The Hawksmoor Five Pork Burger: Bring out your inner pig

2 Apr
That's FIVE kinds of pork right there!

That’s FIVE kinds of pork right there!

Burgers have undergone a transformation in the past couple of years. From an unhealthy option associated – understandably – with greasy fast food chains, they are now so gourmet that Gourmet Burger Kitchen is considered fairly low-end.

As well as touting quality, newly-founded burger joints are fighting to distinguish themselves through their creativity. At one end of the scale, there is Haché Burgers. Their branches are decorated with fairy lights and flowers to add a soft, ‘feminine’ touch and boast an extensive menu with burgers ranging from the ‘Steak Mexican’ (cajun spices, salsa, guacamole, jalapeño peppers, sour cream) to the ‘Steak Louisiana’ with crunch peanut butter. At the other end of the scale, there’s Honest Burgers with its simple aesthetics and a simple menu offering just three kinds of beefburger, and one monthly special.

Of course, any meat-oriented restaurant with an eye on the market will understandably jump on the bandwagon and get their menus on trend. The Seven Dials branch of Hawksmoor, the legendary steak restaurant with four branches across London, offers three burgers – a classic beef version, a kimchi burger that taps the current popularity of Korean cuisine, and a special.

And there have been no holds barred on their most recent offering: the Five Pork Burger. If you’re a self-respecting carnivore who lives in or will visit London in the near future, take yourself to Hawksmoor Seven Dials for a proper pig-out.

I had the Five Pork Burger (£15) last night. I have narrated my experience several times over to everyone in the Wozedu office. And so here I am, sharing it with all of you.

The first thing you should know is tha,t although it’s pitched as the Five Pork Burger, the version I had was a SIX Pork Burger. Oh yes.

The SIX Pork Burger

The SIX Pork Burger

The burger begins with a base layer of greenery and mustard mayonnaise – a variation from the homemade apple ketchup usually served. It then has a succulent Tamworth pork patty topped with smoky, salty pulled pork. Next up is a patty almost as large, which is actually sausage stuffing. This is then topped with rashers of bacon and draped with melted cheese. All this meatiness is contained in a brioche bun and served with beautifully crispy pork crackling and peppery pork gravy. I elected to continue with the gluttony and ordered Hawksmoor’s triple cooked chips on the side.

This burger was delicious in a crazy kind of way. It was a porky flavour explosion, and very decadent and incredibly messy. Each pork product came through at different stages of the mouthfuls and at different stages of the entire eating process but, underneath it all, the subtle sage tones of the stuffing were always present.

For me, the mustard mayo didn’t quite strike the right contrast with the burger; I believe the apple ketchup would have been preferable. Also, the salt content was almost off-the-scale: the Five (or Six) Pork Burger must be consumed with at least 2 litres of water – although this definitely makes it moreish.

One final point – does anyone really need a burger this big? As my co-diner pointed out, he’d happily have paid two-thirds of the price for half the burger. And just as our waiter warned us, consuming this burger will basically write off the rest of your night – the resultant food coma is too intense to be fought.

I’m sure Hawksmoor wouldn’t encourage this, but my advice is to share the burger and order a couple more sides. That way, you can still enjoy plenty of pig and walk out of the restaurant, rather than waddle.

All things considered though, I would definitely pig-out again.

Website: http://thehawksmoor.com/locations/seven-dials
Where: 11 Langley Street, London WC2H 9JG

Gimme pig

Gimme pig

Review: Holborn Dining Room

22 Mar
Roast Rib Eye

Roast Rib Eye

The stretch of road from Holborn station towards Chancery Lane is a bit of a no man’s land. You’ll find the standard lunch time take-out shops, a stationers targeting students and… not a whole lot else. Once the sun goes down, sleepiness properly settles in. It seems strange given that the area is a stone’s throw from Covent Garden and Tottenham Court Road. Of course, there has to be a divide somewhere… but perhaps it shouldn’t feel so much like a provincial town. Some people, somewhere, obviously agree as the area is currently part of a ‘Go To Midtown‘ campaign  - an effort to rebrand and invigorate the area.

Perhaps cottoning on this, or perhaps just trying their luck, Rosewood Hotel opened in October 2013. Naturally, this also entailed an restaurant – the somewhat functionally named Holborn Dining Room.

