Murray Blake

London food and coffee writer


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Honest Burgers & Smokehouse Chiswick

Honest Burgers
Unit 12, Brixton Village, SW9 8PR
Nearest tube: Brixton
020 7733796
Honest Burgers Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
website; map

“…..these burgers are outstanding. Served rare and round, mine was a shocking pink; yielding, slightly salty and full of gloriously savoury juices.” The Evening Standard

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The first Honest opened in Brixton in 2011 – founders Tom Barton and Phil Eeles had set up a successful catering business in Brighton, then Tom moved to Brixton and the idea of Honest Burgers began to form.  The pair teamed up with Dorian Waite, an experienced restaurateur who previously worked for Bills and Strada and the three of them set up a company, jumping at the chance to take a unit at the then rapidly gentrifying Brixton Village.  They pooled together a total of £7,500 to get the restaurant off the ground and set up the kitchen in the little retail unit.  Honest was an instant hit, opening at the beginning of London’s burger craze and receiving rave reviews from the burgeoning London blog scene.  They opened a branch in Soho the following year, before securing a tidy £1m from Santander which financed outlets in Camden and Potobello.    The Honest stable now boasts 10 restaurants and they have just raised £7m from a private equity firm, Active Private Investment, so expect further expansion very soon.

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They serve burgers and nothing else: you can choose from beef, chicken and veggie options (£7-11.75).  The beef burgers are made from 35-day, dry-aged British steak from Yorkshire-based farm the Ginger Pig, which supplies seven butchers across London (there is one in nearby Clapham). I chose the Honest – a beef patty with bacon, red onion relish, smoked bacon, mature cheddar, pickled cucumber and lettuce – all for £10 including chips.  Their patties are served medium rare as standard and mine arrived nicely pink. The steak mince was well seasoned though not overly salty and the burger had been rested before serving so it was succulent, but not bloody.

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The glazed brioche bun held up well to the juicy meat and the toppings all did their job, the slight sweetness of the red onion relish rounded things off nicely.  Their chips are handmade in the restaurants, with hints of potato skin and seasoned with rosemary salt, served perfectly crisp they are probably the best chips I have eaten in any burger place in London.

Verdict: A close second to Patty & Bun in the race for my favourite burger place, I hope they can maintain these standards as they continue their rapid expansion 8.5/10

Smokehouse Chiswick
12 Sutton Lane North, W4 4LD
Nearest tube: Gunnersbury
020 38196066
Smokehouse Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
website; map

“The kitchen shows a real affinity for meat cooking in particular, and I found that the Korean spices and pickles are just what is needed to elevate the food out of Fred Flintstone territory.” Andy Hayler

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This is the sister restaurant of the wonderful Smokehouse Islington – it opened this April on the site of the former Hole In The Wall pub.  It is another creation from precocious executive chef Neil Rankin (who I have already written up a little biography of here in my review of the original Smokehouse) and is part of the Noble Inns group which includes the Pig & Butcher and The Princess of Shoreditch.  Their menu is similar to Smokehouse Islington but the beer selection is less interesting – possibly because of the more sleepy location they serve soapy country bitters rather than contemporary Bermondsey brews.  This is definitely a place for barbecue geeks – they have a ‘Ole Hickory Pit Smoker’ and Robata grill process; the shortrib bourguignon has received some great write-ups.

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After a passable starter of potted shrimp with sourdough toast and a sub-par hake ceviche (both £7),  we moved on to the main event – the Sunday roast.  They offer pork (£16), lamb (£17) and beef (£18) all served with roasted carrots, parsnips & potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower cheese, Yorkshire pudding & gravy.  We chose pork and lamb roasts – both were served in hulking portions, crowned with an impressive Yorkshire pudding.  As expected, the quality of the meat was excellent and the cooking spot on – the pork had a bit more character than the lamb but I enjoyed both.  The impending meat sweats were tempered by the good amount of veggies on the plate – the highlight being the slightly caramalised carrots.  I was disappointing by the potatoes, which could have been crispier – I think they had been cooked earlier in the day and then reheated in the oven.  The gravy was unremarkable but decent enough – it should have been thickened for a bit longer, but the cauliflower cheese was a real success: it was rich, sticky and decadently creamy.

