The Battle of the Cinnamon Buns: Nordic Bakery vs. Scandinavian Kitchen

Central London's finest:  Scandinavian Kitchen cinnamon bun (left) and The  Nordic Bakery cinnamon bun (right)

Central London’s finest: Scandinavian Kitchen cinnamon bun (left) and The Nordic Bakery cinnamon bun (right)

In the last few years, interest in Scandinavian food has risen enormously.  It is easy to attribute this popularity to the influence of Noma, Børgen or Ikea and, whilst this may still be the case, it is part of London’s culinary history to look to other parts of the world for inspiration.  Whilst on the savoury courses, we are often divided; many, for example, happily devour the meatballs but are hesitant about idea of some of the more extreme pickled fish; the sweet dishes are another story.  The success of Signe Johansen‘s book Scandilicous Baking speaks volumes, and the opening of several Scandinavian bakeries across London has sent us clamouring for the lingonberry tarts and spiced biscuits that we could only otherwise find in the freezer section of the local Ikea.

The biggest craze of all, though, has to be for the Scandi cinnamon buns.  These are so popular that many of the London cafes sell out daily.  They are bread buns, rolled with a cinnamon filling and often topped with pearl sugar or a glaze.  Many people in my office cannot survive a week without one.

Luckily for us, we have two Scandinavian cafes within walking distance:  the Marylebone branch of The Nordic Bakery, on New Cavendish Street and Scandinavian Kitchen on Great Titchfield Street.  There has been a great deal of disagreement among those who work in the west end about which cafe makes the best cinnamon bun, so I decided to settle this with a ‘cinnamon bun-off’; a blind taste test of the two buns from which, I hoped, there would be a clear winner.  Fortunately, I was not short of volunteers for this experiment among my colleagues.

The Test:  a simple blind taste test of the cinnamon buns, purchased on the same day, from The Nordic Bakery and Scandinavian Kitchen.  Each taster chooses a winner.  That’s it.

The Contenders:

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The Nordic Bakery, 37b New Cavendish Street, London W1G 8JR
The Nordic Bakery has three sites across London: our New Cavendish Street Local, the original on Golden Square, Soho and another on Dorset Street.  These beautiful little wood-panelled cafes are designed to be “a peaceful meeting place in a frantic city” and sell a range of coffees, sandwiches and baked goods.  A cinnamon bun costs £2.40.

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Scandinavian Kitchen, 61 Great Titchfield Street, London W1W 7PP
This very busy cafe, with its amusing street-front chalkboard offering, among other things, ‘free hugs’ is a Fitzrovia lunchtime favourite.  They sell coffees, a range of baked goods, sandwiches and a mix-and-match smoregsboard of various nordic delights.  A cinnamon bun costs £1.70.

The Results:

I bought three buns from each bakery, which were cut into quarters and places in two piles, each labelled simply ‘A’ and ‘B’.  12 taste testers – all cinnamon bun aficionados from my office –  tried each of the buns and gave their verdict.  Some devoured one of the pieces of bun before starting on the other; others alternated bites between the two.  There was a lot of head-tipping and thoughtful noises.  Work stopped momentarily to discuss the beauty of cinnamon buns and argue about whether tea or coffee was the best accompaniment.  One by one, they gave me their scores and, the winner is….

Scandinavian Kitchen, by nine votes to three!

The main winner for Scandinavian Kitchen was the texture of the buns – the dough was soft and almost brioche-like, compared to the more tightly rolled dough of the buns from The Nordic Bakery; most felt the latter was a little too dense and they would struggle to eat a whole one.  The panel was, interestingly, divided over what was the best topping for a cinnamon bun; some preferred the sticky glaze of The Nordic Bakery’s buns, whereas others preferred the pearl sugar topping used by Scandinavian Kitchen.  They all agreed that both buns were excellent and had a good cinnamon flavour, but the lightness of the dough was what swung it Scandinavian Kitchen-wards.

If you want to have a go at making your own, Signe Johansen’s recipe from Woman’s Hour Cook the Perfect… can be found here.

