Background: an American upmarket McDonalds which opened last year amid much hype
Setup: efficient counter service – when you pay you get a buzzer that summons you to a hatch to collect your food…….although expect a long queue
Burger: disappointing – very thin, underseasoned and overcooked
Bun and accompaniments: the bun was slightly sweet and sticky, the cheese tasteless and the gherkin overly salty
Chips: crinkle cut, cooked from frozen but nicely crisp
Background: a pioneering pop-up that found its own home just north of Bond street in Autumn 2012
Setup: long, long queue, funky interior and hip waiting staff
Burger: soft, rich and cooked to order – thick and juicy
Bun and accompaniments: the brioche bun was light and sticky but strong enough to hold everything together; oily cheese and crisp bacon worked well together
Chips: skin-on maris piper – essentially good chip shop chips
Verdict: possibly the best burger in London – 9/10
Background: a fantastic craft beer pub in the middle of Pimlico wasteland
Setup: the pub has a franchise by forty burgers
Burger: a blend of 40 day aged rib eye ad 30 day aged rump – thick, nicely seasoned and served medium rare
Bun and accompaniments: a pretty conventional bun with a hint of sweetness, the cheese was rich cheddar and the gherkin firm and nicely vinegary
Chips: standard fries, freshly cooked
Verdict: well prepared, good quality meat: a fantastic partner to a malty porter or hoppy IPA – 7/10
Background: the kitchen at Brixton’s independent cinema
Setup: the menu at Ritzy includes diverse dishes from goat curry to poached salmon
Burger: poor quality (burger van style) meat that had been severely overcooked
Bun and accompaniments: the bun might have been bought in bulk from Lidl; it was served with industrial relish and raw sliced onion
Chips: cheap and cheerful, cooked from frozen
Verdict: hard to believe that food like this is still served in London……simply terrible – 1/10
Background: Kiwi pioneers of the London burger scene who have since bloated into a 60 restaurant empire
Setup: a choice of 13 beef burgers with some weird options like a Kiwiburger which comes topped with beetroot, pineapple and an egg
Burger: West Country Aberdeen Angus cooked to order: it had a nice texture but was a tad under-seasoned
Bun and accompaniments: I chose the Smokin’ Joe which was stuffed with tart dill pickle, sweet shallots and strong smoked cheddar, sandwiched within a sweet brioche bun
Chips: my thin cut rosemary fries would not set the heather on fire
Verdict: ubiquitous and slightly soulless, but still a decent burger – 6/10
Lamberts is a little neighbourhood bistro in Balham, serving good quality French food at bargain prices. They do a fantastic Tuesday to Thursday set dinner menu of £17 for 2 courses or £20 for 3. The menu is refreshed weekly and aims to use local and seasonal produce.
I started with a ham hock terrine with piccalilli – this was rustic and hearty; the tart, sharp piccalilli cut through the rich pork, creating a perfectly balanced dish.
For main, I had squash ravioli – something I have made at home many times – but the Lamberts version was vastly superior to my efforts: the pasta had a wonderful yellow hue, was nicely elastic and the perfect thickness so that it retained bite and wasn’t stodgy. The filling was slightly sweet but had been properly seasoned so that it wasn’t sickly. Fried wild mushrooms and sage created an earthy accompaniment to the squash. An extremely well executed dish.
As is often the case with good bistros, the dessert was rather disappointing – we went for a custard tart with nutmeg ice cream: the pasty was soggy, the tart not sufficiently creamy and the ice cream bland.
Verdict: dessert aside, my meal at Lamberts was fantastic – well worth the trip out to zone 3.
Ethos: great coffee and hearty lunch fayre in a relaxed atmosphere
Ambience: Scandinavian decor, lots of well dressed ladies who lunch
Ham: is a speciality, a whole Jamon sits pride of place on the countertop in the Somerset House branch
My flat white: nice milk treatment atop a mild but decent espresso 6/10
My sandwich: a pulled pork muffin – the meat was rich and tender, the muffin firm yet light 7/10. Grilled chorizo and black pudding sandwich are house specialities
Verdict: an understated cafe with decent coffee and sandwiches
Also see: London stuff.
Having had a great experience at Caravan Exmouth Market I thought I would try their King’s Cross outpost, which is in the refurbished Granary Square buildings near the station. Caravan is an Aussie run cafe/restaurant which serves up well-treated house-roasted coffee and has a brunch menu with lots of antipodean favourites like baked eggs.