Holborn Dining Room appears every bit the well-furnished modern brasserie in its style - bare bulbs on metal frames throw shadows over the dark wood counters and tables that are surrounded by plush red leather seating. It’s tastefully done and consistent.

Swish interior and dim light aside, on entering the restaurant, we found the atmosphere to be relaxed – Holborn Dining Room could easily be a place to go for drinks and a catch-up with friends but it would equally work for a date. So far, so good.

The staff were on their best behaviour, probably because we were visiting for the soft launch; they attended to us with wide smiles, and created the illusion of automatic doors. Service was just below the overbearing mark, and they’ve probably all calmed down a bit by now.

Hello beef!

Hello beef!

My dining companion and I are FIENDISH meat eaters so there was only one thing on the menu that we were going to be ordering: the Roast Rib Eye ‘Club Cut’ with pepper sauce and crispy onions (£26.50). This is a giant chunk of tender roast beef served up like a steak, topped with thin onion rings. The flavour of the meat was beautiful, but it was a tad overcooked: I asked for mine medium-rare and it came medium, whereas my companion’s came medium-rare, despite asking for it rare. Nevertheless, we happily devoured our chunks of meat with some sell-executed chips (£4.25) and some delicious steamed spinach (£5.50).

Valhrona chocolate

Valhrona chocolate <– order this

For dessert, I tucked into an absolutely brilliant Valhrona chocolate pot with sweet cream (£6.50), which was essentially a very rich chocolate crème brûlée with a fantastically crisp top.

Bakewell tart - modern style?

Bakewell tart – modern style?

My companion was less lucky with her Bakewell tart and raspberry ice-cream (£6.50). In an attempt at a modern twist on the classic, the chef had produced a giant puff pastry version, which inadvertently created the game of ‘hunt the filling’ in the midst of a desert. Thank goodness for the ice-cream.

Holborn Dining Room 3/5 – Whilst the food is of decent quality, it is far from exceptional and, at those prices, it can’t really afford not to be. It made us very grateful for the soft opening offer!

Food 3/5
Value 1.5/5
Atmosphere 4/5
Service 4/5

Website: http://www.holborndiningroom.com/
Where: 252 High Holborn, WC1V 7EN
When: Mon – Fri 7am – 11.30pm; Saturday 8am – 11.30pm; Sunday 8am – 10.30pm

BEER ALERT! Mr Trotter’s Chestnut Ale

17 Mar
Mr Trotter's Chestnut Ale

Mr Trotter’s Chestnut Ale

Just last week, I was invited to a party for the launch of Mr Trotter‘s Chestnut Ale in Waitrose. I must confess that I know very little about beer but little piggy me was intrigued by the event for two reasons.

1) The event was held at The Ape and Bird on Shaftesbury Avenue, which has a reputation for being a bit of a gastropub, run by restaurateur Russell Norman of Polpo fame. I’d been meaning to check it out for a while, if only to be disappointed by the lack of actual apes and birds. (Never believe the signs! Although this could get quite gruesome when considering The King’s Head…)

2) Posh pork scratchings. Yes, Mr Trotter produces little bags of Great British Original Pork Crackling pork crackling (basically pork scratchings) that I really wanted to try. I’m always adventurous when it comes to food, and I was curious and mildly skeptical the concept.

On arrival, my co-drinker (co-nibbler?) and I were delighted that The Ape & Bird were clearly taking their trendy, gastropub reputation very seriously. The door opens to a heavy, red velvet curtain that reveals a desk and a front-of-house. The venue, however, has all styles of dining covered: we were there for beer and bar snacks, so down to The Dive it was, an underground room, with the dim light and small wooden tables of the traditional pub.

I was a little bit distracted by the bowls of pork scratchings before my companion reeled me in to try the beer. I’m very glad he did because I have never tasted anything like it before.

Mr Trotter’s Chestnut Ale is one of the first chestnut ales to be brewed and bottled in the UK. The chestnuts mean that it has a real softness and a mild sweetness in its flavour. My co-drinker was certainly impressed:

“It’s quite a light ale, with a surprisingly subtle chestnut flavour which gives it quite a bit of complexity in terms of taste (I’d expected a much stronger chestnut flavour). The chestnut quality is brought out really well when combined with the original pork scratchings/chips – the salt seems to help that, although I didn’t think the jalapeño married especially well too it.”

