Category: Burgers


Rice and Three and Misogyny in Manchester

April 29th, 2013 — 4:52pm

With 24 hours to eat and drink in Manchester, what would you do? Obviously I asked Twitter. The responses were many but amongst the crowd two contenders stood out as the most popular: the tradition of ‘rice and three’ curry cafes and the Almost Famous burger bar.

The curry cafe idea I was very much into and the most popular place seemed to be a joint called ‘This and That’ which is mentioned, well, pretty much everywhere as The Place to Go. The locals seemed to think differently however, which is how we ended up stumbling, extremely (really terribly) hungover, into Kabana. The idea of rice and three is that one is served rice and – guess how many curries? Yeah it’s three. Food is ordered from a very patient man who is clearly adept at dealing with hungover people. He stands over great big silver chafing dishes, waiting patiently while we dither about choosing what we want. Lamb, chicken and chickpea curries were duly heaped onto a mound of fluffy basmati and sprinkled with chopped green chillies, diced ginger and lemon juice, provided on the counter top for self service garnish.

‘Rice and three’: chickpeas, chicken and lamb

An extra bowl of a lamb nahari; really tasty and totally necessary…oof

We totter over to a formica topped, screwed-to-the-ground table and tuck in to what turns out to be some fantastic food; simple, yes, but with skilful, distinct spicing and a punch from those garnishes. A garlic chapatti was stupendously good; a real thwack of garlic and a slick of ghee. Hangovers are sniffled away as we shovel it down unceremoniously, surrounded by a mixture of couples with young children, plus people like us, clearly also soothing hangovers, and Indian families scooping up curries with their hands; great food with no fuss and oooh, I haven’t mentioned one of the best bits – it cost…a fiver. A fiver!

And from substance over style to…well I expect you can work out where I’m going. Almost Famous. I’m going to bypass all the trend ticking, the queuing, the forced cliches, because none of that bothers me hugely to be honest. What matters to me is what they’re serving from the kitchen and of course, the bar. Oh and the way they’ve chosen to name the things that are produced in both of them.

Their signature drink for example is something called ‘bitch juice’. We ordered a round. It was possibly the sweetest drink I’ve ever tasted, and that’s from someone who grew up on raspberry Slush Puppies, you know, the scary blue ones. ‘Bitch juice’ consists of a heavy grenadine base, then some booze, presumably, and a topping of fruit and…icing sugar. Mixing grenadine and icing sugar is just…I’d say confident, bold perhaps. Brave, maybe? My teeth are aching at the memory. The fact that it wasn’t nice is not my real problem however. What I really take issue with, is the name, as I did when I ordered my burger with ‘slut sauce’. Sorry but, since when did misogyny = cool? I wondered at the logic behind this. Hey! We’re really edgy! We’re so fucking edgy we named everything after derogatory terms for women! Will the salad come with whore dressing perhaps? How about a slag soup? I think it could really take off. There are a lot of breasts on the wall, too. I like breasts, I have some. They’re very nice to look at but really, when muddled with the lame sexism on the menu it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. As does the food.

My burger, as you can see, was overcooked and also under seasoned. The house sauce appeared to be a mixture of mayonnaise and mustard but somehow, tasted of nothing much at all. It was reminiscent of a ropey Whopper. The wings I need not describe. Take a look at that picture. You know exactly what that BBQ sauce tastes like without my even needing tell you.

As I’m queuing up to order food I notice they’ve copied out Charlie Sheen’s breakdown rant on the wall. Er, cool. All the pictures are at jaunty angles. I want to buy them a spirit level. They sport a manifesto that says ‘no bloggers’, ‘no photos’. I wonder how they police that? There is a free jukebox at least, but they’ve allowed a situation where it is actually possible to put ColdPlay on, and lo and behold, someone has. And they’re singing along.

I’ve seen people draw comparison with London’s Meat Liquor, but let me tell you, Almost Famous has absolutely nothing on it. Meat Liquor has a history, which began with Meateasy and grew organically. The food is also a million times better, which is, let us not forget, what a restaurant is actually all about! Radical!

If you have to try very hard to be edgy and cool then I’m sorry to break it to you, but you aren’t. Kabana illustrate my point for me rather nicely. A slightly scruffy little cafe, no airs or graces, quietly doing their thing. Having just said the food is of utmost importance I’ll now admit that there is a place for restaurants which make their name on atmosphere alone and there’s nothing really wrong with that, I suppose. Just don’t be so goddamn desperate.

Kabana, 52 Back Turner Street, Manchester M4 1FP.

Almost Famous, 100 High St, Manchester, M4 1HP.

