Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Boom Burgers

Boom Burgers is a pop up affair over in the backstreets of W10, just off Golborne Road. While the southern reaches of Portobello wrestle with the onslaught of homogenisation, high rents and the All Saints monstrosity, the northern end remains more interesting. Although it is long established as a boho crustie-trustie and latterly Portuguese and Moroccan enclave.

Yes there have been recent openings of Ally Capellino and Pizza East (notably, East London heavies) but Golborne has always had a more natural vibe to it than Johnny Come Lately Shoreditch, and hasn’t thrived primarily on nightlife and late licences.

But I’m not here to crash on about tribes, this is firmly about the burgers. Boom Burgers is so much of a pop up that I barely know anything about it. No Twitter feed I could discern, and other online presence is sparse too.

What I do know, and what I saw, is two guys setting up a tent/marquee in a random backyard, playing some music and slinging some burgers. The burgers come one way – in a ‘Boom Box’ for £10 which had the burger, fries and some coleslaw.
the boom box
The burger was great. The patty was juicy and medium-rare, and served with very melted cheese in a nice brioche bun, topped with the trademark bacon jam. Our party was a little divided on this due to its maple sweetness, but I loved every gloopy piece.

Fries were perfect – hot, crispy, simple and salty. Dare I say like McDonalds fries on a good day? Salad was fine, basic staples to add to your burger. It was BYO, so lots of beers. Much cheaper than a session at MeatLiquor…

This was a pretty cool outfit. It felt like stepping into an episode of Skins. Or should that be As If? Urban-clad yet plummy-voiced kids drinking beers and smoking roll-ups, listening to dub and enjoying their burgers in the sun. 

It was a good vibe, and felt more ‘pop-up’ and intrepid than other pop-ups, which seem to massively plan, have huge lead times and a big comms presence. This genuinely felt quite underground and edgy – or possibly like gatecrashing Lily and Miquita’s barbecue (circa. 2004) – except those two soaks wouldn't have had the fantastic bacon jam I'm sure.

more of that jam

And it’s so ‘pop-up’ that I actually have no idea if it’s on again. Or even if it’s called Boom Burger or Boom Burgers. But if you’re in the area on a weekend, do keep an eye out. There’s great coffee at Lowry & Baker too.

Boom Burger(s) – 67 Wornington Road just off Golborne Road, W10.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Ozone Coffee Roasters

Ozone Coffee Roasters is rather shockingly, a coffee roastery and café just south of Old Street, right in the heart of that ES mag darling and odious political trophy of the future, "The Silicon Roundabout".

Rather than being a slick urban Auckland operation like Allpress (or indeed Melbourne’s St Ali) they’re actually from the small Kiwi city of New Plymouth. It’s hard to imagine a similar sized place in the UK (Dewsbury, Rugby or Cheshunt to name a few) having such a serious, global approach to coffee.

The space is a cavernous one, with a nice mix of industrial lighting and metal, plenty of exposed brick and a lot of wood too. The counter is particularly long and impressive, although it was somewhat lacking in the usual tempting display of baked goods which cafés of this genre carefully position within grasp and whiff.


So with the regular sandwiches a bit lacklustre, I had no alternative than to go for the steak sandwich (£12.50) from the brunch menu. Said menu is also correctly very egg heavy – those with a sweet tooth might like the orange and cardamom French toast with rose honey and mascarpone – but it also has that Antipodean brunch renegade, the steak sandwich.

Peppery, juicy chunks of steak, given even more piquancy with piles of rocket, were served on sourdough with a mature cheddar so tangy and sharp, it could have been Keen’s or Quickes. This was extremely well-seasoned, with salt, pepper and marinade from the steak ensuring a lot of flavour.


Chips were tasty – skin on and in a little tin pot (which I've always liked, inexplicably) but could have been a little crispier.

My long black (£2) to go was very good too, with a great head of crème and a deep, nutty taste. My one tiny niggle is that purist Antipodean long blacks are much lesser in liquid than Americanos. I accept that. But this one was about 150ml which was too small I thought, even if correct.

Overall I really liked Ozone. It’s a cool space, the staff were very friendly and the offering is pretty wide. The vibe is a bit more welcoming and accessible than St Ali I think, which can be a bit distracted and inefficient. 

And all this from a small-town Kiwi outfit! I'm impressed. I hope word spreads and we get some more of their exports, perhaps next from my favourite foodie city, Wellington? London could easily take a Mojo, Plum Café or Midnight Espresso. 

And if the coffee wasn’t good enough (or liquid enough) they serve Meantime Pale Ale on draught. This pig is sold...

