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September 2014

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Patty & Bun

September 25, 2014

Eating burgers is no longer primarily the domain of the casual scoffer. The past couple of years has seen this particular gluttonous hobby grow ever serious with divisive camps of Five Guys fanatics arguing the merits of brioche buns excitedly whilst getting the phantom meat sweats just thinking about Meat Liquor. For me, the sign of a superior burger factors in the enjoyability factor – do I feel like I need a shower after? Am I sweating profusely? I can’t say I’ve tried them all yet, I still need to go to Honest Burger and try Bleecker St. Burger and Lucky Chip, but I can safely say that Patty & Bun is a top 3 choice. Every time I go I’m impressed. My failsafe choice is the Ari Gold cheeseburger – a simple beef patty with cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickled onions, ketchup and Smokey P&B mayo on a brioche bun. Heaven. Sure, it’s a bit messy as all great burgers are, but it’s easy enough to fit in your mouth. I don’t see the appeal of everything sliding out into a giant pool while you’re left slobbering into a wad of napkins under a flickering red light bulb. The Ari Gold is the cheeseburger as it’s meant to be. Bacon optional. I’ve also heard great things about the Smokey Robinson burger – a beef patty with cheese, tomato, lettuce, mounds of caramelised onions and bacon. For veggies, there is a perfectly legit Portobello ‘Dig It’ Mushroom burger – with garlic parsley butter and cheese sauce. Mmmm.

Their chips with rosemary salt are the perfect accompaniment. At Five Guys, if you forget to order the Cajun fries, you’re left with a bland pile of chips – and I hate unsalted chips. Not so at Patty & Bun. All of the chips have the same rosemary salt seasoning and are perfectly hot and crispy enough to complement your burger. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. The James Street location is perfect if you find yourself walking around the rolling hellscape of Oxford Circus/Bond Street where there is a real dearth of non-chain eating establishments. There is usually a panting queue of people outside but it tends to move quickly – it’s not really a place you want to linger unless you like getting death stares from hungry punters.


Patty & Bun
54 James Street
London W1U 1HE
http://pattyandbun.co.uk

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United Ramen

September 12, 2014

In the colder months, there is nothing I crave more than a warming bowl of hot noodles. Vietnamese Pho, ramen, or even my favourite instant noodle packet – Mama Tom Yum flavour – will do. So when I spotted the United Ramen sign as I rode my regular bus down Upper Street, I let myself get excited. Then I went home and did a bit of research – United Ramen is inspired by Japanese traditions but is also influenced by other “cultural traditions”. The purist in me recoiled at the “British Bulldog” ramen which includes “mini Yorkshire puddings”. Yikes. Keeping an opening mind, we popped in for lunch and I went straight for the traditionally Japanese classic Chashu Pork Shoyu Ramen – with Chashu Pork, soy egg, menma, bok choi, beansprouts, nori, spring onion, shoyu & chicken bone broth with thin noodles. The pork was nicely grilled but the broth was disappointing. It tasted overly salty and it had no richness or complexity to it at all – a bit of a Wagamama throwback. The noodles didn’t have that beloved ramen springiness to them, they just tasted a bit flat, chewy and starchy – not in a good way. Obviously I finished it – but it was nothing to inspire a repeat visit for me.

Hansel ordered the Spicy Sichuan Tantanmen noodles (inspired by China) with spiced ground pork, soy egg, beansprouts, bok choi, fresh chilli, spicy sesame & chicken bone broth with thick noodles. This was surprising much better than my more classic Japanese dish. The noodles were well-cooked and springy with a nice texture. The slightly watery broth was a lot less salty but had no depth of flavour to it despite the nice colour.

These yakitori-style wings were on the daily special menu and were the most underwhelming thing we ate. I only ate one which is most unusual for me. The strange sweet flavour and slimy texture made them very unappealing.

The cold Japanese Roast Sencha tea with honey was refreshing and the perfect palate cleanser. They have a Bubble Tea menu for those of us who can’t get enough of those weird chewy tapioca balls. United Ramen isn’t all bad – I’d be willing to go back and try another dish as they had just opened. Our server was extremely helpful and friendly which is always appreciated – but it doesn’t make up for the sub-par food. My impression though is that this is just a chain in the making – everything from their very orange decor and menu to the website screams franchise. If you live in the Islington area, it’s one of the few places to get a quick bowl of ramen if you’re craving it. Just don’t go in expecting authenticity or a satisfying broth.


United Ramen
105-106 Upper Street
Islington
London N1 1QN
www.unitedramen.com

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Fink’s Salt & Sweet: A little bit of Portland in Finsbury Park

September 7, 2014

I love Portland, Oregon. It’s hard to describe that elusive “Portland” vibe to someone. If you make your own jewellery, ride a bicycle and work in a feminist bookstore, you’re halfway there. Fink’s Salt and Sweet is a new cafe and deli in Finsbury Park nestled on a side street between Blackstock Road and Clissold Park/Stoke Newington. Open everyday, they serve breakfast and small plates with a changing daily menu – almost everything on the menu available to buy in store. My greedy eyes took in assorted pastries, giant hunks of fresh bread in metal baskets and cheese. Lots of cheese. I had the yoghurt with blueberries, strawberries, pistachios and honey. Simple but delicious. I don’t know why anyone would ever want to eat low-fat or diet yoghurt when the real deal is so damn good.