We also visited a couple of good pubs worth mentioning, if you’re interested. Very different places. Port Street Beer House is a craft beer pub of the well, craft beer pub ilk and The Castle is the kind of pub that I like. It’s sort of dingy and smells a bit and everyone talks to each other. Take yer pick.

I was invited to visit Manchester and was kindly put up in the Premier Inn, which I can vouch for. It’s dead close to Picadilly Station, and the reception was manned by quite honestly the friendliest woman I have ever met. Well, the friendliest woman I’ve ever met working on a reception desk in a hotel, anyway.

34 comments » | Burgers, Curry, Restaurant Reviews, Sandwiches, Travel

Surf & Turf Burger of Shame

September 15th, 2012 — 6:39pm

Shame is, genuinely, my favourite ingredient. I am the queen of the guilty pleasure, the mistress of filth, the dominatrix of ‘so wrong it’s right’. Of course I try to eat the best quality food I can, most of the time. The rest of the time I’m necking Diet Coke, processed cheese, SPAM, instant noodles, SPAM with instant noodles, SPAM on rice with a fried egg on top, fish balls, crab sticks and…McDonald’s.

I love McDonald’s, despite everything that is bad about it, and I don’t care who knows. I’m particularly a fan of what I like to call ‘The Inhalable’ – the 99p cheeseburger which can be eaten in a few bites. I find it hard to pass a Maccy D’s without nabbing one. The fillet o fish is seriously underrated; the sausage and egg McMuffin is a hangover bashing salt fest and the Big Mac is, well, a classic.

If you’re gasping with shock and horror at this point, you’re probably reading the wrong blog.

So the Big Mac ‘special sauce’ is something I’ve been trying to get right for quite a long time. Recipes do exist on the internet, which are supposedly based on the actual recipe released by McD’s but are in fact nothing like the real thing; they also call for ingredients we can’t find easily in the UK. Then, the other day, Mr. Essex Eating published a recipe for something called ‘fry sauce’. This looked very much like Big Mac sauce so I made it the same evening and blow me down if it wasn’t pretty much there and AND I could now put as much of it as I like in my burger.

IN YOUR FACE RONALD MCDONALD!

So a partner in crime was enlisted and some serious burgers got made. Way too much incredible minced chuck was purchased from O’Sheas in Knightsbridge (no point dicking about; I like to mix filth with quality to enhance the feeling of guilt), buns were acquired from the fabulous Kindred Bakery in Herne Hill (they stand up really well to a juicy boiger), prawns were nabbed from the fishmonger….yeah that’s right, surf and turf, baby. You see, the sauce is remarkably similar to that used in a fried shrimp po’ boy; it works with the beef, it works with the prawns, now why not bring them all to that party? I’d ummed and ahhed between prawns or beef, prawns or beef until I was told in no uncertain terms by PiC (partner in crime) that both were going in.

It was glorious. Crunchy spiced cornmeal coated deep fried prawns, medium rare patties of shit hot beef, slappy cheese, iceberg, loads of rip off Big Mac sauce and of course, the magic ingredient, a hefty dollop of shame.

Surf and Turf Burger of Shame

Minced beef for burgers (size depends on your bun; it’s not hard, just form it into a patty, not too thick)
Slappy processed cheese slices
Iceberg lettuce, shredded
Onion, sliced as thinly as possible
Buns, lightly toasted
About 4 raw king prawns per burger
Polenta, for coating the prawns
1 egg, beaten
2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning (or substitute some celery salt plus paprika)
Oil, for deep frying

Pretty simple, this. Get a plate and cover it with a generous amount of polenta plus the Old Bay Seasoning, a little salt and some pepper.

Heat your oil for deep frying and get your heavy pan on for cooking the burgers so its nice and hot. When the oil is ready, dip each prawn in egg, then in the polenta, then drop into the oil. Do them in small batches so the temperature of the oil doesn’t drop. Drain on kitchen paper and keep warm.

Cook the burgers to your liking – couple of minutes each side. I turn them a few times as I’ve seen burgery expert people doing. Apparently it’s advisable to turn them as frequently as possible – knock yourself out. Melt the cheese slice on top after the final turn. Then it’s an assembly job. I won’t patronise you. Put the burger together with PLENTY of fry sauce.

Dan’s fry sauce (Dan’s recipe from Essex Eating)

Makes enough for 4 burgers

1 Tbs French’s classic yellow mustard
1 1/2 Tbs Heinz ketchup
2 Heaped Tbs Helmans mayonnaise
1 Tsp Colman’s English mustard
2 Heaped Tbs finely chopped gherkins or cornichons,
2 Dashes Tabasco
Dash Worcester sauce
Grind of Pepper

Mix it all together.

