A BBQ Epistle


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A friend recently confessed to having subjected himself to an overdose of Man v. Food resulting in a hankering for BBQ and asked for me for some restaurant recommendations in London. I reproduce my response below in case it is of any assistance to fellow meat lovers seeking US style tastiness in London.

“Hey chief!

BBQ – I reckon the very best is to be found at Pitt Cue Co, near Carnaby Street. It started up in a van on the Southbank and managed to get enough bunce and backing to take on a tiny place in the centre. It is really very good food, generous portions and well priced. http://www.pittcue.co.uk/home/

Another place I have heard very good things about is The Rib Man. (http://www.theribman.co.uk/) He is at Brick Lane Market on Sunday mornings and apparently does kickass ribs with unbelievably hot sauces. The guy that runs it is a butcher that does the rib thing in his spare time. I think you would approve of the profane names of his sauces: http://www.theribman.co.uk/hot-sauce.php

If you let me know which other places you were considering, then I can let you know my thoughts, but Bodeans is a chain (although it does have its fans) and Spur has unlimited ribs and wings at times, but I suspect that given the price, they are all straight from the freezer (although I do not know that).

Other things worth considering on the Man v Food line are:

Meat Liquor/ Meat Mission – These guys are the daddies of the gourmet dirty-burger movement. They have 3 restaurants, but you only really want to concern yourself with MEATLiquor (http://www.meatliquor.com/) or MEATMission (http://www.meatmission.com/) as the third (MEATMarket) is more of a takeaway. I have heard that MEATMission, in a former mission chapel, even takes bookings, which is quite rare amongst the burger flippaz!

Pile of tastiness at MEATLiquor

Pile of tastiness at MEATLiquor

Tommi’s Burger Joint – Really basic, but excellent burgers. Served quickly, no reservations and well worth £8 of anyone’s money for burger and fries. In the posh burger heartland around Wigmore Street and the cheapest by far, but up with the best. http://www.burgerjoint.co.uk/

Cheeseburger at Tommi's Burger Joint.

Cheeseburger at Tommi’s Burger Joint.

Patty and Bun – Lots of fuss about this one. Haven’t made it in yet, but is very highly rated by a number of food blogs I follow and whose food judgement I respect. http://www.pattyandbun.co.uk/

Ritas – Have heard good things but is a bit of a schlep from me in Ealing, so not been there yet. Tasty looking food though. http://www.ritasbaranddining.com/

Speak soon buddy.



The most important meal…


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I love fry ups. I really do. To me, the Full English is one of the greatest plates of food anyone is likely to eat to set them up for the day. Don’t get me wrong, there are other decent breakfast dishes on offer: a bowl of porridge on a cold morning before work, kippers (so long as they are cooked in someone else’s house!) and boiled eggs take quite a lot to beat them, but the daddy of breakfasts is the fry up.

And do you know what is really good about the fry up? It is really easy to do pretty well.  So long as you have some decent ingredients to play with, then you are laughing.  I have been made excellent fry ups by people who are really not very accomplished in the kitchen, but come a hungover Saturday morning, they can bosh out a plate of fried tastiness far beyond their ordinary skills with a pan.

Which is perhaps why a bad fry up is in my opinion one of the most heinous crimes which can be committed against food. It is easy. Get it right.

The White Hart, Cornwall Street, Waterloo

Which leads me on to a cold Saturday morning earlier this month. A friend and I headed to The White Hart for an early lunchtime fry up.  We were promised a “Traditional Breakfast – Gloucester Old Spot sausage, smoked bacon, black pudding, two fried eggs, beans, bubble & squeak baked tomato, grilled mushroom & brown toast with butter” This sounded like it would hit the spot and so we ordered one a piece.

We got some drinks in and waited for our food to arrive. And waited. And waited. 45 minutes later, our toast arrived. The butter was melted with only an ever diminishing iceberg of solid butter floating in the pool of yellow liquid. It was like a butter based version of Frozen Planet where they show the thawing of the Arctic as summer approaches (minus all the penguins and polar bears).

