Saturday, 24 September 2011

Back. This time properly.

So I'm actually back this time. Having spent the summer turning out an epic dissertation for my Masters and working on the policy report for a major campaign for Shelter, both of which culminated last week. So the summer of writing about policy is over, and it's time to do other things and write about them again. I did spend a lot of time eating nice food - it was my reward for every epic day in the office or the library, and so have many food stories to tell.

Let's start with the burgers. Because 2011 has been the summer of the burger. But it's not the first burger renaissance in recent foodie memory. About 5 years ago, 'gourmet' burgers were all the rage. A rash of new mid-market chains popped up in middle-class high street locations, including the Fine Burger company, gourmet burger kitchen and Ultimate Burger, all with largely similar menues putting a 'spin' on the traditional burger - sweet chilli sauce, portabello mushrooms, thick cut fries, served in sanitised settings. The message was think again: burgers can be posh, don't you know. When the recession hit, many stores shut up and people were inundated with 2 for 1s (a personal hate) to get them to buy up the ailing brands. These chains are still going, but relegated to the naff of the O2 and shopping centres.

The arrival of Byron Burger a few years ago re-ignited the burger debate. But this time it was more about how simple you could make your burger and how well you could do those few simple components, with a paired down menu consisting of a few classic variations of the burger - cheese, bacon, cheese and bacon - and classic sides, fries, onion rings and courgette fries. Tasty. Byron has quickly expanded across central and yummy London and their restaurants are always busy.

The 2011 twist is even more back to basics, taking the Byron simplicity, but ditching the chic interior design. Well, just ditching interiors altogether. It's all about the BURGER VAN.

Meatwagon have arguably been at the vanguard, developing a cult following with their van dishing out amazing burgers to South East Londoners for the best part of last year til it got stolen. Their stint in the upstairs room while the Goldsmiths Tavern was being renovated whipped the kids up into a frenzy, with bright young things journeying to New Cross from all over to sample the #Meateasy speakeasy burger dining. It was literally amazing. We turned up at 6pm on the dot and already a sizeable queue was lined up. By the time we left at 8pm, the queue snaked right down the stairs, out the door and halfway round the block. Some of those people would be waiting for 3 hours for their burger.

I ordered a Dead Hippy Burger, which is The Meatwagon's spin on a Big Mac. Two juicy, meaty burgers, still light pink inside, smothered in mustard, served in perfectly light buns with cheese and gherkins. Boyf ordered one with cheese and bacon. And we had sides of fries and onion rings, which it turns out was a bit on the conservative side. City boy types sitting next to us ordered buffalo wings, chilli cheese fries and hot dogs in addition to their burgers.

Truly amazing though. The Meatwagon is coming to the end of a summer residency in Peckham Rye, as well as doing a number of festivals and one offs, including a night at Dalston Roof Park. Nothing quite like a burger and a pale ale, sat on synthetic grass, gazing over the rooftops of Dalston. Oh yes.

Last week I finally tried got to go to Lucky Chip, a slightly less well-known and hyped burger van that has been stationed just off London Fields this summer. Open from about 6pm in Netil Market, a goods yard with a bike workshop in an old bus parked there too, Lucky Chip just does burgers, hot dogs, fries and onion rings. No satay sauce or raita and lamb burgers, but classic ingredients, piled copiously together between buns. Oh my. Pete ordered a Selleck, which had burger, cheese, a colossal beetroot dipped onion ring and a hefty pineapple ring. Now try fitting that in your mouth in one:

I opted for a slightly more classic Sheen - cream cheese, smoked bacon, mature cheddar and caramelised red onions. Still absolutely massive, and utterly artery clogging, but an absolutely perfect combination of ingredients. We munched silently, apart from sporadic groans of pleasure and sighs of eating exhaustion.

The sides were also delicious. The beetroot flavoured onion rings were...huge. And maybe a little on the salty side, but you could ask for them to hold the sea salt if you were concerned. The chips were tasty too - hand-cut, skins on, and organic, apparently. Our chosen combination of dips weren't available, so the kind guys gave us little pots of home-made BBQ sauce (hickorylicious), deep garlic aioli, wasabi sauce and sweet chilli sauce. Just wow.

We cycled back to Newington Green, worrying that the frames of our bikes may crumple underneath us. But intensely happy.

It's not just vans that are in the burger market - posh restaurants are also spinning a good line of burgers, and Young and Foodish has just updated their Top 10 burgers in London list. Many burger opportunities await. Anyone fancy a burger odyssey?

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