Saturday 19 February 2011

Meateasy (aka The Meat Wagon)

Oh my!  It's not often I write about something within moments of having been there, but having just returned from Meateasy, I thought the best way to wait for the 'mother of all burgers' to digest, would be to blog about it.  If you've kept an eye on my 'This Week's Special' page, you will know all about Meateasy and The Meat Wagon. But for those of you who haven't got a clue, then listen up!

In a nutshell, there's this cool guy called Yianni Papoutsis who had a shiny burger van he called The Meat Wagon, from which he would sell the most excellent burgers in all the land.  But alas, last December, some mean crooks nicked his beloved wagon from its home in Peckham ('nuff said) and our wagon-less Burger Buddy was at a very loose end.  But life has a funny way of working itself out and it would seem those wagon-pinching numpties actually did our hero a favour.  Because when Yianni was devising a plan on how to save enough money to buy another wagon, a terrific 'lightbulb' moment dawned on him.  He would sell his infamous burgers from a speakeasy type venue which he found in the perfect place above an old pub in New Cross, SE14. And thus, Meateasy was born.

Above The Goldsmith's Tavern (currently being refurbished and soon to become New Cross House) on New Cross Road, you will find Meateasy, discreetly tucked away in true speakeasy style, through an unsuspecting side door and up some stairs clad in garish threadbare carpeting. Once inside, it's like entering burger Narnia, as if everyone in there knows something which the passers-by on the street below are simply oblivious to. It's a good feeling. Even when I arrive at 6pm, the place is already heaving. The crowd is a real mixture of all ages and walks of life from carefree students to wisened professionals. But all united with the same goal - to experience a Meateasy burger. Feverish excitement and anticipation is written on everyone's hungry lips. Meateasy operate a ticket service, so while I waited for my number to come up, I found a seat (table sharing is absolutely the norm here) and took everything in around me. Decor-wise, Meateasy is very cosy and down to earth, the walls are decorated with endless book pages, low-watt coloured lighting, vintage lampshades and a random mixture of tables and chairs.  There's a well-stocked bar on one side which even sells bottles of Meateasy beer!  Music plays unobtrusively in the background, drowned out by the humming chatter.

Once I place my order, it's a short wait until my name is called above the din, and it's time to tuck in.  The food is served on paper plates with hefty quantities of kitchen roll and is all part of the wonderful, unpretentious vibe.  I ordered a bacon cheeseburger with coleslaw and onion rings.  To be honest, the 'slaw' and rings weren't much to write home about.  But the burger... Well, that was absolutely magnificent.  Made with 28 day dry-aged beef, the hunk of a patty is just as a burger should be.  Positioned between a homemade soft sourdough bun with generous additions of gherkin, lettuce, onion, cheese, bacon and mustard, it was a proper, sloppy delight.

If for some peculiar reason, burgers aren't your thing, then there are a host of other things on the chalkboard menu for you to choose from, including Mac & Cheese, Chilli Cheese Dog and a Philly Cheese Steak Roll, which all looked equally delicious.  Note: Meateasy probably isn't a popular veggie hangout! Price-wise it's very reasonable, you're looking at around seven quid for a burger plus three quid for fries. It's open 6pm - 11pm Tue - Sat and is due to stay at its current location until at least mid-March. But fingers tightly crossed that as Meateasy has been filled to the rafters day in, day out since it opened in January, hopefully Yianni will be feeling the love so much, that he will make it a permanent fixture (Yianni, are you listening?!)  It's by far the best burger joint in South East London and has definitely put New Cross on the map, as people are venturing far and wide to try out this little corner of meat heaven.

Yianni's initial aim was to make enough money to buy another wagon, but I reckon he's doing so well, he could buy a fleet of diamond-encrusted wagons at the rate he's going.  The return of The Meat Wagon would be cool for festivals and random London roaming in the summer months, but I do hope its return won't be the Meateasy's demise.  Surely it's only fair we have both!  I am very fortunate to live in New Cross (I never thought I'd hear myself say that!), and as Meateasy is at the end of my road, I for one will be petitioning for it to stay put.  And to open on Sundays would be good too, as it would go oh so well with the papers and a Bloody Mary.  Let's just hope the New Cross House pub is also a winner when it opens in spring.  In the meantime, I strongly urge you to get yourself to Meateasy whilst you can.


Nov 2011, the guys behind Meateasy and Meat Wagon have now launched a permanent restaurant called...