Then, 5 minutes later the breakfasts arrived. It was a shambles. The eggs were solid and my breakfast companion accurately described the yolks as being like “hi-viz squash balls”. The bacon (streaky, which I would argue has no place in a fry up, but that is a matter of interpretation I suppose) and sausage were overdone. The beans had clearly been sitting around under hot lamps and had developed a skin which could have been made into a purse. It was, in short, an abomination.

Now, to give you a bit of background to this choice of venue, I was at Law School around the corner and have very fond memories of Friday afternoons spent wasting time after lectures doing our best to forget the knowledge recently acquired in tutorials. Halcyon days. Et in arcadia ego… ish. I even recall the food being decent if not spectacular at lunch.

As such I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and brought the matter to the staff’s attention. To be fair, the manager was very nice about it. He sent the food back up to the kitchen and said that they would re-cook our breakfasts. He apologised and even comped us a round of drinks which was more than he needed to do in the circumstances.

And then our breakfasts came back. The same ones. The breakfasts which we had sent away as being overcooked and having stood under the hot lamps and which, in order to ‘remedy this’ they had taken our plates upstairs, placed them under the hot lamps again and then dolloped some more beans over the leathery skin. Brilliant.

I could have wept. £7.25 absolutely wasted.

Don’t misunderstand me; The White Hart is a great place to go for a few beers, but for the love of all that is great about England, I urge you to steer clear of breakfast. Just have a pint of stout and some wasabi peas (delicious and nutritious).

Cafe Nell, Northfields Avenue, Ealing

Luckily however, there is a happy ending to this tale.

What a Full English should be - The Biggest Breakfast at Cafe Nell

Cafe Nell on the Northfields Avenue in Ealing offers what in my experience is consistently one of the best breakfasts in London.

The cafe itself embodies, as a breakfast buddy has put it, everything that is good about a caff and a cafe. It is always busy and has a nice mix in the clientele.

My favourite thing to order is Nell’s “Biggest Breakfast” which is biggest in the sense that it is the biggest set breakfast on offer but, whilst generous, it is not such an enormous plate of food that makes you want to roll home and get straight back into bed.  A breakfast is supposed to be a catalyst to start your day, not something to start and finish it simultaneously! That said, the late and greatly lamented Belle & Herbs Cafe in Heaton, Newcastle is the one place where I have truly enjoyed being beaten by the vastness of a fry up.

For £5, the Biggest Breakfast offers: 2 pieces of back bacon, 2 juicy, meaty sausages (from the excellent Grasmere Farm, who drive up to the local farmers market each Saturday), 2 hot-lamp free fried eggs, mushrooms, tomato, hash brown, two rounds of toast and a mug of tea or filter coffee. (Note also the perfect Alan Partridge “sausage as a breakwater” technique to contain the beans!)

Every time I have ordered a breakfast at Nell’s it has been speedy in arriving at the table, perfectly cooked and pleasantly served. The result? I always leave full, happy and proud to be an Englishman. Quite frankly, I couldn’t ask for more from a breakfast.

Why is Nells so good? Simples. Decent ingredients, cooked well and served quickly. The White Hart should take note.

Jonny’s Gastronomic Christmas Feast


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One of the nicest things about Christmas is the way in which it seems to breed traditions, not just those the great festive traditions of tree and turkey or mince pies and mulled wine, but also those traditions which develop within families or groups of friends.

One such tradition which I look forward to each year is my friend Jonny’s Gastronomic Christmas Feast. I don’t remember exactly when or how it began (even though I have managed to make to every one so far!), but I think it was that one year at his Christmas drinks event Jonny put out some tasty meat alongside the crisps, clementines and mince pies. The next year, there was the first appearance of the vertically roasted chicken and each subsequent party grew in delicious meaty complexity.