Burger League: Tommi’s Burger Joint

Burger with cheese and bacon and fries

The Restaurant:  Tommi’s Burger Joint, 30 Thayer Street, London W1U 2QP

The Hungry Ones:

Left to Right: Gemma (The Boozy Rouge), Claire (Queen of the BBQ)

Left to Right: Gemma (The Boozy Rouge), Claire (Queen of the BBQ)

Gemma and Claire ordered: Burger with cheese and bacon, fries, Diet Coke

The Scores:

I am never happier than when I find a good lunch spot within walking distance of my office.  As I am a fast walker and happy to cover long distances this thankfully covers swathes of Soho, Marylebone and Fitzrovia, which have an abundance of restaurants and cafes on every street.  When there is a burger on sale at any of these establishments, I am even happier, for who does not love to spend an afternoon at their desk happily full?  I have been trying to get over to Tommi’s Burger Joint for ages, not least because I was so intrigued by the concept of an Icelandic burger restaurant.  They initially started as a pop-up following the success of several sites in Reykjavik, and within months moved to a permanent site on a busy Marylebone intersection.  My knowledge of Icelandic food is limited to a trip I took there in the winter of 2010. The sushi was good, the pizza excellent, the hakarl more than a little smelly and the sheep heads in the supermarket freezer sections, terrifying.  Being in my last year of University, I had not the means to try other delicacies such as whale and puffin – Iceland is an expensive place, even after the financial crash they suffered a few years ago.  Luckily, my lunch buddy Claire lived in Reykjavik for a while, so has a far more extensive knowledge than I.

There is no fermented shark meat or pickled fish at Tommi’s Burger Joint, in fact the menu barely sets it apart from other London burger joints, but in such a crowded market, that is probably just as well.  It is one of those grab-a-seat-and-order-at-the-counter places and with no front of house direction, there a lot of frantic eye-darting among competing groups looking for a table.  Luckily, there were only two of us and we managed to grab a seat within minutes.  Most people in the restaurant seemed to be opting for the lunch deal, which is a burger, fries and a can of soda for £9.90.  You can then pick your optional extras from a list – I went for cheese, bacon and a little pot of bernaise sauce.  There was something about adding bernaise sauce to a burger that had me salivating all morning.  Speaking of sauces, one of the best features of Tommi’s Burger Joint is their array of free sauces and toppings that you can just go and help yourself to.  Like kids in a toy shop, we filled up the little plastic pots with onion chutney, ketchup, BBQ sauce, pickles (YES), jalapenos and ‘cronions’.  If you have not had the pleasure, cronions are little freeze-dried pieces of onion that look a little like croutons.  Icelanders love them as they top the wieners at Baejarins Beztu Pylsur, Reykjavik’s most popular hotdog stand , who count US President Bill Clinton among their die-hard fans.

The wonderful help-yourself-to-stuff bar

The wonderful help-yourself-to-stuff bar

The burger itself was very good and ticked all of the boxes: soft brioche bun, flavoursome patty cooked medium-rare and crispy bacon on top.  A little spread of the bernaise sauce made it extra special.  Unfortunately, the fries were another story.  Did you ever play Theme Park when you were a kid?  I actually didn’t (I was always terrible at computer games), but I can recall it well.  For those of you that didn’t grow up in the mid-90s, Theme Park is a little piece of genius where you design and grow your own theme park with the sole intention of making money.  It was a little bit like Transport Tycoon but more fun.  One of the most tried-and-tested ways of making money was to increase the amount of salt added to the fries.  In doing this, you would make your virtual punters so thirsty that they would spend more money on drinks.  Simple, huh?  I think that *might* be what has happened at Tommi’s Burger Joint, as the fries were the saltiest I had ever tasted.  In fact, the Theme Park comparison came from Claire who said that she hadn’t given the game a second thought in at least a decade until trying those fries.  Seriously, when I left, my lips were like raisins.  And I did buy extra drinks in the office that afternoon.

Tommi's Burger Joint on Urbanspoon

About Burger League

Burger League: MEATLiquor

The Dead Hippie and the Bacon Cheeseburger at MEATLiquor

The Dead Hippie and the Bacon Cheeseburger at MEATLiquor

The Restaurant:  MEATLiquor, 74 Welbeck Street, London W1G 0BA.

The Hungry Ones:

Left to Right: Gemma (The Boozy Rouge), Katie (Burgerista)

Left to Right: Gemma (The Boozy Rouge), Katie (Burgerista)

Gemma ordered:  The Dead Hippie, Deep Fried Pickles, Diet Coke
Katie ordered:  Bacon Cheeseburger, Fries, Coke

The Scores:

It was never going to be a surprise that we would have an excellent burger at MEATLiquor, after all I have enjoyed these burgers many times before.  In the old days from the Meatwagon, then at the excellent pop-up #meateasy, handily just around the corner from Goldsmiths College, where I was studying at them time.  The following summer they sold their burgers from The Rye pub in Peckham, a short walk from my flat, before setting up in a more permanent home, MEATLiquor at the back of Oxford Street, close to my office.  It is almost as though they pop up wherever I go.  They have since set up restaurants in various other locations, which I have yet to try out, with the exception of the wonderful MEATMission in Hoxton where you can actually book a table.  My inner planning-fiend rejoiced.