Verdict: a decent roast in homely surroundings – perfect for a winter’s Sunday afternoon 7.5/10

 

 

 

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The Smokehouse

The Smokehouse Islington
63-69 Canonbury Road, N1 2DG
Nearest tube: Highbury & Islington
020 7354 1144
Click to add a blog post for Smokehouse on Zomato
website; map

“This is the place to show us why man discovered fire” Fay Maschler, The Evening Standard

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Neil Rankin, replete with tattoos and baseball cap, was one of the poster boys for London’s barbecue revolution, working at the helm of Pitt Cue, John Salt and, more recently, Bad Egg.  I was surprised to learn that he has only been cooking professionally for 7 years: he studied acoustic engineering at university and worked as a sound engineer for a few years before running a highly successful sandwich shop franchise in Scotland.  He then took an intensive cookery course and cut his teeth at a number of fine dining restaurants, including Chez Bruce and Rhodes 24, before having a barbecue epiphany as one of the founder chefs at Barbecoa.  This led to his appointment as head chef at Pitt Cue.  Rankin teamed up with Noble Inns to open the Smokehouse last year and has received widespread critical acclaim, including a score of 8/10 from Lisa Markwell in The Independent and 4 stars from Time Out.  A second Smokehouse opened in Chiswick this weekend.

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There is an a la carte menu at lunch and dinner throughout the week and on Saturday evenings, as well as a shorter brunch menu on Saturday mornings and Sundays (offering French toast for £10, a burger at £15, black pudding and pork hash (£10) as well as a few other dishes).  They have an impressive craft (mostly keg) beer collection, with a wide range of options focusing on London brewers, including Beavertown, Fourpure and Kernel (along with some stronger beers from the excellent Scottish brewers Harviestoun).  Having heard that portion sizes are very generous we skipped starters and moved straight to mains, beginning with smoked pork belly, tattie scone, black pudding & apple, beurre blanc  (£18).  The large round of belly was served on top of the tattie scone and black pudding, it came decorated with a slice of chicory which added a hint of much needed acidity and bitterness, counteracting all of the rich, fatty flavours in the dish.  The pork was only lightly smoked which allowed the nutty complexity of the belly flavours to come through, and the gelatinous fat was wonderfully sticky.  The black pudding was peppery and its crunchy texture combined well with the pork.  I thought the beurre blanc brought the dish together well – I was worried that it might make the dish overly rich, but whilst of course being very buttery, it had been made with a good slug of wine which added sharpness.  The only disappointment was the tattie scone which had been made with too much flour and then fried for too long so that it was chewy and doughy.

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Keen to try one of Rankin’s recent experimentations with Korean food, we followed with smoked duck, kimchi, hash cake & fried egg (£18).  Again, the smoking of the duck was spot on, it added interest and depth to the meat but didn’t mask it’s natural flavour; the kimchi had a nice chilli kick and brought much needed tartness to all of the bold flavours.  The hash cake was crispy and well seasoned, it brought the dish together very well.  Service was friendly, hip and efficient.

Verdict: Neil Rankin is a master of the barbecue 8.5/10

 


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More reviews – no. 3

Smoking Goat
7 Denmark Street, WC2H 8LZ
Nearest tube: Tottenham Court Road
map
Click to add a blog post for Smoking Goat on Zomato
The food at Smoking Goat isn’t finger-licking good, it’s fist-and-wrist-and-possibly-elbow-and-knee-licking good.” Marina O’Loughlin, The Guardian

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The smoking goat opened last autumn and its rough and tumble, messy Northern Thai street food has received a lot of attention since then, with favourable reviews from Marina, Fay and even a minor royal.  Head chef Seb Holmes was poached from another Thai kitchen, the Begging Bowl in Peckham, and is joined by Gino Tighe who previously worked at The Quality Chophouse.  It is situated in a former Soho dive bar – space is tight with around 40 covers, most of which are seated around the bar  and the smell of the smoky wood ember barbecue permeates the whole room.  They employ the requisite no bookings policy and score extra hipster points for having no phone or website.  A lot of reviews have focused on the queuing, darkness and noise, but I didn’t encounter problems with any of these: I arrived early (just before 7pm) and was seated straight away; for me, the atmosphere was fun and buzzy.  The menu is short and sweet with a handful of choices for each course – starters are up to £6 and mains £15-20.

