American

A Hoxton Hog: Dinner at the Ginger Pig Café

Copyright of The Ginger Pig Café. Sourced from The Ginger Café website

Copyright of The Ginger Pig Café. Sourced from The Ginger Pig Café website

Cuisine: American

Address: 231 Hoxton Street, N1 5LG

Area: Hoxton

Nearest Station: Hoxton

Tel.: 020 7749 0705

Website: http://thegingerpigcafe.com/

Pricing: Cheap-Medium

Good For: Carnivorous eating, Casual dining, Filling meal, Chilled atmosphere

My brother was a very lucky man recently. Why, I hear you ask? He had not one, not two, but THREE meals to celebrate his recent milestone birthday: one with each parent and one with friends. Now, with the parents, he predictably chose some rather, erm, ‘grown-up’ *cough* pricey *cough* experiences (Balthazar and Hawksmoor) to be treated out to, but his friends opted for something a bit more within budget and a bit more down with the kids.

And so it was that on a Wednesday night we found ourselves traipsing down Hoxton Street – a street that one of the group used to live on some years back, and had fondly dubbed Crack Alley back then (or something similar – you know me with my drugs and thoroughfares, all interchangeable and mix-and-match) – being led to a ‘secret’ location.

The Ginger Pig Café must be a well-kept secret then, because it was fairly quiet that Wednesday. The few couples there who were probably looking forward to a nice, quiet and intimate meal may very have been a bit put-off by the arrival of a boisterous birthday crowd (mwahahaha). On the other hand, I quite liked that we could very nearly say that the place was ours that night.

Simple and parsimonious are the two words that spring to mind when I remember the setting: tiled floors, straightforward wooden chairs and tables, and little baskets/tins of condiments on each table. The Ginger Pig is trying to evoke a bit of an old caff feel – it is a ‘café’ after all, duh – and of course this fits in with the whole small-time, chilled neighbourhood atmosphere of the place. Perfect, I guess, for local Hoxtonites (and interlopers such as our good selves) to call home.

The only beer they serve on tap is Meantime – a good brewery, but it would have been nice to see some of the local alternatives being given some face time. The wine selection looked quite interesting, drawing on a lot of French and Italian choices from what I can remember, and covered a good price range, and was attractively put on show (a downside I could think of this was that other diners and even your date would be able to see very clearly exactly how much you paid for your wine… but that’s just the snob in me coming out now).

Does what it says... on the wall

Does what it says… on the wall

And so, we have an English caff, with French wines, serving… American-inspired food? I settled for the hickory home-smoked pork belly with chips, pickled gherkins and coleslaw, which was good as it sounds. It was a lovely chunk of pork belly, cooked tender and juicy on the inside and charred and crispy on the outside; these guys seem to care about the meat they dish out to hungry diners, and it is a care that extends to a well-balanced coleslaw and fluffy chips.

Beauty and the beast

Beauty and the beast

It was therefore a shame that the barbecue sauce seemed so… clichéd and generic. They could have gone with something a bit more exciting or daring (a bit Japanese, with teriyaki? A bit Italian, with apricot and sage? Or what about Filipino – OH YES ADOBO OR TOCINO MARINADES OHMIGOD THAT WOULD BE GOOD), but instead they opted for an average barbecue sauce that was squizzed rather sloppily all over the place. I’m sorry, but to me it seemed like they splashed mediocrity over an otherwise brilliant dish.

"...like they splashed mediocrity over an otherwise brilliant dish"

“…like they splashed mediocrity over an otherwise brilliant dish”

The rest of the table headed straight to the ‘home made ground beef’ section to make their choices. Now, call me a bit dim (actually, please don’t), but a brief glance at the description did not lead me to immediately assume that what the Ginger Pig actually meant were burgers. After all, there was no mention of a bun anywhere, which seems to be a big no-no for many burger joints these days that talk about their brioche buns etc.

A rather quaint and traditional 'home made ground beef' dish

A rather quaint and traditional ‘home made ground beef’ dish

I only made the link between ground beef and burgers when they arrived on the table, stacked high and with knives thrust deep into them to keep their burger integrity. The general opinion was that these were very good burgers – cooked with as much care as went into my pork belly, with an excellent selection of fillings (the El Panchito with Monterey Jack cheese, chorizo, guacamole, red peppers, chimichurri and chipotle sauce was a winner of a burger), but rather interestingly they were categorised as “amazing pub burgers”, rather than in the same league as the numerous burger specialists populating London these days (price-wise, the Ginger Pig is a bit cheaper too). Choice of descriptor and category aside, I was a bit jealous of what I saw… maybe next time it will be burger time for me.