Just so you know, my co-drinker is a fusspot – the calorie-paranoid kind that attempts to scrape fat off the bacon (which I always pop straight into my mouth with gleeful defiance). He therefore approached the pork crackling very tentatively, and nibbled a piece… before diving into the bowl.

Jalapeño pork scratchings

Jalapeño pork scratchings

For me, the jalapeño crackling was dangerously addictive – the spice is not overpowering, but gives the perfect amount of heat. Yes, I know that eating bits of crispy pig in a bag may sound unappetising, but you’ll soon convert. They basically scream “Move over, bags of peanuts! We’re here and we WILL be eaten. We’re the best bar snacks ever!”  Once you’ve tried these porky offerings, there will be no turning back.

Unless you happen across Mr Trotter’s jalapeño crisps, which provides tough competition. I don’t even like crisps, but I loved these. Mr Trotter has basically turned me into Miss Piggy, who loves working her way through bar snacks.

The Ape & Bird, however, were not going to be left out of this evening and demonstrated that they were more than just a venue; the food they served up told everyone very loudly that this was, indeed, a gastropub.

A bit of back story: two weeks ago, I had had… a bad pork pie experience. (Yes, sob!) It had seemed like such a good idea at the time – Tesco Finest Melton Mowbray pork pies were reduced and I picked up a pack. Now I know that they were reduced for a reason: they’re terrible. They’re the bland stodgy kind where the meat is nothing more than suspicious grey matter. Consequently, I was really off pork pies.

The Ape & Bird rectified this. In fact, their rendition may have pushed me more towards the other end of the spectrum: pork pie addiction. The pork was… pinkish. It was textured. It was flavoursome and the pastry was perfect – thick enough to encase the meat but still beautifully light.

Scotch eggs

Scotch eggs

Sausage rolls

Sausage rolls

We missed the scotch eggs – fittingly made from trotter meat – but we also tried a very well-spiced sausage roll.

THEN CAME THE BROWNIES. Small, soft, gooey, chocolatey, dense and rich creations with bowlfuls of salted caramel sauce to dip then in. It was practically indecent.

Our minds were made up: we are going to The Ape & Bird and we pray that the rest of their menu is done as well as these porky snacks.

In the meantime, my companion – a big Waitrose fan – is pretty happy that Mr Trotter is now being sold there (£2.15 per bottle) and we’ve both become posh pork scratchings fans.

How one evening can change things.

Thanks to R&R for the invite!

Dum Dums Donutterie, Shoreditch Boxpark

14 Mar
Hello

Hey there, doughnuts!

There are some new doughnuts in town…..but they’re not just any doughnuts. Oh no, these are doughnuts from artisan doughnut chef (yes, that’s what the website says!) Paul Hurley, who has been making doughnuts since 1997. These are breaking away from the stereotype of fat American cops munching them police cars. These doughtnuts are not fried; they’re baked. Apparently, this means only 6 grams in a jam doughnut compared to an average of 17g of fat in their American counterparts.

Rows and rows of O's

Rows and rows of O’s

That’s quite impressive – but what do they taste like? The dough is like a soft roll – almost like the texture you’d expect from an ice-bun. As a person who usually finds doughnuts unpleasantly heavy and chewy, this was perfect.

We also sampled their zebra cronut, which was far lighter than I expected – the chocolate cream was the perfect balance to the pastry. I’m still not what sure I make of cronuts but this was definitely one of the favourites I’ve tried.

Ey ey

Ey ey

Can you think of the problem of healthy doughnuts? Well, they’re in Shoreditch and when doughnuts are hip, they come at a price…

Pricey

Pricey

For all doughnuts fans out there, Dum Dums Donutterie is definitely worth a visit.

Head to Shoredtich Box Park or from March 27th, find them at King’s Cross.

Dum Dums Donutterie at Shoreditch Boxpark

Dum Dums Donutterie at Shoreditch Boxpark

Honest Burgers March Special: The BrewBurger

13 Mar
The BrewBurger - containing four different kinds of beer :)

The BrewBurger – containing four different kinds of beer :)

It’s impossible to ignore the burger trend across London. To be honest, if you want to ignore it, you probably shouldn’t be reading this blog; I’ve done my best to consume as many burgers as possible in one giant burgery bonanza.

