Monday, 20 July 2015

NY Fold

For a few years now we’ve all been told that whatever we know about pizza is all wrong, and what we should all be eating is floppy, spongy crusts, with watery undercooked cheese tops and blackened carbon burnt bases, because that’s how they do it in Naples.
Well, Naples can go and stick its head in mount Vesuvius for all I care because I'm struggling to 'get' pizza like this. Give me something thin and crispy that I can pick up with my hands that doesn’t end up flopping all over the place in a steaming wet mess of cheese and tomato. 
Pizza by the slice has started to make a bit of a name for itself over the last couple of years, Homeslice and Voodoo Ray's both putting out their wares in this denomination. Voodoo Ray was probably the first to try and emulate the ‘New York’ style, and I loved it.
NY Fold is the latest, slightly more normcore opening direct from New York - yes food fans, real actual America - offering big slices from its new outlet in Charing Cross Road. So technically Soho, but facing TK Maxx and for a bit of grounding.
The current staff crew is all-American as far as I could tell, with even 'world pizza champion' Bruno di Fabio himself at the ovens, or at least I assumed it was, as he kept saying ‘my pizza is this, my pizza is done like that’ so much I hope I’m right.
Not sure about their insistence on calling pizzas 'pies' though. Pies, as we all know, are pastry, with a lid, filled with hearty fillings like steak & kidney, and served by jolly old ladies up north. Luckily though, unlike mac & cheese, fries etc, 'pie' for pizza seems to be staying put over there. 
Great to hear all the accents - I even honed my pronunciation of New York - (it’s not ’Niew Yawk’ but ’nooYARK’ ).
I hope the US voices stay longer, as they add a bit of romance to the atmosphere, but fear they’re all here just for the opening period. 
To be honest its quite fun to have an American thing here that really feels fresh, unpretentious and authentic, rather than the usual desperate hipster fawning pastiches we’re all so used to.

My starter of Caesar salad was good, I ordered it without chicken, because chicken has no place in a Caesar salad, the only thing belonging there are salty, umami-ish anchovies to go with that parmesan. Sadly no anchovies or croutons  appeared, so it was really like a lettuce & parmesan salad with Caesar sauce. It has to be said was good though.

The pizza slice, Quite big, as everyone knows Americans eat ten times what any other human eats at any given time, and nicely hot with still bubbling cheese. The much lauded base was crispy, light and tasty, which is exactly what Mr Di Fabio said it would be like.

There were three desserts I could see. Cheesecake, Tiramisu and Butterscotch Budino. All of which I was excited by, as they all ticked my ’not too clever, classic and a bit retro’ box. Butterscotch Budino is a fantastic thing to have in London - made famous by legendary Mario Batali L.A. & Singapore Osteria Mozza (and in the cookbook). I’ve never seen them here before, apart from on a stand from Italian restaurant Tartufo at Taste of London a couple of years ago.

Anyway I went for the Tiramisu as I’ve not the sweet tooth for butterscotch. It was great, deep in coffee and marsala wine flavour, not too heavy.

All in all I reckon NY Fold is a good addition to London's pizza repertoire. Expect families, tourists and day-trippers along with a good dose of Soho-ites dropping in.

I paid for my meal myself.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

How hip is your chain?

What do you do when you’re not cool anymore? No self respecting foodie scenester would be seen dead in them now they’re rolled out and servicing the suburbs and featuring on everyone’s Facebook feed for your slightly provincial friends’ girls night out, but these neo-chains were all once the place to be seen, supercool indie startups basically giving birth to the London foodie twitter and instagram food trend with their sharp, niche offerings which offered quality and style in a sea of either Strada or Jaimie’s Italian.
Fundamentally, these guys have made it because their product was, and remains, good. But this post isn’t about how good they are, that would be boring. It’s about how cool they are, now that they’ve grown paunches since the investors have waded in. And coolness is all that really matters, right?


The chain that’s slowly but surely replacing the great Aberdeen Angus and more recently Gaucho as the London generic steakhouse of choice, Hawksmoor. Handy at tapping into a bit of Victorian aesthetic nostalgia for good measure, Hawksmoor has built itself into a perfectly acceptable choice for everything from a stag night to a city boys birthday party. 
The irony here of course is that Nicholas Hawksmoor was famously vegetarian.*

Shop count: 6
New kids on the block: I think there will always be a market for pretending to be in a sort of European Peter Luger, but as the pastiche American steakhouse look begins to dilute itself across the whole of the UK, I imagine more tiny, rough & ready niche places like Flat Iron & Blacklock will emerge as hipper meat alternatives.
Hipness factor: Won’t let you down.

