Tag Archives: london

Burger review: Monkey Nuts, Crouch End, London N8

16 May

Want to know how did my first burger since becoming a dad turned out? Read on…

It’s Friday evening, 7.15pm, it’s beautifully light, sunny, with a gentle breeze – a fairly normal Spring evening in London. Except this isn’t a normal evening by any means – it’s my wife and I’s very first attempt at a meal out at night with the new baby.

H and I are attempting to dine out with our demanding, unpredictable, gorgeous (of course) 3 week old son, Noah, in tow. We boogy along bumpy pavements towards the pizza joint – pizza’s gonna be easy, isn’t it? If the hungry newborn wakes and demands a feed (and we’re breast feeding him on demand), it’s possible to scoop him up onto the boob with one hand, whilst seriously scarfing a slices of Hawaiian with the other. Easy. However, since he’s just fallen asleep after a big feed, we decide to go one better – burgers (me) and steak (H) at local haunt, Monkey Nuts. Trouble is, if he wakes here, it could ruin the entire meal before it even starts. Yet the lascivious allure of a juicy burger overpowers me proves. So we risk it. So here’s the review…

 Background – Monkey Nuts

A reasonably priced local eaterie that’s good for some celeb spotting – Liam Gallagher being a recent visitor along with half the cast of Eastenders – Monkey Nuts averages 3 out 5 stars in reviews. I agree with the middling rating, although I have eaten there several times and have never had the kind negative service experience that some reviewers have. This isn’t a gastronomic paradise for foodies, but is great for relaxed, local munching. Its diner style set-up thankfully offers an alternative to the identikit gastropub invasion of north London. The joint is also kid-friendly, though the youngest here tonight is at least seven years older than our little fella. Noah generously sleeps through the entirety of our meal in his pushchair, despite the jovial, riotously loud atmosphere.

The Monkey Nuts burger

Right, enough with this yawn-inducing scene-setting – let’s get right onto the burger. The last time I ordered here, the burger wasn’t too bad (5.8/10), and far better than Fine Burger Company (4/10) and Gourmet Burger Kitchen (4/10) and the God-awful Haché (3/10); side note – if you put see anywhere with an immodest, intensifying adjective in the title, steer clear. Weird anomaly with the last burger though, an alien addition: a thick dollop of mayo wetting the bottom bun – no one likes a soggy bottom, Monkey Nuts. This time I ask them to hold it all together – creamy mayo obscures the meat’s flavour.

First impression – nice, shapely buns

The burger arrives looking damn good. Nice soft buns, char-grilled patty apparently cooked to a perfect pink, tomato, lettuce and relish all more or less trimly enclosed within the bun’s outer rim.If looks were everything, this would get decent scores.

The first thing I’ll score is the fries. Get them out of the way – just what they deserve. They aren’t homemade, so I immediately mark them down; these bought-in bandits are the classic thin-cut Belgian frites – but a pale, limp version of them. Out of disdain for them, I douse the failed frites in delicious hot Jalapeno Tabasco sauce. (4/10).

(Excuse the shitty quality in my picture)

As for the burger, it’s close but no cigar unfortunately. The bun is beautifully soft, but not quite sweet enough and slightly too doughy, making the texture and flavour the dominant note in each mouthful – only the meat’s strong char punches through it.  Thankfully the roll is on the right side of wrong – miles away from the downright deluded view, held by every gastropub I have eaten a burger in, that ciabatta improves actually improves the overall experience. Really, some thoughtful tweaking could make this bun damn near perfect (5.5/10).

Patty hurts

The meat itself sports a nice, strong char. However, my one is just a bit on the burned side for my taste – that extra minute on the grill seems to have hurt the patty. Indeed, the charred crust overpowers the otherwise nicely cooked pink meat, which itself lacks flavour. Perhaps these handmade patties were a centimetre on the thin side, or maybe it’s just the lack of moistness from over-cooking. Either slightly less cooking or more fattiness in the meat itsefl would have really punched the flavour up – I suspect both would help. Clearly, some meaty juices would get me salivating more by countering the dryness. (6.5/10).