One of my favourite places for a burger in London is Honest Burgers. They’ve got a quality product pitched at the right price, and, as a result, their empire is expanding – expect the sixth branch to open near Oxford Circus later this year.

I fell in love when I first when I went to their Soho branch, and then had a passionate affair with their Christmas special, before drooling over their HOT February special. Their regular menu may only contain three different types of beefburger but their monthly specials really keep the romance alive.

Their latest offering has got me punch-drunk in love. For starters, it is possibly the first burger ever to require an ID to order it.

Honest Burgers have taken things to a new level this March and have collaborated with the awesome BrewDog. BrewDog is a Scottish craft beer company that is taking over the world with quality beer and their very own chain of bars, stretching from Shoreditch all the way to São Paulo! (Japan fangirl squeal: And they’re also in Roppongi in the expat area of Tokyo!) Even if you’re not a beer fan, you have to love BrewdDog because they took on Putin’s homophobia and produced the world’s only beer that’s definitely, absolutely and certainly not for gays – the Hello, My Name Is Vladimir!

Hello, my name is Vladimir and I am zuper hetero!

Hello, my name is Vladimir and I am zuper hetero!

Hello, my name is Vladimir. I am a beer for uber hetero men who ride horses while topless and carrying knives. I am a beer to mark the 2014 Winter Olympics. But I am not for gays. Love wrestling burly men on the Judo mat or fishing in your Speedos? Then this is the beer for you!

I think they’ve got their sales pitch spot on, don’t you? Now onto the BrewBurger itself….

Pervy close-up

Pervy close-up

This is one incredibly boozy beefy treat:  it’s a 150g aged beef patty with Comté cheese and bacon candied with BrewDog’s amber ale, 5AM Saint. It’s then topped with beef dripping and beer fried onions using BrewDog’s flagship Punk IPA and a BBQ reduction made from BrewDog’s Paradox cask-aged Imperial Stout. And, just in case that wasn’t beery enough for you, it’s served with Bourbon Baby, a 5.8% barrel-aged baby scotch ale that Brewdog created just for this collaboration. All this for £15.

More photos make it more real

More photos make it more real

Oh….this was a beery burgery beauty. For me, the bacon got a little subsumed by the other flavours but those  beer-fried onions were fantastic. All of this, of course, comes with Honest Burgers rosemary-salted chips. After a BrewBurger, you will wake up seriously thirsty but smugly satisfied.

Get yourself along to a branch of Honest Burgers before April 2nd. And don’t forget your ID!

Bourbon Baby

Bourbon Baby

British Pie Week: Hello healthy pies from Pieminister!

6 Mar
PIES

PIES

It’s British Pie Week! What greater excuse could you have to enjoy some traditional British grub? Pies are an institution – standard fare at any respectable British pub. Chicken, ham and leek, steak and kidney, or beef and Guinness… the list goes on. A celebration of these hearty dishes is well-deserved!

British Pie Week 2014, however, may feel like one big FAT conspiracy. It happens to coincide with Pancake Day. So either you compromise and prioritise one over the other, or you have a seriously heavy food day, and consume pancakes and pies, and possibly contemplate some pineapple just to create an alliterative hat-trick.

This would be a seriously calorific day. So what if pies could be filling without the hefty fat content? What if I told you that pies could contain less than 440 calories?!

This is no lie or fantasy! Pieminister have created three lighter pies. Although in-keeping with their principles of quality British ingredients, these pies have differ dramatically from pies as you know them: they have no tops! By cutting the pastry off the top, the calories are easily shed.

Light as a feta

Light as a feta

Ugh, you may cry! Anything ‘light’ is always bland! Admittedly, I was also sceptical. But don’t be deterred – Pieminister have put a lot of thought into the recipes. I absolutely loved the ‘Chickalito’ – a a free range British chicken and free range British dry cured ham pie, and the ‘Light as a feta’ had a winning combination by throwing some butternut squash and sun-dried tomato into the mix. There is also a ‘Kooky chook’ pie with chicken, sweet potato, coconut and chilli, although the flavours didn’t quite come together for me.

Beautiful selection

Beautiful selection

I was worried that the pies would be dry as the lack of top would fail to keep in the moisture, but they only need to be heated for twenty minutes in the oven before they’re ready to be served. I was very excited when presented with all of these tempting beauties and SWEET CHILLI CREME FRAICHE, which has basically revolutionised my life.