There are two reasons that I go back to MEATLiquor time and time again:  I love the food and I love the atmosphere.  ‘Dive bars’ are two-a-penny these days, and the phrase is almost as cringeworthy as when restaurants describe their food as ‘dirty’.  Travelling around the US on a tour bus, I visited many actual dive bars with dirty food and, without being too crass, regretted it for days later.  The fantasy, on which the inspiration for these venues is based, is far removed from the grim reality.  MEATLiquor, however, seems to set itself apart from this.  The interior is more Berlin squat than mid-Western roadhouse, and it does not rely upon lazy cliches to name its food, there is no ‘filthy’ sauce or innuendo-named cocktails, things just are what they are.  Many others have copied elements from MEATLiquor (food served on trays, cocktails in jam jars, industrial kitchen rolls on the table instead of napkins) that are now almost de rigeur in all gourmet fast-food joints, but they still manage here not to look trite.  I often take visitors from out of town here as I know that, no matter where they are from, they will not have anywhere like this: a dark and loud restaurant, open until 2am with outrageously strong drinks and the best burgers anywhere.

This is a hotly debated topic, but I do think that MEATLiquor has the best burgers in town.  The patties have the exquisite combination of being beautifully rare in the middle and almost burnt around the edges, and are the most flavoursome patties I have ever tried.  My favourite burger, the Dead Hippie, is essentially a double cheeseburger with two patties, a lot of American cheese, a ‘special’ sauce that loosely resembles a Big Mac sauce and, thank the Lord, pickles.  LOTS OF PICKLES.  It is impossible to eat one without using up several sheets of the kitchen roll, but somehow the burger doesn’t fall apart.  You can put a half-eaten burger back on its tray and tuck into your sides without the risk of its components spilling out everywhere.  Speaking of sides: I also almost always order the deep fried pickles with blue cheese dip and a side of chilli cheese fries.  Both are excellent.  In fact, there is little to fault about this place.  The only real bugger is that if you turn up any later than 7pm you will probably have to queue, at the weekends, potentially for quite some time.

MEATliquor on Urbanspoon

About Burger League

Burger League: Patty & Bun

A Feast at Patty & Bun

A Feast at Patty & Bun

The Restaurant:  Patty & Bun, 54 James Street, London W1U 1EU

The Hungry Ones:

Left to Right: Gemma (The Boozy Rouge), Katie (Burgerista)

Left to Right: Gemma (The Boozy Rouge), Katie (Burgerista)

Gemma and Katie ordered:  Smokey Robinson burgers (beef patty, cheese, tomato, caramelised onion, bacon, ketchup, smoky P&B mayo, brioche), coleslaw, chips with rosemary salt, red stripe beer and sauvignon blanc.

The Scores:

Patty and Bun opened their first restaurant in Marylebone a year ago and has already become the stuff of London burger legends.  Despite having had their burgers from stands at various street food events, I had yet to visit the restaurant.  I had two failed attempts earlier in the year when the queue was so enormous that my hunger forced me to go elsewhere.  Such is the popularity of these burgers that queueing is always a major concern, hence why we planned our visit for 6pm on a Tuesday – and walked right in.  It has everything you would expect from a central london no-reservations burger bar: stripped down decor, communal tables, food eaten from paper, buckets of cutlery etc. etc.  It had a really pleasant atmosphere and my only real bugbear was the wine served in a tumbler. I know this is the cool thing to do these days, but sometimes I just yearn for a proper wine glass.  Anyway, I can easily overlook this due to the  magnificent quality of the food.  The burger had all of my favourite things: slightly sweet brioche, crispy bacon and a seasoned patty cooked medium rare.  It had a pile of soft caramelised onions and some good tangy cheese, but I just would have wanted my smokey robinson to have a touch more smoke – just a few notches up on the chipotle, perhaps.  The chips were among the best I have had in London recently and the slaw perfectly creamy.  This restaurant has had a lot of hype and it is all to be believed, thoroughly excellent burgers and, at £34 for two burgers, two sides and two alcoholic drinks, a total bargain.

A note on the photography:  I was only able to take a picture of our newly-arrived order before my iPhone died.  I wish I had better photographs of the burgers as they looked quite spectacular.  If you’d rather not take my word for it, go to the Patty & Bun website for the ultimate burger gallery.

Patty & Bun on Urbanspoon

About Burger League