Saturday, 8 June 2013

Byron hamburgers, Waterloo

This mouth won't wait for no photo.

Unfortunately, this isn't a post about the brand spanking new Byron hamburgers in Manchester city centre, but it is a post about Byron hamburgers on the Cut in Waterloo! A trip to London for bank holiday weekend saw a total of three burgers consumed, a feat I have not achieved since living above GBK for near on a year (OH, I miss those days).

Sitting on the sunny Southbank, drinking a bottle of Veuve my clever friend spotted in a local offy mispriced at £15.99, saw us very quickly in need of some grub. I remembered there's a supposedly decent gastropub nearby in the shape of the Anchor & Hope, but sadly found it closed. Lo and behold: Byron hamburgers sat directly opposite.

I've been to Byron before and happily found this visit as pleasant as the last. The interior is bright, the service speedy and friendly, and the food pretty damn good. I'd been to Meat Market the same weekend, and whilst I thoroughly enjoyed my double patties, I was secretly quite pleased to find a more refined affair. I can never resist a burger with cheese and bacon (as the bite mark in my photos evidences), and this one was as delicious as usual!

Burger, open. (2013) Please note: this image is due for submission in the Turner Prize 2014.

Possibly my favourite thing about Byron burgers is the MASSIVE gherkin that accompanies them beef things (saying burger over and over is getting repetitive). The piece of pickled cucumber you see before you is actually only 1/20th of the entire thing*. Immense. I think the burger was probably slightly more cooked than I would have eaten at home, but it was actually so tasty - slathered in mature Cheddar and bacon - that I didn't really notice. (Oh, and the booze again might have had something to do with it...)

Chips innit.
Skin on chips are usually a delight, and these were no exception. My friend and I shared a portion along with our burgers, and if your tummy has been filled with bubbles prior to eating, I'd say this is plenty. However if you're more of a Big Ma(n)c kinda guy or gal, then you might want a portion to yourself.

Not to forget this delightful bottle of house red, named on their list as "good" (the wines range from good to best, so the one we had was essentially their worst). At £14.95, it may be a little pricier than some expect for a burger joint, but it went down a treat. Having shared this bottle with just one friend, I'd perhaps recommend others don't: 375ml is quite a lot to consume with just a burger for company, and it resulted in me nearly missing my train back up north... The online menu suggests a great selection of bottled beers, which is music to my ears. Next time, I'll skip the overwhelming amount of red juice and opt for a Kernel instead.

The Byron I visited is located on the Cut, so it's a perfect spot for pre or post-theatre dining if you're visiting the Old (or Young!) Vic, and it's also handily located within walking distance of Waterloo - bypass the overpriced Upper Crust and get yourself a real meal if you've got time to kill round here.

I know Byron may not be as cool or trendy as some burger bars, and is probably a tad overpriced when you factor in fancy toppings like er, spicy BBQ sauce at £1.25, and chips at £3.25, but I like this place: I can visit Byron and enjoy a burger in a grown-up environment, without worrying about the sexist undertones of the menu. I also hear their milkshakes are winners (must work on increasing stomach capacity), if feeling adult ain't always your thing.

I'm yet to visit the new Byron site in Manchester, and sincerely hope I won't be disappointed. From reading Bacon on the Beech's write-up, it sounds like I'm safe. Phew!

*Note: this may be a slight exaggeration. I was suffering from cheap champagne induced sunstroke at the time.

41-45 The Cut
London SE1 8LF
020 7633 9882

Byrons on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Koya, Soho

Minimalist Japanese canteen interior at Koya

When Jamie and I recently visited London for our three year anniversary, we found ourselves disappointed by the restaurants we had been looking forward to the most. Koya, nestled in our dining itinerary between Michelin star dinners and over-hyped neighbourhood restaurants, ended up being our favourite meal. Having received recommendations from the foodie fountain of knowledge, Hoss, and the similarly wise chap whose blog writing I miss, FTTBYD, we were pretty confident it would be a winning lunch.