48 comments » | Burgers, Guilty Pleasures, Meat, Sandwiches, Sauces, Sauces, Condiments and Spreads, Seafood, Shellfish

My Favourite Recipes (& Guilty Pleasures) of 2011

December 31st, 2011 — 12:00pm

Food Stories has been predominantly recipe (not restaurant) focused this year. Creating is what makes me feel happiest inside, it turns out. So here are my favourite recipes of 2011, followed by the most memorable guilty pleasures; it would be terribly neglectful to exclude the latter, I think, as it’s surely clear by now that I’m quite partial to a filthy (probably pork-based, definitely artery-shuddering) snackette, or four.

1. Egg Yolk Ravioli (top photo)

It took three attempts, but I eventually nailed this recipe and was rewarded with some of the most decadent pasta I’ve ever eaten; a quivering yolk coddled by a ring of spinach and ricotta, ready to ooze headlong into a sauce that is made almost entirely from melted butter. Crushed pink peppercorns and purple basil made it one of my prettiest plates of 2011, too.

2. Piri Piri Chicken

2011 was the year I got even more into BBQ. Come drizzle, hail or sunshine, I was out there guarding that Weber, tongs in hand, bucket of meat on standby. We worked our way through jerk; brisket; brats cooked in beer; pulled pork and an obscene amount of wings (more on those later) but one of my favourite recipes was this piri piri chicken, inspired by a local takeaway. The combination of charred chicken (for piri piri must be charred), feisty chilli and tangy vinegar sauce made this one of my hits of the summer.

3. Boston Baked Beans

These rich and smoky Boston baked beans are thick with molasses and packed with nubs of smoked pork belly. They’re about as different to regular baked beans as you can imagine and they rocked my world.

4. Baghdad Eggs

I first came across Baghdad eggs in Jake Tilson’s brilliant cook book, ‘A Tale of 12 Kitchens’. This combination of  onions, sharp yoghurt and spiced butter on eggs is now my favourite weekend brunch.

5. Daim Bar Ice Cream

I visited Sweden this year and re-discovered Daim Bars. They went straight into ice cream. I watched my boyfriend devour the remains of this, straight from the tub with a spoon, after which he lay back, clutching his stomach, moaning “I feel siiiiiiick”. In a good way, you understand.

6. Ham Cooked in Coca Cola with a Rum and Molasses Glaze

The only way to make this sticky-sweet ham any better would be to pull great big hunks off it, stick it in a sandwich with some deep fried pickles and…oh, wait a minute.

7. Hickory Smoked Hot Wings 

After my first batch of home made hot wings, I wanted to do a variation and decided to smoke them using hickory wood chips, before dousing them as usual in Frank’s Hot Sauce and melted butter. Come to mama.

8. Smoky Aubergine and Lamb Pide

Pide are like a pointy Middle Eastern version of pizza. I based the recipe on my ‘Peckham Pizza’ (based on lahmacun). The topping is an intense paste made from spiced, minced lamb and the flesh from a charred aubergine. Garnished with chopped pickles and herbs, they’re lovely eaten as is, or wrapped around some salad.

 9. Pork Pibil Tacos

This pibil was made with pork knuckles and smothered in achiote paste – a wonderful ingredient which simply has no substitute. The tacos were spicy, drizzled as they were with a sauce made from orange juice, onion and scotch bonnet chillies.

10. Sausage Rolls with Apricots and Whisky-Caramelised Onions

And finally, a seasonal entry at number 10, my new favourite sausage roll recipe. Onions were slowly, slowly caramelised then bubbled furiously with whisky before going into these sausage rolls along with some dried apricots. The sweetness worked so well with the sausage meat and I’ve had great feedback from people who’ve made them this Christmas.

For the guilty pleasures, I’ve exercised some restraint (most uncharacteristic) and narrowed it down to five:

1. Baked Gnocchi with Gorgonzola and Spinach

Sneaking in on 3rd Jan was this rather naughty dish I made for my boyfriend’s birthday dinner. Home-made gnocchi baked in a sauce of Gorgonzola and cream, with a little spinach thrown in to ease the guilt. The gnocchi goes crispy on top while remaining gooey and soft underneath. A cardiologist’s nightmare.

2. Wedge Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing and Candied Bacon

Candied bacon is definitely one of my top guilty pleasures of the year, so much so I wrote a whole post about making it and using it. I have fond memories though of this ‘salad’ garnish, chopped candied bacon sprinkled over a river of blue cheese dressing and crunchy iceberg.

