Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Chewing our way round London

For those with an at least passing interest in food, London can, viewed from afar, almost seem a bit... daunting. There's just too bloody much stuff to eat. With only a few days excursion in our nation's capital the temptation is to draw up some sort of "must do" list, cramming in as much as one's available time and gastric capacity will allow.

There are problems with this approach. Humans (and I include myself, and indeed my girlfriend in that category) tend to have families, and they tend to live in London and must be visited. Also, London isn't just a vast food-court. You may be surprised to learn that there's also a bunch of amazing museums and galleries, and it would be folly not to drop in on at least a couple. And there's other stuff to do as well, which I'll categorise here as "other stuff". There's lots going on. You get the idea.

Anyhow, here is a bit of a run-down of the comestibles we did manage to stuff ourselves with on a recent trip down to the smoke, in between the bits when we were doing things involving museums, galleries, family and sleep.

Artisan du Chocolat/ Pierre Hermé

Both handily situated within Claridges, whose food hall is generally worth a wander in any case. That smarmily gurning "Mr Claridge" idiot off the tele was nowhere to be seen, which came as a relief to me as it saved me from getting thrown out for attempting to land him one. Must've been his day off.

Artisan du Chocolat make the best salted caramels I reckon I've ever had, but you can get those in Fenwicks, so, looking for alternative delights, we troubled them instead for some chocolate covered salted honeycomb. It was good enough, though I could scarcely detect any salty tang. Not surprising that they were a little bit "meh" though as we'd just tried Pierre Hermé's white truffle macarons (pictured atop this post) which went straight into the (admittedly imaginary at this juncture) list of The Best Things I've Ever Eaten. This bloke specialises in more outré flavours of macarons, as well as your standard vanilla and pistachio etc. I'd be interested to know if these are made with actual white truffle, or one of the same synthetic flavourings that goes into so much truffle oil. The romantic in me is tempted to guess at the former, as the flavour was stunning and perfectly balanced against the squidgy/sweet macaron, with none of the overly assertive shroomy thwack that you get with a lot of truffle oils. "Bloody hell" I muttered, and I meant every word of it.


Hello you
There's almost certainly absolutely nothing to say about these guys that hasn't been said before, but the same applies to God and yet people keep banging on about him, don't they? So, here goes.

I went with a few friends after a couple of beers, which is probably the perfect context for this sort of stuff. I've been reading, somewhat jealously, sites like this for quite a while, as a veritable deluge of high-end fast food has swept London. In fact I was a bit worried that it might be a bit of a let-down. After all it's just a burger.

Well, that's true, but it's a seriously bloody good one, fulfilling in a way that so many burgers don't the promise of perfectly constructed fast food. I went for the Dead Hippie burger, each gobful delivering extreme beefiness, salt, fat, cheesy and sauce slop and oniony savouriness, all served in a bun that didn't fall or slide apart. The beef patties, despite being thin, had just a blush of pink in them and tasted like magic. I think they fry them in mustard or something. The sides were minor acts of genius too; deep fried pickles with a blue cheese dip were things of strange yet compelling beauty; monkeys fingers were strips of chicken, coated in a kind of batter that reminded me of sweet and sour chicken, then slathered in chilli sauce; they admirably squared the circle of being both crispy yet sloppy at the same time. Fries were exemplary. The choice of beer was good and cocktails were well received by those who ordered them. They do a Full English cocktail that I do believe comes with a bacon stirrer. Next time.

Unlike their other places, you can book here, and contrary to reports elsewhere, we didn't feel at all rushed to move on. Didn't take any pics of the interior as it was pretty dark and I wasn't in full tourist mode, but the insides of this former Christian Mission are quite something; all black and red, graffiti and print everywhere, weird art that often involves animals and a completely stunning stained glass roof. Combined with a very decent soundtrack, the overall effect is a kind of rock-and-roll infantilism, sloppy but amazingly tasty food being chowed sans couverts by legions of Hoxton hipsters. I thought it was great, and continue to rue the fact that Newcastle can't support at least one such establishment.

