A Few Things from Baden-Baden, Germany

I’m not quite sure how, but it is October tomorrow.  It doesn’t really feel like it as it is unseasonably warm in London at the moment, and I just got back from holiday.

For the past few days, Ollie and I have been in Baden-Baden.  If you’re not familiar, it is a little town in Germany’s Black Forest, south of Frankfurt and close to the French border.  It is famous for its thermal waters and its beautiful spas attract people from all over the region.  We spent quite a considerable amount of time at the Carcalla Baths.  It was a holiday after all.

As well as this, there was, of course, lots of eating and drinking.  Here are a few highlights:

 

Beer
Much to my constant dismay, I have never liked beer.  Fortunately, my husband is rather a fan and got to sample quite a few different beers during our time there.  With Oktoberfest imminent, a lot of the bars were promoting their own hausbrau.  Two of the best were at Amadeus and Lowenbrau.  The latter has a really nice beer garden.

 

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Flammkuchen
This is an Alsace speciality that is also known as Tarte Flambee on the French side of the border.  It is a very thin, almost pizza-like dough, traditionally topped with sour cream, bacon and onions.  We ate at the Theaterkeller, where they have a number of different varities of flammkuchen, including this one with breasola.

 

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Black Forest Cake
No trip to the Black Forest is complete without sampling the schwarzenwalden kirschetorte, the region’s most famous cake.  Many were put off by the old Sara Lee frozen desserts of the 1990s, but the real deal is a thing of beauty.  Light chocolate sponge, slightly-boozy-slightly-sour cherries and an abundance of blousy whipped cream.

 

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Sausages
As ubiquitous in Germany as good beer, you never have to look hard to find a good sausage.  We found these at a farmers’ market in the small town of Buhl, just outside of Baden-Baden; three euros for a gargantuan sausage in bread.  We both opted for the feuerwurst, a sausage heavily spiced with paprika and chilli, and doused it in dijon mustard.  Three euros.

 

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More Cake
You could eat cake every day for a year in Baden-Baden and never be satisfied.  I cannot help but love a place that takes baking so seriously.  This was another favourite cake from the trip, from a small riverside bakery in Buhl: a chocolate and almond cake topped with sweet apricots.

 

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Burgers
Not really a German speciality, but I always like to try the local take on a burger.  This one was from Leo’s, a famous Baden-Baden restaurant where Bill Clinton apparently dined.  It was 18 euros, but it was also very good.  The meat was excellent quality and cooked medium (not quite medium-rare, sadly) and the other components worked well.  My husband had an excellent fillet steak for not much more money, that came with béarnaise sauce and dauphinoise.  A rare case of food envy.

 

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Doughnuts
There’s only so many times you can quote Ich bin eine Berliner whilst holding a doughnut.  This one came from a bakery in a small village called Steinbach.  The only thing open on a Sunday morning for miles.  Luckily they did coffee too.

One Year Ago:  Five Spice Duck Legs.

Silk Road, Camberwell

There seems to be little point in crafting an introduction to this restaurant as it has, in recent years, become the worst kept secret in south London.  If you want to show off your knowledge of hidden restaurant gems, this is not the one to mention.  Unless you’re in the company of north Londoners, for many of them will barely have been to Camberwell, let alone Silk Road.  In days gone by, you could rock up to this little cash-only restaurant without a reservation and be seated almost immediately.  More recently however, following a number of rave reviews, including one by Jay Rayner, it is rammed almost every night of the week and nearly impossible to get a table before 9.30.

Of course, the glaringly obvious point would be that it had become a victim of its own success, however I can’t in any way declare this to be true.  In fact, it seems to get better and better with each visit, which keeps us going back more than perhaps we ought to.  Aside from the quality of the food, which I will get to shortly, this is one of the best value restaurants in London.  Our bills have never exceeded £20 a head, including alcohol, and for that price we have feasted on an amount of food so obscene, an extended lie-down was required.

The funny thing is that Silk Road is one of those unassuming places on the busy Camberwell Church Street that you would just walk past if you didn’t know it was there.  The ‘Cash Only’ sign in the window, the slightly faded red sign and the utilitarian communal benches inside does not give any indication that inside is some of the best Asian food in London. And it doesn’t have a website.  I suppose that is part of its charm.