3. Deep Fried Pickles

Everyone went mad for these in 2011. I stuffed mine into a sandwich with coca cola ham and hot sauce. Then I had a lie down.

4. Meatwagon Burgers

I’ve followed Yianni’s journey from his van in Peckham, through #Meateasy in New Cross and now to Meat Liquor via The Rye. The latter has to be the most convenient and dangerous burger vending situation ever in existence if the state of my waistline is anything to go by. The Rye pub is opposite my house you see and for a few glorious months I needed to do little more than hop over the road to get my fix. Now they’re gone and Meat Liquor is in central London. I could cry.

5. Eggy Bread and Candied Bacon Sandwich

In at number 5: the sandwich of shame. I had candied bacon to hand and I’d just made eggy bread. It had to be done, see? We felt the guilt after eating this but damn, it was good. Sick, but good. If you’re into sandwiches, I’ve written a post about my top 5 here.

Phew. No wonder I need to lose weight. The diet inevitably starts er, tomorrow but until then I’ve got a Ginger Pig rib eye with my name on it. Happy New Year everyone. Thank you for reading and here’s to a tasty 2012. Cheers!

 

36 comments » | Barbecue, Brunch, Burgers, Christmas, Desserts, Dressings, Eggs, Gnocchi, Guilty Pleasures, Ice Cream, Main Dishes, Meat, Peckham, Round-ups, Salads, Salsa, Sandwiches, Sauces, Condiments and Spreads, Vegetables

#MEATEASY: Interview with Yianni Papoutsis from The Meatwagon and Scott Collins from Capital Pubs

January 13th, 2011 — 10:27am

If you live in London, like burgers and you haven’t heard of The Meatwagon then you must have been living under a rock. Yianni Papoutsis serves burgers (and other American classics) that blow any competition so far out of the water they practically cease to exist. He started out serving from his Meatwagon van on an industrial estate in Peckham and now regularly rocks up at one of Scott Collins’ pubs in South East London which include (amongst others) The Florence in Herne Hill, The Victoria in Peckham and now The Goldsmiths Tavern (soon to revert to its original name, The New Cross House). This time, there is no van; you could describe it as a pop up restaurant, but it’s going to be so much more down and dirty. The restaurant/dive bar is billed as the #MEATEASY and it’s a greedy carnivore’s boozy playground. I gave Yianni and Scott a good grilling to find out more about the project and their future plans.

Yianni, before we get onto the ‘chop-up’ that is the #MEATEASY, tell us a little about The Meatwagon – what inspired you to start up?

Possibly some kind of mild stroke.

For those who don’t know (fools!), tell us about the kind of food you serve from The Wagon. Do you have a favourite recipe? Any new recipes you’re currently working on?

We serve my slightly bastardised version of classic American diner food: Burgers, Philly Cheesesteaks, chilli dogs etc. Everything is made with the best available ingredients, cooked to order every time.

One of the reasons your burgers taste so great is that you take great care in sourcing your ingredients. Can you reveal any of your suppliers (meat, buns, cheese etc.) or do you prefer to keep that info under wraps?

I love chatting with our customers about the minutiae of crafting truly great burgers and a lot of our basic techniques are out there for anyone to use. You yourself did a great article on recreating one of our Chilli Cheeseburgers a few months ago and Mark Hix recently published a version of our cheeseburger recipe in the Independent Magazine. Those techniques are one part of the formula for a great burger and I consider them public domain. My suppliers, however, I’d prefer to keep to myself. A gentleman has to have some secrets, after all.

Besides, finding your own favourite local suppliers is half the fun in my opinion.

So, tell us about the #MEATEASY…

#MEATEASY is The Meatwagon wearing its winter coat.

As I’m sure some of your readers will have heard, The Meatwagon (v.2.0) and its entire contents was stolen from its home in Peckham just before Christmas. Three weeks later, just after New Year’s, Scott and I were sitting in the Bishop having a few ales, trying to come up with a temporary solution to the theft of the Wagon. We came up with #MEATEASY.

Long story short: Scott will be taking over the Goldsmiths Tavern for Capital Pubs next month and reopening it as The New Cross House (its original name). He’s arranged for us to take over the upstairs room until the renovations start and we’ve had total free reign to do whatever we want with it. My good friend Lisa (@Roxanne­_Roll) came up with some amazing design ideas and I hope we’ve created a space where people will feel comfortable drinking and hanging out as well as grabbing a bite to eat.

Cocktail gurus Soul Shakers have put together a truly unique bar – if you haven’t heard of them, google them. You’ll get the idea.

We stepped into the room last Saturday, 8th January. We got busy. We opened to the public four days later.

How long will the restaurant be open?

Until mid March.