The flat white was decent – it tasted like a dark roast which I’m not a huge fan of. I’m a fussy old lady when it comes to coffee so I’ll have to come back and try again. I loved the mint green dishes – reminded me of 1930s jadeite.

Hansel went for the Breakfast Board (a selection of cheese and charcuterie, bread and butter). I mean, you can’t ever go wrong with that option. The sourdough bread tasted fresh and homemade and had a nice chew to it.

I love banana bread so had to try their freshly baked version. I enjoyed it but I imagine it would taste even better toasted with butter.

Oh and I couldn’t help but notice that they serve cronuts. They were sitting there all casual-like among the pain au chocolat and custard tarts. Like OH HI THERE! I’M A CRONUT. I’ve never actually tried one before so might as well go local for my first one. Next time (let’s be honest, tomorrow).

Fink’s is also a deli and they sell a unique assortment of food and groceries along with their fresh bread, cheese and pastries. I can’t believe I’ve never heard of this before but Belgian Biscuit Butter is actually MADE OF BISCUITS. So you’re spreading ground up biscuits on bread. Now that’s a double carb to be revered. A bit of internet research when I got home and the general consensus is that this is “crack in a jar”. I’m scared.

You can also buy Bacon Jam and vegetarian caviar. Oy vey. Nestled in an old Victorian butcher’s, Fink’s Salt and Sweet is just what the neighbourhood needs – it has a cool, laid-back vibe, good food, and friendly staff. There’s nothing else like it in the neighbourhood and it’s perfect for popping in on mornings you can’t be bothered to make breakfast or just want to catch up with a local friend over coffee and toast. They even serve wine at night. Oh and the Portlandia theme song started playing as we ate breakfast. Portland by way of Finsbury Park. I’ll drink to that.


Fink's Salt and Sweet
70 Mountgrove Road
N5 2LT
www.finks.co.uk

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TONKOTSU Bar & Ramen, Soho

September 6, 2014

Winter is coming and there’s a part of me that loves it. Obviously summer is delightful. But I like cold, rainy nights wrapped up like a giant baby, sitting indoors mainlining on NetFlix and throwing Doritos down my gob. The Danish even have a word for this, Hygge (pronounced hYOOguh?) that translates to being “cosy” – sitting inside next to a working fireplace with family, friends and food – drinking hot beverages, eating and chatting. Bliss. And ramen noodles are the perfect accompaniment to a dark and stormy night. Tonkotsu Bar & Ramen in Soho has been around since summer of 2012 and would be my choice for a quick after work bowl of steaming noodles and some delicious hot sides. I was pleased to see that Tonkotsu East has recently opened nearby for those of us who live in North/East London who are too lazy to go into town on a weekend, ramen cravings be damned.

I had the classic Tonkotsu ramen – sea-salt based pork stock and thin noodles topped with slices of pork belly, half a seasoned soft-boiled egg, menma, bean sprouts and spring onions. Mmm. It arrived piping hot (bonus) and the broth was indeed rich and tasty with a cloudy, milky texture that soothes and warm from the inside out. True comfort food. I get the feeling that a lot of care was taken into making the broth – I imagine this would be a somewhat healthy hangover cure, full of fresh ingredients, which is more than I can say for the much-maligned Big Mac. A few drops of chilli oil and I was ready to dig in. Heaven, especially if you’re feeling particularly ravenous.

Classic Japanese ramen is pork-based so it was lucky that Tonkotsu had a vegetarian option in the Shimeji, Shiitake and Miso ramen, a miso-based, konbu (seaweed) and shiitake stock served with shimeji mushrooms, medium thick noodles, a handful of bean sprouts, bamboo shoots with half a seasoned soft-boiled egg. You can never recreate the richness of a meaty broth that’s been simmered for 15 hours but S assured me that it was satisfying enough and really hit the spot after wandering Soho aimlessly, hollow-eyed and starving after a long day.

The menu isn’t huge but that’s a good thing. Between two of us we had three sides. First up was Salt & Sansho Pepper Squid. Not particularly original but it was done well – lightly battered with the right amount of seasoning (sansho pepper is spice with an earthy/lemony taste). We enjoyed it but it’s not a must-order – there are definitely better options on the menu.

The Prawn Gyoza (hand-made daily) were a much better choice and were light and slighty chewy – and I could actually taste the prawns, they weren’t ground up into an unrecognizable mash. I like to fashion myself a dumpling snob but these passed the taste test. We were so full that we left one behind. Sad face. I wish it was socially acceptable to just put the last gyoza in your handbag for later.

The Crab Korokke are a Japanese version of crab croquettes served with lemon and tartar sauce. This was the true star of the Tonkotsu sides. Melt in your mouth crab realness. Lightly battered and creamy on the inside. There’s a pumpkin version for vegetarians too which I’ll try next time. Check out the money shot below. Oh yes.


Tonkotsu Bar & Ramen
68 Dean Street
Soho W1D 4QG
www.tonkotsu.co.uk

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