The cuisine at Silk Road could lazily be labelled ‘Chinese’, however it specialises in food from the Xinjiang region (the bit bordering Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan), with a few Sichuan dishes thrown in to boot.  The central Asian influence is clear, with the smell of lamb and cumin wafting through the restaurant, and the prevalence of offal on the menu.  Being a landlocked region, there is very little fish on offer, but some very good meat and vegetarian dishes.  Forget any ideas of sweet and sour chicken and prawn crackers, you won’t get them here.

Despite the variety of carnivorous options, my two favourite dishes on the menu are made up of vegetables.  The famous home-style aubergine is one of the most delicious dishes I have ever tasted: tender aubergine and tomato cooked with a huge amount of garlic and an underlying pop of chilli.  The ‘cucumbers in sauce’, also known as ‘smacked cucumbers’ are served raw in a sharp soy-based sauce, also heavily laced with garlic and chilli.  They are wonderful as a cold starter, but I have to say that I prefer the smacked cucumbers from nearby Wuli Wuli (sorry).  Another excellent dish is the home-style cabbage, which I sadly always pass up in favour of the aubergine, but fully intend to order next time.

Cucumbers in sauce

Cucumbers in sauce

Home-style aubergine

Home-style aubergine

The aforementioned smell of lamb and cumin comes from the lamb shish skewers that seem to be on just about every order in the restaurant.  Heavy with cumin, with the afterburn of chilli, these come straight from the grill and smell so good, you will almost inevitably burn your fingers trying to pull the meat from the skewers.  The pieces of lamb are interspersed with little cubes of lamb fat, which I am not overly keen on, but which my husband loves.  These skewers are £1 each (yes, £1) with a minimum order of five per table.  For me, ordering any less than three for just myself is not an option.

Lamb shish skewers

Lamb shish skewers

Another favourite is the twice-cooked pork, which is a one of the few Sichuan dishes on the menu (the countries bordering the Xinjiang region are muslim, so pork is rarely eaten there).  I have had this dish in a number of other restaurants and it consists of slices of belly pork, boiled then fried (hence ‘twice-cooked’) with an oil-based sauce of chillies and lip-numbing Sichuan peppercorns.  Silk Road’s offering doesn’t quite have the level of heat that we usually expect from Sichuan dishes, but it does have an unexpected sweetness which makes it pleasant, if slightly inauthentic.  The best part about it is the soft, sweet Chinese onions that I pick out and eat with a little boiled rice.  I could happily live on these alone.

Middle-plate chicken

Middle-plate chicken

Silk Road’s speciality is, undoubtedly, their noodle dishes.  The ‘large plate’ and middle plate’ options are huge bowls of soup with meat and wide ‘belt’ noodles of at least an inch wide.  A lot of Chinese friends favour the tripe, but we will often order the chicken.  Pieces of chicken on the bone, served in a spiced thick soup with the enormous noodles slithered in by the waiter at the table.  Middle plate is ample for two, especially if it makes up part of a wider banquet – those noodles are incredibly filling.  Best of all are the smaller, and more manageable, hand-pulled noodles – glutinous and soft without being sticky – the person who makes these obviously knows what they are doing.  Ours came with lamb and cabbage, as well as the obligatory punch of chilli and onion that characterises the restaurant’s dishes.  These came last to the table and we were unable to finish them, so our waiter kindly packed them in a box to take home.

(If you do find yourself with an extended wait for a table, put your name down in the book and head down to Stormbird, a few doors down, for a pint)

Silk Road, 49 Camberwell Church Street, London SE5 8TR

Silk Road on Urbanspoon

When Life Takes Over

This week, I have had the most difficult task of admitting that I was wrong.  In my naivety, I honestly believed that planning a wedding would not impact on my other activities (how clueless I was) and that my baking club, blog and various food-related activities would not suffer as a result.  As you may have seen, Band of Bakers is on a little summer hiatus and my blog posts are becoming fewer and further between.  They are all buried under dress fittings, menu tastings, endless emails and trying to co-ordinate a number of guests who are all travelling to San Sebastian for the ceremony in a little over three weeks.  Add to this a rather monotonous healthy eating regime and an attempt to save money by not eating out and you find that, even if you had the time to write, there would be little to actually write about.