This year, Jons really pulled it out the bag. After him and his housemate having spent what must have been a small fortune at The Ginger Pig, the spread included the now obligatory vertically roasted chicken, an unbelievably succulent leg of lamb and, most impressively of all, a beautiful piece of home cured salt beef. Goose fat roast potatoes and bagels, gherkins and mustard completes the plate. Jonny, like me, leans towards the Frankie Boyle school of vegetarian cooking, but for a card carrying carnivore it was a real treat (although to be fair I think there was a vegetarian dish, but understandably I paid it no heed).


My only slight concern is where Jonny can go next year… a platter of Whitstable oysters or a tank of live lobsters perhaps? Who can say. What I can say is that I will do my damndest to make sure I’m there!

Honest Burgers, Brixton Village


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As a committed West-Londoner it takes a good reason to lure me into the south, but as I was heading to a Halloween house party south of the river it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take full foody advantage of my south of the river visa. Having read a lot about Honest Burgers, I had high expectations and I am very happy to report that I wasn’t disappointed!

My friend and I couldn’t get a table straight away, so our names were chalked up on the waiting list. As we had a bag of beers with us (Honest Burgers is bring your own) the loitering time passed quickly and we were seated within about 15 minutes.

We both went for the ‘Honest Burger’ which is made with 35 day aged beef from The Ginger Pig and topped with cheddar and bacon. It cost £8 and came with a serving of (the now legendary) handcut triple cooked chips in rosemary salt. The meal was delicious!

First thing to mention is the size of the burger. There is a trend for restaurants to produce enormous burgers requiring skewers to keep them in one piece. Whilst this may be and indication of generosity of topping etc., it does nothing for the eating experience. Honest Burgers offerings are a good size, but still compact enough to pick up with both hands. The bun is soft and slightly sweet which is a joy to eat acnd which absorbs any juices which escapes the burger. The meat is beautiful – rich and textured, cooked to a perfect medium rare. The flavour I’d quality beef comes through in every mouthful and is not overpowered by the Bacon or mature (but not too mature) cheddar. If forced to criticise anything, I could take or leave the onion relish/chutney as I don’t thinly it quite fitted in. However, my dining companion was all for the onion, so will put that down to personal preference.

Included in the price were triple cooked rosemary salt chips. Delicious. Simple as. The rosemary gives the chips a slightly roast potato vine and would no doubt gladden the heart of Mr Oliver. I think that they were perfectly engineered as an accompaniment to some meat, but would be too strong on their own. Which they weren’t. So I’ll shut up.

All in all a great experience. I would happily head over again, and anyway, even if you can’t wait to eat at HB (and I would urge you that you do wait), Brixton Village and the neighbouring market have plenty of other options.

Loved it. Will be heading there again soon.

All the trimmings…


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The line which my father appears to regard as the representing the zenith of his wit was spoken over Sunday lunch whilst on holiday when I was a child. We had ended up eating at a carvery, probably after my parents had driven around for hours searching for somewhere vaguely suitable for lunch as my brothers and I became increasingly irritating. My father, upon approaching the servery was asked by the 17 year old kitchen hand: ‘Bit of crackling, sir?’ to which my father replied ‘I don’t know how you can say that with a straight face!’ My father then moved on to be served with his vegetables high on the heady thrill of his immense witticism, whilst the youth with the carving knife, presumably ignorant of the ‘Carry On’ films and other 1960s farces, stared blankly ahead and returned to hacking at the grey lump of pork gradually turning into boot leather under the hot lamps….

Despite this experience ensuring that I can’t eat it without that lingering residual embarrassment of an 10 year old boy watching his dad tell a terrible joke, I have always really enjoyed roast pork with cracking. My mother has always been able to produce faultless crackling (much to her annoyance as she hates the sound of people eating said cracking!), however I have never had the same consistency with my own efforts. I think that part of this is down to the fact that I do not have a fan assisted oven, which I am convinced really helps the process. However, not content to be a bad workman blaming my tools and having purchased a joint of pork for Sunday lunch with my friends I decided to to all guns out to get decent crackling whilst at the same time having a crack at a new method of making the other crucial trimming to any roast, the gravy.

