Wednesday, 25 July 2012

How Cool Is Your Burger?

Are you worried your burger is not really happening right now? What if the burger you're eating is a bit 'last week'? Imagine if you sat down in your latest burger hotspot, only to find you've been duped, and you're actually sitting in a chain restaurant, thinly disguised as the latest thing, complete with tattooed staff, factory lighting and retro packaging?

Do not fear, my handy quiz will make sure you know exactly where you are on the burger cool scale.

1. Did you hear about your burger 

a/ On the specials board at your local Geronimo pub?

b/ In ES mag top ten burger list?

c/ On twitter, RT'd by Chris Pople?

2. Are you eating it

a/ In a restaurant staffed by Australians?

b/ In a 2 day residency pop-up at a trendy pub?

c/ Near an old caravan at the side of the road after being anonymously tipped off?

3. Is the bun

a/ A  supermarket bap?

b/ A poppyseed bun?

c/ A light Normandy butter brioche artisan bun, baked by hand, in-house, that morning?

4. Is the patty

a/ 100% ground beef?

b/ Home ground selected cuts, hand sourced from local suppliers?

c/ Fucking meat, man, cooked bloody. Eat it and feel your southern roots, cowboy!

4. Is it served

a/ On a plate, with a galvanised steel bucket of chips?

b/ In an ironic mass-produced takeaway style brown cardboard box, with the (still independent and proud) logo on the front?

c/ On the back of a naked stripper?

5. In it, is there

a/ A selection of salad, cheese and ketchup?

b/ Pulled pork, 'slaw', & your own selection of cheese (you went for American, to be authentic)?

c/ Maybe some vodka pickled jalepenos, half a bottle of tabasco, some cocaine?

6. To wash it down, you drank

a/ A glass of Pinot Grigio.

b/ A bottle of American craft beer.

c/ Neat bourbon.

7. Did you pay?

a/ You got it discounted at a 2 for one lunch deal from Bookatable.

b/ Of course, for you and your hipster date!

c/ Did you fuck.


Mostly As:

Your burger is a burger loser, a patty square about as cool as Carlton from Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Go to Gourmet Burger Kitchen.

Mostly Bs

Your burger is a burger wannabe. A blatant ligger, a groupie. It thinks it knows what's happening but it's a long way til the front of the queue. Stick to Byron.

Mostly Cs

Congratulations! You've got 100% fully qualified bad-ass Burger elite. You've probably just got back from New York, where you ate secret off the menu shit that would make Burgerac weep. I won't even tell you where to go, as it's still a concept in the mind of someone way cooler than me.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

How to Open a Trendy London Restaurant

Thinking of opening a London restaurant? Want it to be cool and trendy? Here's my handy step-by-step guide.

Theme bar, tastefully designed. The idea is austerity, nostalgia, a brief moment of stylish comfort in these recession-hit times. Keep prices high though to discourage riff-raff/ people that don't 'get-it'. No reservations - goes without saying, you need as many people visibly queuing as possible.

Ex-pub in Hackney (don't worry, the scary locals will go away soon). Move to Soho when you can afford it.

Utilitarian, use rectangular white kitchen wall tiles as much as possible, exposed concrete, ceilings should be pressed tin, adorn walls with taxidermy, ironic hunting prizes (because of course we would never really go hunting), furniture should be pre-war mismatched, preferably reclaimed from an old school or public building. Graffiti (the nice middle-class 'street art' kind, not the other nasty taggy subway kind) on the walls must suggest the wacky, rock n roll crazy personalities of the owners. Lots of angle-poise desk lamps. Absolutely no tablecloths.

Should be as much as possible unsuited to that particular beverage. Wine should be served in thick glass tumblers (Duralex, prefrably). Or even better, recycled mustard jars. Pickling jars, jam jars, ashtrays, all good. Oh, and water (to be garnished with a sliver of cucumber) must be served from a quirky source - milk bottle, water trough, flagon etc

Anything funky, irreverent and cool, with the one golden rule: No white ceramic! Enamel camping tins and baking tins are of course, essential, resting artfully (always artfully) on the brown paper placemat which is also the menu for the day (a nod to McDonald's, I see what you did there), which is great when instagrammed from above because you don't even have to namecheck.