Bottom line:  weddings take over your life.  And I have a wedding planner!

Of course, this is a temporary situation.  My wedding is taking place in the gastronomic capital of Europe, so there will be plenty of subject matter there.  It seems that most people I know have either been to, or are planning a trip to, San Sebastian.  If you haven’t been, it is definitely worth considering for your next holiday, especially if eating and drinking is your thing.  In addition to this, we are embarking on a honeymoon road trip through Andalucia, again very much with culinary endeavours in mind.  I will be returning to London in July when, hopefully, normal service will be resumed.  Until then, I simply ask that you bear with me.

Instead of writing up one of my recipes (I haven’t cooked anything in days) or writing a nice long post about a restaurant I’ve been to (too stressed to pay too much attention), I have instead cobbled together a few things from the last week that have popped up on my food radar.  Kind of like the old days of ‘Monday Miscellany’ but, of course, on a Wednesday.  Even the days all roll into one these days.  I must buy a diary.

 Pizza Making

Anchovy and olive pizza

Anchovy and olive pizza

Last week could have easily been entitled ‘Life in Salad’, so I was obviously thrilled to come home from a particularly gruelling Friday to Ollie making pizza in the kitchen.  Needless to say, I devoured them all.  I looked back through my previous posts for something on pizzas and was surprised to find I had written nothing.  I even have a list of ‘London Pizzas I Love’ scrawled on a piece of notepaper and tacked up next to my desk, so I will write that up at some point.  The picture above is one of three pizzas he made using Dan Lepard’s absolutely foolproof pizza dough recipe, and a topping of anchovies and olives. Bliss.

Southampton Street Food Market

Pork souvlaki - Southampton style

Pork souvlaki – Southampton style

To the sounds of a chorus of “it’s about bloody time”, street food has finally arrived in Southampton.  Yes, I know the majestic 7Bone had a burger stall, one that even featured on the BBC’s Restaurant Man, but that was ages ago.  This market has taken over the strip along the pedestrianised part of the city centre at weekends, the spot previously occupied by the ahem, German market at Christmas.  It hasn’t quite reached the standard of similar markets in London, but is a good starting point (and far cheaper).  I had a perfectly decent pork souvlaki from Greekville, that certainly helped to undo the hangover I had from sinking G&T’s in The Alex the night before.

The Grazing Goat, Southampton

Goat curry with dumplings

Goat curry with dumplings

This is the first of two visits I am making to this new Southampton gastro pub, so will leave the review until I have time to write up the full post.  I just wanted to praise their goat curry with dumplings, which was sublime.

Toast, East Dulwich

Quail with gremolata

Quail with gremolata

Orange cake

Orange cake

Toast may be the perfect place to hide out when the heavens open during a Lordship Lane expedition – warm, cosy and with a good wine list – you could find yourself there for hours.  I have been several times before, but only for coffee and a slice of their delicious banana bread (OK, and some wine), and used to go regularly when it was the old Green & Blue, but yesterday was the first time I actually went in for lunch.  We started with an off menu order of quail with gremolata, £10 including a glass of Cote du Rhone (bargain), then shared a slice of moist orange cake alongside our espressos.  As soon as I am back from Spain and eating out again, I expect Toast will become a regular spot, not least because it is great to have such quality food within walking distance of our flat.

Yalla Yalla, Fitzrovia

Yalla Yalla

Yalla Yalla

There’s an exchange that happens in my office at least once a week:

Me:  “What’s on the lunch menu for today?”
Colleague:  *Downloads canteen lunch menu*, *reels of a list of boring dishes*
Me:  “Sod it, I’m going to Yalla Yalla.”
Colleague:  *Without looking up* “Can you bring me back a halloumi wrap?”

Yalla Yalla is always the kryptonite that breaks those weeks when I am trying to eat healthily or not spend too much money on buying lunch.  With a wedding looming, and a very unforgiving wedding dress to squeeze into, those weeks are becoming more and more frequent.  However, the healthy options from nearby boring salad bars and the cheapo options from the staff canteen can never compare to the sheer middle eastern delights on offer just a mere hop, skip and a jump away on Winsley Street.  And I KNOW that I should be making my own lunch at home and bringing it in and all that, but I am disorganised.  Also, somewhere in our building is a person who likes to pinch other people’s lunch.  My friend had some sushi nicked the other day and she was very annoyed about it.