Trimming 1 – Crackling

The process started the night before by pouring a full kettle of boiling water over the skin of the joint, which had already been scored. This apparently helps the skin begin the process of coming away from the meat. Next, I rubbed in a few tablespoons if cider vinegar into the meat abstract left it uncovered in the fridge over night. The dry environment of the fridge helps draw out the moisture from the skin.

The next morning I rubbed in some salt into the scores in the akin and returned to the fridge for a couple of hours. An hour before roasting I removed the joint from the fridge and patted it down with some kitchen towel. Just before putting it into the oven, I added a a little bit of sea salt and a twist of pepper. I chucked it into a very hot oven for 20 minutes before turning it down for the rest of the cooking time. The result was very good (if I say so myself!). Nice, crisp crackling with still a little of the flavour from the cider vinegar coming through from the fat. Tasty crunchy goodness!

Ready to go into the oven.

Trimming 2 – Gravy

After a recent gravy disaster I tried out Jamie Oliver’s vegetable trivet method of putting some roughly chopped stock veg and a bulb of garlic under the meat during roasting, then mashing the soft roasted veg with some flour and using that as the base of the gravy. The method can be found here. I added a glass of a medium white wine for a little bit of mild acidity and then chicken stock before reducing slightly and passing it through a sieve.

This method certainly produces some tasty gravy. The gravy produced is very flavoursome but is a little more like a stew gravy than a traditional roast gravy in its flavour. The moisture from the veg stops any juice from the joint burning on the bottom of the roasting tin which I have had happen in the past and which can lead to a bitter gravy. I would recommend the method though as it is incredibly easy and the result is well worth the (minimal) effort required.

Pub Grub


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I have spent some time recently considering the sort of food served in our pubs, following a very mixed day of pub grub experiences. My friends and I met up for a couple of pints at The Queen’s Head, near Kings Cross on Sunday for a few pints. The Queen’s Head is a very good pub which stocks excellent and varied beer (much of which is locally brewed) and real cider. The pub is well worth a visit for the drinks alone, but what stood out to me as truly brilliant was the fantastic lack of choice of food.

This may not immediately sound like a good thing, but I would like to give a little context. Earlier in the day we had searched for somewhere for some lunch and were utterly dismayed at the poor quality and even worse value for money of food in one of the pubs we looked at. I will not name it, but for convenience, shall refer to it at the Acme & Anchor. The Acme & Anchor is in a nice location in London and is owned by a large pub company. They offer fish and chips for £13, which is frankly appalling (Rick Stein only charges £12, and I know whose I would prefer!) Also on the menu was very tired-looking burger and chips for £8, which was interesting as that was also around the amount I would have paid not to eat it.

The Queen’s Head is quite different. The menu is short and consists of various plates of cold meat or cheese (for about £8). They also do a ploughman’s and Melton Mowbray pork pies are sold whole or halved. Best of all, my friend Phil ordered a cheese sandwich. It cost £4 (I think), and consisted of generous chunks of good quality cheddar between freshly cut slices of white bloomer, with a small ramekin of chutney and some crisps on the side, all prepared by the barman behind the bar. Hardly complex, but I can’t think of many things which I would rather have to fill me up after a few pints than that.

Pleasingly, it would appear that this trend of simple cold food or small bites is on the increase. The Craft Beer Co in Clerkenwell (not a million miles away from the The Queen’s Head) does not serve food, but merely offers pork pies and scotch eggs. A bold move, but it is exactly what one feels like eating in a pub where every day is a beer festival!