Will you be offering the same menu as The Meatwagon?

The menu will include absolutely everything we’ve ever done at the Meatwagon – all the burgers, the dogs, the Buffalo Wings, plus a few other things we’ve been wanting to try out for ages – Mac & Cheese, onion rings, and my own version of a classic kebab-shop chicken burger.

And fries! One of the reasons we’ve never done fries is that the logistics and time involved in triple cooking fries from scratch in the wagon made it both unfeasible and financial suicide. I’m employing one chef who will just do fries. All day. Every day. They will loathe the sight of both me and potatoes by the end of this, I can guarantee you.


Will pricing stay the same?

I’ve had to put a quid on the burgers I’m afraid (first ever Meatwagon price rise) but a cheeseburger’s still only six quid: That’s for a third of a pound of meat which is still pretty good bang for your buck, I reckon. It costs as much to set up a restaurant for two months as it does for two years so we’ve had to adjust our prices a touch to cover the extra costs. I think at the moment the prices max out at 8 quid or so for some of the bigger dishes.

Serving in a restaurant is obviously going to be different to serving from the van, are you confident you can serve people fast enough/cope with the level of orders?

I really don’t see this as a restaurant; if it’s anything, it’s a dive bar. We’ve never tried to be slick-as-shit full-service restaurant. Far from it: we are what we are.

Our food is always cooked to order and as such it takes as long as it takes. That’s just how it has to be to maintain a consistently high standard. Having said that, we’ve now got a crew of three working in the kitchen (as opposed to two in the Wagon) plus front of house & bar staff. Right from when The Meatwagon started, I’ve always tried to make the wait for food as bearable as possible with music, good drinks and an interesting environment. We’re continuing the tradition with #MEATEASY.

Are you worried that people will expect a different level of service from a restaurant than a van?

As I said, #MEATEASY isn’t really a restaurant.

I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from the local bars & taverns I’ve visited all over the States where I’ve eaten some of the best food of my life.

Giles (from Soulshakers) really has done wonders with the bar so hopefully people will take advantage of that while they wait.

Oh, and we don’t take bookings. There is one exception to that rule, however: There’s one table that can be reserved and that is kept for the sole use of the people who’ve helped out with putting #MEATEASY together. It really wouldn’t have been possible without their support and I think it’s fair that they’re rewarded.

How will you judge the success of #MEATEASY?

One: Are people enjoying the food?

Two: Are people having fun?

Three: Can I put aside a bit money towards buying a new Meatwagon for the summer.

Once #MEATEASY is packed up and tidied away and a happy, happy memory for all of us, will the Wagon be back?

Fuck yes.

If so, do you have any plans to take the new Meatwagon outside the UK?

Well, I have been doing ‘Burgers for Burners’ at Burning Man for a few years now (for free, of course, according to the Burning Man ethos) out of the back of an RV, but really, spending a week suffering from altitude sickness, dehydration and culture shock out in the middle of the Nevada desert seems like a lot of effort to go to for a burger.

I’d love to do some cooking in the States, as opposed to just binge-eating, but no firm plans yet, so if any of our American cousins are reading this and they’ve got a griddle and a good butcher, feel free to get in touch.

You often tweet about your next location. How important has Twitter been in drawing in custom for The Meatwagon?

It’s been invaluable.

We’ve never advertised anywhere other than Twitter, Facebook and our website. We still don’t even have a logo, after a year-and-a-half. Twitter lets me communicate directly with people who’ve made an active decision to take an interest what we do.

I do make a point of trying to use @themeatwagonuk responsibly. In general I’ll only put out the bare minimum information rather than spam our followers with trivia. People following @themeatwagonuk don’t want to hear about my hangover or my thoughts on Nick Clegg – they just want to know where to get some red meat and a stiff drink.

You’re a member of eat.st, the street food collective aimed at ‘driving British street food forward’. Do you think there’s a great future for street food in this country?

I still find it amazing that London, one of the most cosmopolitan cities on the planet, has such a poor street food scene when we have such a huge wealth of different cultures’ cuisines to draw from.

eat st. is a really exciting organisation and I’m very proud to be a part of it. It represents the crème-de-la-crème of British street food. There’s some amazingly talented chefs involved, and some great personalities. The Florence recently hosted the ‘Tweetmass Gathering’ with eat st. and where the Meatwagon did the meat, Petra from Chocstar (my partner in crime in wagon-based misadventures) served up dessert, Angus (Kolkata Street Food) handled the vegetarian option and the Meantime Brewery got everyone drunk on London Lager. Perfect symbiosis.