Borough Market

Goliath Oyster, champion of the mollusc race

Early to rise the next day to meet Kasia at Borough Market. Yes, it gets ridiculously packed and yes, it's full of bloody tourists (people like us then...), but it's still got some amazing stuff going on. To the oyster stall for some hangover-alleviating bivalves. I'm amazed by how varied the flavour of different kinds of oyster are when when you try them side by side. I had a rock oyster here that was stupendously large, about the size of a medium baby's head. Or maybe not quite that big, but basically the exact volume of my mouth as I realised I had no spare capacity for chewing, and panicked slightly. I just about managed to consume the thing without disgracing myself.

No room to chew
We got a bit addicted to n'duja (a sort of spreadable sausage made from pork fat and chilli) which you can, and should, get from De Calabria, a while ago so headed there to stock up, also getting some amazing unfiltered olive oil. I asked Giuseppe Mela, who owns the stall, if he had any bottarga, and found myself on the end of a five minute lecture about why bottarga from mullet is basically shite, while bottarga from tuna (his stuff) is the real artisan-made deal. He's certainly passionate about his roe. I was so exhausted for him at the end of his performance that I didn't get round to buying any, but he semed far more bothered about putting me right than selling any of it. Elsewhere on the market we also discovered Belper Knolle cheese, a Swiss variety that you grate using a truffle slicer. Didn't buy any of that either, wish I had.

Brick Lane Market

In glorious Sunday sunshine we tubed it down to Brick Lane. The main reason to go was to hunt down The Rib Man (having missed him at the very excellent Urban Night Feast, where the commotion around his stall was like a middle-class version of the scene you get when the UN food guys turn up in some war ravaged corner of the world. By which I mean there was a big queue), but we ended up having a very pleasant wander about the various stalls, covered markets and side streets. A couple of the covered markets off to the side of Brick Lane had an amazing array of international street food going on. We settled on some steamed and fried Nepalese dumplings, which were great.

We duly located the aforementioned ribs and yes, they were pretty superlative; sticky and lucious, served with some really quite fearsome hot sauces. Pudding was a Meringue-topped chocolate brownie, and none too shabby was it either.

Not to bleat on, but: when something even vaguely on this scale of street-food action is organised in Newcastle there's a whole kerfuffle. The event gets fully branded, tweeted about well in advance, tickets are sold and it gets completely rammed. Here, they just do it every Sunday, no queues, no probs. It's at this point I deign to remind myself of the long commutes and horribly inflated housing market...

So, that, not to mention our one posh lunch, was our capital nosh-up. As ever, nowhere near enough time, but much fun was had. If high-speed rail ever does sneak its way up the east coast, you shall not be hearing any complaints from me.

MEATmission on Urbanspoon


  1. Thanks for this. We are hoping to be in London for the first time in September and we love to eat. Our time will be limited, sadly. Of the things you mention, our top priority would probably be Brick Lane.

    1. Hi Jason, you're welcome! Brick lane is great on a Sunday, not sure if the market is on other days. There are a couple of really popular 24 hour bagel places on Brick Lane too, but we were too full of ribs to check them out.

  2. I too lament the lack of a Meat Mission equivalent in Newcastle. Though things have been looking up recently with a couple of places dotted around selling a half decent burger.

    1. Aha, where would that be then?

    2. Im not quite sure Newcastle has anything quite so good as MEATMission or Patty and Bun etc but the Tanners Arms effort isn't too bad likewise the Fat Hippo. Had a really good one in the Butterfly Cabinet but they can be a bit hit and miss.

  3. Had my first sample of N'duja from http://pizzapilgrims.co.uk/ and again when I went to CalsOwn on Chillingham Road. Must admit I am a big fan.

    Love the beigels from Beigel Bake on Brick Lane. The place(and it seems the prices) haven't changed in years. The shouty woman behind the counter are the highlight.

    1. Have been meaning to make it to CalsOwn for a while now, thanks for reminding me!


All comments gratefully received. Sorry about the word verification thing, but I've started getting bombed by spam.

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