Bleecker Burger, Victoria

A recent trip to London saw us trying to tick as many places off our ‘must-eat/must-drink’ list as we could in 30 hours.

All our lunch and dinner slots were already full when we were recommended Bleecker as “the best burger in London”. Our dilemma was solved by a quick Google; their speciality is the Bleecker Black burger, a double cheeseburger with beef black pudding. Black pudding is clearly a breakfast item, giving us a perfect excuse to squeeze in a trip to Bleecker for the most important meal of the day. We later found out that the Bleecker Black is temporarily unavailable (a situation described by Twitter users as “drastic” and “worse than Brexit”) but we’d already justified it to ourselves, so sod it. Burgers for breakfast it was.

The little black front of the Victoria branch faces directly onto the biggest Shake Shack I’ve ever seen. Must be stiff competition for them, we thought. How wrong we were. I guarantee that one bite of a Bleecker burger and you will never step foot in that particular branch of Shake Shack again. Anyone who does so is a fool.

A classic bacon cheeseburger and a Bleecker Blue (blue cheese sauce, onion, lettuce) are swiftly ordered and we ask for them to be cut in half for sharing purposes, as Bleecker don’t give out knives. We’re totally down with that, because what kind of sick human being eats a burger with a knife?

The patties in both are cooked to a perfect pink with meat that oozes quality; flavour this good can only come from using top notch beef (Bleecker’s is dry-aged, rare breed and pasture fed). This is a serious burger. I hate places that completely eradicate the flavour of the patty by piling it high with ridiculous toppings. I’ve learnt it’s usually an indication that the patty itself is shit. Here, it rightly takes centre stage, putting in a performance well deserving of an encore.

Both are encased in the much maligned sesame bun, which in most places seems to have been permanently relegated in favour of it’s trendier cousin, the brioche bun. It stands up perfectly against the beef, providing an ideal receptacle for the burger juices whilst still maintaining it’s structure.

The blue cheese sauce on the Bleecker Blue is very good, not too overpowering but still delivering a whack of flavour. It’s an excellent burger, but the bacon cheeseburger is something else. It is complete burger nirvana – the best bacon cheeseburger I’ve ever eaten – and at only £6 is probably the cheapest hit of euphoria you can get in London. That encore I was talking about? I sent my boyfriend in for a second one as soon as we’d finished the first.

Fries wise, Bleecker’s signature are ‘angry fries’, topped with blue cheese sauce and hot sauce. The flavours worked together but personally I just wasn’t that into it; I think the sauce took over and distracted from how good the chips actually were (they were very good).

Our last minute dash to Bleecker turned out to be my favourite of the weekend in terms of sheer unaldulterated eyes-rolling-back-in-your-head bliss. Yep, it even beat the 3 Michelin starred lunch we had the previous day. One week on and I’m still thinking about it more than men allegedly think about sex (19 times a day, according to the extremely reliable http://www.shape.com). I’ll be back for that Bleecker Black soon.

We visited the Victoria branch of Bleecker at 205 Victoria Street, London, SW1E 5NE. They also have branches in Spitalfields and Southbank. 

Bleecker St. Burger Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Zindiya, Moseley

I’m welcoming the Indian street food movement currently sweeping Birmingham (and the rest of the UK) with open arms. I’m lucky enough to have one of the very best “streatery”s right on my doorstep in Moseley; Zindiya. It’s versatile, vibrant food served up in a cool, relaxed setting, with the small plates meaning you can spend (and eat) as much or as little as you want.

I’m a little bit obsessed with India. I’ve been three times, and I’m counting down the days until my next visit in November. It’s an incredible country where I’ve had some incredible experiences. I’ve laughed. I’ve cried. I’ve come very close to shitting myself in the back of a rickshaw. And I’ve loved (almost) every minute of it: the diverse and welcoming people, the vibrant streets, the stunning landscapes and landmarks. And the food. Of course I love the food.

In comparison, Indian food at home rarely comes close. It’s all too often heavy, greasy and stodgy; the same boring sauces trotted out over and over again. So I’m welcoming the Indian street food movement currently sweeping Birmingham (and the rest of the UK) with open arms. Places like Indian Brewery, Raja Monkey and (arriving soon) Mowgli are repping Indian street food all over the city, but I’m lucky enough to have Zindiya – one of the very best “streatery”s – right on my doorstep in Moseley.