Food – 8/10

Drink – 9/10

Service - 8/10

Value – 7/10

Tap water tales – 9/10 (brought straight away in a vintage Kiwi beer bottle)

Staff Hotness – 9/10 (cute, inked-up Kiwi waitresses and two hot barista boys)

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Havelock Tavern

Cheeky bavette at The Havelock Tavern in W14, definitely the best pub for food in that part of town.

It's a slight step up even from your average gastropubs. The menu changes twice daily, they bake their own bread (which is doled out for free) and the wine list is excellent. It also has decent outdoor seating which is a rarity in dense Brook Green. 

Not worth crossing town for, but if an unlucky bib happens to find themselves traumatised, caught out in the wilderness between The Ledbury and La Trompette, you could certainly wait out the rain here.

No I'm joking, it's really rather good. The bavette in question is about £14 and comes with excellent chips, salad and a creamy tarragon butter.

chips with bavette in the background

Other dishes range from pub favourites to some more adventurous curries and quite decent French cooking. I've never seen a burger on offer though.

A great local, even if it does feel like a kennel at times...

Food – 7/10
Drink – 7/10
Service - 6/10
Value – 8/10
Tap water tales – 7/10 (lukewarm, lemoned jugs at the bar)
Staff Hotness – 6/10
Havelock Tavern on Urbanspoon 
Square Meal

Friday, 16 March 2012

La Bodega Negra

Soho may have a new king of the castle already. It’s early days of course but a sniff of New Yorker-in-London headlines, mixed with a nod to the London street food craze is bound to lead to a lot of hype. My Twitter feed already attests to this also.

And as with London’s Mexican joints, it will no doubt include plenty of Americans loudly professing that it’s never as good!

Because obviously, the thoroughbred students, bankers, lawyers and media types from Ivy League schools are experts, reppin' the food trucks of the barrio.

Perhaps not, but equally La Esquina is vibes before food too. And America’s best Mexican food is not found in Chipotle or even New York, but in Texas and California. London doesn’t have much of a Mexican population, nor do limes, ancho chillies and nopales grow bountifully in these climes. So considering that, La Bodega Negra is a pretty damn good rendition.

It’s a starry line-up of Will Ricker of E&O (which I still love and is one of the only places in Notting Hill to retain an uptown buzz) and Serge Becker. Mr Becker is a nightlife and cultural guru in New York, and paired with hotelier André Balazs has created some of the best entertainment spaces in the city. Here in a complex which offers taqueria/café, a more formal restaurant and a future food truck, there is certainly a lot of choice. If you like Mexican, of course.

I could eat Mexican food and drink Margaritas for breakfast, probably daily, and I’m pretty bored of Wahaca’s assembly line feel, so I’d been very excited about this. And was not disappointed.

The cochinita pork pibil tacos with a side of green rice and cowboy beans (£10.50) was a great choice, if I don’t mind saying so myself.

Three tacos filled with shredded, tender pork, with wonderfully zingy tomatillo salsa and sweet red onions. They did not last long.

The green rice was relatively plain but nice to have, I had fun spicing it up with the various hot sauces I received.

The cowboy beans were quite the revelation, and pretty damn amazing. A meaty, beery broth, brimming with pinto beans, bacon and chorizo. The beans were cooked through but fantastically al dente. There were also some cherry tomatoes and onions for extra flavour. Not a drop remained.

Both were served in cute little cast-iron pots.

cowboy beans

My margarita (£7.50) was mixed with both Cointreau and agave syrup – a cross between a Classic and a Tommy’s. It was strong, sweet, sour and everything a margarita should be.

La Bodega Negra’s taqueria is quite a low key joint. The vibe is an understated upmarket, but with a worn-in feel from carefully placed Mexico City gig posters. The staff were great too.

I can’t wait to check out the proper restaurant, accessible through the façade of a sex shop. What better way of repurposing seedy old premises in Soho? London just gets better... 

Food – 8/10 
Drink – 8/10
Service - 9/10
Value – 7/10
Tap water tales – 6/10 (offered after my drink was served)
Staff Hotness – 9/10 (habanero hot - not surprising from such aesthetes)
La Bodega Negra on Urbanspoon
Square Meal

Wednesday, 14 March 2012


I must confess that I’d not heard of Bruno Barbieri a few weeks ago, but the news that an Italian chef (heavily laden with Michelin stars) was opening in Marylebone piqued my interest. He has two 2-star restaurants in Italy and I believe this is his first venture outside of the motherland.

Cotidie is in that spacious, attractive unit at the top of the high street which hosted Café Luc, and Eat and Two Veg before that. The décor isn’t wildly different to that of Café Luc to be honest – it was handsome but unadventurous before and I think they’ve spent a lot of money to arrive at the same effect.

Food however is a tad more adventurous. We ordered á la carte although there is a £65 tasting menu which seemed passable value with the various soups and desserts making up six courses.