Knowing that ramen is suddenly all the rage in central London, I was concerned we'd have to wait for hours to get a table. Fortunately, my usually reliable sense of direction meant we ended up further away from Koya than we were in our original starting point, so we arrived not long before the end of lunch service, when the hipsters had already been fed. We had a brief wait but managed to bag a table right by the door. A note on doors: if I am ever lucky/foolish enough to open my own drinking/eating establishment, I may abolish doors. Lately, I find myself always placed at the table nearest them (which obviously means the owners think I look like a trustworthy person, or are taking bets on whether I'll do a runner). I get cold easily and sometimes I don't wear enough layers when eating out, as I naively expect restaurants to be warm. Any suggestions as to how punters will enter my bar/restaurant would be greatly appreciated as I am quite adamant that doors are a no-no.

Moving away from my ramblings - which Jamie will surely edit out - and on to the more important matter of the food. This was a toughie: we would be dining again in around 6 hours but I wanted to eat everything on the menu. Bloody rational Jamie prevented this, which I still hold against him, as I now have to wait 'til my next trip to London to eat more of that beautiful Japanese food. We started with one of their specials: char sui pork with apple and fennel salad. This was sooo beautiful, I could have eaten this ten times over. The salad perfectly balanced the fattiness of the pork although the carparccio-like slicing stopped it from feeling too artery-cloying, perfect!

Next up: I managed to persuade Jamie to go for the fried tofu with spring onion udon. I succeeded in this by initially suggesting the udon with mushroom and walnut miso then downsizing to tofu. (Despite being the most knowledgable non-chef person I know when it comes to food, Jamie has a child-like approach to mushrooms: "ew!" he screams when I try and put them near him). I wanted to try one of their simpler dishes to see whether it was still delicious: it bloody was! Their noodles took noodle to a whole 'nother level. (I'm not talking Dane Bowers' first band).

Super pink and juicy - just how I like 'em!

We also opted for another of their specials: (our favourite!) Hanger steak with juniper berries and pickled wild garlic. This was perfectly cooked and really tasty. Eaten with plain white rice, it was delightful. As hanger steak has a gamier taste than most other cuts of steak, the juniper - a traditional accompaniment to venison - worked really well and the pickled garlic was... green. And pickly.

Unfortunately, there's no more food for me to talk about. Again, blame Jamie. Despite being half his size, my eyes are definitely twice as big as both of our bellies, so they left feeling disappointed that they hadn't been better fed, though my stomach was feeling pretty sated. The service was generally attentive and discrete, and I absolutely LOVED the host who continued to seat people with 30 seconds to go before the kitchen closed. I know this because he kept telling people, "yes, you can come in but you have to order within 3 minutes... 2 minutes... 1 minute... you can't even look at the menu, you just have to order now!". He was brilliant.

If you haven't been to Koya and you're planning on visiting central London some time soon, GO!! Jamie and I loved it so much we immediately went in search of the nearest Japanese supermarket (which, incidentally, is only about a five minute walk away), and bought ourselves a huge packet of bonito flakes just so we could make our own udon broths at home. (We did, and they were good, but not as good as Koya...)

Cute dog running to Koya to get his lunch.

49 Frith Steet, Soho
London W1D 4SG
020 7434 4463

Koya on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Yalla Yalla, Soho

On a recent trip to London, I met with my friend Hannah for some early evening drinks and dinner. I had left the decision-making of where to dine entirely up to her, which isn't something I usually feel comfortable with (note: not just for Hannah, but for anyone!). She'd assured me that she'd been there before and that the food was good. I'd been informed it was Lesbanese street food, so I was expecting something a little different to the loud music and bright lights of Yalla Yalla, hidden just far enough behind Oxford street to give it some breathing space from the hoards of tourists beating each other up with their huge Topshop and Uniqlo bags.

We decided to choose entirely from the mezze section of the menu as we are both secret fatties (see 2007: us as 16 year olds at Leeds festival eating Dairy Milk chocolate bars dipped into hot chocolate for breakfast) and like to try as much as is humanly possible. We were quite sensible this time and managed to reign ourselves in, which is also a good thing given the amount of pitta you end up filling-up on.