One thing I’ve always been very aware of when it comes to street food in the UK is that we are at the mercy of the weather, and to a certain extent #MEATEASY is a practical solution to that problem; we did a couple of gigs before Christmas where we were outside cooking in the snow (literally ankle-deep in the stuff on one occasion at The Florence after the wagon was stolen). People came in their droves, and a rum old time was had by all. But, let’s be honest, standing around in the snow around a fire and eating meat is fine every now and then, but I do find that the novelty of snow wears off pretty quickly.

I think that with some essential changes in legislation and a bit of creative thinking with regards to the weather issue, we could have one of the most vibrant street food scenes in the world.

And finally, I can’t resist: you’re a fellow Peckham resident – any good local food tips?

Manzie’s for pie, mash & liquor.

Scott, you and Yianni are quite the team now; how did you come to learn about The Meatwagon and what made you decide to get together and park up that wagon in your pubs?

I heard about the wagon through Twitter, visited and was obviously bowled over. He needed somewhere a little more accessible to park it. I took a punt on the car park at The Florence. It was a huge success and worked well for us because we have never used a PR or Marketing co. and have always believed in the old fashioned way of word of mouth. Twitter is just a modern day, faster version of this. The wagon brought a couple of hundred food fans to the pub, some of which had never visited. A lot remain customers to date.

Yianni and I have become firm friends and I believe quite a pool of talent. A street version of Trevor Gulliver and Fergus Henderson, maybe…

Twitter really pulls in the customers for Meatwagon events and you use Twitter quite actively too – do you think it has boosted your business in any way?

The wagon and Twitter have boosted sales and as above, raised our profile. Twitter is amazing for getting immediate feedback, positive and negative which can be dealt with very, very quickly.

Are you nervous about hosting a pop-up restaurant in one of your pubs, particularly one that is just getting started?

We don’t own the pub yet, the current owner has agreed to let us do this. When we take possession on the 7th Feb we will be closing the downstairs and starting a full refurb early March. Yianni will carry on operating until we start the refurb. His presence will help people from outside of New Cross visit and see the before and after effect of one of our refurbs.

Will The New Cross House be serving food after #MEATEASY has closed?

The New Cross house will offer a similar menu to The Actress: gourmet pizza and rustic pub grub.

Depending on the #MEATEASY’s popularity over the next couple of months, it may not close after the refurb downstairs…

All your pubs are in South East London (ish). What’s so great about the area and do you plan to open any more?

South East and South West (this side of the river) has welcomed everything I’ve opened. I live here (East Dulwich) and wouldn’t dream of opening anywhere that I couldn’t visit daily and easily. I like the people and the mentality. Come Easter I will have opened three new pubs and completed a refurb on an existing one (The Clarence, Balham) within one calendar year. So no immediate plans. Still have a children’s room to add to the Victoria and hotel rooms to put above The Actress. Then I’m going to have a breather…

A big thanks to Scott and Yianni for taking the time to answer my questions what with being two of the busiest people I know. I visited the #MEATEASY on Tuesday night and wowee! Yeah it’s pretty special. The buffalo wings get busy with hot sauce and butter. I mean, come on. Get down there, that’s all I can say. Do it, do it tonight.

Goldsmiths Tavern,
316 New Cross Road,
New Cross,
London,
SE14 6AF

Follow Yianni on Twitter
Follow Scott on Twitter
The Meatwagon website and facebook page
The Capital Pub Company
Other posts on The #MEATEASY: Hollow Legs, Cheese and Biscuits, A Rather Unusual Chinaman.

Thank you very much to A Rather Unusual Chinaman and Hollow Legs for letting me use their photos. Mine were rubbish.

#Meateasy on Urbanspoon

19 comments » | Burgers, Interviews, Meat, Underground Restaurants

Recreating The Bobcat Burger (Hamburger America!)

February 21st, 2010 — 8:59pm

It used to be the case that I was in the minority; my obsession with burgers and their buns has been a long time raging. Now every London blogger, their partner, pet and best mate seems to be fixated on them. My main issue was always the bun, which was what led me to arrange The Great Bun Tasting and to make several batches of these.  They are pretty much the ideal bun – a slightly sweet brioche with a structure that is light yet robust enough to last without turning to mush.

The problem with burgers in London is that decent ones are so few and far between that when we do actually find one, everyone gets worked up to the extent that the hype exceeds reality. It’s like playing a favourite song to death; it becomes so familiar that you almost have to try harder to enjoy it. The Hawksmoor burger is a perfect example.