Staff should ideally have a selection of tattoos (again, middle-class but not chavvy ones) and alternative dress sense. Beards for guys, forties throwback for girls. Converse hi-tops are compulsory. They must have a laid-back but slight problem with authority, man, so you can just sort of let them do what they want as long as they refer to themselves as mixologists a couple of times. Guyliner a good idea but not compulsory. Extra points for arriving on a stickered fixed wheel bicycle. Owners should be in tight-fitting retro t-shirts to accentuate their 45 yr old paunches. Easy on the cheap European labour, best stick to friends of friends, even if they don't really know what they're doing.

Menus should be on torn-out lined notepaper, or brown packaging paper, in a typewriter or stencil font. There should be no punctuation and definitely no currency signs, and there will be a maximum of ten items on the menu. Equally acceptable is a photocopied handwritten menu, the more sketchy the handwriting, the better. 
No-nos: Anything in a leatherette folder (although I've heard these are to be making an ironic comeback in parts of Dalston) Copperplate font, Conqueror or similar paper, centred text.

Anything that you would have eaten when you were a kid. It's even better if you can abbreviate it. The more simple, the better. No 'courses' (how restraining), everything to be shared, like a London Fields picnic.

Start a twitter account, and make friends with every food blogger you can find. Give all of them free food for a month, and do exactly what they say. Love them, they are your Gods.

Monday, 9 July 2012

My top 10 Restaurants of the Moment

I'm getting a lot of stick for being too negative on here, so after the 5th request of 'what DO you like, then?' in as many minutes last week, I decided to compile a list of things that I thought were good about food in London. 

1. Dabbous. Yes, it's hyped. But it's deserving. And I got a table, so of course I'm smug. The service was just a little bit special because it was formal and informal at the same time, the food was good and it was very reasonable for what it was. (See review here)

2. Cay Tre. Great value Vietnamese food, great service and great summer rolls, with a great selection on the menu. Really lovely place. It's nice to have somewhere to be able to go to that you can always depend on.

Cay Tre, image from website

3. Soho Food Feast. At the beginning of May, I went expecting it to be expensive and overridden with massive queues, but it was both the cheapest and best food festival I'd ever been to, with delicious tasters at £2 a pop for the most part, and it was tiny, too. Obviously it's only a one-time thing but I would go every year now.

5. STK (the idea of it, anyway, I haven't been). Before you get on your high horses, I don't advocate the bit about small bits of meat (snigger) being marketed at women being on diets, but having steak grouped by size and having other interesting food on the menu (I'm looking at some other steak restaurants which are primarily STEAK and other options are well, shit and half-arsed).

6. Richmonds Café. It's not anything lavish, complicated or fancy but it does simple sandwiches that are  always good - and it's got cockney rhyming slang on the wall. And they don't ask you if you want milk in your tea.
3 Bateman Street, Soho, London W1D 4AG

7. Tayyabs. Went for the first time a couple of months ago and it was delicious, inexpensive and they provide you with takeaway containers, no questions asked. And it's BYOB which makes it even cheaper.

Tayyabs, image from website
8. Costa Dorada. The only place where you can walk in at midnight and go and see a flamenco show. Brilliant fun. Basic but perfectly acceptable Spanish fare, it's worth it for the atmosphere alone.

9. Cafe Boheme. It's simple, straightforward and unpretentious, as well as good value. It would really benefit from having a set lunch though (take note, Soho House!). Lovely food and the perfect place for going last minute. And I've never had to queue or wait there.

10. Bob Bob Ricard. At the opposite end of the spectrum to Cafe Boheme, it is lavish, expensive and delicious, with Russian influences and a 'Push for Champagne' button' - just for fun. Does a great steak tartare.

Bob Bob Ricard, image from website

Friday, 6 July 2012

Why Small Plates Can be a bit Shit

Small plates are taking over the world. I understand why, because they're good for business, good for being sociable and for this culture of trying everything and being a foodie. Of course, we can see where this started. Russell Norman's numerous places (though I have very much enjoyed meals at his places, my bank balance didn't) and the 'tapas' restaurants that are popping up all over the place have definitely contributed to this. Small plates are everywhere, and they've got some good points. They're really good for some things. For example, they're great for sharing and breaking the ice on a first date, say, and it means you can try lots of different things, and if you don't want to make a big commitment towards a weird dish, you can just try it for not much. But are small plates as we know them now really doing us any favours?