I HAZ PIES

I HAZ PIES

Hailing from Bristol, Pieminister are keen to support local businesses in the West Country. This meant an astoundingly generous goody bag full of all of these wonders.

*jaw drops*

*jaw drops*

I also sampled Orchard Pig’s Totally Minted – a lightly sparkling pink grapefruit and mint drink with a hint of lime. It was fantastic: very unusual with beautifully balanced flavours and just the right amount of sweetness. Orchard Pig also do a range of cider so I recommend checking out their website.

Totally Minted

Totally Minted

Pieminister have four restaurants in London, and branches elsewhere across the UK, with the more international locations of Dublin and Amsterdam completing the list. I was at their Leather Lane branch where you buy their lighter or usual pies for £4.50 each or tuck into a full meal with sides of mash and mushy peas. Alternatively, buy pies online.

Thanks to Pieminister for the invite! :)

Pies

Cider etc

The Breakfast Club’s Pancake Day Challenge 2014

4 Mar

Pancake Pheebz

Pancake Pheebz

It’s Pancake Day! Rejoice! Finally, we can give these simple floury, eggy, milky creations the full appreciation they deserve.

Why then, am I looking so anxious at the giant stack of pancakes in front of me? Because I had to eat them ALL in 15 minutes – that’s why.

Every Mardi Gras, The Breakfast Club really does take the day at it’s literal meaning – ‘Fat Tuesday’ – and presents customers with an ego-massaging, or ego-destroying, Man V Food eating competition. The rules are as simple as the ingredients: eat all the pancakes within the time limit and pay nothing; fail and pay £17.50 to Rays of Sunshine children’s charity (so basically, it’s a win-win situation).

Last year, I wolfed down 12 pancakes in 20 minutes, earning myself some applause and this wonderful footage of me gagging bravely struggling.

This year, the challenge was tougher: just 15 minutes for 12 pancakes. And they were definitely bigger and eggier than before.

The monster portion

The monster portion

I knew before I started that defeat lay ahead of me, but how much did I enjoy getting dirty?!

Concentrating on chewing

Concentrating on chewing

Kissing the cream

Kissing the cream

By ten minutes in, I settled for defeat. Quantity was not the problem so much as sweetness and dryness, and swallowing pancakes mixed with water was not agreeing with my stomach. By taking the sensible decision to quit, I a) didn’t feel ill all afternoon and b) got to take away what I didn’t finish – win! Pancake Day is lasting that bit longer for me and I’m looking forward to breakfast!

Apparently, there is no such thing as too many pancakes…

Pancakes in London: The Functional, The Fancy and The Foreign

3 Mar
Plum and cinnamon compote at The Delaunay

Plum and cinnamon compote at The Delaunay

Original article posted on Tryum.com.

Pancake Day. Mardi Gras. Fat Tuesday. Whatever the term… the day of pancake goodness approaches!

Simple though they are, pancakes are a comfort food that can insistently transport you back to your childhood days. They come in many different forms and many different guises. So if you want to branch out this Pancake Day, here are some top tips for shaking things up a bit…

The Functional: My Old Dutch

If you want pancakes, My Old Dutch has pancakes! The Holborn branch is a favourite haunt of LSE students, and it keeps things simple. It serves up a range of sweet and savoury treats at pitch-perfect prices – you can get a pancakey fix from £5.95. Or if you go for the Monday Madness, all pancakes are just a fiver. Bargain!

Pancake with vanilla ice-cream = winning

Pancake with vanilla ice-cream = winning

Try the apple/pear and cinnamon for the perfect amount of sweetness and the ability to smugly claim that you’ve just eaten one of your five-a-day.

Pear and cinnamon

Pear and cinnamon

Where: Kensington, Holborn, Chelsea
Website: http://www.myolddutch.com/

The Fancy: The Delaunay

Sitting on the Aldwych, The Delaunay is a fixture on the London dining scene for serving up good quality European fare in rather swish settings. However, The Delaunay is definitely not above serving the simple delights that are pancakes. On their brunch menu, there are the classic delights of bacon and maple syrup (£9.75) and blueberries and crème fraiche (£9.95), or the more unusual plum and cinnamon compote (£10.50). I’m not going to lie though – it’s all about the bacon. Who can resist that saltiness cutting through the sweetness, cushioned with some soft dough? Not me, anyway.