In America though, they do things differently; we are teased with stories of delicious burgers on every other block. The interesting thing though is that while they are generally regarded with appropriate respect, most seem completely unpretentious. Fast food; high quality; grabbed and gobbled. American burgers is a subject I spend quite a bit of time reading about but sadly, I’ve not yet had a chance to visit for real. My excitement at discovering The Meatwagon then, in an industrial estate on my very own home turf of Peckham, was off the scale and then some. It was there that I tasted my first Bobcat Burger; I’ve craved another ever since. My love affair with Hamburger America had begun.

Then I got my hands on this book by George Motz and, as if that wasn’t good enough, it came with a DVD which is, quite simply, brilliant. Motz basically journeyed across America in search of the best burger joints (100 made the final cut) and the result is a charming record of the daily lives of each joint, the history, the customers and of course, the burgers – some of which are simply outrageous.

The film opens for example with ‘Dyer’s Restaurant’ where, “it’s all about the grease” – deep fried burgers. Super thin patties are plunged into NINETY ONE YEAR OLD oil until cooked and then lifted out and squeezed, an oleaginous waterfall gushing forth. The grease is apparently ‘strained and processed’ every day but seriously, that fat has never been changed. Dyer’s consider this their selling point though and when they moved premises, the oil moved to the new location accompanied by a police escort and TV crew. Not joking.

Twenty minutes in and I was worried; a steamed burger with steamed cheese came next, followed by the peanut butter burger and then the plain old butter burger, which in case you are wondering is simply piled, piled with what I would estimate to be at least 5 or 6 tablespoons of butter. Amongst the extreme though there are the sublime and by the end of the film I was salivating.

The Bobcat Bite (New Mexico) is owned by John and Bonnie Eckre (above), who are very proud of their Green Chilli Cheeseburger. People actually come in coachloads to visit the place and often end up with a lengthy wait due to the limited seating capacity; Bonnie describes how customers have been known to wait for an hour outside without a grumble. The burgers are worth it.

The Bobcat is this: prime beef topped with chillies fried in butter; sinful juices seep through the meat. Cheese is then melted on top of the chillies, sealing the spicy layer. A sprinkle of their ‘famous’ tangy slaw provides crunch and contrast. When I found the recipe for Bobcat slaw in Hamburger America there was no stopping me; I made buns, the slaw and some patties from ground beef shoulder. Mild Turkish chillies were fried in butter, piled high and sealed with a cheesy vacuum. That cat was finally mine.

Some burger recommendations that will come as no surprise: if you live in London and you are not suffering from burger fatigue, I recommend you visit The Meat Wagon. It goes without saying that Hamburger America should also go on the wish list. While you are waiting for those things to happen, why not try the recipe/s below and inject a little New Mexican love into your boiger? It’s a taste sensation and no mistakin’.

Bobcat Burgers (from Bobcat Bite, New Mexico)

Ground beef shoulder, for making the patties, or ground beef of your choice. You want a good bit of fat in there basically. I wanted to experiment with a mixture of cuts but didn’t have time
Mild green chillies (or hot, up to you), sliced
Butter and a touch of oil, for frying
Cheese slice of your choice

I use this recipe for the buns – it’s the best I’ve come across

Bobcat Bite Slaw (from Hamburger America)
This is a half quantity. Double this apparently keeps the Bobcat Bite going for 1 day. It is best the day after it has been made.

1 small head white cabbage, core removed and finely shredded
1/2 large green bell pepper, grated
110g caster sugar (yep, really)
235ml white vinegar (trust me)
60ml flavourless oil, such as groundnut
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
1 tablespoon mustard

Mix it all together. Keep in the fridge and give it a good stir before serving.

Assembly

Toast your buns. Gently fry your chillies in a healthy amount of butter (20g or so) and begin frying your burgers. I use a cast iron pan for this – if you have a proper hot plate then use that – I am jealous. When you flip the burger, it’s time to put those chillies on followed by the cheese. Once the cheese has melted you are good to go. Get that burger in that bun. Top with slaw (and anything else you fancy) and serve.

32 comments » | Barbecue, Bread, Burgers, Main Dishes, Meat, Sandwiches, Street Food

Brioche Burger Buns

August 29th, 2009 — 4:16pm

The bun obsession was still in full swing last week and I started to experiment at home. The winner on flavour for me at the great bun tasting, was the brioche; almost perfect but letting itself down a little on structure. I wanted to kick things off using a tried and tested recipe which could then be modified afterwards, if necessary and I remembered saving this from Deb’s blog, which is usually very reliable when it comes to all things baked.

As Deb warns, the dough is incredibly sticky but it is important to resist over-flouring when kneading as this will only toughen the buns and make them too dense. Her technique for kneading is to pick up the dough, turning it and slapping it against the work top, which worked a treat. She has also posted some bread making tips, which I found incredibly useful.