Anyway, Yalla Yalla has a little takeaway counter that sells a range of different wraps, as well as coffee and those little sticky pieces of baklava that I just love.  I have tried most of the wraps now, and my favourite is the lamb shawarma, something I feared I would forever have to trek to the Edgware Road for, and the simple falafel wrap (not quite as good as Mr Falafel in Shepherd’s Bush but, in my mind, nothing is).  The wraps are priced anywhere between £4 and £5 and are well-made and delicious.  You have to wait a little while, especially during the busy lunchtimes, but it is worth it.

Takeout halloumi wrap

Takeout halloumi wrap

Despite being a frequent visitor to the counter, until Wednesday I had only ever eaten in at Yalla Yalla once before; at their beautiful little original site at Green’s Court.  On Wednesday, Claire and I met there for a very speedy lunch to share news on weddings and house renovations over some baba ghanoush.  There are two ways that you can eat in at Yalla Yalla:  you can order one of the mezzes as a starter and then move on to their menu of middle-eastern main dishes, such as a moussaka, mixed grill or grilled seabass; or you can order a range of the mezzes and share.  Being always keen to try as many dishes as possible in one sitting, I have yet to opt for the former, although I have cast many a desirous eye over the Lahem Meshoue.

During my two visits to Yalla Yalla, plus many jaunts to the takeaway counter, I have worked my way through a large number of the mezzes on offer and have found myself to be impressed with most of them.  The houmous, the stalwart of any middle-eastern restaurant, demanding the most perfection, is beautifully smooth and not overloaded with either lemon or garlic, which many restaurants have a tendency to do.  One of my favourite dishes is the houmous shawarma, a small bowl of houmous topped with a hefty portion of grilled lamb spiced with, among other things, cumin and cinnamon.  The baba ghanoush is equally as fine, with the smokiness not overpowering the aubergine flavour and a slightly loose texture.  The addition of pomegranate seeds on the top makes it a little more special.  Both of these come with a basket of flatbreads which, although delicious, with only three small ones between two, never seems like quite enough.

Houmous shawarma

Houmous shawarma

Baba ghanoush

Baba ghanoush

Always wanting to include a little greenery into my lunch, I will often order the tabbouleh or the fattoush, either as a side to the wrap or as part of the mezze.  The tabbouleh is very similar to those I have eaten in the middle east, very heavy with parsley and mint and, unlike the more westernised versions, with the cracked wheat taking more of a backseat.  The fattoush is also delicious, but I’ve always hoped that it would be a bit sharper with vinegar, but that may just be my personal taste.

Tabbouleh (right)

Tabbouleh (right)

Fattoush

Fattoush

Other favourites include the chicken rakakat, little chicken-filled pastries that have the appearance of spring rolls but the flavour of a kebab, complete with a huge kick of harissa, and the halloumi meshoue , which feels like a little bit of Greece with its olive oil, black olive and fresh mint dressing.

Chicken rakakat

Chicken rakakat

Halloumi meshoue

Halloumi meshoue

In addition to this, they have some delicious Lebanese reds and whites, something that popped on to my wine radar a few years ago when out with a friend whose approach is far more sophisticated than mine (if they’re French, they probably know what they’re talking about), and those little cups of strong, sediment-filled Turkish coffee that will safely pull you out of your food coma just in time for an afternoon back at the office.

Whilst not entirely perfect, it is one of the best examples of middle eastern food in London, and keeps me coming back for more.  They do get very busy around lunch and dinner and don’t take reservations (who does these days?!)  If you’re an expert on this kind of food, you may find that it is a little too wide-reaching, as it does encompass food from many regions and there are more country-specific places out there, however it is a great introduction.  For only £35 for lunch for two (with wine), it is also very kind to the wallet.

Yalla Yalla, 12 Winsley Street, London W1W 8HQ.  There is also a restaurant at Greens Court, Soho and a pop-up on Shoreditch High Street.