I was disappointed that they were out of Jawaneh Meshoue (chicken wings) but were told we could substitute it for another dish on the menu and have it at the same price. Cheapskates that we were (especially after drinking £8 cocktails on Wardour street), we went for the most expensive dish on the menu, the Lebanese equivalent of fritto misto - Makale Samak - sitting on a bed of crispy aubergine and garnished with pomegranate seeds, the latter a great trick in pronouncing something Lebanese. (I really wanted to try the chicken livers but Hannah's a wimp when it comes to stuff like that, so I'll blame her for what followed.)

At first, this dish was tasty, but as the batter wilted and the grease became more evident, it actually wasn't that nice. It was also a huge portion, particularly in comparison to the other dishes (normally, not a bad thing, but we couldn't finish this).

Baba Ghannouj - aubergine dip - was as good as any I've had. Garnised with mint and the compulsary pomegranate seeds.

Soujoc - essentially spicy sausage - insisted I order it. This lovely little morsel of meat can be found in an array of cuisines, from Turkish to Bulgarian. I first had it simply fried in Northern Cyprus with halloumi and pitta. This one came with tomatoes and parsley and was delicious; a dish that's hard to mess up.

Halloum Meshoue - oh, how I love halloumi. There isn't a better - or more fun - cheese. The squeaky sound it makes when slightly overcooked ensured a welcome introduction to cheese when the only other stuff I'd eat as a nine year old was mild cheddar. I'm sure this was probably fairly bog standard stuff but it was bloody tasty.

Apologies for the slight shake on the camera. Of course, we had to order their falafel, although I sort of wish we hadn't. They were huge, and definitely filling, and the accompanying salad was rather tasty but they weren't impressive, particularly not for a Lebanese restaurant. I'd rather eat the ones from Go Falafel at the end of Rusholme; now they do a good falafel.

The best dish of the night, and also the most unphotogenic, were some lovely little pastries - Samboussek Lahme - filled with lamb, onion confit and roasted pine nuts. These were delicious and I could have eaten several of them.... think: a dry lamb tagine encased in pastry. Greggs need to get these on their menu now, ha! I should also mention that you are given pitta and pickles as standard.

The food wasn't expensive, but nor was it cheap for food of this level. It seems that Yalla Yalla has caught on to the street food trend and is aiming itself at Londoners who don't fancy eating in a rundown Lebanese cafe (like the one by Marble Arch, whose name I forget, but which does amazing falafel). In general, it felt to me a bit like a Lebanese Wahaca, though not as good. I would go back, but only before my evening meal just to try an amuse of their chicken livers, if I have a willing accomplice.

Yalla Yalla
12 Winsley Street, London
020 7637 4748

Yalla Yalla Beirut Street Food on Urbanspoon

Friday, 13 July 2012

Pollen Street Social

An artist's impression of Pollen Street Social

We couldn't think of a more fitting way to start our food blog than with a celebration. Jamie turned 26 last week and the surprise venue for the birthday meal was Jason Atherton's Pollen Street Social, which won Time Out's best new fine-dining restaurant award last year. We have admired Jason since he won Great British Menu in 2008 and subsequently became a judge for the show (albeit a very stern one); so you can imagine our excitement at finally being able to try one of his menus.

Compared to somewhere like Pied A Terre, where we went two years ago for the same occasion, Pollen Street Social is more sleek and showy yet maintains a modicum of intimacy, despite the seemly endless processions of staff. Admittedly, it was surprisingly busy for early evening on a Tuesday; a good indicator of things to come, we thought. We were sat at a table from which Anna had a bird's eye view into the kitchen and near to which was the epicentre of all the waiter's activity - so no complaints there!