And if it weren’t so far away in Hoxton Land, I would venture there for their breakfasts. New Cross may only be twenty minutes away from East London, but that’s twenty minutes too far on a Saturday morning…

VERDICT – A good place. Everyone involved had a brilliant time and ate very heartily and well. It’s a charming little place that has some very enticing options on the menu (all offered at a reasonable price), and they seem to take care over what they do… the only thing stopping me from being more enraptured by the Ginger Pig is that barbecue sauce. Deal with that, and things will be just hunky dory.

Currently listening to: Metallica – For Whom the Bell Tolls

Categories: American | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A steak that would mash your insides: Getting our beef on at MASH

Copyright of MASH. Sourced from MASH website

Copyright of MASH. Sourced from MASH website

Cuisine: American

Address: 77 Brewer Street, W1F 9ZN

Area: Soho

Nearest Station: Piccadilly Circus

Tel.: 020 7734 2608

Website: http://www.mashsteak.dk/restaurants/london/

Pricing: High

Good For: Filling meal, Proper service, Carnivorous eating, Ambience, Smart-casual dining, Place for romance, Quality meat

Well, that was a filling meal. Stuffed right to the gills, rolling out of there like a tubby barrel, groaning at the sides; I’d been MASH’ed.

Let’s rewind a bit. My dad wanted to take me and my brother out for a nice steak meal, and after scoping out a number of different places, finally settled on MASH. MASH, if you don’t know, supposedly stands for Modern American Steak House, but rather confusingly has come to us via Denmark, but fear not – this was a thoroughly American evening.

Your first impression is shaped by the rather spacious and grand lobby you enter at street level, guarded by an imposing bouncer and overseen by an ever-smiling receptionist of sorts. Once she took my details, she informed me that my party were waiting for me downstairs, but what she didn’t mention was that there would be two waitresses waiting there too, greeting me by name and shepherding me to my seat. So far so good.

Your second impression is formed by the cavernous space that greets you as you enter the bar and main dining room. All decked out in Art Deco and illuminated by warm lighting, the area is truly impressive. How did they get such a big basement, with such high ceilings, right in the middle of Soho?? You could spend a good few minutes just looking around, soaking up the atmosphere and imagining you were in 1930’s New York, as smooth jazz tinkled over the sound systems.

Cavernous. Like a cave

Cavernous. Like a cave

Your third impression is coloured by the large racks and chunks of beef hanging to dry in their airing cupboards separating the bar and the restaurant. I won’t go so far as to say that I am astounded and wowed by raw meat (a childhood spent around the wet markets in Hong Kong can have that effect upon you), but I was still fascinated by the way that they were being presented almost like pieces of art. Pieces of succulent, tender, meaty, art……. Ahem.

So, let’s talk food. Let’s talk STEAK. I opted for the bone-in N.Y. strip (approx. 600g), culled from IBP prime, Nebraska cattle. For those uninitiated to what this means, N.Y. strip is cut from the short loin and is a rather tender piece of meat, being from a little-used muscle; it was also described to me by my brother, steak expert that he is, as like the bigger half of the T-bone steak and with a bit more fat to it. And as for IBP prime, Nebraska, “this certified and hormone-free, corn-fed beef is as tender and flavourful as you can imagine”.

Bone-in N.Y. strip. Imagine all of that meat in your stomach. OUCH

Bone-in N.Y. strip. Imagine all of that meat in your stomach. OUCH

As far as I was concerned, it was a wonderfully tasty steak that had no need of sauce. Cooked perfectly to rare, it was extremely succulent and not hard to chew through. But I must reserve highest praise for the fat lining the edges of the N.Y. strip – never have I had fat that melted that easily in my mouth. None of this horrible stringy and chewy fat that I can picture very clearly on that Slug & Lettuce steak a colleague had down in Poole (*shudder*); it actually felt socially acceptable to eat fat this luxurious. All in all, I was very happy with my choice of steak; I think we were all happy with our choices, my brother and my dad contented as they were with the long-bone ribeye (Danish beef, dry-aged for 70 days. 70. DAYS. I did not know you could age beef for that long).

As for sides, I accompanied this with macaroni and cheese (rich, thick and creamy) and creamy spinach (creamy, unsurprisingly). And, since the 600g of steak had quite properly finished me off, all that was left for me to have for dessert was a richly sweet glass of 2008 Patricius “Katinka”, Late Harvest Tokaji. What a perfect way to end an evening of gluttonous steak eating.

Why you gotta hurt me like that?

Why you gotta hurt me like that?

VERDICT – A good place. It’s a rather impressive venture, all the way from the extremely friendly staff to the atmosphere and décor and to the well-executed steaks. Rather cheekily, they delivered the bill to us in an envelope labelled “The Damage”, but I think that just topped off what an enjoyable evening it was, where a father was able to take his two darling sons out for a ‘simple’ steak dinner.

