Hot Dog at Big Apple Hot Dogs

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We were lucky enough to catch up with Big Apple Hot Dogs at Feast. This foodie festival by London Bridge featured a range of the top food stalls currently plying their trade around London, within a vibrant atmosphere of eager eaters. But we headed straight for these posh sausages.

“So what makes this a posh hot dog?”

First issue: it’s one of those dishes. Yes, that’s right: it’s almost completely impossible to eat. At least not with a) your dignity intact or b) your clothes unstained. It’s served simply in a bun with optional fried onions – but adornment is where the ‘little’ starts and ends – it’s huge, juicy, dribbly and oozing with flavour. Could I eat another one straight away? You bet I could!

So what makes this a posh hot dog? Time Out seems to have real trouble with this notion – though it seems perfectly happy with posh hamburgers, and haven’t we had ‘posh bangers’ in the UK for years? The answer is that it is made from good cuts of free range meat, presented in a freshly baked (though relatively plain) bun, and yes, it’s grilled not boiled – we aint on a New York street corner!

The rest of Feast was somewhere between delicious and disappointing. ‘Small portions so you can try lots’ weren’t accompanied by corresponding reductions in prices – or at least not to levels that you or I might consider cheap tasters. And this is generally street food not Michelin-starred restaurant fare, which you might expect to come with a plastic-knife-and-fork pricetag. Everything I ate was delicious, however, and the range was good – though some things disappointingly sold out.

Lamb Chops at Tayyabs

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Like many people, I have issues with lamb chops. The main thing is that I’m one of those people who thinks that lamb chops have as much meat along the bone as in the small, obvious triangle that the other faction believes to be the only edible part of the cut. Yes, that means that I’m one of those people who picks up a chop in their fingers and chews the tasty, fatty, juicy tidbits straight from the skeleton. This makes me a) disgusting to that half of the world’s diners who are overly obsessed with table manners and b) among those who find lamb chops super-fiddly and thus tend to steer away from them.

“In a universe divided into lamb chop factions, these just may be the ones to make me switch sides”

But, in a universe divided into lamb chop factions, I think these just may be the ones to make me switch sides!

They are encrusted with cracked spices on the outside, giving them a crunch before you reach tender, luscious meat. The aforementioned triangle is lamby, but without the gamey, over-obvious flavour that sheep sometimes has which can set it apart from other meats, demanding it takes the centre of attention and making, to my mind, one lamb dish often taste like any other. It has taken on a rich, hot, south-Asian spiciness which, I admit, I couldn’t imagine when hearing one should head to an Indian cafe/restaurant for chops.

And across the bone was the melting, oozing, fatty bonus, that no doubt half the world misses, and boy are they missing out. It has practically the consistency of St John’s’ bone marrow, and the same rich dripping flavour.

I can’t give a review of a dish at Tayyabs without mentioning the unique setting. Absolutely bustling, even on a Wednesday night, there is a queue of maybe a hundred, for a vast restaurant on two floors that must feed a thousand covers a night. We are lucky enough to have a booking, which I’d advise. But even with such a huge domain, the food was still brought within a handful of minutes. It must be a really well-oiled machine, both front of house and in the kitchen.

The rest of the dishes were spot on, with (very) spicy curries, excellent breads and the standard rice offer. But I definitely wouldn’t miss out on a starter of chops next time I’m here.

Pani Puri at Sakonis

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Pani Puri are a really fun Indian street food. Prepared by frying a bite-sized unleavened bread (the puri) until puffed and crisp, punching a hole in the top and filling with a selection of fillings such as onion, chickpeas, potato, chilli, but vitally flavoured water (the pani). I’m reliably informed that when eaten in the market in India, you queue with others, so the vendor can rack up the snacks for each customer, filling them with the liquid and passing them one-by-one to each. The reason this is important is that the water quickly soaks into the crisp shell, undermining its integrity, and if you’re not careful you’re soon facing a disastrous collapse!