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We started with the popular fish sauce wings (£6) – these were the biggest wings I have ever eaten (monster chickens?) and came deep fried, smothered in sesame seeds and sticky, crispy batter.  The meat was dark and packed with flavour, with only a subtle hint of fishiness: it was very juicy and simply fell off the bone.  Our next dish was a special of roasted whole scallops (great value at £3.50 each) – these were served in the shell complete with their coral.  The scallop had been carefully prepared and cleaned so there wasn’t any grit and the cooking was bang on: the flesh was soft and silky, with a slightly smoky finish.

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For mains we had slow roasted duck legs (£15) and pork saddle chops (£20).  The duck legs were firm and juicy, encased in a rich, sticky glaze and paired well with a lemongrass and kaffir lime dip.  The pork saddle chops were the day’s special, the meat having arrived freshly in the morning – the chops had been chargrilled and were firm, glutinous and lightly smoked. Som tam (green papaya salad) offered some light relief from all the sticky proteins – it was loaded with chilli and laced with zesty lime and sweet palm sugar.  We washed all this down with pints of Gamma Ray American Pale Ale by Beavertown which were full of vigorous hops with a nice tropical fruit finish (all for an eye-watering £6.75 a pint).

Verdict: great value Thai food in a hip setting 8/10

Luc’s Brasserie
17-22 Leadenhall Market, EC3V 1LR
Nearest tube: Bank
020 7621 0666
Luc's Brasserie on Urbanspoon
website (it plays an annoying tune); map

Luc’s Brasserie has been fattening up pinstriped Lloyd’s underwriters for many years, situated at the heart of Leadhall Market they serve traditional French bistro food in a relaxed setting. They offer a set price lunch menu of 3 courses for £19.95 (which is fairly reasonable given its central location)  and an a la carte with starters up to £9.50 and mains for £12.75 to £17.50.  Dishes include many French staples, including baked Camembert, steak tartare, duck confit and toulouse sausage.

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I went along for a mid-week lunch, starting with smoked haddock gratin with mussels.  This arrived very promptly and must have been pre-assembled and then finished under the grill, but the fish was fresh, firm and full of flavour; the breadcrumbs were crispy and nicely laced with cheese.  I really enjoyed the sauce which was creamy and rich (I think it might have been enhanced by a drop of fish stock).  A simple but very pleasing dish.

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Feeling unadventurous, I opted for the half of roasted chicken with frites for my main course.  Again, this arrived suspiciously quickly: the leg and breast had been separated from the body and were clumsily presented along with an old-school sauce boat of gravy.  The meat was a tiny bit dry but still fairly juicy and the skin was perfectly crispy.  The gravy was reasonable and the frites were thinly cut and freshly made. Service was fast, efficient and generally friendly.

Verdict: reasonably priced French bistro food 6.5/10

Bleecker burger
Spitalfields Market, Unit B, SP 4 Pavilion Building, E1 6EA
Nearest tube: Liverpool Street
Bleecker St. Burger on Urbanspoon
website; map

Zan Kaufman’s route to London foodie fame is an unusual one.  She started out as a New York corporate lawyer, but her love of food led her to take a second job in a Manhattan burger restaurant.  Then she decamped to the UK (her husband in British) and, inspired by KERB founder Petra Barran, bought a truck and converted it into a food van.  Her Yankee style burgers (made with rare breed meat from The Butchery in Bermondsey) quickly received rave reviews, including a 10/10 from the Burger Addict blog.  She opened a permanent space in Spitalfields market in February (although the burger van is still out and about) and I went along there for a mid-week lunch. They have a small unit near the main entrance of the market and a few picnic tables of seating around – beware, the market is covered but still outdoors, so it can get pretty chilly there.  The menu is short and sweet with the only offerings being a cheese or veggie burgers (£6), a bacon cheeseburger (£7), a double cheeseburger (£9), and the mighty Bleecker Black (£10).