Bacon and maple syrup

Bacon and maple syrup

The atmosphere is far more laid back than you might expect from a place that has doormen and two people working front-of-house. Settle in and get your pancakes on order. Also, fear not: at the Delaunay, poshness does not equate to portion poverty. The pancakes are some of the heaviest we’ve ever sampled and they’re huge. You may well be defeated.

Where: 55 Aldwych, WC2B 4BB
Website: http://www.thedelaunay.com/

The Foreign: Japanese Pancakes

Savoury – Okonomiyaki by Sho Foo Doh, Pacific Social Club

Stop with the sushi stereotypes! There are pancakes in Japan too, and they’re delicious enough that you should definitely put them on your food radar. Famously un-Japanese in aesthetics is the incredibly messy okonomiyaki. This is a savoury pancake, made from the standard eggs and flour, but with cabbage, topped with a sweet sauce, mayonnaise, fish flakes and seaweed. It can have various fillings – most popular is squid or pork. Yes, it sounds like a catastrophe but trust us, it works.

For some seriously delicious and messy times, head to the Pacific Social Club on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night where Sho Foo Doh cooks up Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki (£8) which include NOODLES!! You can then add a range of toppings priced between £0.50 and £3.

Okonomiyaki Hiroshima-style!

Okonomiyaki Hiroshima-style!

Where: Pacific Social Club, 8 Clarence Road, E5 8HB
Website: https://www.facebook.com/shofoodoh

Sweet – Dorayaki at Japan Centre

Chocolate dorayaki

Chocolate dorayaki

If you absolutely refuse to take your pancakes savoury, then you need to get stuck in to dorayaki. These are similar to Scotch American pancakes but come with a gorgeous sweet filling sandwiched in between. In Japan, the filling tends to be azuki bean paste or custard, but a whole range can be bought from the Japan Centre, just round the corner from Picadilly Circus. Like this red bean and cream cheese mix. There’s also a really genius matcha (green tea) and mascarpone mix. Warning: these are addictive.

Red bean & cream cheese dorayaki

Red bean & cream cheese dorayaki

Where: 19 Shaftesbury Avenue, W1D 7ED
Website: http://www.japancentre.com/

Review: Honest Burgers February Special

24 Feb
Beef, smoked Applewood cheddar, the Ribman's 'Christ On A Bike' sauce, smoked bacon, griddled courgette and lettuce

Beef, smoked Applewood cheddar, the Ribman’s ‘Christ On A Bike’ sauce, smoked bacon, griddled courgette and lettuce

Yes, I hear you. I’m fully aware that I am a huge Honest Burgers fangirl. I’m clearly not the only one, though. A legion of loyal London supporters have led them to expand their brand from their humble beginnings in Brixton Village to Soho, Camden, Portobello Road and King’s Cross, with a sixth branch opening near Oxford Circus later this year. They use Ginger Pig meat – which is enough to earn the trust of any sceptic – and they keep the menu simple: three burgers, one chicken burger and a veggie fritter.

Does that a little monotonous? Fear not! Firstly, I would be shocked by anyone who got bored of their delicious burgers with rosemary-salted chips. Secondly, they have a magical, rotating special every month!! I got a wee bit excited about their Christmas special of deep-fried Camembert with cranberry sauce, and may or may not have eaten it three times.

In the nick of time, I have just tried their February special and it is also worth raving about: beef, Applewood smoked cheddar, The Rib Man’s ‘Christ on a Bike’ hot sauce, smoked bacon, griddled courgette and lettuce.

For those of you unfamiliar with The Rib Man, you can find him around London serving up the most delicious ribmeat that looks like this (which will be in Honest Burgers’ April special eeeeeeee!!):

Rib Man bun

Rib Man bun

He is s0mewhat (in)famous for his hot sauces, particularly their creative names. Their names mean business. Their names may also cause minor embarrassment when ordering.

Me in Honest Burgers: Is Christ on a Bike hotter than Holy Fuck?

Waitress: Pardon?

As it turns out, the answer to my question is the affirmative. The waitress advised me to order the sauce on the side because she”d ‘seen people cry’. However, I must have become some kind of spice fiend and not only did I smother my burger wutg what surely must be one of the tastiest chilli sauces I have ever tried, but I asked for an extra pot and downed half a shot. The burger itself is a master of taste perfection – the courgette is absolutely perfect with the sauce.