Now, please don’t think for one minute that I am advocating this approach in all pubs. There are many pubs who serve really excellent food, The Havelock Tavern in Brook Green, is a personal favourite. Indeed with Michelin starred pubs in and outside London, it has been shown pretty conclusively that ‘pub grub’ does not need to be the greasy burger and frozen food offering which so many of the big pub companies seem to think it should be. Good pub food is incredibly important, and many places, even some owned by the evil pub-cos, do serve well cooked, local, tasty food, but I really wish that those who can’t, don’t when it comes to planning a pub’s menu.

All I am saying, I suppose, is that rather than getting an untrained chef churning out freezer food or overstretching themselves to try and serve stone-baked pizzas or shoe-leather-like roast dinners, many pubs could do far worse than merely ordering in a truckle of good cheddar, buying a few loaves from the nearest bakery and slapping some pickle in a pot. There really is no shame in doing something very simple, very well.

Bite Size: Lomito at Moo Grill


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I went out for lunch with my colleagues earlier this week to Moo Grill on Cobb Street, a place which I had wanted to visit since I heard youngandfoodish on BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme. Moo apparently serves up one of London’s best sandwiches, the Argentine Lomito.

I opted for a Lomito Carne Completo. This is a fresh ciabatta filled with steak, ham, cheese, salad and a fried egg. Permeating through the sandwich is a lovely garlicky chimichurri sauce. The overall result is good: I found the steak a little tough but pretty tasty and the combination of ingredients work nicely together.

The service is excellent and those who are with friends, who are very thirsty, or who have something to compensate for can order a vast (just shy of a litre) bottle of Quilmes. A good in, eat, out and back to the office within an hour (just!) place.

Tasty, fresh and very friendly. Best in London? Not sure I would go that far, but it is a damn good sarnie!

My Lomito cost £6.50.

Update – 28 October 2011

I recently returned to Moo Grill for lunch with my boss and again went for the Carne Completo Lomito. This time it was even better and the steak was more tender and the Chimmichurri more garlicky! Excellent stuff. It also came with very tasty homemade skin-on straw fries which went down a treat. I am certainly coming around to the fact that this may well be a true contender for London’s top sarnie!

Bite Size: Roast Pork at The Shoe Inn, Exton


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Whilst on a walk with some friends near Winchester last Sunday, we stopped for a bite to eat at The Shoe Inn, Exton. My walking companions had a variety of dishes, all of which looked delicious, but the focus of this mini-post was my superb roast pork.

The meat was astonishingly good and was from an organic Old Spot. Crisp, not overly salty crackling, very moist tender meat and soft melty fat. The menu said the cut of meat was loin, but it had a good amount of darker meat which certainly added to the flavour of the dish. Crisp and fluffy roast potatoes sat in a very flavoursome  white wine gravy (definitely a gravy, not a sauce or jus) and the veg on the side were baby carrots (Chantenay, I think), nicely cooked broccoli and some kale. We ate on the terrace outside the front of the inn and I washed it all down with a pint of ‘Horizon’ from the Wadworth BreweryAll round, one  of the nicest roasts I have had whilst eating out, and for just over £10. Can’t go wrong really…

(Sorry that there are no photos with this post, but my lunch didn’t hang around long enough to get photographed!)

I’m in Devon…


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Enjoying a refreshing ale and some low carb pork crunch in Ringmore.

Having just returned home from a few days away in Devon, I wanted to share some of my holiday tasting notes. During the trip we had some lovely food: tasty Mexican dishes at the South Devon Chilli Farm, some excellent pork from the farm shop at Riverford Organic and some quality pork scratchings and real ale at The Journey’s End, Ringmore.