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I couldn’t resist trying the Bleecker Black – a double cheeseburger with black pudding, American cheese, onion and hot sauce.  The burgers were smaller than I imagined and were cooked wonderfully medium rare though well coloured on the outside, the meat was properly seasoned   The bun was of the more traditional seeded variety (rather than brioche as is the trend these days) – it was lightly toasted, had a nice light consistency and stood up very well to the burger juices and sauce.   I enjoyed the black pudding which was moist and peppery, with a hint of crunch although it’s flavour did dwarf the burger meat somewhat.  Surprisingly, I really enjoyed the “American” cheese which was sharp and slightly sweet, it melted nicely into the burger meat and bun.

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On the side I had “angry fries” (£4) which come smothered in blue cheese and hot sauce – they are made from Maris Piper potatoes and are cut freshly (skin-on) every day.  The fries were nicely crispy, liberally salted and the little hints of skin added texture; the hot sauce wasn’t too hot but worked well with the punchy blue cheese.

Verdict: great quality burger and fries, probably my second favourite in London behind Patty & Bun 8/10

 

 


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Frank’s Cafe

10th Floor, 95A Rye Lane, SE15 4ST
Nearest tube: Peckham Rye
Franks on Urbanspoon
website; map

Peckham, the home of Del Boy, is now cool with the Bussey building housing dubstep nights and an open air cinema; fashionable bands like Mount Kimbie call the area home.  Frank’s cafe has been a fixture of Peckham nightlife for a few years now – it is housed on the top of a Brutalist multi-storey car park which looks grimy from street level but offers fantastic views over London from the top.  The space is open, with rows of picnic benches covered by tarpaulin and it has a temporary, almost festival feel to it which is enhanced by very dodgy toilets.

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The design is very clever, with wooden beams bolted to the concrete floor supporting the entire structure: it was created by Practice Architecture who have Anthony Gormley’s daughter Paloma at the helm.  Frank’s is a few minutes’ walk from Peckham Rye station – look out for the concrete block/cinema (or alternatively you could follow the nearest trail of hipsters).  It gets very busy and you need to be at a table to order food, so I recommend arriving early in the evening and banking a spot at the one of the benches.
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They have Meantime beer on draught and a selection of cocktails, including a Negroni at £5 and an Amaretto Sour for £6; they will also open a decent bottle of wine for you at £18.  The menu is mostly barbecue with a handsome looking grilled sweetcorn at £2.5 and a smoky plantain at £3.  We also had a rich ox heart kebab which came on a pitta bread with yoghurt covered red cabbage, this comes highly recommended at £5.8.  The meat was tender and tasted similar to roasted topside of beef – it was nicely complemented by the tangy red cabbage and light, sharp yoghurt.
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Barbecued sardines were served whole: they were very meaty and smoky, enhanced by a spicy harissa dip – they would go very well with a malty Meantime beer.  The food is simple and well prepared, but the main reason to come here is the view: you can look over the whole of the Square Mile, see the sun set in West London and the lights come on in the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf.

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Verdict: great beer food to complement an astounding view.

[It will be closing for the winter on September 29th so get there as soon as you can!].

Also see: SS and COD.


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Duke’s Brew and Que

33 Downham Road, Hackney, N1 5AA
Nearest tube: Haggerston

020 3006 0795
Duke's Brew and Que on Urbanspoon
map; website

Duke’s is a trendy barbecue restaurant in Hoxton, rather oddly situated on a pretty rough residential street in a former pub.  It looks like the hostelry was gutted and then the restaurant was half assembled over the top, with furnishings provided by a bunch of art school drop-outs – decorations include a pram, antlers, eclectic lampshades etc.  Before I talk about the food, I should note that Duke’s is the home of Beavertown craft brewery (they brew in the kitchen) which is an up and coming presence in London’s burgeoning brewing scene.  I tried the Smog Rocket which is an earthy Porter with a decent kick at just over 5%.  If you like your beer then I would recommend sampling the Beavertown stable which also includes three pale ales and a bitter.

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Duke’s specialty is beef ribs (£19.95) which are sourced from Ireland and smoked with hickory wood: these were chosen as one of London’s top ten dishes by Time Out.  The menu has all you would expect from a barbecue restaurant – burgers, steaks and pulled pork hold center stage, with mac & cheese, beans, pickles and okra on the side.