The seeding here is a bit random as I forgot to buy sesame seeds and so had to scrabble around in the bottom of a packet of ‘seed mix’ I found languishing at the back of the cupboard. As you can see, I couldn’t be bothered to weed out the hemp seeds so they went on too. The odd cheeky sunflower also slipped through the net – it wasn’t an issue.

The buns turned out light, soft and neither too buttery nor too sweet. I thought they might benefit from being slightly denser but Chris disagreed and with hindsight, I think he’s probably right. I considered making another batch with slightly more flour just to see what happens but to be honest, I feel the bun obsession is finally coming to an end – it’s time to move on. Once toasted, I think this is actually as near to a perfect burger bun as it’s possible to get. The taste was spot on and they hold up well under the pressure of a greedy filling. Now all I have to do is start working on the perfect burger…

19 comments » | Bread, Burgers, Sandwiches

Bobcat Burger at The Meat Wagon

August 24th, 2009 — 2:04pm

I am lucky to receive many e-mails from readers, some of which include recommendations about places not yet visible on my radar. One such tip off led me to The Meat Wagon on Friday lunch time, excited at the prospect of trying their burger and, importantly, finding out what type of bun they use. I found the wagon parked up in an industrial estate behind Peckham Rye Station, a twisty trail of meaty smoke rising from within and a reassuring sizzle audible from a good twenty paces away.

I was relieved to find burgers still available as my reader warned me they often run out. I asked the owner, Yianni, to ‘make it spicy’ and as he set about cooking it, he told me that what I am actually getting is a ‘Bobcat Burger’. Apparently, he doesn’t advertise it as such for fear of trademark infringement as the recipe is inspired by one served at The Bobcat Bite in New Mexico. It is the chillies which make it Bobcat, specifically the way they are glued to the top of the burger with melted cheese.

Yianni chops half a green chilli and fries it in butter and a touch of chicken stock. “Not averse to a bit of butter I take it?” he checks. I laugh and reassure him that I feel quite the opposite. The frying releases the flavour of the chillies; the active ingredient, capsaicin, is water repellent and so will only be released when the chilli is cooked in some kind of fat. If you add a chilli into something straight, or into a stew or soup without frying for example, you will simply get the heat, but none of the flavour.

When the frying is complete, he tips the whole lot straight over the burger while it is still on the hot grilling plate, to a spectacular sizzle and steam. A few moments later, cheese goes on and seals the chillies in a juicy, hidden layer. To finish the burger Yianni toasts the bun and adds ketchup, mustard (French’s mild and sweet), lettuce and onion. There are of course variations on saucing and pickles available (a must in my opinion). As he hands me the finished product, carefully wrapped in foil to preserve it for my journey, he warns that the longer I wait the less likely it will be as rare as I wanted because the butter from the chillies penetrates the meat and continues cooking it (not to mention the residual heat). I look up at him with a delirious grin, drunk on the thought of butter seeping through beef.

When I arrive home I find the burger has squidged slightly and I curse myself for not cradling it in my hands like a delicate flower rather than slinging it enthusiastically into my bag. No matter, it is still good – a bit of re-arranging and I take the first bite and ohmygod; it is still juicy and pink, the meat (100% chuck from MacDuff cattle) is well seasoned and the butter laced chillies add richness and flavour with a subtle heat. It is gooey with cheese.

And the bun? Well, it was actually a light sourdough which, on paper I would have thought wrong, wrong, wrong but in all honesty, it worked. With only a hint of sourness and light as a feather beneath the slightly chewy crust, it was different from a regular sourdough. It does not surprise me to learn that Yianni and the baker have put quite some time and thought into it.

Apparently, he’s not a fan of brioche but I can forgive him because brioche would not be right for this burger, which is all very soft and squidgy. Salad is shredded and added sparingly so there is no ultra crisp crunch of lettuce or onion and the layers of cheese, butter, beef and sauce fuse together in a rich meld of gooey harmony. And so the bun plot thickens. There was me thinking I could go test some buns, decide which was the best and be done with it. Turns out the success of the bun type varies across burgers – pretty obvious now I come to think of it.

Yianni won’t be back in London for a while as he is taking his meat wagon off for a three month long trip to The States – to sample burgers and other carnivorous delights. “Meat is my thing” he tells me. I can’t wait to taste the ideas brought home from his travels. In the meantime I will continue my own burger experiments, which are going well, at the time of writing. I made these last night (post coming up) and they came out a treat – almost perfect in fact. Almost.

The Meat Wagon
All over the place – see website for details

25 comments » | Burgers, Restaurant Reviews, Street Food

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