ʽʽHi, I’m Benjamin Nunn – critic, gourmand and author of Ben Viveur. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You might have read me in an in-flight magazine, or a beer publication, but here on my own blog I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others so anything goes.

I deal with real food and drink in the real world, aiming to create recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. Likewise, I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended.

Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Meat Market

One of the perks of working close to Borough Market is that there's no shortage of options when the clock turns lunchtime.

So many eateries, so little time, and fasting two days a week as part of my diet means that it will take me a while to try everywhere - but given my penchant for the market, I was familiar with a fair few places in the area anyway.

I already knew, for example, about the good value lunches at the recently-reopened Brew Wharf, and the stunning Spanish street food at Cafe Brood. And, frankly, an unmanageably huge number of other brilliant places.

What I can't get my head around though is what will happen once the Shard is fully open for business and full of office workers (plus a few residents and hotel guests). How many pubs and restaurants and food stalls will the area need to cope with that lot once they move in?!? 

Who wants pork? Get your hot pork here! £6.50 to you, guv
I guess they'll have to build another, even taller Shard next door to accomodate their eating and drinking requirements...

Talking of big, impressive things, everybody knows that I'm a bit of a sucker for a large hot meat sandwich for my lunch, but it has to be said that I've yet to find somewhere that does this anywhere near as consistently well as Birley Salt Beef in Canary Wharf.
There are a couple of contenders in Borough Market which needed checking out, even if it's hard to stand out with so much competition going on in the area.

Where's the meat?

Roast is a fairly upmarket 'Traditional British' restaurant which I still haven't got around to visiting, but I have partaken a couple of times of the Roast to Go outlet which is on the market serving up meaty takeaway lunches to a waiting queue of hungry people - the typical Borough market mix of tourists, shoppers and local workers like me.

The menu is simple: Roast pork belly either in a sandwich (£6.50) or a takeaway container (also £6.50) with plenty of crackling, plus a daily special which might be chorizo or duck or homemade fish fingers. Yes, really.

Oh, and there are hot scotch eggs with a gooey yolk (£3) which are also full of porky goodness and go well with the crackling, which is a perfect combination of crunch, chew and melt.

This will all be music to the ears of carnivorous Gentiles, and when you're in the mood for crackling, sometimes nothing else will do.

It's basically good stuff, if slightly expensive for what you get, though there are a few imperfections which annoy me more than I'd really like:

Firstly there's nothing remotely special about the bread which is white and bland, and there's no choice, unlike Birley who offer a choice of styles, all of them preferable to this.

Then there's the apple sauce. Yes, it does the job but is just a bit generic and industrial, like something you could pluck from the shelves of Sainsburys - and I like my apple sauce to taste like it comes from a tiny farm shop in rural Herefordshire that also does knockout cider.

And I hesitate to mention it, but I also found myself crunching a bit of gluey cartilage at one stage, which isn't a pleasant experience and is the kind of thing that makes you suspicious of every subsequent bite and stops you chomping happily away. Well that's how it affects me anyway.

The Shard might be 350 feet taller than 1 Canada Square, but you'll get a bigger, better hot pork sandwich by heading for the latter and seeking out Birley.

Roast to Go is good, and I'll be buying pork sandwiches from there again, but it's not the Shard of meat sandwiches, more of a Blackpool Tower or something.


I enjoy having my meat pulled
Mere yards away, through the market, is Hobbs Roast Meat, where the specialty dish is once again pork - this time the sweet, sticky, stringy 'pulled' variety.

I'm a big fan of pulled pork generally, but I've long believed it to be something that only the Americans can really get right.

The problem is that when the sauce is too sugary, I find it hard to eat too much of it before feel sickly, and the taste of the meat gets a bit lost.

The Hobbs interpretation - generously filled, in a soft bap with a tad of coleslaw - is better than some, without having much of a wow factor,  and you're probably better off eschewing the offer of additional barbecue sauce which makes it too sweet.

Here there is a choice of bread - the bap and the baguette - but apart from the latter being slightly larger and a bit less floury, neither is anything special.

The range of meat on offer here seems to change frequently - the first time I had roast beef here, it was kind of stewed and juicy, as if slow-cooked since the 1970s, but not unpleasant. It was as though they'd applied the pulled pork process to beef, albeit making it salty rather than sweet.

Not the best beef ever
When I went back for some more a couple of weeks later - again asking for the roast beef - things were completely different. A few slices of pre-cooked (pre-over-cooked, in fact) topside were reheated in a big pan, which resulted in something dry, leathery and unpleasant.

And ironically, when they were doing the stewed, moist beef they gave me fuckloads of horseradish and mustard which I didn't really need, but when I really needed it, the condiments were applied in such meagre quantities that they barely lubricated the bap.

I think it might even have been the same person serving me, which all smacks of poor attention to detail really.

Sandwiches from Hobbs are somewhat cheaper than at Roast to Go, usually coming in at £4 or £4.50, and there is more choice availble, with other options potentially including roast turkey with cranberry and duck wraps, depending on what they have available on that particular day.

But once again it's no Birley, and while I'll probably get my lunch from here occasionally when I feel like pulled pork, I might not be able to walk part the alluring crackling and hot Scotch eggs to get here.

Birley sprung up underneath a tower before, so lets hope they bring their lunchtime carvery to the Shard and give these guys a bit of competition, eh?

Where to find it...

The Floral Hall,
Borough Market, 
SE1 1TL (map)

Bedale Street,
Borough Market, 
SE1 9AL (map)

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