I loved this place as soon as I walked in. The decor is fun, colourful and kitschy, with the exposed brickwork, mismatched chairs and painted shutters throwing a not-even-trying-to-be-subtle nod to the Indian streets that inspired the place. It’s brilliant, transporting the mind and spirit (though sadly not the body) far away from the grey streets of Birmingham.

The cocktail menu has been curated by Birmingham bartender extraordinaire Rob Wood: a sure sign of quality. Limeis the best of the four we try; tangy lime pickle cordial, fresh lemons and limes combine with Finlandia Vodka to give a sharp, complex flavour. The Chai Wala, an ‘Indian’ take on prosecco which adds Chai bitters, is – unsurprisingly, as I love chai tea – another favourite of mine. We find From Ooty with Love (rose, strawberries) and Coconut Bliss (coconut, lime) a little sweet, but the quirky presentation is sure to appeal to the Instagram masses.

So on to the food; the main reason we are here. The dishes are smaller, lighter and fresher than your standard curry house; the idea is that you order a selection and share. We order far too much of course – we always do – but the menu is so full of temptation that I challenge you not do the same if you visit. I skip over some old favourites – pani puri, bhajis, fish amritsari and seekh kebab, to name a few – in favour of trying some of the more unusual dishes.

I’m a committed carnivore but I only ate meat once when I spent a month in India, and because the veggie options are so good I didn’t miss it at all. Sadly this is rarely the case in the UK, so it was a pleasant surprise to notice that we had inadvertently chosen an almost entirely vegetarian meal (bar one portion of chicken tikka which my boyfriend has dubbed “the best chicken tikka in Birmingham”). I’m pleased to say that this mostly-meat-free meal did not disappoint.

Papri Chaat is my highlight of the night. Pops of crispy dough wafers nestle amongst chickpeas, potatoes, yoghurt and tamarind chutney, giving a perfect contrast of texture. The spicing is beautiful – all depth rather than heat – giving the dish a complex flavour that demands another mouthful. It’s absolute heaven in a dish, and a bargain at only £4.

A generous trio of dosas (£6.50) come with your choice of filling (Masala Aloo on this occasion), sambhar and coconut chutney. They’re excellent, as are the deceptively named Hara Bara kebabs (£7) – not kebabs at all but vegetable patties often served as a streetside snack in the Punjab.

We’re so full that I can’t give the paneer kati roll (£6.50) the attention it deserves, but my boyfriend finishes it off with pleasure. He was reluctant to order the Okra fries (£3) – branding the vegetable “disgusting” – but when faced with Zindiya’s crisp, beautifully seasoned rendition he was rapidly converted. He’s wrong a lot; don’t hold it against him. One thing he was right about was the chicken tikka though. It’s moist, fragrant and thoroughly delicious.

Zindiya is really bloody brilliant, and I reckon it’s pretty perfect for any occasion. It’s versatile, vibrant food served up in a cool, relaxed setting, with the small plates meaning you can spend (and eat) as much or as little as you want. It may be 4 months until I land in my beloved India again, but until then I’m very, very lucky to have Zindiya’s amazing street food less than half a mile from my door. Go there, and go soon – it’s a lot cheaper than a plane ticket.

Zindiya is at 21 Woodbridge Rd, Moseley, B13 8EJ. WEBSITE.

 

Bloom, King’s Heath

Listen up, King’s Heath-le people. A new cafe has sprung from the ground on Poplar Road, bringing with it everyone’s favourite combination – coffee and brunch. 

True to it’s name, inside Bloom abounds with plants and succulents. Set against the minimalist grey, white and wood inferior it’s all very Swedish and swoon-worthy. I love it. 

Coffee takes a while to arrive, but all is forgiven once it appears. I ask for sugar out of habit, but realise upon tasting that it’s good enough not to need it; it’s rich, smooth and perfectly balanced. 

