Covent Garden

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Apologies that this is basically turning into a blog where I talk about food and a tiny bit of life stuff! I’m sure you’re wondering how I haven’t eaten myself into oblivion but it’s all being balanced out by walking 5 miles into work every day which my health-logic then entitles me to eat anything and everything. (I also keep focussing on the fact that soon I’ll be climbing mountains and sweating litres in Caribbean heat) (& Not the fact that I also have to brave a bikini…)

Like most children of the 80s/90s raised on a diet of Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles; I love pizza. I love it so much. I’m not really a fan of Pizza Hut and after a brief novelty-value-flirtation with Domino’s I now can’t stand it, the freaky donughty base is not the one. I like my pizza thin-crust and as authentic as possible, my favourite London pizza joint up until now has been Stingray in Tufnell Park where you can get a pizza & a beer/wine for £5.95! And the pizza is GOOD and the waitresses always play amazing songs like Tatu and Melanie C from their ipods. Stingray still has a hunk of my heart but there is a new kid on the block rivalling for my affections. I first heard about Home Slice a few weeks ago. I follow lots of wise food blogging owls on twitter and start hearing rumblings that it was well worth a look. It is located in the very picturesque Neal’s Yard, an area of central London that I really don’t go enough and so it’s nice to have a delicious excuse to visit more often. Like many of the start-up restaurants, such as Meat Liquor and Wish Bone, Home Slice started humbly – as a homebuilt mobile pizza over in London Fields. It’s lovely to support these passionate chefs and entrepreneurs as they grow and blossom. Using traditional wood fires, pizza is all they serve! But that’s not to say the menu is dull, the toppings are all mouth wateringly tempting ranging from ox-tail to bone marrow to salami to traditional Caprese. The pizza is served either by the slice (£4) or a full pizza (£20). After basing our decision to go to Home Slice purely on the novelty for being able to order by the slice NY style, we then succumbed to being piglets and ordered a whole pizza.

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That is 20 inches of pure cheesy tomato delight. Home Slice is one of those laid back places where asking if we could go half-n-half on toppings was absolutely no problem. Our waitress was so enchanting and even praised us on our topping selection – mushroom, ricotta & pumpkin seeds / chorizo, corn & coriander. Upon the arrival of the 20 inch beast, we both proclaimed “oh wow, we’ll be taking home a big doggy bag”. Then we took a bite, and all concepts of doggy bags vanished as we silently troughed through the whole lot only breaking to make ridiculous movie mmmmm noises and wide eyed YUM faces at each other. It is by far the finest pizza I have ever had in my life, including the many slices I shovelled away on my trips to New York.

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Most of my friends will know that my tipple of choice is Prosecco. Mainly, due to cost, I reign myself in and only drink it on special occasions and celebrations. Occasionally I cave in and order it on an average night out and get met with “celebrating something..!?” and then feel all bashful. But Home Slice clearly felt my pain and therefore they have Prosecco ON TAP. Have you every heard of such a thing? I would be such a happy (merry) person if I could have Prosecco on tap in my house. Anyway the draft-ness of it means it’s a steal at £4 a glass…another very good reason to go, chow down and chug up!

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After all those inches of dough we decided we better walk home. When you have a boyfriend who’s handily your bestfriend and braintwin, you have lots of adventures even on a walk you’ve done a thousand times before. First we walked through “Sci-Fi City” (the new business development by Warren Street) and then found a door that led to nowhere. We scampered about and found a lot of things to laugh at and about, even as our legs grew weary and the sun dipped. It’s nights like this that make me extra-excited for our international adventure, as I think if we can still find a way to find a tedious walk home so sparkly then imagine what it will be like when we are roaming through rainforests and trekking through misty mountains. I’m sure we’ll have the odd “I miss London!” moment and it’ll be nights (and meals) like this that I’ll be remembering.

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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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