Things didn’t start well – they don’t take bookings for weekend brunch and we had to wait about 45 minutes for a table, the front of house staff were a bit harassed and seemed very keen to turn people away with threat of an hour wait for a table. We were told that we couldn’t wait inside and have a coffee until our table was ready (in spite of the expanse of empty space in the back behind the servery), instead we were recommended to go to the bar next door for a drink until our table was ready. Unfortunately, their neighbour is an unfriendly and pricey French place – if you need to wait for a table I would recommend having a wander round Central St. Martin’s Art College instead.
I opted for a flat white (£2.6) which was pretty decent with dark chocolate notes and a slightly citrus finish (although it was served a bit cold). For me, it was not as good as the equivalent at the Exmouth Market branch – the baristas seemed to be over loaded (I guess they have over 100 covers) and were working in a bit of a mess. My girlfriend had a long black and unfortunately the Caravan house blend does not taste good without milk – it is overly bitter and doesn’t have enough depth in its aftertaste to stand up on its own.
As in the Exmouth branch, the king of the brunch menu is the baked eggs with chorizo, yoghurt and a tomato ragu (£9.5) – the eggs had been perfectly poached with a wonderfully runny yolk and generous helpings of paprika loaded chorizo. It came with beautifully crunchy sourdough which is great for mopping up the egg, yoghurt and chorizo oil.
I also sampled the soutsouki (garlicky beef) sausage with aubergine puree, poached eggs and yoghurt (£9) – there were generous dollops of puree which was made from very ripe aubergines without a hint of bitterness. The sausages were very rich and lean, the perfect complement to the slightly sweet melt in the mouth aubergine and the eggs were up to their usual standard.
Verdict: great brunch food, but be prepared to wait for a table at weekends and don’t drink their coffee black.
Bar Tozino advertises itself as a Jamon bodega (literally “ham winery”) and focuses on Iberico ham and Sherry. Iberico ham comes from black Iberico pigs which are large, very fat animals, meaning their meat can be cured for longer and it picks up a much more complex flavour. Acorn-fed Iberico (Jamon Bellota) is the most expensive cut because the pigs really love acorns and it helps them really plump out.
It is housed in a little dank railway arch on Lassco Ropewalk: I would recommend having a look at the funky antiques in the Lassco stores, which range from Prussian army uniforms to Victorian school tables and silver tea sets. The ropewalk, bookended by the fantastic 40 Malty Street has a weekend market which includes a great array of stallholders including Craft Coffee, Little Bird Gin, Monty’s – a Jewish deli with killer salt beef – and a chap that specialises in Mexican chilli paste.
Tozino isn’t just about ham though – they also serve some bog standard tapas which is mostly meaty (eg slow cooked pork shoulder; chorizo and chickpea stew) as well as some Manchego-heavy cheese plates. I enjoyed my squid ink risotto with chorizo – the rice was nicely cooked and the chorizo was good quality, not too chewy, with a slight paprika kick. Baked eggs with chickpeas was a very rustic dish which didn’t make the heart race – I’m afraid that the small kitchen at Tozino won’t be producing any ground breaking tapas, you will be better to focus on the Iberico.
And so to the main event: our Jamon, which was nutty, salty/sweet and melt in the mouth; as good as what I have eaten in Spain. The ham needs to be treated with care and cut in a very particular way to avoid it becoming very chewy, but the staff at Tozino really know what they are doing. They also have a great selection of Sherries and the bar staff are very generous at letting you have samples before you order. I went for a medium dry Amontillado which, despite its initial tartness, had a ripe sweet finish.
Verdict: good value Iberico ham that deserves to be washed down with some crisp, dry Sherry.
Tonkotsu has been the hot place for London bloggers since it opened last summer – it has received a whopping 51 reviews. As is the trend these days, they take no reservations and have a stripped down menu that concentrates on ramen and gyoza (Japanese dumplings). Ramen is a Japanese broth which uses pork stock as a base (Tonkotsu apparently means “pork bones” in Japanese) then adding noodles and lots of other bits and bobs like bamboo shoots, egg or pak choi. There are 5 Ramen on the menu (£9-11) with one cold, chicken, tomato, pea and pea shoot based dish that can be transformed into a veggie dish on request.
I opted for the Tonkotsu which included pork belly, egg, bamboo shoots and bean sprouts. The pork belly was of varying quality and a bit too fatty, however the noodles were fantastic – light, sticky and certainly hand-pulled. The quality of the stock has been discussed on quite a few blogs and I would tend to agree with most of the comments I have read: the stock was a tad thin and tasted as if it had been watered down with chicken stock. Good pork stock should be thick and gelatinous, but the Tonkotsu broth was weak and runny.
Service: The waiting staff were mostly antipodean on our visit; they were a tad brusque but generally efficient.
Atmosphere: It isn’t a very warm or comfortable setting and is not really a place to linger after your meal.
Verdict: Great noodles but their pork stock needs some work.