Currently listening to: Cancer Bats – Drive This Stake

Categories: American, Steak | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s a new day, it’s a new burger: BRGR.CO throws its hat in the ring

Copyright of BRGR.CO. Sourced from BRGR.CO website

Copyright of BRGR.CO. Sourced from BRGR.CO website

Cuisine: American

Address: 187 Wardour Street

Area: Soho

Nearest Station: Tottenham Court Road/Oxford Circus

Tel.: 020 7920 6480

Website: http://www.brgrco.co.uk/

Pricing: Medium

Good For: Sinful snacks, Friendly conversation, Filling meal, Good sides

BRGR.CO first appeared on my radar courtesy of my brother pointing me and his friends in the direction of an offer of a free burger to the then-unknown BRGR.CO’s first 500 Twitter followers. “Who were these guys?” was my first question. “When shall we collect on our free burger?” was my second.

So, having followed them and then having rounded up a posse, we hit BRGR.CO to see how one of London’s newest additions to the burger scene was doing.

In light of some of the pretty savage reviews we’d been reading in the days immediately after its opening, I was somewhat nervous about what to expect – but in the end, I was pleasantly surprised by BRGR.CO. Not amazed, but just surprised.

Our waitress was a delight – all smiles, friendly chatter and helpfulness. Even as our group expanded from 3 to 5, she was obliging enough to scrounge around for other chairs and tables in order to accommodate us all. Nothing could flap her; thankfully for her, all we needed was for her to note down our food.

An order of onion rings went down quite the treat as my brother and I waited for our friends to turn up. Nice and crunchy, full of real onion flavour (I’m looking at you, Burger King, even if I do love your onion rings so), and not overly greasy, it was a shame that there wasn’t more to the serving.

Fries fries fries

Fries fries fries

We were excited by the number of fries options on offer, and proceeded to order enough to feed a small army – regular, truffle parmesan, chilli and chilli and cheese. The chilli was suitably meaty and messy and imparted its saucy flavour well to the fries, but I must say that I very much enjoyed the truffle parmesan fries, even if the topping resembled some sort of gloopy béchamel sauce. What sort of parmesan – and truffle ‘sauce’ – are they using that it melts like that? No matter, I would have gladly had another bowl of it.

Now on to the main event – the BRGRLICIOUS burgers. I had ordered the 6oz. (it being the biggest option in the freebie deal), which they recommend having medium rare to medium. So as to “preserve the juiciness and the flavour”. The burger comes with lettuce, tomatoes, onions and dill pickles on the side, so you have to pay a bit extra for things like cheese and bacon. I opted for the provolone, as it’s not something you see in a burger that often.

The 60z burger. Maybe I should have put the toppings under the burger?

The 60z burger. Maybe I should have put the toppings under the burger?

The provolone didn’t really add much to the burger. Additionally, when I took the burger apart in order to put the greenery inside, the provolone really didn’t make it look great. My brother and friends were similarly puzzled by this assemble-it-yourself set-up (maybe we’re just a lazy bunch who need our burgers spoon-fed to us).

The burger itself: there was a pleasing char-grilled flavour, good meatiness, some juiciness… but little else. The burger tastes a bit flat; it feels a bit flat. Maybe it’s a lack of compelling seasoning, or maybe the thinness of the patty reduces the burger’s impact. When compared to the bog-standard fast food burger, it is much better, but when lined up against the best that Soho has got to offer – Patty & Bun being a good example of a stellar recent opening – it falls rather short.

Considering the time and effort they’ve taken to put this whole operation together, and the pride they take in their ingredients, you would expect something a bit better. So perhaps BRGR.CO hasn’t quite hit its stride yet. Let’s hope that they do.

VERDICT – An okay experience. They’ve done a good job with the space, and they’ve definitely hired some great people to take care of customers. But the burgers themselves were not awe-inspiring. If BRGR.CO are going to pitch themselves in the top league of burgers in London, they need to do more to create a compelling patty. They definitely have the potential for it.