“You don’t often see pani puri on your typical Indian restaurant menu, but I now seek them out”

At Sakonis, they serve the dish with everything already inside the shells except for the tamarind chutney and flavoured water, so you can pour these in yourself and pop each into your mouth while still crisp. The wonderful effect of the dish is that the shell bursts and you get a blast of flavour and texture. We’re required to guess at the liquid proportions necessary, but experimentation revealed a wide scope for forgiving variation, and each one we tried delivered its delicious surprise successfully.

So is there anything more to pani puri (and this example in particular) that is more than a cheap trick? The answer is definitely yes. The combination of crisp shell, crunchy onion, potato and chickpeas for ‘bite’, chilli, spices, tamarind for sour, and sweet, tangy water makes for a combination of flavours and textures that mean after the initial fireworks you get real depth and variety.

Sakonis is a real dive (in a good way as much as bad) – and I’d love to come back for their buffet; not that their cheap menu and generous portions don’t mean you can have a feast even ordering a la carte! I haven’t eaten the dish often enough to judge, but this seems a pretty brilliant rendition to me – and if someone questioned its authenticity, I’d probably suggest the real deal wouldn’t do too badly to imitate these! You don’t often see pani puri on your typical Indian restaurant menu, but I now seek them out.

Mutton roti at Jerk City

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Jerk City is very much styled as a local café, rather than a restaurant. No doubt it does a roaring central-London trade, but patrons come here for the food, not the decor or comfortable ambiance. It even states that it’s a “family restaurant” with no alcohol on sale, though I’m pretty sure I heard the waitress listing Guinness among the canned beverages on offer!

“Some might question the logic of Time Out choosing something other than the eponymous jerk chicken to feature in their top 100”

Some might question the logic of Time Out choosing something other than the eponymous jerk chicken to feature in their top 100 dishes in London, but we’re not here to argue, but to sample the mutton roti.

Roti is a dish associated more with the East than the West Indies, with (I’d assume) practically any filling wrapped in something between a flat-bread and a crêpe. In this case, it’s mutton curry that bulges inside these ones.

The bread is dense, almost dumpling-like, giving an overall feel similar to lamb stew. Vegetables and meat gleam in a thick gravy that seems like it might clot if left long enough – not necessarily a bad thing, but unclear if it’s a good thing either. There’s a substantial quantity of meat, and this makes for a hearty, warming winter meal, with the mildest of spicy heat.

I might come back to Jerk City for a quick, cheap bite, just off Oxford Street. But frankly it’s clear that, in a city with a large Caribbean population, there are better joints to get really great regional food (particularly jerk!), and with a good deal more genuine atmosphere.

Ajo blanco at Copita

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I’d seen people complaining online about the size of the portions at Copita (arguably simply missing the point about tapas, but obviously there is an extreme case where even tapas is too small), with some commentators complaining about the “thimbleful” of ajo blanco. In this particular case, I don’t think they could possibly be justified. Ajo blanco is an almond and garlic soup, served cold. If that sounds really rich, that’s because it is.

“The bartender simply said ‘You’ve been here before'”

Copita cuts through the richness with beetroot, a sprinkling of green herbs, and a drizzle of olive oil – yes, even the olive oil serves to make it less rich – so I’d struggle to get through any more than the small bowl you see above. And anyone who complains about this being a thimbleful must have very fat fingers, which, granted, you’d achieve by eating soup-bowls of this!

To be honest, when I say “struggle to get through more” I still would – because this soup is absolutely delicious. Rich, yes. Creamy, yes. But also woody, almost mushroomy. The beetroot adds freshness and texture, and it teeters on the fence between being savoury or sweet – you could almost imagine this as a liquid filling in an Artisan du Chocolat chocolate!

I love it. In fact, when we ordered a carafe of wine and two portions of ajo blanco, rather than getting weird looks and an explanation of how to order tapas, the bartender simply said “You’ve been here before”. When I come back, I’ll definitely be ordering another mini-bowl of this, and I’m sure I’ll come away satisfied by it!

 

Bacon naan at Dishoom

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Could this be the perfect way to start the day? Especially for those who’d been out the night before.

“But boy what a bacon butty…”

Grilled bacon meets sweet, tangy tomato chutney (it would be unfair to call this fresh, well-spiced sauce “ketchup”), yoghurt and a handful of coriander. This is all wrapped in a freshly-baked naan, which surprised us all by being fluffy, light and soft rather than dense, heavy and hard as we’d incorrectly imagined it might be.

Later in the day someone remarked that they just wanted some normal food rather than kidneys or bubble tea. This dish is definitely ‘normal food’, fused with Indian tastes and taken to an extreme. It’s just a bacon butty, but boy what a bacon butty! Along with sweet chai this is breakfast to get out of bed for. And yes, the perfect hangover cure.

53/100 best eats in London

Shortrib French dip at Hawksmoor Bar

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This sandwich was good. Okay, let’s be fair: this sandwich was very good. Sharp cheese matched to melting braised shortrib matched to a sweet, floaty bun. The meat had an almost sloppy Joe consistency whilst still being flaky rather than mush. The cheese oozed out the edges in an indulgent, bordering-on-too-much-of-it way.

“Shouldn’t a main be able to stand up to a side?”

But, if I’m being fair I’m going to have to say it straight too: about three seconds after I’d eaten the last delicious mouthful I can honestly say I hadn’t the faintest idea what the whole thing tasted of. Even trying to recall the individual flavours just evoked a sense of the melty, easy-eating nature of it, let alone trying to think what the combination amounted to.

Is this a criticism? I don’t know. I remember enjoying the taste as I ate it, as well as thinking that I had no idea what to do with the dip, which, being the consistency of a thin gravy quickly made the end of the sandwich I’d dipped into it dissolve and collapse. Perhaps I should have poured it over, but then I’d have just had a soggy bun and it would have been even harder to eat without squirting grease everywhere.

Perhaps it’s that I paired the sandwich with thrice-cooked chips, whose crunch and salt rather overpowered the insubstantial (in a good way… I think) sandwich. But then, shouldn’t a main be able to stand up to a side: especially one as standard as (yes, pretty damn good) fries?

Again, being fair, I couldn’t quite believe that this was one of Time Out’s Top Ten – give me a Meat Liquor / Meat Market burger in preference any day.

45/100 top hundred dishes in London

Flatbreads

Hat tip to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall for the basic recipe for these flatbreads. In fact, I think once you’ve tasted them you’ll never want to suffer supermarket pitas again!

The only part of the recipe that presents any real difficulty is that you need to dry-fry each individually  and giving them even 3 minutes each does take a little time. But they’re fairly low maintenance, so you can get on with a few other jobs at the same time.

Flatbreads
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Serve with dips, such as hummus, salsa, broad bean dip, smoked mackerel paté, or use to wrap falafel, salad, etc., or even for fajitas.
Author:
Recipe type: Side
Serves: 4-8
Ingredients
  • 250g plain flour (I haven't tried bread flour, but maybe I'll have a go one day)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 150ml warmish water
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
Instructions
  1. Sift flour into a mixing bowl and stir in the salt. Add the water and oil and mix to a dough. (Kenwood dough hook works fine.)
  2. Knead on a well-floured surface for five minutes until smooth and elastic, then cover with a large bowl and rest for 15 minutes.
  3. Roll into a sausage shape, then slice into 8 portions.
  4. Roll out to 3mm thickness on the floured surface.
  5. Shake off excess dough, then lay in a non-stick pan on a medium-to-hot temperature.
  6. When the dough starts to puff up (a minute or two) flip and cook the other side for another 30 seconds. Each side should develop brown patches.
  7. Serve warm.