I’m pleased to see the brunch menu doesn’t stray towards standard Instagram-hipster brunch fare; only one dish on the menu features the much loved/loathed avocado. With just six options (not counting toast), it is short, but the choices are varied and interesting and I like the confidence implied. 

Even with a choice of six, I struggle to choose (disclaimer: this may be because I’m an indecisive shit) and would happily have tried every dish. The portobello mushrooms, served with truffle dressing, cashew cream, sourdough and smoked potato broth is a dish I will definitely return for. Today, however, I am sharing with my funghi-hating boyfriend so we opt for duck hash (sweet potato, spring greens, crispy shallots, fried duck egg and duck stock) and pork belly (Boston baked beans, sage aoili and charred polenta). 

I start with Bloom’s riff on pork and beans. Tried and tested flavours, yes, but Bloom absolutely do them justice here; it’s all nicely balanced and seasoned. My only gripe with the dish was that the pork fat doesn’t seem to have been rendered properly, meaning there was an occasional mouthful of mushy fat. Regardless, I was still reluctant to surrender the other half to my other half. 

All the components of the duck hash are things I love, so I was expecting to be blown away by this dish. Sadly, I felt that the execution was slightly lacking; it seemed generally underseasoned and the water given off by the greens and sweet potato meant that the sauce became too diluted. I’ve heard some rave reviews about this dish though, so it could be down to teething problems – our visit was their second Saturday trading. 

At £9 per dish, it’s not the cheapest brunch around, but if they work to get the cooking of these dishes spot on then I’d say it’s £9 absolutely well spent. Will I return? Certainly for the coffee (you should visit for this alone), and probably for the food; I’d like to eat there again once they’ve settled in.

Not quite in full bloom yet, but definitely a budding star; this is exactly the sort of place King’s Heath needs. I hope they do well. 

Visit Bloom at 32 Poplar Road, King’s Heath, B14 7AD. 

Rum tasting at The Plough, Harborne

It may be due to the brief spell of sunshine the U.K. is currently snatching (last week we were hotter than Spain, don’t you know?! In your face, Costa del Sol. We don’t need you anymore. Welcome to Costa del Brum), but rum is definitely having a moment. 

In the past month alone I’ve been to two rum festivals and drunk more rum cocktails than I can count (especially after a few rum cocktails). 
But probably the most interesting rum-based activity I’ve undertaken recently is a rum tasting evening at The Plough. Along with most of Birmingham I love the Plough but until now, I’ve never made it to one of their spirit master classes – run by Spit Wine School – so I was pretty excited to get all education-y and learn more about rum than that (as the great MJ once said) it don’t matter if it’s black or white. That song was definitely about rum, right…?

Our guide on this voyage of rum discovery was Tom Bartram, who has spent over 10 years working in the drinks industry and was clearly incredibly passionate about the spirit. Over the course of the evening he guided us through a tasting of seven different rums, whilst also giving us the low-down on the history and distilling process of pirate water (note: this is definitely not the technical term). To prove I was listening and not just getting pissed, let me hit you with a fact: the origin of the word rum isn’t entirely clear but many think it was first used around 1650, and derived from ‘rumbustion’, a slang word for ‘uproar’. Judging by my behaviour after a few too many rums, I’m happy to go with this explanation. 

As I might have already mentioned, I’ve drunk a lot of rum recently, but it’s one of the spirits I probably know least about. We tried a range of rums such as the Cuvée de L’Ocean, an “Agricultural rhum” with an almost tequila-ish vibe, a darker rum with a hint of whisky to it’s character, and (my favourite by far) the Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva which had a creamy, banoffee flavour. Throughout the tasting I was amazed at the variety there was within the spirit; it’s something you just don’t appreciate when your only experience of rum is the standard brands.

The spirit masterclass was a brilliant insight into the world of rum and I left feeling a lot more knowledgable (as well as pretty tipsy – maybe not recommended if you have a big day at work coming up). Who says you can’t drink and learn at the same time? The evening costs only £17 and (let me hit you with another fact here) as rum was worth more than it’s weight in gold at one point, I reckon that makes it an absolute steal. Cheers!

Thank you to The Plough for having me. Details of all Spit Wine School classes can be found here.

The Plough Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato