Burger

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I don’t know why it surprised me, but cheeseburger is my most used tag on the blog. Examples here, here AND here. I really, really like cheeseburgers and have dived in with both feet to the burger trend that has tidal waved across London in the past two years. I really need to write a post updating my stance on London’s best burger (Lucky Chip? Patty & Bun? The Diner? Byron? Admiral Cod? Kua ‘Aina? Meat Liquor? I’ve tried ’em all… numerous times just to be sure) and actually the world’s best burger (Shake Shack? In-n-Out? Umami?) but I don’t think there is any point in doing this until I’ve sampled the latest burger boys to roll into town (Covent Garden to be precise!) – Shake Shack UK and Five Guys UK. No one seems entirely sure why these competitors chose to open their first ever British/European branches in the same week, American Independence day maybe?, but they are here and surely there is enough hype and hungry mouths to keep both in booming business. It was extra nice to see  neighbourhood branches of Bryon and The Diner tweeting them to welcome them to town.

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I’m excited to sample both, but selected Five Guys to celebrate 4th July at as I have been to Shake Shack a few times in New York (twice both visits in fact) and I adore it, but wanted to try something shiny and new. I’ve also been keen to give it a whirl since Wish Wish Wish Carrie came back with rave reviews after her visit in NYC. My partner in burger crime, the delightful blogging beau What Katie Does , was already camped out in the queue when I arrived hot and bothered after a power walk through a sticky Leicester Square. Luckily, she had already befriended a sunshiney American girl infront of us who, in turn for holding her place, fetched us some cold beers to slurp as we waited. Safe to say, a pretty dreamy start! The snaking queue may look off putting but it was very well managed. Menu’s handed out to drool over, lots of interaction with chatty staff keeping us updated on estimated queue time etc, and at peak-time of 6.30pm we actually only queued for 25 minutes before we were IN…

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Almost every staff member I interacted with was American, which added to the novelty “fresh from the US” experience. It also made me extra-appreciate their cheery, chatty attitude as I’m sure they’d have all preferred to be back home munching 4th July food and watching fireworks. As you queue, you can pick up a carton of shell-on peanuts to take the edge off a grumbling tummy. Five Guys have a close bond with the holy peanut; as they cook the fries in Peanut Oil rather than standard cooking oil. Perhaps not ideal for those with peanut-allergies, but very happy days for a peanut mega fan like me.

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I hadn’t even glimpsed at the menu before the daunting task of selecting WHAT to have! I thought the standard size cheeseburgers were extremely pricey (at nearly £9 for bacon/cheese – my favourite combo) so out of cost cutting alone I opted for a more reasonably priced Little Bacon Cheeseburger and trust me, it was not little! So don’t be put off by the title, this was a totally average size burger and filled the burger shaped hunger hole perfectly. Myself and Katie shared a large fries, which was WAY too large. We barely finished the fries that had falled out of the paper cup fries-holder and into the paper bag… so again, size down when ordering your sides. We were thrilled to discover them stocking Brewdog ale, so both opted for a frosty IPA to wash everything down with. They also stock Brooklyn Beer. Although, the big drink schtick Five Guys have imported with them is Coca-Cola Freestyle which is a machine where you can literally build your own Coca-cola drink! Adding flavours, picking the base cola type (caffeine free for meeee!) and playing cocktail maker with the worlds most iconic drink. At £2.50 a cup you can also have as many free re-fills as you like; meaning you can create some real horror flavour combos just for fun.

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My main LOVE for Five Guys is that all toppings are FREE. How obvious is that? But how stingy most burger places are, charging £1.50 for bacon, at least £1 for bloomin’ BBQ sauce etc. It is such a relief to see this burger revolution whereby you can choose any topping and it’s still the exact same cost. I couldn’t really get over this fact, so put it to the test by opting for All The Way (every topping! – onions, mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mayo, mustard) plus extra BBQ sauce AND hot sauce (it was a saucy affair, but I just love a condiment). I regret not chucking some jalapenos in there, but you live and learn and it’s a good excuse to return very, very soon.

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And the food? Oh it was GOOOOOOD. The burger was perfect; exactly the right colour and a taste bud sensation of flavour and exact-right melty American cheese.  I also love a burger wrapped in foil, as it reminds me the brief dalliance my nothing-cool-ever-happens-here northern hometown had with Wendy’s and their square-burgers. Maybe now burgers are cool, Wendy’s can make a glorious return?! Katie is a caring herbivore so chomped through a veggie burger which she also made very happy noises about and said was a brilliant veggie option. We both ummed and ahhhed about ordering the grilled cheese instead of the burger (wild!) which looked and smelt delicious so that’s another must-have for a return trip. I’ll be honest, the fries weren’t anything to shout about. Skin-on and crunchy, but they seemed to go cold and tastless within moments. Granted we were chatting a million miles a minute and not exactly hurrying up with our meal, but they should be able to last a conversation and still be delicious. Five Guys do their own brand of cajun spice fries, so I would have these next time as maybe they will liven the spud up a bit.

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I was SO impressed with the eating experience considering it was opening night. I’ve been to Shake Shack near Port Authority in NYC at 3pm on a WORK day, and still had to queue for 30+ minutes once in the door, then faced the horror of absolutely NO seats so having to just hover with your tray, shovelling food in and evil eyeing all the happy folk with the luxury of a stool. It really ruins the experience! This was fully what Katie and I expected when we hit Five Guys. Instead, the staff were really managing the queue plus the restaurant is split level with tons of space both upstairs and downstairs. There were numerous spare seats to choose from, and being the curious types we spotted a narrow little staircase which we braved with our heaving burger-trays and were rewarded with a massive 10-seater booth in a private VIP corner to ourselves for 2 hours of peace, quiet and alone time with our burgers. Bliss!

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The staff also couldn’t have been more welcoming, friendly and lovely. Not a single bead of sweat on any of them, as they bent over backwards to make our experience perfect! I forgot to order mayo for the fries at the counter, so one of the many “floating” staff not only went upstairs to get me some, but also bought it right over to our tables so we could dig in. Table service? Pretty special, I can’t think of many places who would be so accommodating. They really did live up to the name of the Willy Wonka’s of burger making. It was a flawless evening. And the company was pretty swell too, thanks Katie for being such a great burger companion, I can’t believe we spent three hours together and I didn’t talk abou The National?!

I took this photo entirely by chance, but chuckled when I realised I had literally captured Five Guys, in Five Guys…

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Five Guys is at 1 Long Acre, Covent Garden (a short stroll from Leicester Square and Covent Garden Tubes) and is here to stay aka.. it’s not a pop up. Their website is already teasing a Five Guys Reading coming soon, so hopefully for non-London readers there will be Five Guys invasion in your neighboorhood soon. They are very twitter-happy, so maybe pester them with your location requests and hope for the best!

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The day I left London it was the classic big smoke weather than makes you feel like you’re in a Charles Dickens novel or Sherlock Holmes story. Drizzle dampened my coat and my case and spooky mist hung heavy, clutching me as I marched around Paddington station seeking out the Heathrow Express. 11 hours of tossing, turning, munching those ridiculously bad/good cheese pasties you always get as part of inflight ‘snacktime’ and watching a few movies (The Perks of Being a Wall Flower, The Silver Linings Playbook & The Girl; all of which I really enjoyed. Perfect dozy aeroplane picks.) and I was landing in LAX.

I spent 8 days in Los Angeles, working from the West Coast branch of my employers. Despite still managing to sicken all my Facebook friends and family with photos of me larking about in the sun; I did actually work ten hour days and had to do daily presentations for over 100 people (mega eek) as well as pretty much hourly meetings and keeping up with all my standard work-load. So I promise, I earnt that sunshine, as I spent most of the time hunched over my laptop gazing at the palm trees and blue sky from my desk! But you don’t want to hear about that, and I’m happy it’s over and went well, so lets focus on the fun bits of my LA adventure which I crammed into every evening and weekend moment.

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Before I start rambling… I HAVE THE CURE FOR JETLAG! Which obviously I have to share. I was so anxious before; because I have always been struck with the worst jetlag on previous trips. Even flights to Toronto & NYC which don’t have massive time-zone differences have left me groggy and grizzly for days. For my best friends wedding in Vegas, I was so jet lagged that I fell asleep for 20 minutes during her reception (I had also drunk 3 pints of a dive bar cocktail named ass juice which might not have helped) and earnt myself the title Maid of Dishonour. So you can imagine I was dreading this trip as I knew that I needed to bring my A-Game (totes learnt this phrase in LA, obv) and could hardly do that if I was a drooling mess PLUS I have given up caffeine so knew that I couldn’t even indulge in comically-big Starbucks or multiple Diet Coke fixes to aid me in my zzz battle. I spent half a day googling jet-lag cures/preventions and couldn’t find anywhere that said the same thing, but one advise kept popping up which was… stay hydrated. Water water water. So this was my tactic:

1. Drink as much water as possible. They are stingy on flights so take on a couple of big bottles. Yes you will spend most of the flight queuing or in the toilet but at least you pass the time. Maintain this once you arrive. I drank 4 giant Evian bottles in my first two days there.

2. No booze! Actually that’s a lie, I had one Baileys on the flight over. I think the key was no getting baked (like I did on route to Las Vegas; the plane actually ran out of alcohol…) and definitely NO drinking on your first two days in the new time zone.

3. Don’t nap. Just don’t. I’ve always succumbed to arriving at the hotel and regardless of the time, crashing out for an over zealous power nap. This time I arrived at about 3pm (11pm London time) but gritted my teeth and stayed awake until 9pm having a proper dinner and then sleeping through the night. I also left the curtain open meaning I woke up with the sun (not the alarm) which sounds hippyish but really helped too.

And there you have it. I wasn’t jet lagged at all during my trip, in fact I felt more energised than in London! I applied this strategy again on Sunday when I flew to NY (LA > NY is a meant to be even more brutal than LDN > LA) and have found again that I have totally defeated the jetlag beast, and can get by on using Cheetos as a caffeine replacement for my long hour days. I have probably turned my insides orange!

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Having no jet lag meant I could bounce out of bed and go meet my dear friend Nora, who was to be my trusted chaffeur, companion, tour guide and fancy frolicking fun date buddy for my trip. We started off with brunch at The Hart and Hunter and honestly if you are ever in LA you need to eat here. In fact, even if you live thousands of miles from LA, you need to go drool over the menus. After an impossible amount of perusing the options, I settled on the fried green tomato & crab egg benedict with herb hollandaise. I ate an actual fried green tomato! It was the best brunch of my life and no doubt a foodie highlight of the year. With our bellies full, we zoomed off to Malibu. Nora spent some of her childhood growing up there (she went to Malibu High School; surely the name of an actual TV show?) so knew every nook and cranny and the absolute best places to take in the view. We drove along the gorgeous Pacific Coast Highway into Malibu and I saw a dolphin glistening & larking about in the ocean. I didn’t even know dolphins existed in this part of America so though it was a mirage until Nora assured me it was real, they are quite common. We stopped in at a mall complex where I indulged in a spot of Sephora digging (I was restrained and limited my purchase to the Pantone Emerald colour of the year nail polish) and then we went to Grom for some of the finest Italian-in-California Gelato, which was so good I’m going to have to travel to the other side of Manhattan and seek out the NY branch to feed my addition.

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We passed Mel Gibson’s house which has a GIANT house-sized white wooden cross in the front garden, visible for miles. We then drove up the winding roads, creaking around hairpin bends and tummy-flipping hills to get the the Wild West as Nora phrases it. It’s an area of Malibu where you can climb craggy rocks and wade through cacti to basically get a birds eye view view out over the valley (home of Kim Kardashian…), the hills & the coastline. The whole world felt tiny from up there, and it re-enforced just how beautiful LA can be; it’s not the plasticky concrete jungle I was expecting by any means. From there we drove down to Zuma Beach, which was as idyllic as you’d expect; just a little gusty with a coastal breeze which had the gulls (and PELICANS!) whizzing around in the wind currents.

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After all that fresh California air, we needed something else to munch on. For months since Nora knew I was coming out to LA, there was has been two words on her lips and those are fish burger! I had no idea what a fish burger even was, and was imagining some sort of upmarket fillet-o-fish but oh boy was it more than that. We headed to Neptunes Net which has a famous history, as it was used for the exterior of restaurant that Hollywood twin-brats Mary-Kate & Ashley Olsen ate religiously at in their show So Little Time, which I sadly/proudly haven’t ever seen as it was before my kids TV career days. Nowadays however, there isn’t an Olsen in sight, in fact you are most likely to be greeted by a mob of bikers and Hells Angels! It has a huge biker community as it’s on a popular motorcycle route. Inside it was chaos, happy people everywhere chowing down on all seafood imaginable. We opted for the holy fish burgers, fries & a side of shrimp, and sat out in the blazing sun in happy greedy silence. I can see what the fuss was about – a fish burger might be my new favourite food; so how cruel it’s not available in London! (Or if it is, I doubt the Thames-fish are quite so tasty)

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We ended a perfect Malibu day with a drive to Point Dume, where it honestly felt like we were in a fairytale. I can see why so many music videos and films are shot here; including Destiny’s Child – Survivor (I know right, what a jip… they weren’t really on a desserted tropical island). We walked through fields of head-height yellow flowers that were glowing in the pre-sunset golden light. We scrabbled down craggy steps onto the beach, and sat watching climbers coast up & down the huge rock face. Finally, we sat back and enjoyed a perfect Pacific sunset as the sky burnt from yellow to pink to orange to purple. Oh, and drove home via Cher’s house. Hi Cher!

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A few other highlights of my first few days living as an LA-er were definitely the time I got ASKED for directions by actual authentic Americans. I felt it must have meant I didn’t look so rabbit-in-the-headlight dazed tourist and perhaps this was a sign I’d made it in Hollywood! Also nifty Nora busted me out of work one lunch time to indulge in the ultimate must-eat when in LA: In-n-Out Burger. Have you heard the urban legend/true fact story that apparently once Lily Allen flew all the way from London to LAX in her private jet just to get In-n-Out then flew straight home? A 22 hour round trip just for a burger! I can see why though, they are something special. My first time in LA I didn’t know about the secret menu (not on the boards instore, only visible on their website) so this time I was all set to order my fries and burger Animal Style like a true know-it-all. This means they come covered in special sauce (thousand island I’d call it) and fried onions! Also by some freak occurrence and fangirling, I wore a tee covered in Palm Trees so fitted perfectly with the branding.

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On the drive back to the office, we had our windows down and hair whipping in the wind. We pulled up next to a van driver who was doing the same, but was also blaring out Boys of Summer on his music system, which we did some serious car-dancing and appreciation to. At the next red lights we pulled up next to him again and THIS time he was playing Smells Like Teen Spirit. What a playlist, it was such a surreal moment that will really stick with me.

So that was a brief recap of my Malibu & Hollywood adventures. There is a sequel/part ii to this blog coming soon about exploring Echo Park, falling in love with Downtown & of course… getting up close to the THE sign.

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I love cheeseburgers.

I love cheeseburgers so much that this joyous Lazy Oaf sweater is top of my Christmas List, although sadly I don’t think I know anyone who loves me enough to pay 60 big ones for a novelty jumper! I would probably wear it everywhere though, even in the bath.

I’m pretty carniverous, despite the fact that upon meeting new people the most frequent judgement I get is that I “look like a vegetarian” which surely is just about the most random summation of a persons looks possible? But it happens over, and over, to the point that now two of my friends only refer to me as “our favourite meat-eating vegetarian”. Whenever I go for a nice meal I have the endless battle of wanting to branch out and try something new, but then my blood thirsty meat eater voice pipes up and saying ALL YOU WANT IS A CHEESEBURGER! Why deny it! And then I just have no choice but to order the burger. But is is a risky way to live your food-ordering life, as burgers can be so hit & miss. So often they arrive filled with greasy potential, only to let you down.  Dry stale bun, drooly cheese slop, brown lettuce, recently-frozen grey patty, rogue pickles…

So when I heard that MEATLiquor had opened and was serving “the best cheeseburger in London” I knew I would not be able to sleep easy until I had sampled it for myself. It is the latest project from the people behind the legendary elusive Meatwagon truck, and later #Meateasy… which I shamefully never managed to get to because it was in New Cross. and as a northerner-in-London my geography is not good enough to navigate myself to such an obscure location. Thankfully they must have felt my pain when selecting the location for MEATLiquor  as it is just behind Debenhams off Oxford Street, and a glorious ten minute straight-line stroll from my work.

MEATLiquor is snuggled into a quiet corner on Welbeck Street, surrounded by bleak car parks and hiding from the rawcous Oxford Street rabble. As I walked there, I started to wonder how hard it was going to be to find. The thing that no other review I’ve read has mentioned yet is that you can smell MEATLiquor minutes before it actually comes into view. As I clutched my iPhone and watched the little blue dot (me) scooch closer to the red pin (ML) I was suddenly hit with the definite hunger-groan-inducing smell of burgers. I did have to stop and have a stern word with myself, panicking that my over-excitement at going to MEATLiquor was bringing on some sort of scent delusion, but then I saw the red neon sign glowing in the distance and realised it was my impending dinner I could smell.

First things first, you will have to queue. Sometimes queues = overhyped disappointment, and that fear that people are purely joining a queue in a zombie/sheep/just to be cool fashion. The queue at MEATLiquor however is well deserved and exists because a) it’s amazing and b) once you are in and bagged your table, you aren’t rushed. Both these things  make it way more worth a wait than Alton Towers rides or something else you might happily stand in line for. If you arrive PRE-6.45pm on an early week night you will only have to wait about ten minutes. If you arrive after 6.45pm (I guess this is burger o’clock as it specifically does get instant busy at this time!) then I don’t know an approximate time but the queue was as far as the eye can see. Even way past the good-smells zone. Queue entertainment is however provided as impatient city boys and bustling business folk attempt everything to skip the queue and schmooze the doorman, who hearteningly is very fair and simply does not make any exceptions and tells them to get to the back of the line buster (only far more politely than that)

We were lucky to be seated right underneath this incredible ceiling art, but the entire interior is the epitome of the word cool. I’m a sucker for animals, especially angry looking animals, and ML has these in abundance. The seating and table settings are minimal (tealights in jamjars) but this just goes to help show off the drama of the towering burgers and beautiful beverages. It feels like you have walked into New York and I guess that is exactly the aim, as long gone are thoughts of tube tussles and work woes, as you soak up the grease fumes and the cheery staff make you welcome.

STARTERS: I opted for the buffalo wings with blue cheese dip which resulted in a heaving pile of wings – a really over generous portion for the price. They were slathered in the most heavenly hot sauce and left me a sticky, shiney, sauce covered mess of a girl gnawing on the bones in desperation for it not to be over. A good sign? My hot date opted for deep fried pickles. I am unfortunately a pickle-phobic. I hate the taste of pickles, the look of pickles and being called pickle. But he assured me that they were heavenly, the batter revealing a juicy, crunchy dreamland laying in wait.

MAINS: As a result of obsessing over Burgeracs Dead Hippie Review both hot date and I couldn’t bring ourselves to sample anything else. It’s been likened to a big mac, and I suppose it is, but a really insanely delicious version that won’t leave you with those hollow McDs guilts & shakes after! It’s 2 burgers, lotsa cheese and special oniony sauce. With the compulsory lettuce all burgers must have. Mmm burger-juicey lettuce. ..Why can’t all salad taste like you! I’m no fancypants food reviewer but it was definitely one of the best burgers of my entire life which is what I’d signed up for.

BOOZE: I should have guessed from the name, but I hadn’t expected the highlight of the night to be the drinks, not the burger! It’s a close run thing, but it’s the speciality cocktail House Grog that I can’t stop dreaming of since my ML experience. A rum based punch served in a giant glass jar/jug with a hunk of pineapple and a straw makes you feel like you are in a Wham! video and tastes SO good. It goes down way too easily, and the menu specifies that customers are limited to “2 servings only” ! When the table in the middle of ML was apparently designed especially for dancing on, this seems a little mean. I could have definitely gone for 4, although my bank manager and hot date might not have thanked me so perhaps ML are wise to protect their clients with a rationing policy. I also sampled the cocktail named loosely around The Full English (?) and the fact I can’t remember the exact name is because it was pure alcohol with no mixer. Just spirit. But somehow delicious and also served with a mini pickled-egg rolled in bacon dust (where do you buy bacon dust?! I want to roll all my food in it please) and so was worth a sample purely for that. The MEATLiquor twitterer claims “Come hungry. Leave drunk.” I can vouch for this claims accuracy due to the fact I talked about dog bones for an entire 30 minute night bus ride home!

The atmosphere really was electric in there, in that exciting buzzy way of something amazing taking place. Everyone was beaming (no hipster pouting going on, hooray) and the ambience, CHEAPNESS, service and food could not be faulted. To read some proper-reviews by people fortunate enough to sample everything on the menu – go here to Time Out  and here to Cheese and Biscuits blog.

Safe to say I will be going back super soon. I’m looking at it this way – everytime I go I get fatter. Therefore every next time I go I have more bee blubber to keep me warm in the queue!

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