Lettuce pray

In terms of the other peremptory burger bits…the tomato is spot on, a thin, inoffensive slice, but the lettuce was a bit wrong. Probably too much of it, with a texture evoking Lt. Frank Drebin eating his way through the escape plans in jail (a mound of paper, in the movie Naked Gun 33 1/3 – misc. clip from that movie here). This left me praying for another beer to wetten my dry mouth.  No onion (good, but might have appreciated some on the side), or cheese (in my zombie-like remiss, I forgot to request it, same with bacon – doh), and no relish, which thankfully leaves me free to add my own from Monkey Nuts’ bulging basket of condiments. (5.5/10)

Overall, it’s a fantastic experience just being out for the first time since becoming new parents. The atmosphere is good and props to Monkey Nuts helpful staff for being really accommodating with us, too – happily moving us to the seats we request. The food arrives swiftly, and we’re kept topped up with drinks. I happily pay the bill, no complaints from me, unusually – Haché had clearly lowered my standards to near baseline. Service notches up a 7/10, although I’ll deduct 0.5 for lack of choice of beers behind the bar. (6.5/10)

That Monkey Nuts doesn’t position itself as a burger specialist is clear. (On a sidenote, H was happy with her steak – although that, too doesn’t compete with Highbury’s slightly more expensive Garufa or the likes of Gaucho – but it doesn’t pretend to). That said, all the invididual elements of Monkey Nuts’ burger show potential to nudge close to the quality of specialist Byron, which I would score about 8 or 9/10. So in my view, Monkey Nuts should stop monkeying around and try to ape the best burgers in town at this price point, which you can find at the likes of Byron. I hope it does.

Overall score: 5.6

Footnote – the score in context

If I wasn’t the demanding burger bastard that I am, I’d probably score it higher, incidentally. Also, I might just have gotten a duff version tonight. I’ve had a 6.2 (thereabouts) before. The average diner, as opposed to burger Nazis like me, will might possibly find this a 7-8 scoring burger by the standards in their area.

Burger review round-up

19 Dec

Going out for a burger next week? Wanna know where will give you a burger as pristine as untouched snow, and avoid those slushier than a gritted motorway? Then here are a few London reviews from around the interspace to help.

Since I’m heading up to my parents in bonnie Scotland next week for Christmas, I’m going to post a review of a recent burger experience in Scotland – at the utterly civilised Boathouse set in the extremely posh Camerson House on the beautiful, mist-kissed banks of Loch Lomond.

By flickr user Batara

What is it about specialist burger restaurants that use a positive adjective in their name, but deliver an under-par experience?

Ultimate burger doesn’t live up to its name, in this review from Time Out.

Same thing with the Fine Burger Company, which, according to this review in The Times, has a positive adjective, but plugged “with same old rubbish.”

On the other hand, The Meatwagon doesn’t dress its name up at all, yet has become one of the most talked-about burger joints in the Capital, or simply  ‘genius’ in this review.  It’s a pop-up restaurant cunningly disguised as an industrial park burger van. Ok, it is a burger van. To find it, follow its twitter feed. Personally am really keen to try this one.

Over and out.

Review: Byron Hamburgers, Islington

29 Nov

“The streets were full of insane and dull people. Most of them lived in nice houses and didn’t seem to work, and you wondered how they did it.” – Charles Bukowski, Post Office

We’re in Islington, seeking out Byron, a dedicated burger joint. Sure it’s part of a chain, but only a little one. It is to burgers what Wahaca is to Mexican ‘street food’. That’s to say, purer quality than ‘street grade’, yet true to original recipes, or at least the original recipe concept.

Mugatu would love the ‘derelicte’ stylings

With this in mind, perhaps Byron’s real pleasure, for me at least, is that it promises a relief from the constant disappointment of the typical British burger.

After all, William Burroughs said, “perhaps all pleasure is only relief”.

Wahaca offers exactly the same pleasure, incidentally. To anyone that’s eaten real Mexican food, the restaurant’s creamy mole, crispy  tostadas and, soft-shell fish tacos are closer to what you’ll find in Central America’s biggest country than the crass imitations we’re usually offered:  chile (Texan) or large burritos (New Mexican).