The waitress recommends that you should order 'at least 7 plates each', and when they arrive, you could really have done with about five. And they were only 'advising' and you actually ordered the food, so you can't really say anything. 

Then there is the deception of costs. 'For a starter, this is cheap! We can just have loads of starters! And that list of little whilst-you're-waiting-snacky-things is even cheaper and I've always wanted to eat a whole deep-fried octopus foetus! Let's have ten!' Then when you've finished: 'We might as well share a few more desserts - it's so cheap, it'll barely factor into our bill!' Herein the problem lies.

It doesn't make it cheaper to order lots of little things because unsurprisingly, lots of little things add up. So what is on first glance a cheap meal can be a very expensive meal, if you actually enjoy yourself and order what you want, as opposed to keeping your iPhone zealously on the table with a running total for each of you.

Or even worse, you remember that you must exercise English reserve and hold back, which can be very awkward if there's one greedy bastard who'll hoover up everything that's left there for more than two minutes. and nervously eye up the seven croquetas in the bowl and wonder how three of you are going to split them. So you end up getting a dirty kebab on the way home. Which isn't what you really want, is it?

And because these are such tiny plates, the restaurant can widen the margins a lot and you won't really notice as much, right, because you've sampled a few too many drinks on their quirky cocktail list, which you downed whilst you were waiting for a table in their tiny dining room.

And you can never quite discern how fast service is going to be so you don't want to order too few plates as a result of not being quite sure on size. I mean, if you just say you're going to get a few and order a few more, they could take ages. By which time, you have worked your way down to the bottom of the ubiquitous cocktail list and no longer have interest in tapas, small plates or seveech-ay, as your neighbour keeps smugly pointing out in a pretentious accent.

And I know what you're thinking. In fact, it's been pointed out to me a number of times. I COULD go somewhere else for a straightforward, three course meal so why have I been clogging up your brain for the last two minutes whinging about something I could just avoid entirely, but sometimes I read about a restaurant that does great food, but it's full of deceptively expensive, small plates. So I don't go.

Small plates, on first glance, do seem like a good idea, but in reality, they are expensive, socially awkward and you never know just how small they really are.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Food Photography Clichés

I've actually worked on food photo shoots (yes really) and have grown a little tired of seeing the following wherever I look... (though I can't say I've not been guilty of any of these on occasion!)

1. Filters. Instagram etc. Said so many times before, but your rustic film borders do not fool be into thinking you have a darkroom and are hand developing Ilford FP4. Neither do your crappy blurry vignettes make me think you're using No2 on this list.

2. Shallow depth of field. Wow, so dramatic. Only one crumb of crumble is actually in focus, very helpful. Actually one of the easiest effects you can do, providing you have a lens with an aperture wider than 2.8. Which every SLR basically comes with. Boring.

Cheese blog

3. The vertical downshot. Ooh how clinical, how functional. Yes, like we all hold our heads like horses directly over our plates and look down.

Jonathan Gregson

4. The black and white kitchen sweaty shouty action shot. A staple since the 90s, with Marco Pierre White's 'White Heat'. Very tired now. We all know kitchens get a little sweaty & shouty. Non-story.

At the time, it was groundbreaking

5. Exaggerated saturated colours. It's not cross-processed Fujifilm from 1985. It's Photoshop.

BUTT mag (don't ask)

6. The blurry vignette. TIRED.

Paul Winch-Furness using also 1 and 3

7. Things in threes. So zen like. And while you're at it, why not snake them towards us combined with 'The Tilt'?

Jim Scherer

8. The tilt. How wild and daring. Seasick more like.

9. Turning up and acting like a self-important wanker. Yes, food photographers act like this too, not just fashion or music ones. Get over yourselves, or I'll just use my iPhone, I'm sure it'll look fine, and you'll be out of a job.


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