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I opted for the Duke’s greatest hits platter (£23.50) with beef and pork ribs, pulled pork, coleslaw, pickled onions and garlic bread.  The beef rib lived up to the hype – it was sweet and succulent with a caramelised skin which was very tasty – the flesh close to the bone was less flavoursome but had absorbed some of the gelatinous texture from the bone which kept it interesting.  I was slightly less impressed by the pork rib – the sweetness of the barbecue sauce dominated the flavour of the meat, but the texture was very nice.  The pulled pork was reasonable although not as accomplished as the equivalent at Pitt Cue Co.  The platter came with a vial of homemade barbecue sauce which was really wonderful – sharp, mustardy with toffee hues and a hint of vinegar.

Verdict: Duke’s serves up decent barbecue food in an unpretentious way, washed down with great beer.

Also see: the grumbling gourmet, The Cheesy and London Chow.


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John Salt

131, Upper Street, Islington, N1 1QP
Nearest tube: Angel
0207 359 7501
John Salt on Urbanspoon
website; map

John Salt is a hipster  bar on Upper Street with food prepared by a former Pitt Cue Co. chef – this means that the menu consists of lots of smoked meat and not a whole lot of namby pamby vegetables.  We went for Sunday brunch – the menu consisted of various kinds of hash (chicken, pork and beef) all served with Yorkshire pudding, roasted vegetables and gravy.  They are certainly aiming at the hangover cure market because the food was piled high and was anything but subtle.  We started with crab and fennel on pork skin which had a nice mix of textures: sickly and crunchy pork contrasting with clean, sharp fennel and very fresh crab meat.   The pork belly hash was a mountain of food – the centerpiece was beautifully melt in the mouth pork belly, with slithers of crispy crackling sprinkled around it; the co-star was a Yorkshire pud which was light and had a decent texture.  This was served with roasted vegetables which were a tad overdone but still very tasty (I think they had been cooked in beef dripping) – parsnips, carrots and potatoes and a thick gravy.

Verdict: simple, hearty and very unhealthy comfort food.

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Crab and fennel on pork skin

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Pork belly and shoulder with black pudding

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Also see: Fay Maschler and The Independant.


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Bodean’s

169 Clapham High Street, SW4 7SS
Nearest tube: Clapham Common
Bodean's on Urbanspoon
website; map

Bodean’s is an American barbecue chain restaurant, its first branch opened in 2002, long before London’s recent barbecue boom, and it now boasts four locations (Clapham, Soho, Fulham and Tower Hill).  The Clapham branch is very close to Clapham Common tube station and it is decked out like an American diner, with large booths and a fleet of pretty waitresses.  There are lots of big screens showing US sports from noon to dusk – the website has a schedule of games (for example, tonight you can witness the spectacle of an ice hockey match between Nashville (an unlikely place to have an ice hockey team?) and Anaheim.  Having eaten at the fantastic Pitt Cue and the rather disappointing Beard to Tail, I was very interested to see how the “old man” of the London barbecue scene would shape up.

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The menu focuses on ribs and pulled pork, but also strays into burgers, steaks, tex-mex and creole.  But there are none of the more unusual bits and pieces that appear in hipster barbecue menus (bone marrow, trotters, ears etc.).  They have a decent range of American beers, with popular names like Samuel Adams and Blue Moon, as well as some craft beers like Old Dominion stout from Delaware.  I had the slow-smoked beef brisket chunks (“burnt ends”) and pulled pork, which were served with chips and coleslaw (£13.95).  The portion size was very generous and would have possibly been enough for two to share.  The pulled pork was a tad dry, even though it had been recently smothered in barbecue sauce – I think it had been waiting to be plated up for quite a while.  It was not a patch on the pulled pork I had at Pitt Cue.  The brisket was also a tad dry and rather chewy in places, I think it may have been cooked a bit too quickly (but the meat was full of smoky flavour).  The chips on the side were disappointing and tasted as if they had been cooked from frozen.  So, all in all I was underwhelmed by my meal, the standard of American barbecue food in London has improved drastically over the past year or so, and I think Bodean’s may have been left behind.

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Verdict

Bodean’s is a good place to watch American sports and the food is fine, but for a proper barbecue I recommend the place that puts the “queue” in bbq: Pitt Cue.

Food 2/5
Atmosphere 3/5
Service 4/5
Value 3/5

Also see: fatmanclaphand, Nom Nom and Clapham Living.