However, for me, the stand out food in a trip of gourmet delights were River Teign Mussels at The Sea Trout Inn, Staverton. The Sea Trout serves the mussels in a Thai-style broth and they were by far the best mussels I have had in England and possibly anywhere. Normally I shy away from Thai-style mussels as I find that the mussels are either overpowered by the spices or the coconut milk is too rich. The mussels at The Sea Trout avoid both of these pitfalls. The broth is not overly rich or too chilli heavy and is clearly made from quality fresh ingredients as mine contained fresh kaffir lime leaves, coriander micro-herbs and a whole stalk of lemongrass. My other fear with ordering mussels in a restaurant is that they are cooked in a large batch and then scooped into mussels pots before being warmed through and served, by now crumbly and tough. Again I needn’t have worried as these mussels were perfect and arrived freshly cooked, succulent and full of flavour. I may be displaying my ignorance, but I had not heard of River Teign Mussels before, however I shall certainly be keeping an eye out for them from now on.

I washed my mussels down with a pint of Palmers Best from Palmers Brewery in Bridport which was a very respectable ale, although I did wonder why no Devon ales appeared on the pumps. The Piglet had roast lamb, which was lovely and tender but lacked a little flavour (although it would be fair to say that after strong flavours of the mussels my tastebuds may not have been in top shape to appreciate the lamb). The vegetables with the lamb were generous and good, but again the roast potatoes and gravy didn’t quite come up to the standard set by the veg. I hope this doesn’t sound as if the lamb was a bad dish, rather that it was not all it could have been and that it did not come up to the very high standard set by the mussels.

Service at The Sea Trout was excellent, with the right balance between friendliness and politeness and it was also extremely efficient (despite a small staff and busy restaurant).

Overall it was a very enjoyable meal and is well worth the trip for mussels of this quality.

Our meal cost about £30 for two main courses and a drink each.

Pork Pie for a Post-nuptial Picnic


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The Piglet and I were recently invited to the wedding of some friends who, rather than assembling their family and friends for their wedding day then disappearing off on their honeymoon straight away, decided to throw a picnic the following day to relax with their (hungover) guests. Now, for me, a picnic is incomplete without a pork pie, and having for some time wanted to make my own it seemed like the perfect opportunity to spend a day in the kitchen and get properly porky.

I decided to use Nigel Slater’s recipe for the pie. I must confess that I find Nige’s television appearances insufferable, however in written form he really is up there with the best, especially when pastry or other baking is involved (his chocolate brownie recipe in The Kitchen Diaries (pp 325-327) is world beating!). Mr Slater says of the pork pie making that is was one of the most satisfying things he has made and I must agree.

First, find your meat for your stock and filling. You will need two trotters, a kilo of boned pork shoulder (reserve your bones), 250g pork belly and 250 streaky bacon (unsmoked). Because of the trotters, this is a butchers job, so don’t waste your time heading to the supermarket, as I can’t say that I have ever seen trotters stocked by even the better supermarkets. In any event, it is extremely gratifying to get the knowing ‘you-sound-like-you-know-what-you’re-doing’ nod from your butcher when ordering the trotters.

Rather than try to write a poor-man’s version Mr Slater’s recipe here, I thought I would simply record a few observations and you, dear reader, can print the recipe from the Guardian website yourself for full details.

Don't forget to ask your butcher to give you the shoulder bones.

I would definitely agree that the filling should be chopped by hand. I tried to whizz up the pork belly and some of the bacon up in a food processor, to have a variety of textures in the pie. This worked pretty well and I think the resulting paste was useful in binding the mix and spreading the fat nice and evenly throughout the pie. I would suggest that if you do the same that you remove the skin from the pork belly before using the food processor.

Another point which I would change if I were to make the pie again would be that I would leave it to cool for longer before adding the jelly stock. My pie had a lot of tasty-tasty meat juice swilling about in it when it came out of the oven. If left to cool for a little longer then I think that a) some of the juice may have been absorbed back into the meat which can’t be a bad thing and b) I would have been able to get more jelly into the pie. Obviously you do not want to leave the pie for too long as the jelly is there to help preserve the meat, but I think that a couple of hours (tops) should help improve the pastry:meat:jelly ratio.

Leave to cool before adding your jelly stock

All in all, I would thoroughly recommend making your own pork pie. It was extremely good fun, very, very porky and went down a treat, even whilst battling a real peach of a hangover!