Shake Shack

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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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(Have you read Big Apple-ing part i? If not, get a wriggle on!)

I forgot to mention in my previous post, that if you ever get the chance to fly into New York from the West coast, you definitely should. I hadn’t really thought about it but when you fly from London, you literally land into JFK from the ocean. When you fly from the other direction, you fly RIGHT over New York and I was so lucky that the sun was just setting so I could still shove my nose up to the glass and gape as we flew lower and lower with incredible birds eye views of Central Park and the Statue of Liberty.

Popeye

On the Friday night, I had finally finished my gruelling work schedule and was a free free bird to go out and enjoy the city that never sleeps with Nick. Luckily we had tons of friends to meet up with over the weekend, who generously created a packed schedule of the finest NY events. Friday night was kicked off by finally meeting our dear “internet friend” the glorious gorgeous gregarious Heather Park in the flesh. We rolled into K-Town and queued for an hour for the best KBBQ in town over at Wonjo (23 W 32nd St). Whatever you do, don’t turn up to KBBQ hungry if going on a weekend night, instead use your hour queue-time to take in the sights and sounds and SMELLS whilst your appetite grows into one of beastly proportions. We also had the pleasure of witnessing the most intense amazing boss-lady working front of house, barking at her staff and customers alike as she rocked a Britney-headset and flapped about some sort of laminated mega list. Heather & I agreed she would be a serious asset to backstage at NFW. I had never had KBBQ before and so if you are a fellow newbie, it’s basically a feast AND a game. You sit around a huge table (Heather Park comes complete with entourage of beautiful smart New-Yorkers to dine with!) and there is a mini BBQ firepit in the centre of the table. As well as about 20 dishes of veggies, beansprouts and tofu; the Wonjo staff bring over raw meat and barbecue it on the table in front of you. Every morsel was so mouth-watering and tasty, and washed down with BOWLS of soju (what’s soju?) which when mixed with burning coals could end in druken disaster… but luckily everyone left full and happy and with all their fingers intact.

KTown

After our feasting we jumped in cabs to Alphabet City where we hit Evelyn. The bar was cosy, just the right amount of buzz-y but with seats at the bar, and with an extensive tempting cocktail list. It was hard to believe that just a few months earlier, the entire bar (and block) had been underwater in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Evelyn is such a hidden treasure, and somewhere I desperately wish I could transport home to London to have as my local. I loved the little touches like on the menu there was a “drinking language guide” explaining what on the rocks, short etc means. although there were also a few etiquette guidelines too such as under make it strong it said “This means you want me to pour extra booze for free. Not gonna happen. Order a double” !! I tried my first ever Egg Creme, a drink popular in America and involves a mixture of milk & selzter. I opted for an NYC creme which also included chocolate sauce and rummmm! It’s probably the weirdest thing I have ever drunk but it was oddly delicious. Like a fizzy, boozy Yazoo. Definitely put it on your NY-To-Do list. (Also thanks HP for letting me pinch the only physical evidence of us meeting IRL! We were terrible paparazzi’s)

Gang

Empire

On Saturday we thought the blue sky was finally out and we started the day with a stroll over Williamsburg Bridge which is one of my favourite things to do (the last time I did it I saw Chloe Sevigny riding a bike and Tobey Maguire jogging!) you also pass the old Domino sugar factory which I have been unhealthily obsessed with since Emily Haines sang about it in the Metric song On The Sly. The views from this bridge are unparalleled and you also arrive in the heart of Williamsburg in easy walking distance of everything good to see there. We were there to see something very good indeed – our friends Leah and Gareth.