Yalla Yalla Beirut Street Food on Urbanspoon

Breakfast at No. 67 at the South London Gallery, Peckham

Breakfast in the sun

Breakfast in the sun

Another belated post, I’m afraid, but with the sun shining so brightly in London this morning I couldn’t resist writing about a bit of alfresco dining.  One week ago today, just before we flew out to San Sebastian, Ollie and I went to the registry office in Peckham to register our intent to marry.  It was a pretty painless process really, but we still felt that anything that required us getting up early on our day off and bringing along our passports deserved a big breakfast afterwards.  Just across the street from the registry office is the excellent South London Gallery and it’s in-house cafe/restaurant, No. 67 – so named because of its location at 67 Peckham Road.

The good weather arrived in London a couple of weeks ago after months of torrential rain, and last Friday was the best day of all.  The sun beamed down on an empty picnic table on the front terrace of the cafe, where we quickly established ourselves and started to look at the menu.  At that moment, I received a text from my Dad to say that Southampton, a mere 75 miles away, had been enveloped in fog.  If there was a moment to develop weather-smugness, that would have been it.

The breakfast menu at No.67 is similar to what you might find in other smart south-east London cafés: good coffee, juices, organic yoghurt and muesli and a range of scrambled egg dishes with ham, salmon or spinach.  One anomaly, however, caught my eye – a baked egg, tomato and red pepper stew.  There is something wholesome yet rather decadent about having a stew for breakfast and at the weekend, if I have time, I will often make a the classic Mexican egg dish Huevos Rancheros (literally: ranch eggs) or the middle-eastern equivalent, Shakshuka (David Lebovitz’s version with chunks of feta is my favourite).  Both involve making a thick, spiced tomato sauce and cooking the eggs in it – either on the hob or in the oven – so that when served, the yolk spreads throughout the sauce.  Can you think of anything better?

Baked egg, tomato and red pepper stew

Baked egg, tomato and red pepper stew

The baked eggs, tomato and pepper stew at No. 67 arrives with two slices of lightly toasted sourdough drizzled with olive oil, which I set aside for mopping up the remnants of the sauce later.  The egg, sat in the middle of the dish, is fresh and, although perhaps a touch overcooked for my liking, yields a little yolk into the sauce.  The stew itself is rich and thick, made with what I suspect to be the best quality tinned tomatoes, rather than fresh, which for this time of year will give a more substantial flavour.  A strong kick of black pepper and a smoky hint of paprika give it a deep flavour that works alongside the richness of the egg.

A very substantial and tasty breakfast.  If you want something that sets itself apart from the usual Eggs Benedict / Florentine / Royale, this could be the spot for you.

No. 67 Café and Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Pitt Cue Co, Soho

Pulled pork, pickles, bone marrow mashed potato and house bread

Pulled pork, pickles, bone marrow mashed potato and house bread

Without trying to solicit any sympathy for my current situation, I’m finding it very difficult to get back into the swing of things following my recent trip to San Sebastian.  Despite returning home two days ago, I seem to be unable to shake off that holiday laziness; the kind that is in no rush to get up in the morning and gives you decisions no more complicated than what to eat for dinner.  A distinct lack of pintxos bars and ice-cold txakoli in the Fitzrovia/Marylebone area has sent me on an internet-searching quest of where to buy Basque wines in the UK instead of getting on to more pressing matters like unpacking my suitcase and updating my blog.

On my last day in the office before going on annual leave, I met Claire for lunch.  I have a terrible, and much-documented, track record of trying and failing to get a lunchtime table at Pitt Cue Co., so was pleased when I turned up early one Thursday lunchtime to find that I was first in the queue.  Pitt Cue Co. is notorious for its queues and long waiting times – partly because the food is excellent, its reputation first built upon a successful food truck based on the South Bank (among other places) and partly because their dining room has a mere 30 covers, mainly in tables of two.

Having strategically skipped breakfast and ordering a Soho Sour whilst waiting for Claire, I was ready for as much BBQ as I could eat.  The cocktail was a tastebud-stinging blend of bourbon, amaretto and lemon juice with ice and a fresh cherry.  Perhaps not the best option for lunchtime, but good to waken up the senses after a morning of terrible office coffee. 

Green chilli slaw, pulled pork bun

Green chilli slaw, pulled pork bun

The focus at Pitt Cue Co., understandably, is on the meat.  On arrival, the waiter and I gave each other a little smirk when one diner asked if there were vegetarian options.  The meat is served, largely, in two ways:  in a meal or in a bun, both with a side dish.  The former has the meat placed on one of their trademark vintage white tin bowls with the side dish and a few pickles, the latter serves the meat in a shiny brioche bun.  Claire and I both opted for the pulled pork, mine in a meal, hers in a bun.  Pulled pork is one of those food trends of the past few years that seems to have sprung up on menus all over town, although few manage to do it well.  I am lucky enough to live with a man who takes his pulled pork-making very seriously (although it is perhaps a little spicy for my taste – he is the Chilli Fiend after all).  Far from the dried out offerings of many a BBQ restaurant across the city, it is clear that the pulled pork at Pitt Cue Co has been seasoned and slow cooked with a great deal of care – it is moist, flavoursome, well-spiced and has that soft, almost gelatinous quantity that allows you to devour a great deal without even noticing.

Of the sides, the green chilli slaw was tasty enough, but the name led me to expect a lot more heat than was actually delivered.  The star of the show, however, the ultimate dish of the day was the bone marrow mashed potato.  I had heard from many others just how good this mashed potato was, but had never tried it for myself.  A swirl of perfectly smooth and buttery mashed potato arrives in a small tin dish with topped with a ladle of incredibly rich bone marrow gravy and a slab of garlic butter.  Not one for somebody who is watching their weight, but for the rest of us, sheer heaven.  It’s like the mash and gravy you wish came with every meal.  Be prepared to share though, as your dining companion will not be able to resist dipping their bread in, not matter how much you try to edge the dish to your side of the table.

My only real complaint with Pitt Cue is that a lunch of this size will generally render you immobile for the rest of the afternoon.  You will also smell like a BBQ as no amount of washing your hands will really get rid of that smoky meat smell.  Best to save it for a day when you can head home for an old movie and a snooze on the couch.

Apologies for the poor quality of the photos – it is dark in there!

Pitt Cue Co., 1 Newburgh Street, London W1F 7RB

Pitt Cue Co on Urbanspoon

Two Weekend Lunches: Ganapati and Cafe East

Whilst working from home on Friday, head in my hands and surrounded by piles of paper, Ollie suggested that I take a break and join him for lunch.  I was about to say that I didn’t have time when he suggested Ganapati, so I closed my laptop and off we went.  There is no shortage of Indian restaurants in our little part of south east London, however Ganapati sits head and shoulders above the myriad of curry houses on Lordship Lane and the Old Kent Road and is a real local favourite.  Ganapati has recently set up a take-away kitchen around the corner from its main site just off the Bellenden Road, which has caused a great deal of excitement in many a delivery postcode.  They also have an extremely good value lunch deal.

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We started by sharing the vegetarian street snacks:  a plate containing two mysore bonda, potato and cashew dumplings fried in chickpea batter; and two vadai, ground chana dal with curry leaf and green chilli, shaped into patties and fried.  Both were perfectly hot and crispy without the greasiness that often accompanies fried starters.  We both agreed that we could not choose between them but, in hindsight, would have ordered a plate each.

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The vegetarian thali main came on a large metal tray separated into sections.  The tomato-based vegetable and lentil curry had a huge kick of spices and curry leaves and was far hotter than I expected – so much so that Ollie the chilli fiend kept trying to sneak forkfuls when I wasn’t looking.  The accompaniements were great, by far my favourite part of the dish was a sweet and slightly spiced beetroot pickle that complemented the heat of the curry perfectly.  Ollie ordered the kingfish curry, which has perfectly cooked soft pieces of fish in a coconut and tamarind sauce. 

Most of the main courses on the Ganapti lunch menu are under £6, which makes it an excellent value lunch, especially as the prices are considerably higher in the evening.

Ganapati, 38 Holly Grove, Peckham, London SE15 5DF

Having a rare day off together on Sunday, we went over to the Museum of London Docklands for the afternoon, where I have not been since my first year at Goldsmiths.  London’s history is so fascinating, especially that of the communities that lived and worked by the river.  I found this amusing piece of information about the women that worked at the fish market.

“Fish, espeically herring, was the staple food of the London poor.  In the 18th century, boats brought their catch bacl from fishing grounds off the coast of Norway, the Baltic and north of the Shetlands.  Women working at the fish market had a reputation for toughness and sharp language.  Some even earned additional income as bare-knuckle fighters.”  – The Museum of London Docklands

The museum is rather enormous, so by the time we got to the bit about rebuilding the docklands we had worked up quite an appetite, so headed over to Cafe East in Surrey Quays for a late Vietnamese lunch.  When you first get off the Overground, this seems like the last place you are going to find one of south-east London’s gems.  To get to it, you have to walk past all of the usual horrors you would expect to find in a retail park:  Frankie & Benny’s, Pizza Hut, generic-American grill restaurants et cetera.  However, when you get right to the back, there is a little unassuming brick hut that makes some of the best Vietnamese food south of the river – obviously the Kingsland Road is the go-to destination for pho but sometimes you just don’t want to go to Shoreditch…

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After the customary chuckle at the “We do not serve tap water” sign at the entrance, we took up a table and ordered some Vietnamese iced coffee.  It’s always a bit of a shame that they don’t offer hot coffee with condensed milk as other restaurants do, as I prefer this to the iced stuff.

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We started with an order of banh cuon, steamed rolls filled with minced pork and chinese mushrooms and topped with meatloaf and some delicious fried shallots; and the goi cuon, known to the rest of us as ‘summer rolls’, filled with pork and prawn.  Both were generous in size and very fresh.  The summer rolls were not overloaded with fresh mint, which many often are, so the other flavours were able to come through.  They came with a peanut sauce and a ferociously spicy chilli dipping sauce.

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I ordered the lemongrass pork chop, a sweet, slightly spicy, sticky sliced pork served over boiled rice, which was just the right combination of moistness and chewiness.  Despite being well-coated in the sauce, the flavour of the pork still came through well.  I thought a splash of the summer rolls’ dipping sauce might ruin it, but the pork actually benefitted well from the extra spice.  On the side were some innocuous looking pickles – shredded carrot and daikon – that were so perfect I wished there was more than the little pinch put on the side of the plate.  Ollie ordered the Pho Bo Hue – a slightly spicy variation of the traditional beef pho.  The beef brisket, cooked in the heat of the soup, were sliced perfectly thin and the slippery noodles and crisp vegetables made it a very substantial dish.  The little bowl of red chillies accompanying the soup were for the very brave only – even Ollie, who has the highest heat tolerance of anybody I know, only added three-quarters. 

I didn’t eat for the rest of the day after that.

Cafe East, Surrey Quays Leisure Park, 100 Redriff Road, London SE16 7LH.

Ganapati on Urbanspoon

Cafe East on Urbanspoon

Burger League: 7Bone

The bacon cheeseburger and chilli cheese fries at 7Bone

The bacon cheeseburger and chilli cheese fries at 7Bone

The  Restaurant:  7Bone, 110 Portswood Road, Southampton SO17 2FW

The Hungry Ones:

Left to Right: Gemma (The Boozy Rouge), Ollie (Burger King), Mike (Hungry Sotonian)

Gemma, Ollie and Mike ordered: Prince Charles is Overrated, Chilli Cheese Fries, Sipsmith Gin and Tonic, Kernel IPA, Corona lager.

The Scores:

My first review of 7Bone can be found here.

Nestled among the Indian restaurants and kebab shops of Portswood is an absolute gem: Southampton’s first gourmet burger restaurant: 7Bone.  My first outing there during its opening weekend back in October gave me much cause for excitement: there was a whole paragraph on the website about the meat, the drinks menu was excellent and you could rock up without a reservation.  Happy times indeed dining out in my hometown, which has not really seen anything of this kind before.  My first 7Bone experience was, on the whole, overwhelmingly positive, but I did long for a pinker burger and some bloody jalapenos.

We returned on Saturday night to celebrate my brother Mike’s 19th birthday in his favourite fashion: a big dinner and copious amounts of drinks.  It seemed that the word had got out about 7Bone as we were told that there would be a 35-40 minute wait for a table. Instead of being relegated to a cold queue, we gave them our number and went to the pub across the road for a couple of G&Ts to build up our appetites. Once seated, I ordered the same as my last visit: the bacon cheeseburger, chilli cheese fries and a gin and tonic.  Sipsmith’s Gin, I might add, which, alongside the beer option of Kernel IPA makes me think tht the proprieter is a bit of a Londonphile.  When the food came, I was very happy to see that the little opening-weekend snags had since been ironed out perfectly: my burger was delightfully pink in the middle and had a good amount of cheese and crisped bacon. The chilli cheese fries were not only covered in little green nuggets of jalapeno (hurrah!), but were housed in a far spicier meat chilli than before.  It is reassuring to know that this is a place that listens to their customers.

Perfectly rare

Perfectly rare

There is very little to fault about 7Bone: as I have said before, the burgers are the best that you will find in Southampton and are starting to sidle up alongside some of the London giants in terms of quality.  The value is excellent – £6.50 for a burger, £4 for an enormous portion of fries and a mere £3.50 for a gin and tonic makes for a very cheap dinner indeed.  The bill for the three of us came to about £44 – not bad considering they also kindly threw in a free ice cream for the birthday boy.  If I lived in Southampton, I would be here on a very regular basis.  That being said, the price of a return rail ticket from London Waterloo to Southampton Central is a mere £25 with a network rail card, so I’m sure I can be tempted down more often.

About Burger League

Burger League: Grillshack

The bacon cheeseburger a Grillshack

The bacon cheeseburger a Grillshack

The Restaurant: Grillshack, 61-63 Beak Street, London W1F 9SL.

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: Buttermilk chicken nuggets with smoked chilli mayonnaise, hamburgers with cheese and bacon, unlimited refills from the soda fountain.

The Scores:

When Grillshack first opened a few months ago, I couldn’t help but think that new burger restaurants of the same ilk were starting to reach their saturation point.  As I was about to file it into my ‘one day’ pile, I became intrigued by the revelation that they are the first burger restaurant in London where you order your food by app.  And the restaurant is a short walk from both Claire’s office in Mayfair and my office in Portland Place, so I decided to go.  I downloaded the app on my phone in advance, thinking I could save some of my precious lunch hour by ordering in advance, only to realise that you could not place an order until you were inside the restaurant.  There are also computerised screens inside for those who do not have a phone compatible with the app (which is free to download, by the way).  Once seated, we put our order through, paid by card, and within a few minutes at the most, a waitress appeared with two frosted glasses for our drinks.  We were instructed to help ourselves from the soda fountain and to revisit as many times as we liked.  Who doesn’t love a free refill?

Buttermilk chicken nuggets at Grillshack

Buttermilk chicken nuggets at Grillshack

Unfortunately, that was where my love affair with Grillshack ended.  First to arrive at our table was a bowl of buttermilk chicken nuggets, which were fine, if a little processed.  If there was any smoked chilli in the mayonnaise it would take a more sophisticated palate than mine to detect it.  The burgers arrived shortly after and were not up to the same standards as other nearby restaurants offering similar products and charging more-or-less the same.  The patties were nicely seasoned and cooked a little rare in the middle, but were quite thin and reminded me a little of McDonalds quarter pounder, and the buns would have been acceptable were they not a little stale. Just as we were about to send the burgers back for not containing any bacon, we found it: a few small chunks nestled under a slick of melted cheese.  We could overcome the shock of having no ketchup and mustard as standard as we could fetch some from the ‘help yourself to sauces’ stand, but we could not get past the fact that there were no pickles, either in the burger or as an optional extra.  Even McDonalds give you a sodding gherkin.

It’s a shame, as I really like the concept of the place.  As far as I’m concerned it has two big selling points: the convenience of the app and the bottomless sodas from a rather snazzy-looking fountain.  There is something that gives me the overwhelming feeling that this is a rushed jump on the bandwagon, rather than a serious attempt to add something new and innovative to an already crowded market.  People will go as a novelty and, due to its location, it will always attract tourists and passers-by, however it falls far short of its competitors and I would even recommend dining at the Byron across the street instead.  Hopefully in time it will improve, but until then, it’s unlikely I will be going back.

Grillshack 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