Before our starters, some large, emerald olives and an amuse bouche of pistachio-flecked various Italian meats – a terrine, a mortadella cube and some salami, with an artichoke and grain salad. Good stuff.

I had the tortellini in capon broth (£16) which is a great traditional dish from Bologna. The broth was richly meaty, and the pasta was perfectly al dente and stuffed with tender veal. 

Salmon tartare was nicely executed also (£12).

The ‘bocconcini’ of beef fillet was extremely well flavoured and cooked with a good bearnaise, but the presentation was bizarre. Being plonked in a bowl was a bit unnecessary and felt quite demeaning for a £28 main. The portion wasn’t huge either, so I was glad of the roast potatoes, and the side of assorted (very good) beans which came for free. 

bowl of beef
cool beans

Sea bream with broccoli and crustacean juice (yum!) was more generous for the £24 and felt like a fuller dish:

Desserts were mixed. Bruno’s ‘Machiavellian’ ice cream pot featured creamy seeded vanilla with cherry compote. The rum baba however was a tad dry, and we actually liked the freebie petit fours most of all. Even if some of them resembled the Coco Pop and Corn Flakes tray bakes of my schooldays.

So there were definitely some snags, alongside the food which we did enjoy but somehow didn’t wow us. It’s modern and ambitious, but not quite there and the menu is confusing: 

- Do S, P, M along the side refer to Starter, Pasta and Main? 
- Why not A, P and S as in Italian which would be consistent with the use of 'Pesce' and 'Carne' as headings? 
- Does ‘Verdure’ need to be a section when you also have the vegetarian (v) at the end of each item?

Service was patchy at best. Some points of the evening it was quite attentive, and others it was negligent. Our table was a very good one, so no excuses about location. Our bread was forgotten, drinks orders weren’t taken in time and the food took a little longer than desirable. The staff seemed very nice, but nervous and inexperienced. It certainly won't be winning any stars without a more natural professionalism.

nice cutlery, crockery and stemware

One final gripe which is small but telling. Having spent a hefty £90 a head on the meal, when we left nobody said good night. Now I’m not one for caricatures or stereotyping, but I do quite enjoy the especially exuberant farewell from an Italian restaurant. 

Depressingly, I even dawdled a tiny bit to give them the benefit of the doubt; that they suddenly might spot us and belatedly see us off, but a backwards glance saw the multitudinous staff chatting with friends and with each other as we stepped out into the cold. Shame.

Food –8/10
Drink – 8/10
Service - 5/10
Value – 6/10
Tap water tales – 5/10 (offered still or sparkling first, and 'tap' brought a narrow bottle for barely 2 glasses)
Staff Hotness – 7/10

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Blueberry Pie

To celebrate International Women's Day, empowerment and all that, what could be more appropriate than that bastion of equality in the home and the workplace - my mum with a pinny on!

Jokes aside - here's a damn good pie, courtesy of my mother:

So geometrically perfect, it could be a cartoon pie...

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Pizza Pilgrims

Your humble correspondent is somebody who tries to have their finger on the pulse, but I must confess that I've been not partaken in enough of the the street food phenomenon of the past 12-18 months.

Yes I’ve queued greedily at Daddy Donkey a few times, but I’ve not made it to Eat Street or the Dalston one. Shock horror but I never got to Pitt Cue on the South Bank either. Lucky Chip? Might as well be Essex…

But I do apply myself to the happenings of W1 with aplomb!

A Soho meeting was therefore a great excuse to check out Pizza Pilgrims, two brothers (who might be called Frodo and Sam) drove around Italy swotting up on pizza making before setting up said van with a massive (gas-fired) oven in the back on Berwick Street.

The irreverence and cheekiness of #MeatEasy and Pitt Cue is not found here. This is the most earnest and good-natured of City fugitive stories, and the guys are very friendly and approachable, as are the plummy serving girls they’ve roped in, probably on ‘exeat’.

the operation

But on to the pizzas themselves, rather than analysis of people I met for 30 seconds. I went for a margherita (£5) which was fantastic.

bite missing

Rather 80s looking cubes on buffalo mozzarella melted into hot, creamy, salty pools of gooey, oozing, moist….is there any innuendo free way of writing this? Suffice to say, the cheese was damn good.

The tomato sauce was sweet and full-bodied, and the dough was a spot-on Neapolitan rendition. One tiny personal preference for me is a slightly more charred crust, probably all of ten seconds extra in the oven.

Ideal size for a weekday lunch too, and perfectly priced. With no Franco Manca in W1 and Spaccanapoli (RIP) a victim of Crossrail, those Hobbity pizza slingers have Soho to themselves and a very big foodie future, no doubt. 