Swallowing Christ on a Bike

Swallowing Christ on a Bike

You have until Friday, February 28th to try this god. After that, there is another deity – a collaboration with BrewDog, which sees the world’s first burger that requires ID to purchase it! Tomorrow, I get a sneak previewtaste – watch this space ;)

Honest Burgers website

Review: Rodells, Watford

19 Feb
Feast

Feast

They say the best things in life are worth some effort. If you want some excellent food, popping to the food court at the shopping centre ain’t going to make your taste buds’ dreams come true. So when I say that you all better bloody travel to Watford, you better bloody travel to Watford. In fact, I’m probably going to be shouting about this for the rest of the year. Zone 3 just became so much trendier. Watford is the place to go. Watford is the new East London. (Just with fewer moustaches and fixies.)

All of this enthusing is due to one place: Rodells.

Rodells... usually found without monkey-girl on lamp post

Rodells… usually found without monkey-girl on lamp post

Rodells

Rodells

Rodells is more than a restaurant; it’s an institution. It’s a food haven, a theatre, a family home, an evening hang-out and a democracy.

Rodells is the kind of place where you can spend five hours enjoying a meal. Which is exactly what we did.

Admittedly, I was a little sceptical when I received an email inviting me to Watford, but as I read on, my interest was piqued. Most restaurants have a speciality, even if it’s broad and regional in scope. ‘Modern European’ or ‘Pan-Asian’ might sound familiar. My most eclectic experience was probably when I visited a restaurant in Brasov that specialised in Mexican, but also served Hungarian and Romanian (and incidentally was fantastic).

Rodells takes eclecticism to a new level. The theme: world tapas. The reason: one man called Mario Tavares.

Cooking is like taking a photograph, Mario tells us. There is that one second where everything aligns and you have a beautiful shot, and a second later, the moment’s gone.

We’re sitting in a cosy upstairs room with Monty Python projected on the back wall. Rodells is a rather characterful property on the corner of some crossroads. Downstairs is a bar and some wooden counter seating, and larger restaurant tables are dotted around the two upstairs rooms.

Silent entertainment

Silent entertainment

Spending his early years in Macau, Mario moved to London just before his teens. However, the capital couldn’t contain him: he travelled the world as musician and film producer, playing for Motorhead, Paul Young and Keith Allen when he was a stand-up. During his adventures, he did what any self-respecting foodie would do and ate his way through a variety of cuisines. Yet Mario took his love of food one step further: he tracked down recipes.

‘I do a Thai green curry that’s not a Thai green curry,’ he tells us, perched at our table. ‘I learned the recipe in Kerala.’ It’s the kind of story that makes you blink twice. Whilst on the beach, he had been approached by a guy who sold three items: coconut oil, green curry and sunglasses. Brave or reckless – take your pick – Mario tried the curry and was blown away to the point where he pestered the man for the recipe.

Mario is clearly as creative as his background and the surrounds suggest. Food for him is ‘performance’; it’s an art form. Before he creates anything, he visualises it clearly in his mind. The theatrics extend to visitors’ dining experiences. Originally, each table had a blackboard built into them, each with a different menu. People had to strategically choose their menu depending on what they wanted to eat. For a past Valentine’s Day event, Mario hired an actress to sit drinking wine alone at a table. Whenever anyone went to the toilet, she would follow them and have an angry conversation on her phone at her good-for-nothing boyfriend who’d stood her up. This idea is so cheeky and hilarious that I grin every time I think of it.

As for the menu, we weren’t quite prepared for the scope of it: Korean, English, Portuguese, Louisianan, Caribbean, Cuban, Mexican, Thai, Malaysian, Indian, Spanish, Lebanese, Cantonese… the list goes on.

Arriving at Rodells, we had been greeted by a tall, good-looking young man, who thankfully insisted on talking us through the list of world cuisines.

‘I’m very into food,’ he said.

‘I’ve come to the right place,’ I thought.

Is our waiter a red hot model? Why yes. Am I posing shamelessly with him? Why yes?

Is our waiter a red hot model? Why yes. Am I posing shamelessly with him? Why yes.