Burger & Lobster

Now that everyone’s realised that it’s 2015 and not 1975, lobsters are just over-farmed big prawns and not the glamorous and chic delicacy it once was perceived to be, plus the fact that everyone from All Bar One to Travelodge is now doing a Lobster/Burger special, B&L has gone from THE chicest and most fun little Mayfair concept to an ever-so-slightly bootcut jeans hangout for tourists and home counties day-trippers.
And don’t forget, it’s £20 for a burger. £20.

Shop count: Crikey is there really 8 now?
New kids on the block: None. Even if there was one, I doubt they’d do it as well as B&L.
Hipness factor: Lobster is the new salmon. 


The brand that arguably started the London burger / ‘dirty food’ fad and made celebrating getting drunk for drunk’s sake when you’re not a student OK again, Meatliquor is one of the few that have kept a certain degree of hipness, and now with offshoots in Leeds, Brighton, and soon to be in Singapore, and Islington I think, they’re hanging on to it, but inevitably with a loosening grip. Much of their original fun & outrageousness has been quietly scrubbed off - what happened to ‘Arrive hungry, leave drunk’? - but constant inventiveness and realness has kept it sharp.

Shop count: 5/6 
New Kids on the Block: unmatched for concept, apart from a few copycats up north. Burger bores will tell you Bleecker is better but Meatliquor is more of a way of life. 
Hipness factor: Still got it.


I’ve always had a soft spot for Byron. They’ve unashamedly been chain-focused since day one, dedicated to high quality but basically simple product, and mushroomed faster than anyone I can think of. A masterstroke of marketing and design, Byron is a lesson in how to create a mid market family restaurant brand in the 21st century. The Pizza Express of burgers.

Shop count: 50
New Kids on the Block: Nobody really matching their formula at the moment. 
Hipness factor: Byron never really was exactly ‘hip’, was it?

Honest Burgers

Neither baddass nor squeaky clean, I’m a little lost as to their identity really. A branch of Honest opening in your neighbourhood is as exciting and rock-n-roll and a branch of Evans Cycles. This is a burger chain for couples who read Homes & Property with interest and wear gilets. If they were a band they’d be Mumford & Sons.

Shop count: 8
New Kids on the block: Tommi’s, Patty & Bun, Dirty Burger** or my secret favourite: Dip & Flip are all cooler. 
Hipness factor: Safecore

Franca Manca

Investor David Page (also Meatliquor) clearly has an eye for a cool brand, and being ex Pizza Express he obviously knows pizza chains better than most. The only Pizza in the list, Franca Manca has grown from a single Brixton outlet which in 2009 was the 2nd hippest pizza in London after Santa Maria. 
It's definitely true that London needed a new pizza chain, as since the 90s and with the more recent US comfort food craze, pizza simply hasn't been cool. 

Shop count: 12
New kids on the block: Pizza Pilgrims, Pizza East**, Homeslice
Hipness Factor: Good choice for a quick lunch with an ex.


It’s hard to remember London restaurants before Polpo. Linen & half net curtains, exposed brick, filament bulbs, brown paper menus, mismatched chintz plates were all around, but nowhere put them all together in one beautifully designed little package with the magic of Russell Norman.
Polpo changed the way we all approached going out to eat, suddenly it was cool to sit at the grimy bar with little plates of picky food, drinking Negronis discussing Baroque art or nineteenth century Russian literature.
The problem is that since it opened nine restaurants in every ten have copied something of it, small plates and no bookings has become something to roll your eyes at and everyone’s realised that when the bill comes it’s never quite the no-frills casual bargain you were seduced into thinking it was.

Shop count: 5
New kids on the block: Everyone
Hipness factor: Very much still cool, even though they are now in Notting Hill (I know). Everyone tries, but nobody comes close to matching its style.


*OK I made that up

**These I don’t really count as they are all part of the Richard Caring masterplan and never really were cool indie startups in the first place


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