Food – 9/10
Drink – 6/10
Service - 8/10
Value – 9/10
Tap water tales – 0/10
Staff Hobittness – 9/10
Pizza Pilgrims on Urbanspoon

Monday, 5 March 2012


Quick snack at Jose, the low-key yet brilliant tapas bar on Bermondsey Street.

This place is everything I love about Spain, and everything I think London needs more of. It’s quick, informal but dedicated to quality, and serious where it matters.

Manzanilla olives (£3) were speckled with sea salt flakes and wrapped by lemon peel, infusing its oil into them.

Croquetas were fantastic. £6 gets you five balls of oozing cheese and Spanish ham; fresh, hot and so moreish. They have become quite legendary and are among my favourite snacks. I’d love a bigger portion, but then again I think if they offered that, I’m not sure people would order anything else!

Fried choricitos with a sweet mix of red peppers and soft onions on a small piece of toast (yes that is what this jumble of a photo is) was another great bar snack. A bit messier than the croquetas' simplicity:

I had a small beer which immediately evoked being in Spain, moderating oneself with just the littlest of cañas before noon.

A slight gripe, as with BrewDog before it, is that it’s so popular and isn’t particularly relaxing as the waitresses jostle through standing crowds, with the ever present danger of hot, oily food landing all over you, or worse, the floor. But they manage very skilfully. I think this same success has in part led to Pizarro offering more in the way of tapas and smaller snacks.

chocolate pot with sea salt and almonds

But I really do like this place. It’s simple, stylish and upfront. You can see the whole operation, and the people watching is also pretty good. I could come here every day for a quick drink and snack after work, and London (especially West and Northwest) could do with this in every decent neighbourhood. 

Food – 9/10
Drink – 8/10
Service - 8/10
Value – 7/10
Tap water tales – 7/10 (requested prematurely, but retro bottle came pre-chilled, good sign)
Staff Hotness – 8/10 
José on Urbanspoon 
Square Meal

Thursday, 1 March 2012

BrewDog (Camden)

BrewDog have opened a bar in Camden. For those unaware, they are Scotland’s rebel craft brewers, largely renowned for being the whippersnapper antagonists of CAMRA and the purveyors of 41% IPA ‘Sink The Bismarck!’ which had the Daily Mail in a flutter for about 24 hours.

The bar, in an old pub behind the high street, has an equally irreverent air. In fact, when I visited at about 2pm on a Saturday, it was already debauched to the point of Bacchanalian (as opposed to Dionysian at 10 Greek Street, of course).

A beer gig like this can often be hellish, like some sort of Earl's Court convention. Fat, flatulent blokes scratching their beards, sipping at third-pint taster glasses and then sweating it all out.

But not at BrewDog, where skinny trussed-up blokes scratch their beards, sip third-pint tasters and try to out-craft-speak one another. Herein lies the difference.

I guess the BrewDog crowd appreciate bold typography, social media and mantras about PUNKS! whereas the CAMRA types prefer 3.2% milds with twee illustrations of Cornish steam trains. Guess which side of the fence I’m on…

My one gripe is obvious if you go; that BrewDog is a victim of its own success. They’re making an effort in terms of lots of (clued-up) staff, but the place is too small for the demand. I think people actually queue up before opening time.

In terms of the food, it’s basically to soak up the beer. But some thought has gone into the burgers and pizzas, which have crazy ingredients and hipster place names like Los Feliz and Williamsburg. My burger (about £5-6) was the archetype of a ‘dirty burger’ but well executed – oozing cheap cheese, medium rare patty, relish and some cursory veg. Perfect. One red flag was the bun which was a bit hard, and probably from the freezer. Looks pretty anaemic now.

The beer is great of course, but I’m stumped if I could tell you what I had. I know the 5am Saint and Punk IPA made appearances, as well as a 4/3 tasting flight of various things between 7 and 10%. BrewDog sell other breweries’ beers which I thought deserved some credit. No Camden, Meantime or Kernel wares unsurprisingly, but there were some Anchor Steam and Goose Island brews among the lesser known brewers.

Their current collaboration with Danish Gods of craft beer, Mikkeller, meant that a head to head showdown was taking place (with the whole bar in raptures voting for each beer) and it led to this rather snazzy looking fridge of beers.

The fantastically designed Mikkeller range

In summary: arrive early, drink lots, get hungry, eat dirty burger, leave drunk anyway. Brilliant.

Food – 8/10
Drink – 10/10
Service - 8/10
Value – 7/10 (beer 6, food 9)
Tap water tales – 2/10 (don't dare ask!)
Staff Hotness – 7/10 (grizzly hipsters, very well versed though)
BrewDog on Urbanspoon 
Square Meal