Choosing what to order was agony. Today’s menu contained no less than 28 tapas dishes and three larger dishes. As an obsessive foodie, I got out my biro and began marking ‘definites’ and ‘potentials’, whilst grilling our waiter, Louis, on his preferences. The menu changes daily; Mario’s repertoire consists of 130 dishes that he has collected over the years. He has two assistant chefs, Louis informed us, but they can only cook four dishes to the right standard. We all try them and vote whether they’re good enough, he explained. What a lovely gastronomic democracy.

Pretty pretty food

Pretty pretty food

Flat iron steak

Flat iron steak

In the end, we ordered one of the ‘mains’ that Louis raved about – flat iron steak (£14.50). This was served beautifully rare with a delicate pepper cream sauce and some of the best frites that we’ve had in a while – frites that actually tastes of potatoes rather than crispy air. The steak was clearly fantastic quality but had been a little over-enthusiastically peppered, which detracted from the flavour of the beef itself. Fortunately, the cream sauce did much to alleviate any mouth-burning and was also delicious in its own right.

Mac 'n cheese sushi style

Mac ‘n cheese sushi style

Next up, we had ‘mac n cheese sushi style’ (£8). Before you wrinkle your nose with revulsion, let me state now that no raw fish was mixed with cheese or pasta! The macaroni cheese is cooked, then rolled in breadcrumbs into a cylindrical shape and sliced like sushi. Each delicate ‘sushi’ piece is then topped with a blob of sweet mustard sauce. Not being the biggest macaroni cheese fan in the world and highly wary of ordering pasta out in this country, we only chose this based on rave reviews from previous bloggers and being assured it was a ‘favourite’.

One mouthful and its popularity suddenly made sense. It was not the rubbery, chewy lump I had expected but was soft with perfect consistency. The cheese, in our opinion, was a little too strong for the dish, but we fully enjoyed the concept: it’s rare that a single dish becomes an experience in itself.

Nonya chicken curry

Nonya chicken curry

Next up, we tucked into another customer favourite – ‘nonya chicken curry’ (£6), described as the ‘sexiest curry in the world’. Nonya – or nyonya – is a Malaysian curry that’s prepared by women for women. Women feeding women? How could that not be sexy?! Seriously, and with all mildly crass jokes aside, this curry had a very sexy flavour. It was mild but rich, with faint hints of lemongrass. The chicken was a little dry, but the sauce was so amazing that I would happily eat this every day. I would drink it for breakfast.

Jambalaya with some mac n cheese sushi style to the left

Jambalaya with some mac n cheese sushi style to the left

Along came a jambalaya with prawns and chorizo (£6). The rice was cooked to perfection and pepped well with fresh oregano. Sadly, the chorizo was bland and so there was little smoky, garlicky, paprika flavour to permeate the rice. This was the only disappointment for me.

Portuguese stifado

Portuguese stifado

For the savoury dishes, we finished off with a Portuguese stifado (£6), which Mario sometimes also calls Greek stifado as the dish is also found there. This is a beef stew that’s wonderfully flavoured with cassia bark – like a warmer, less sweet and earthier variation of cinnamon. It’s a dish that is truly comforting and is popular across the ages.

The dessert menu was profoundly traumatic. There was far too many delicious things begging to be sampled. In the end, we ordered three desserts – purely for quality control purposes. Obviously. Ahem.

Marry me.

Marry me.

The brownies (£4.50) were pleasant yet unremarkable, but the lemon and ginger cheesecake (£4.50) was marriage material. The base was crisp and thin and the flavours were so expertly balanced that the lemon and ginger pulled off a perfect duet in my mouth, scoring a 10.

The best carrot cake in the world

The best carrot cake in the world

Concluding the munchathon, we delved into possibly one the tastiest carrot cakes in the world (£4.50). It was again harmonious with warm spice cut by beautiful sweet icing. This is the kind of cake that would audition other cakes to get into cake heaven.

If food is performance, then Mario has mastered his ingredients well – they sing and dance to the taste buds. Occasionally, they might miss the odd beat but the show remains a stunning success.

Rodells 4.5/5 – Brilliant tapas-style dishes from around the world in a homey setting. Bring your friends and dig in!

Food 4/5
Value 4/5
Service 5/5
Atmosphere 5/5

Web: www.itsrodells.com / @itsrodells
Where:
1a St Johns Road, Watford WD17 1PU
When:
Lunch 11 – 3pm; Dinner 5 – 11pm; Breakfast – delivery to some local post codes.

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