Currently listening to: Gojira – Into the Wilderness

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Burgers and redemption: an evening at Patty & Bun

Copyright of Patty & Bun. Sourced from Patty & Bun website

Copyright of Patty & Bun. Sourced from Patty & Bun website

Cuisine: American

Address: 54 James Street, W1U 1HE

Area: Bond Street

Nearest Station: Bond Street

Tel.: N/A

Website: http://www.pattyandbun.co.uk/

Pricing: Medium

Good For: Friendly conversation, Filling meal, Casual dining, Takeaway, Proper service

I was fortunate enough to have visited Joe of Patty & Bun fame twice during his summer residency at The Endurance in Soho. I was initially a bit sceptical, not being particularly keen on cramming myself onto tiny tables between the after-work drinkers to eat something potentially very messy, but my word that first visit back in June was astounding. I don’t know whether it was the Jose Jose burger, the rosemary fries or the smoky sticky chicken wings that did it for me, but I was won over to that crazy man dishing out burgers from behind the bar. Heck, my brother and friend were happy enough that they both ordered SECOND burgers, much to Joe’s disbelief, and perhaps mild disgust. I guess not many people eat two burgers in one go, for we got some recognition on our second visit, the final week of Patty & Bun at The Endurance. It was at that point that I knew that the coming months would be fallow ones indeed…

Jose Jose, chicken wings, rosemary fries. Messy? Of course not!

Jose Jose, chicken wings, rosemary fries. Messy? Of course not!

So I was very excited to hear that you would now be able to find these burgers permanently on James Street. But I was also cautious – how would the transition from short-term residency to permanence be handled? Would the effervescence of the original, slightly anarchic yet thrilling Patty & Bun survive settling down?

My trip last Sunday with a friend was therefore rather enlightening, in that respect. Although the rather dim lighting made it look closed (I got quite scared for a moment then), Patty & Bun was still as welcoming as ever. Friendly and smiley staff made a good first impression; the sight of Joe actively helping out and mingling and chatting with diners made an even better second one. But then the night almost took a turn for the worse, and almost made us doubt whether we’d be back again.

Almost. But first, the story. We made our orders – Lambshank Redemption, Smokey Robinson and rosemary fries – and waited. And waited. After about 25 minutes (time flies when you’re having fun), we politely asked where our food was. “No problem, sorry for the delay”. A bit of hustle and bustle in the service area. “Oh jeez, I’m very sorry, it looks like we already served it, but to the wrong table”. I’m sorry, WHAT? Here we were, two hungry fellows, being told our food had been and gone. They’d somehow managed to mix up the table numbers. Oh dear. This was not looking good.

Our annoyance was soothed somewhat by how apologetic everyone was, and Joe did come over to say that he’d get it sorted pronto. It was therefore not long before our food did arrive: “I’m soo sorry for the wait, guys, I really am, here’s your Hot Chick and Jose Jose. We all good?” Ahhhhhh. If only they had gotten our right burgers. I felt quite bad about mentioning that they were the wrong burgers, but really, getting our order wrong twice? It was looking quite farcical. All we could do was laugh really.

But thankfully, our night was saved by the sterling effort of Team Patty & Bun in trying to make things right. We were gifted those burgers, eventually got our original order through free of charge, had a complimentary extra portion of chips and, to our surprise, were also given a rather potent cocktail jug on the house. All within 10 minutes.

Burgers all up in yo' grill

Burgers all up in yo’ grill

My friend and I were both really impressed by this, as we’d been part of a group who’d experienced a similar order failure at another restaurant; we could not fail to notice how much worse that place was in handling the debacle. At that place, they quite clearly could not be arsed to apologise sincerely for the very lengthy wait, they ardently defended the poor quality of the food that did come as “that’s how we do it, that’s how people like it” and they very grudgingly gave us a 10% discount. Not so at Patty & Bun – they took out all the stops to try and turn around what had been looking to be a rather disastrous evening.  That’s how you ensure that people come back.

Oh, and of course, having pretty damn fine food helps in ensuring the punters return. I devoured that Jose Jose, enjoying the pink juiciness of the meat, the sharp bite of the chorizo and the sweetness of the red peppers, whilst my friend loved the interplay of the caramelised onions and the cheese in his Smokey Robinson. Rather sensibly, we both took our second burgers home for our work lunches the next day (that’s not to say I couldn’t eat that second burger; I mean, I really could. I just didn’t want to. Just saying, it’s not that I’m incapable). And I must say, when I warmed up that Lambshank Redemption in the client’s microwave, people were JEALOUS. Even more so when they could smell the punchiness of the lamb and the feta cheese and see the juices soaking into the bun and running down my fingers. It was very messy and perhaps not very edifying for my first day at the client, but it was damn tasty.

What's that? You didn't manage to get a juicy burger like this Lambshank Redemption at the local sandwich shop for your lunch today?

What’s that? You didn’t manage to get a juicy burger like this Lambshank Redemption at the local sandwich shop for your lunch today?

VERDICT – Highly recommended. As you can probably guess, my main take away from that Sunday night was what genuine effort Joe and his team put in to try and rectify their mistakes. They seemed pretty determined to get things right for their customers, and I like that. I do like their burgers too; you know, since they’re a restaurant, I should probably mention that too. Yeah. Awesome burgers, great service. I’m definitely going back for more.

Categories: American | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments