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

Burger League: Flat Iron

The Flat Iron Burger

 The Restaurant:  Flat Iron, 17 Beak Street, London W1F 9RW

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:  The Flat Iron Burger, dripping-cooked chips, roast aubergine, red wine.

The Scores:

Going to a no-reservations restaurant in Soho for lunch is always a bit of a gamble.  You could roll a six, walk straight to a table and be in for a fantastic lunch; similarly, you could roll a one, be turned away and end up at the local branch of Pizza Express.  Taking lunch early usually ups the odds of getting in somewhere good, but even this is risky – today we turned up at Pitt Cue at 12.15pm, a mere 15 minutes after opening, to be told there was a 25 minute wait.  Fine if you have the luxury of a leisurely day, impossible if you are on your lunch hour.  Luckily, there were several good restaurants around the corner and, being still early, we managed to nab a table at Flat Iron on Beak Street.

Ironically, Flat Iron is famous for the length of its queues.  Once word got out that there was a restaurant selling excellent £10 steaks, hungry Londoners could barely contain their excitement.  Once when I walked past, the queue had extended well past Carnaby Street.  Their main thing is the steak:  the name of the restaurant, in fact, comes from the only cut they sell:  the flat iron cut which, I found out after some online digging, is cut from the featherblade.  Occasionally, they add a lunch special burger to their menu, which is also £10 and made from the flat iron meat, and which drew us in from the street.  According to our waitress it had been voted ‘the best burger in London’, although she didn’t say by whom.

The burger was actually really, really good.  I found out this afternoon that the patties are deep-fried in beef fat, which certainly explains a lot.  Having never had a burger made with flat iron meat before, I had nothing to compare it to, but this meat was incredibly flavoursome.  The patty had the slightly rough texture of a homemade burger rather than the ubiquitous perfectly-round patties found in lesser quality restaurants.  It was perfectly pink in the middle and dark and crispy on the outside.  The burger comes with bernaise sauce and finely chopped shallot as standard and, controversially, comes without cheese.  Cheese is usually a must for both Claire and myself on all burgers, but the buttery richness of the bernaise sauce means that you don’t really miss it.  Even a thin slice of slappy cheese would be overkill.

Roasted aubergine, dripping-fried chips

The best part was the side dishes.  Claire, having been here before, was the expert and suggested we order both the dripping-fried chips and the roasted aubergine.  The chips require little more description than that they are fried in dripping – if, like me, this is your bag, you will be in heaven – light and crispy and soft in the middle.  The roasted aubergine was like a little dish of aubergine parmigiana with just the right amount of cooking.  Did I mention that we had a carafe of red wine too?  A bargain at £11 and very, very good.  It would have been rude not to.

About Burger League

Burger League: Kua’Aina

Cheese and bacon burger at Kua'Aina

Cheese and bacon burger at Kua’Aina

The Restaurant:  Kua’Aina, 26 Foubert’s Place, London W1F 7PP

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: 1/3lb hamburgers with cheese and bacon, sweet potato fries, coleslaw, ginger beer, Sicilian lemonade.

The Scores:

It’s actually been rather a long time since I had a burger.  I had planned to have a burger extravaganza during my Christmas trip to Southampton to settle up the 7Bone vs. Rockstone debate that I am currently embroiled in with my friend, however ate far too much festive food to even contemplate dinner out.  This will have to wait for another time.  On New Year’s eve, we were going to head over for a final BBQ at Will and Claire‘s before they leave their flat (and enormous BBQ behind), but rain and our hangovers prevented us from doing so.  Going out for a burger, or indeed anything indulgent in January, is always approached with some kind of apprehension as almost everybody seems to be on some kind of diet, however it is probably the best time to go as there are fewer queues.

Kua’Aina was bumped near to the top of my list due to its close proximity to my office.  I was also intrigued by the concept of a Hawaiian burger bar as there is little cuisine hailing from this little island state in London.  A couple of years ago I heard rumours of a pop-up Hawaiian omelette bar in Penge, although I never got to see it for myself and suspect it may be an urban myth.  The thought of pineapple and eggs together is almost too much to bear.  Pineapple with savoury food is quite an explosive topic among foodies and many are very outspokenly in the ‘no’ camp.  I have to admit that I am not entirely keen, although The Actress in East Dulwich does a pizza with black forest ham and chilli pineapple that I almost always order when I am there.  I am also enormously partial to cheese and pineapple on sticks.  Kua’Aina offers pineapple as a topping for their burgers, which I am not entirely convinced about, so steer well clear. Pineapple and beef?

Walking into Kua’Aina’s beach shack interior was an odd experience on such a miserably cold London day.  Once seated in the bright basement with its bleached wood walls, you would almost forget that the monsoon was beginning outside and Carnaby Street was flooding.  Foregoing the additional toppings of avocado and the pineapple, we opted for cheese and bacon burgers with shared sides of sweet potato fries and coleslaw.  When the food came, the first thing I noticed was the entire slice of grilled onion sat on top of the patty.  Cooked onion is actually a bit of a pain in the arse to bite through, so we wasted no time removing it and returning only a few rings to the top of the burger.  I also did away with the enormous slice of beefsteak tomato, but this is only due to personal preference.  The burger itself was quite nice – the bread, although not my favoured brioche, was fresh and the patty well seasoned.  It was a little well-done for my taste, but was still succulent and far from being overcooked.  I would have also liked some mustard and a gherkin.  Speaking of gherkins, which is fast becoming my number one topic of conversation, I am quite fond of the large dill pickle on the side of the plate that some restaurants give you to crunch on during mouthfuls of burger.  You could have added one at Kua’Aina for an extra £1.50, but if you choose not to or forget, what you get alongside your burger is a slice of carrot.  A huge wedge of raw, peeled, bog-standard English carrot.  Claire and I, almost in unison, picked them up from our plates uttering what the f*** is that?  Seriously – A CARROT. Whilst we’re on the subject of side dishes, those were completely divided.  The sweet potato fries were crispy, well-seasoned and very moreish but the coleslaw was a little bland.  Despite these little snags, all in all it was a good lunch, it’s just too bad we had to make the modifications ourselves.  A little heap of caramelised onions, a pickle on the side and a smear of mustard and it would be great.

And as Claire rightly said:  “Lose the carrot.”

Kua 'Aina on Urbanspoon

About Burger League

London Lunches: Savage Salads

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You may have noticed that I have stopped complaining about the lack of lunch options close to my office.  There has not been a sudden influx of eateries around White City, instead I have started a new job and have moved to an office in Portland Place.  As you can imagine, I was ecstatic about the myriad of lunch options within walking distance of my new desk and barely let the door shut behind me before I was planning which ones to get to first.  With my ever depleting bank balance in mind so close to Christmas, I have limited myself to one lunch out per week – very sensible for such a glutton – and have resolved to bring in packed lunches the rest of the time.  So far I have feasted on brie and lingonberry on rye and the best cinnamon buns ever at Marylebone’s Nordic Bakery and trekked over to Grillshack for a sneaky lunchtime burger.

Berwick Street Market is not really that close to my office – it is about a 15 minute walk – but it is the closest street food market and I have not seen one of those at lunchtime for a long time.  I love walking down Berwick Street as the old record shops, fabric stores and little cafes remind me of times of old. Ollie and I used to go looking for records before heading off to one of the pubs for a drink when we were first together.  The market has been there for many, many years, but the street food is a fairly recent addition.  It has been the springboard for some great outlets – Pizza Pilgrims, who now have their own restaurant nearby, and the fabulous Banh Mi 11.

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I stumbled across Savage Salads by accident when looking for a slightly healthier street food option.  The night before was all about gin and burritos and I was craving some nutrients.  The giant bowls of beetroot with quinoa and lentils with pumpkin called out to me from among the grill smoke and hot sauce, a shining beacon of health ready to revive my poor hungover body.  Savage Salads offer two options for lunch: a large salad, or a soup and salad, both priced at £5.  You can have any combination of the salads on offer which, I am told, change regularly.  In addition to this, you get a choice from the grill – on this occasion halloumi or chicken – and some pitta bread.  The chicken was beautifully spiced and the roasted pumpkin with puy lentils was a particular delight.  It was a very difficult walk back to my office knowing I had such a delicious lunch in my hand. I only just resisted the temptation to open the box and scoff it very ungracefully whilst dodging pedestrians on Oxford Street.  It was well worth the wait.

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

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