fully intend to get some next time.

The Prince Charles is Overrated

You can forgive a few tiny hitches during opening week and it looks as though 7Bone have got the fundamentals of a decent burger joint right – a few jalapenos here, a little less cooking on the patties there and this could be close to perfection.  Kudos on the drinks menu, there are some great choices there, but what I would really, really like to see is a few cocktails to showcase the spirits on offer. And did I mention more jalapenos?

The Verdict

With the trend for gourmet burgers reaching even higher levels in 2013 in London, it was inevitable that this would filter out to the rest of the country.  I am very happy to have two such dining options on offer when I return to Southampton, particularly as 7-one offers the ‘no reservations’ policy – refreshing in a town where the first thing you are asked on entering a restaurant is “have you booked?”  The Rockstone, already established in the local community, has a dedicated and cult following which will ensure a booming business for years to come, and I anticipate that 7Bone will be no less successful, however it seems that although both have the potential to turn a good burger into an excellent burger, I can’t help but think that it would be beneficial to get up to London and see what the big daddies of the burger joints – Elliot’s / MEATliquor  / Patty & Bun / Motherflipper – are doing right now.  If I had to choose between them, 7Bone would be my out-and-out winner:  great atmosphere, excellent drink choices and the type of burger I really like: rare, sloppy and delicious.

MEATmission, Hoxton

Wednesday night dinner and drinks with an old friend: enormous burgers, deep-fried pickles and a cocktail containing three of my favourite things: gin, Earl Grey and limoncello.

MEATmission

MEATmission

It looks nothing special, but this is the cocktail of the Gods - gin, Earl Grey and limoncello

It looks nothing special, but this is the cocktail of the Gods – gin, Earl Grey and limoncello

Clockwise from top:  Dirty Chicken Burger, deep-fried pickles, Dead Hippie, fries (not chips)

Clockwise from top: Dirty Chicken Burger, deep-fried pickles, Dead Hippie, fries (not chips)

Dead Hippie

Dead Hippie

Dirty Chicken Burger

Dirty Chicken Burger

More gin-based loveliness - this time with elderflower and mint

More gin-based loveliness – this time with elderflower and mint

MEATmission, 14-15 Hoxton Market, London N1 6HG

Meal for two with drinks and service, approx £60.

Some reviews of MEATmission: