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.

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

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.