Corner of Henrietta & Welbeck Street
London W1G 0BA
Tel: 020 7224 4239

Open: 12pm - 2am Tue - Sat

Friday 18 February 2011

Balham Supper Club

I ventured off to Balham last week, as a guest at The Supper Club London, where I was greeted with a glass of Codorniu sparkling wine and a warm welcome from the host, John. He and his lovely assistant busied themselves in the kitchen as the guests all got acquainted over their fizz. Before long we sat down for dinner and I was lucky to share a table with four really fun diners, including two Greeks, an Italian and a Welsh St Lucian. It was a continental laugh-a-minute!
The starter was a cream of cauliflower soup which was certainly creamy and came with a plate of homemade savoury biscuits. However, it was rather lacking in presentation and just a bit bland, but nothing a sprinkle of croutons, a sprig of garnish and a hint of seasoning couldn't put right. Next came the main course of game pie with seasonal vegetables. More of a stew than a pie really, the meat was a medley of tender venison, rabbit and pheasant in an interesting orange-infused gravy all topped off with a perfectly baked individual pastry crust to give it the 'pie' touch. Personally, I'm not a big fan of celeriac or pearl barley, so the pale soft side dishes really didn't  appeal to me, although the mange tout and green beans did add some necessary colour and crunch to the dish. Meanwhile, the wine, wit, company and conversation continued to flow at such a great pace, that even Splodge the Cat decided to join in!

The piece de resistance was the pudding. Pears poached in Sauterne with homemade chocolate ice cream.  I think poached pears must be the Pud du Jour as they've popped up at several supper clubs I've been to of late. But this was unique as it came with some very impressive sugar work - delicate thin caramelised sugar legs gently leaning against the pear as it nestled in a pool of seriously good chocolate.

As a lecturer by day, John enjoys using his spare time to pursue his interest in cooking, hence The Supper Club London.  He really was a great host and you can tell he thoroughly enjoys orchestrating his supper evenings, putting his all into it. Despite the fact that some of the dishes weren't necessarily to my taste (and not forgetting it is a supper club, not a restaurant) on a culinary note, I would say the food offered is good, wholesome, home-cooked grub. I especially like the fact that the vegetables and herbs are grown in John's nearby allotment - a nice personal touch.

Whilst some supper clubs charge absurd amounts for a fairly mediocre meal, and others are perhaps justified in charging more due to their exceptional, almost professional chef quality type meal, John has got it just right by charging a reasonable £20 per head for a respectable 3 course dinner.  It was a happy, relaxed and most enjoyable evening and due to the excellent company, it carried on very late into the Balham night. There are various dates coming up at The Supper Club London, so check the website to make a booking.  Just add wine!

Thursday 10 February 2011

The Clown Church, Dalston

Last Sunday, a friend and I went to Church. But not any Church.  It was the Holy Trinity in Dalston, aka The Clown Church. On the first Sunday of February each year, a very unique service takes place in memory of the famous King of Clowns, Joseph 'Joey' Grimaldi (1778-1837).  Along with the normal congregation and clergy, a host of clowns from across the land, and in all manner of age, size, slap and regalia, make the annual journey to honour their hero.

It was certainly a surreal and colourful affair, and as it is so popular, we were fortunate enough to arrive in time to secure ourselves a pew. The opening hymn was 'Lord of the Dance', during which the Clowns and Clergy arrived down the aisle. A musical performance by Eek & Mr Mudge followed by a few clever magic tricks caused much delight to the numerous children in the congregation. Yet amidst the slapstick, japery, juggling, bubble-blowing and horn-honking, the service is in fact a proper religious affair, which despite the contradiction, the clowns take very seriously indeed. There were a few readings (one was read by The Rt Hon John Bercow, speaker of the House of Commons) and a lot of hymns, which the clowns sang along to in a hearty voice whilst tapping their over-sized comedy shoe-clad toes. 

A slightly more sombre and quite moving part of the service, was when 'Send in the Clowns' started playing softly in the background as candles were lit to accompany the laying of a wreath (resembling a clown face as far as I could tell from the quick glimpse I caught of it) in memory of clowns who have passed away.  The Chaplain quietly read out the names including Bilbo, Frosty, Buddi, Sir Norman Wisdom and The Unknown Clown.  The Clowns then read together The Clown's Prayer, thanking God for the precious gift of laughter.

Grimaldi was born in Clerkenwell and spent most of his life living in Islington, including 10 years in Exmouth Market which is commemorated by a blue plaque. He followed his father's pantomime-esque footsteps and performed his stage debut at the Sadlers Wells theatre aged three.

It was in 1946 that Clowns International was founded and the clowns started their memorial service for Grimaldi each year at St James' Church, Islington (where Grimaldi is buried in the graveyard, now called Grimaldi Park on Pentonville Road, N1). The Church was demolished having suffered bomb damage in the war, hence they relocated their annual service to Holy Trinity, Dalston as of 1959, where it has been held ever since.

The Clowns Gallery (which has moved from Holy Trinity to the Mill House at Wookey Hole in Somerset) houses various wonderful clown exhibits.  The most popular being the famous collection of painted clown eggs. When a new clown joins, they have their slap (hair/make-up) registered by having the look replicated onto an egg so as to make sure their look is unique to them.  Traditionally, they were painted onto chicken eggs, but now pottery eggs are used.  Apparently, when a clown dies, his egg is smashed. 