Graph paper NY

LOVE LOCK

Williamsburg Bridge

Domino Sugar Factory

Leah & Gareth live in Green Point which is a gorgeous neighbourhood, and an easy stroll away from the waters edge to take in a perfect cityscape view of Manhattan. After we had lost all feeling in our extremities and even our fingers clutching piping-hot coffee cups were nearly blue, we scuttled to Allswell for brunch. In America, they just GET brunch. They get that you might want to eat it anytime of day (it’s served until at least 5pm most places), they GET that you want tons of choice and they also GET that you most likely want to get seriously back on the booze wagon after the night before. Over at Allswell I opted for the cheese & egg sandwich which was basically a fancy McMuffin which I could then slather in hot sauce; a habit that has stuck with me long after my NY trip and I’m now eating the hot sauce I bought back with me from the US with almost every meal. It is a surprisingly delicious addition to beans on toast. I also had a bloody mary which went down a treat! We spent the afternoon exploring Green Point and Williamsburg. Nick had desperately wanted to go to the Brooklyn Brewery Bar tour but we arrived at 2pm and the queue was about 4 blocks long and would have taken hours to wait out. Maybe it’t particularly en vogue at the moment but I wouldn’t set your heart on going unless you fancy a looooong wait. We instead invented our OWN tour which just consisted of visiting different bars and drinking Brooklyn Beer. Almost the same..! Oh and eating donuts from Peter Pan which is apparently open from 4am for any night owls. I punted for a standard sugar glaze which was heavenly, Nick braved a red velvet which also tasted of heaven.

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Donuts

On Saturday night we had tickets to the glorious Planetarium at the BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music – I’d recommend a visit there even if not to see an event, it’s beautiful) which was a collaboration between Sufjan Stevens, Bryce Dessner (of The National, aka my one true musical loves), and Nico Muhly and consisted of a piece of music for every planet in the solar system played along side amazing graphics. I really wish that they’d release the whole Planetarium but it doesn’t look likely. You can catch most of it on YouTube: Jupiter was our favourite and has had Nick & I singing “Jupiter… is the loneliest planet” in distorted voices to each other ever since! It was such an incredible thing to do and has definitely taught me to check out your fave bands/cool locations/events before you go somewhere and to book tickets in advance. This really made our weekend! After hours of inspiring, mind-melting music we hitched the subway back to Williamsburg and crawled to Rosamunde Sausage Grill. I don’t consider myself a sausage fan but this experience converted me for life. Pick ANY sausage you like (sooo many options) to which you can then add numerous onion/chilli based toppings. It’s served hot-dog style in a gorgeous crusty bun, and then there are about 10 pumps of different mustard/condiments to go wild on. It was a messy affair, and the sauce slops did irreparable damage to my favourite rust-colour paper bag skirt, but it was WORTH IT!! We stayed out with Leah & Gareth (and therefore our stolen) friends drinking margaritas into the early hours. Nick also sampled something called a Pickle Back which is apparently all the rage in NY: a shot of whisky with a shot of pickle juice as a chaser. As a pickle phobic, I had to hide under the table at this point.

BAM Planetarium

We awoke on the last day in the big apple, hungover and happy. We walked around the block to The Essex for their brunch deal. Long-time readers may remember that last time I went to NY I booked in for brunch there (you HAVE to book! Dont just rock up) and was then so hungover I couldn’t eat a thing let alone make the most of their unlimited mimosa/bloody mary deal. This time luckily my hangover was less brutal, and I chomped my way through shrimps, grits, eggs and biscuits all covered in hot sauce. Grits and biscuit are a really southern American cuisine and worth ordering for novelty value of saying the name and having no idea what to expect, plus they are mighty tasty. Nick had a giant stack of American pancakes, and to be honest I can see why their brunch is world famous, everything looked dreamy. They really mean business here with the breakfast booze… just take a look at Nick’s wide eyed fear of his bloody mary. The whole clear top half is pure vodka!

Bloody mary

Hungover Bee

Last up on our solo day of dreams in NY was to walk the High Line which you can read all about here. The project has totally rejuvenated this side of Manhattan and is probably now my #1 favourite place in New York City. I imagine it’s even more lovely in Spring/Summer as the blooms come out. The walk takes you past so many different areas and the birds eye view provides a whole new perspective on a city you’ve seen so many times in films and TV. I could honestly have walked up and down it all day! Highlights were seeing The Standard hotel famous c/o Fassbender in Shame (we didn’t see an nekkid action that day though) and the beautiful brownstones. The viewing points where you can stand over the road and feel like Godzilla are also amazing! We also saw Anne Hathaway! She was wearing a wig, hat and glasses but could not keep that post-Oscar-win glow and grin off her face.

High Line

High Line 2

Brownstone

At the end of the High Line you come off in a no mans land so it might be better to retrace your steps and get back into a better neighbourhood. However we had time to kill and Trader Joe’s to find (oh and a Shake Shack to munch on!) so we walked about 20 blocks back to central NY, past Port Authority and accidentally stumbling on Times Square which we’d actually vowed to avoid. I guess it’s impossible, the bright lights suck you in! We took our time walking miles upon miles until our feet screeched with every step, then it was time to head to JFK and on the final plane journey of my extended US trip. On the way home we flew through a snow storm heading in NYs direction, so I wobbled my way through a sleepless night which eventually gave way to a beautiful sunset to chase all the way back to London.

Times Square

I hope you’ve enjoyed my travel adventures. Normal life will now resume on Like a Skeleton Key which I can’t promise will be as exotic… but definitely will be as busy! I wanted to make a final mention that we couldn’t have got through our NY weekend without the Trip Advisor App – it has maps, subway details and information on every cuisine/tour/place you might want to visit. ALL without needing any data, how smart are they? So you can use it without wifi or costing any money. I’m tempted to download the London one now I’m home just to keep living the faux-holiday dream.

Sunset

Home

 

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Our third day in NYC was cloudy but we braved the gloom and headed to Central Park which is as incredible as everyone says. Forget any oh-its-like-Hyde-Park-in-London preconceptions, this park is VAST. And it has so many fun things to stumble across around every corner.

   

We went on a carousel, had a belini at the boathouse, took a rowboat out onto the lake (and got stuck more than once trying to explore illegal narrow streams!) we saw plenty of amazing musicians, photography lessons, art exhibitions and a dog-training school with every type of dog in a group from a baby chihuahua to a St Bernards (can you spot them?). It really is a sanctuary but with sky scrapers still towering around every corner.

That night I met a colleague for dinner and after feeling all smug and like I understood the subway; I hadn’t grasped the difference between local (stop every stop) and express (miss stops out) and ended up unable to get to the subway I needed for the restaraunt. In the end I had to RUN from 34th Street to 18th Street in wedges (that’s 16 big blocks) and was 30minutes late to meet her. What a faux pas. Luckily she was very patient and as soon as I realised she was Americas biggest Blur fan we quickly got over any cultural differences. We ate at an amazing mexican – Rosa Mexicano where they come and make the worlds best guacamole in front of you in a bowl as big as your head. The margaritas weren’t half bad either.

The next day it was all aboard the Greyhound for a 5 hour drive to Pittsfield where I was going to my beautiful friends Mel & Scotts wedding out in the mountains.

  

The greyhound wasn’t as bad as everyone makes out; it smelt like pickles but had free wifi. It was also amazing to see so much of America out of the window. I saw pumpkin patches, huge ‘Amytiville’ style houses, proper motels oh and a shop that simply had a sign saying Beer & TV Repairs. Ummm…

  

  

The wedding was incredible from start to finish. The night before as everyone congregated out at Buck Steep (manor hotel out in the middle of nowhere… supposedly haunted and I can definitely see why!) we had a bonfire under the perfect stars. Everyone chatted and snuggled for warmth and there was ghost stories and guitar playing and lots of junk food and local ale! It was like being on adult summer camp and one of the highlights of my trip. The funniest part was when a girl offered my beau a cookie and told his they had wheat in them. Halfway through his second he turned to me and asked why did I need to know they had wheat in them… are lots of americans wheat sensitive or something? And I quickly helped him realise what exactly was in them, something more herbal than wheat altogether… !

The wedding day was gloriously sunny with clear blue skies and was a very romantic affair with beautiful vows, stunning bridal party, sparklers and lots of fun late into the night.

We headed back to NYC the next day and had a cheeky Shake Shack on route. If you are ever in New York you have to eat here! It’s like a very very upmarket MaccyDs. The most amazing burgers, crinkly fries AND phenomenal milkshakes including peanut butter and oreo flavours. They also played DeathCabForCutie the whole time we ate, which you wouldn’t get in any UK fast food joint…

     

Then we snuck up onto the roof terrace of the Hudson Hotel (and I don’t do lifts, so reckon the 16 flights of stairs definitely cancelled out the burger face!) where we watched the sun set over the river and I took some of my favourite photgraphs of New York.

More soon; including falling in love with Williamsburg, the top celeb spots of my life and discovering what the Elvis sandwich is…. and eating one.

Don’t forget to enter & hype the NYC Giveaway. Only 5 days left!

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