It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that we would have the tasting menu. So, after a brief perusal of the à la carte menu, we opted for the 7-course menu à degustation and ordered a couple of cocktails to whet our appetites. Anna's 'Curiously Clear Manhattan' was, well, curiously clear, being as it was made with unaged whiskey; and my Dry Martini (made, incidentally, with Death's Door - a very fine American gin) was expertly mixed.

Our amuse-bouche was a trio of olives, cod brandade, and the airiest of pork scratchings (imagine, bizarre as the image is, a pork skin meringue, only lighter). The meal began with the Cornish crab vinaigrette: a perfectly dressed crab with wafer-thin pear, pickled cauliflower and a small mound of peanut powder. Delicious. And the delicate crab wasn't overwhelmed due to the mildness and sparsity of the other ingredients.   

Scallop Ceviche

The same cannot be said of the scallop ceviche (above). It's always a pleasure to eat scallops (in fact most seafood) in a fine-dining restaurant since the best quality ones are usually prohibitively expensive to buy from the local fishmonger. When grilled, scallops take on a fuller flavour due to those lovely Maillard reactions; when 'cooked' in yuzu, the flavour is so subtle that even radish and cucumber drowned it out. The micro-planed horseradish snow was, however, sublime.

Slow-cooked egg

Next came a dish that could not fail to please. Chorizo. Patatas Bravas. Slow-cooked egg. Baked Potato Foam. Combine those four ingredients and you have in my humble opinion some of the best comfort food ever made. The best thing is getting all the flavour of a buttered baked potato without any of the stodge. 

Turbot next. More excitement at having a fish that is also particularly expensive. Perhaps the novelty of the flavour combinations was the reason for my not enjoying this dish. The fish was slightly under-seasoned but it was the coco beans with their pungently perfumed taste that really got in the way. The fish was well cooked, the bisque delicate and flavourful, the courgette nicely al dente, but my palate could just not comprehend those strange little beans.   

Cornish Turbot

The choice for the meat course was then between the duck or lamb. So, naturally, we chose a different dish respectively in the interest of culinary adventure.

The lamb (below) came with aubergine puree and olive reduction and a unappetizing swirl of brown stuff (what were they thinking!). It was described by Anna as tasting like a Turkish kebab. No bad thing obviously, but not much more interesting than that.

Salt marsh lamb

The duck was better but we couldn't help feeling a lack of imagination when it came to the main courses (and that the standard had started to slip in the kitchen). The braised leg and breast were both tender and moist, the purple sprouting broccoli looked a bit like felled trees, the mandarin and clementine jus wasn't as sharp as expected, and the jersualem artichoke was incredibly salty. 

Creedy carver duck

Hooray for the desserts! The food that came before could have been of the most mediocre sort and the meal would have been rescued by what followed. 

A beetroot and strawberry sorbet of the most exquisite texture was just what we needed after such rich main courses. The sorbet was adorned with the tastiest English strawberries I've ever had (apparently due to our mild spring) and a basil ash meringue (still not sure what this is, see photo).

Beetroot and strawberry sorbet

 It's always great to finish a meal with a panna cotta or a crême brulée - the creamy, unctuous mouthfeel is so satisfying. This time the panna cotta, a white chocolate and coconut version, was the best dessert we've had in recent memory. Served in a bowl, which is apparently customary since if it could support its own weight it would be too set, the rich panna cotta was dotted with mango, candied pistachios and topped with lemongrass granita. I can still taste it now. Simply amazing!  

White chocolate and coconut panna cotta

We ordered coffees feeling not as uncomfortably full as anticipated but then were undone by the smallest and cruelest of petit fours. We were presented with a single, tiny, innocent Madeleine that tipped us both over the edge. Damn you madeleine! Sluggishly we paid up and waddled to the nearest bar for a nightcap. 

The consensus among critics is that Jason Atherton is at the top of his game in London - a strong start and a stellar finish meant it certainly lived up to expectations, with informal and welcoming service throughout. If you can't or don't want to plump up the cash for the tasting menu, there's a very reasonably-priced lunch option.

A satisfied customer

Pollen Street Social on Urbanspoon