What I want to find out is: Is Byron true, burger-Heaven pleasure – or simply respite?

Space burger - Burroughs

Burger heaven or hell?

“Maybe this planet is another’s hell,” mused Aldous Huxley many burgers ago. Arriving at Byron, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a bombsite, if not quite Hell. I guess that’s what you get with derelict-chic, darling.

*Whistles* It'll cost ya

 

Mugatu in Zoolander  would be proud. London Chow is right when it says it says the decorators seemed to have left mid-job. For me, I don’t care too much about the styling. I’m here for flavour. It’s quite cramped, though. Some tables are better than others, but the worst ones are really bad. You have to snap a few bones to fit in. But when it comes to food, what’s the dealio, yo?

The menu and the order

The Byron menu is beautifully restrained. There are a few salad options, a chicken burger (charred yet succulent breast), but I don’t care about them. Most people don’t. Kang apparently visits Byron as an incentive to exercise – you simply go here to meat up. With that in mind, I order: a Byron burger, medium rare (their default is medium, and usually comes pink); some skin-on homemade fries (awesome); and a superb Modeno beer. Within 10 minutes the burger arrives. But there’s a problem.

You're especial, oo so especial

Pavlovian response – it looks absolutely spot-on,  I start salivating. And as I begin to bite in, all seems good. The burger is a nice size, not a gastropub ‘cricket ball’ that sits in your stomach like an unexploded WW2 depth charge. The proportions are spot-on, too – the bun encloses the patty, the tomato slice is the same diameter as the meat, and a thick slice of maple bacon doesn’t poke out the side. Biting in, the bun feels soft outside but grilled inside so as not to become soggy, although it’s neither sweet nor subtly flavoursome. Still, it’s a better bun than any other I’ve tried in the UK, if not the US.

Trouble is, the meat is overcooked and dry. Sending it back, the waiter agrees that it’s overcooked, but doesn’t apologise. My fiancé, H, is left to finish her meal whilst I wait for mine to be re-cooked. It’s no big thing, just a bit of a pain. It draws my attention to the service as a whole tonight, it just seems to be a beat or two off. I thought that they might have comped me a beer, but no. I didn’t feel the love in Byron tonight. The Movember moustaches had gone, too – perhaps that act had had cosmic reverberations? Still, it’s what comes back out of the kitchen that counts. And I’m so hyped about the next burger delivering bang-on flavour that all crinkles in the service dimish in importance. So how will the next attempt turn out?

“You’re making me moist,” is clearly what the coarsely ground meat of my new burger was thinking before it hit the grill. And aout 7-10 mins later, it arrived as beautifully bloody. And it oozed juciy, succulent flavour. It was really spot-on. The fries – my only side – were delicious. All in all, a step in the right direction towards burger perfection.

Scores on the doors (for this particular visit)

  • Food – 7/10
  • Setting – 7/10
  • Atmosphere – 8/10
  • Service – 6/10

I defintely recommend going. Indeed, it’s my top recommendation so far. Check it out and enjoy.

But don’t take my word for it. You’ll find a couple of fantastic reviews of Bryon with lovely photography here and  here.

Post by Scot Devine

Video: Table cloth party trick

26 Nov

Helluva week.

Damn.

Helluva week.

Last night all I wanted was a nice pint of Guiness, followed by a tasty burger, fries and beer.

Instead, I arrive at a company event (which was really good) and it’s all about champagne (not to be sniffed at, of course) and disturbingly  flavourless canapés (of course free food is always appreciated) in aprivate room – yay, we can party our asses off. Yet here’s the kicker – the room had no music.

A room without music!

Vibe-less, you have to start some shit to make your own entertainment. After threatening to floor the load of remaining canapes (the first time our company has left any remaining food, I think), people goad me into attempting something I have seen done but never tried in my life before: whipping the table cloth off whilst leaving everything else on the table.

“Do it! Do it! Do it!” chant some, tribally.

“No, c’mon, don’t, don’t do it,” beg others.

Clasping their hands near their chins imploringly, waiters look on pleadingly.

I look at the crowd, the pleading waiters, then back to the nasty canapes. And then this happens.

 

Post by Scot Devine