It was definitely a Church service like no other and I'm really glad I had a chance to experience it. If you'd like to attend, put the first Sunday of February in your diary. Don't forget your red nose and squirty plastic flower. Or perhaps you'd like to become a proper clown! In which case you'll find everything you need to know at Clowns International. Honk, honk!

Tuesday 1 February 2011

True Deli Dinner At Home

So, you're thinking of inviting a few friends round for a cosy dinner on a chilly winter's evening.  Lovely idea. Until you wonder where you'll find the time amidst your busy day to prepare it all, before spend hours slaving over a hot stove to conjure up a veritable feast. Then whilst you're being the perfect host, eagerly trying to partake in a bit of banter with your guests, you keep nipping back to said stove every five minutes to make sure all your culinary concoctions are going to plan. Phew! It's exhausting just thinking about it. If you're someone who prefers to entertain using as little effort as possible, then read on. What would you give for a Fairy Food Godmother to appear on your doorstep with a box full of perfectly delicious homemade dishes, all prepared and ready to go? Step forward - True Deli

Based in Earls Court, True Deli are a classy outfit and nothing is too much trouble. So when they asked me if I would like to give their Simple DIY dinner a shot, I jumped at the chance, before remembering I don't actually have space to host dinner in my simple abode, and didn't feel dining on laps would be quite as rewarding. The dilemma was short-lived as it dawned on me that I already had a dinner plan on the horizon. Some good friends of mine who live in the sticks, had invited me down for a bit of a countryside shindig at their cottage with a few others.  I hastily told them about the True Deli plan to see if they were keen to give it a whirl. They were as keen as Dijon! 

I got straight on the blower to Henry and Alexander (the True Deli Commanders in Chief) to make a plan. A date and menu were confirmed, but then I was faced with the problem of how to cart a large cool box full of grub from London to The Sticks, as my preferred mode of transport is by rail. I came up with a great idea that perhaps True Deli could deliver the goods to Waterloo Station so I'd only have to lug it along the platform onto the train.  But Henry trumped that idea and said "give us the address of your friends in the sticks, and we'll deliver it there."  (He didn't actually say 'sticks' but I quite like using that reference to all my friends who live outside the M25).  Bingo!  Problem solved.

I joined my friends for a perfectly fun and effortless weekend. True to their True Deli word, the large box of treats were delivered safe and sound (apart from a load of tricky peas who did a disappearing act en route) in a well insulated box full of ice packs to keep it fresh. The food came in well presented packaging - no nasty tin foil trays or cheap flimsy polystyrene boxes here, oh no, True Deli do it properly. There were three glass kilner jars (you know, the cool ones with the metal clippy bit) filled to the brim with fresh smoked mackerel pate, complete with a generous box of melba toast and six wedges of lemon. A giant chicken, leek and pancetta pie in a stylish white ceramic dish, accompanied by a tub of creamy mash and another with veg. A further box contained six miniature sticky toffee sponge puddings with a bottle of homemade salted caramel sauce. It's a shame a list of simple cooking instructions weren't included in the box, as after all, if you're not one to spend time preparing the food, you certainly don't want to spend time second guessing how long and what heat the pie needs cooking. Apparently they send all this via email beforehand, but for some reason it didn't reach my inbox in time, so I texted the guys for help and they got back to me immediately.

After a leisurely start to the evening, we laid the table, opened the wine and waited for the other guests to arrive. Apart from wacking the pie in the oven, and boiling the veg, it was almost disconcerting how little there was to do. Which meant more time for wine and chat.  Hurrah! Before long, we were all ready to tuck in. I made sure I got everyone's verdicts on the dinner, and the general consensus was a glowingly positive thumbs-up with a rating of 8/10.

The mackerel pate was hugely popular and the servings were so generous, we only needed to use two of the three jars.  Despite not being able to spot any sign of pancetta, the pie was so tasty that none of us could resist a second helping. The mash was also a hit, but the veg was probably the only disappointment as apart from the fact that a large portion of it escaped in transit, the helpings were quite meagre and we did have to pop to the shop for emergency broccoli supplies. Which was also a good excuse to rustle up a last minute cheese board.

The sticky toffee puds were just the right size with a light texture and perfectly complemented by the delicious salted caramel sauce. We also added cream!  As the evening drew to an end, we were a bunch of very happy and content diners, all in agreement that our True Deli dinner was definitely a winner!

If you're thinking of hosting a dinner party, then I really suggest you try a True Deli simple dinner. At £89.50 it's not cheap, but this does include delivery (for all orders over £80). In fact if you enter the discount code: MISSIMMY at checkout when placing any True Deli order, you'll receive a 10% discount! 

True Deli also sell all sorts of wonderful tasty deli-ghts including chutneys, salads, hampers, breads, biscuits, cheese, salamis and olive oils.  Thanks so much Henry, Alexander and The Team at True Deli.  It was all really tasty, the service was amazing and you're already a big hit in The Sticks.

Contact True Deli by phone +44 (0) 20 7193 3275 or email

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