Monday, June 09, 2014

Burger Monday Championship - Bleecker Street vs Dip & Flip

Who/what/where: Burger Monday Championship - Bleecker Street vs Dip & Flip, Climpson's Arch

This is the third quarter-final in youngandfoodish's Burger Monday Championship and, as-ever, features two chefs going head-to-head in one-on-one competition.

Bleecker had been able to park their van onto the premises for the contest, while Dip & Flip were making use of the facilities available.

Bleecker Street, the winner of the London Burger Bash Final served us an offering called "The Rare Breed" - comprising of two Longhorn beef patties, cheese, onions, and sauce related accompaniments. The burger was well-cooked and was soft, juicy and certainly nothing to complain about, but, for a contest like this, turning up with a fairly standard staple offering is an interesting choice, particularly against an adventurous competitor like Dip & Flip.
On the plus side it was well put-together, well-presented and generally tasty, on the minus side it didn't feel like something you couldn't get if you turned up for their van one day. That said, if you were to offer me one at a later point I certainly wouldn't object.

Dip & Flip, on the other hand, came up with the Dip & Flip Burger, consisting of a beef patty topped with roast beef and cheese sauce, served with some very fine pickles in the burger and a pot of gravy on the side.
I asked for this burger to be cut in half to make the dipping easier, which proved to be a wise move. It was still a little messy to eat, but could have been much worse.

My vote went with Dip & Flip, they had the more inventive burger, the gravy was tasty, the bun held together well enough to be covered in sauce, and it was just a little more exciting. In the end, however, Bleecker won out. They won by a mere ten votes, which helps show that both had put in fine offerings.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Theatre - A View From The Bridge

Who/what/where: A View From The Bridge, The Young Vic

I like the Young Vic as a venue, while the seating can be a bit uncomfortable they always try to do something a little different with the stage and the set. This was no exception, and the audience is effectively around three-quarters of the venue with the play taking place between them. It can be a little off-putting sometimes to look past the actors and see a sea of faces staring through, but that's a minor niggle.

The set if fairly minimalistic, the stage has a glass lip around it - this is topped with benches, aside from that there's use of sprinklers to act as a shower etc, even the props are limited to a chair and not a lot else, the rest is entirely done with costume and the actor's performances, so it's just as well they all put in excellent performances. Interestingly enough everyone is barefoot throughout the entire performance bar a couple of key moments - whether this is to add to the enclosed feel of their apartment, almost as a a boxing ring - as will become evident when it drives the two men into conflict, or is like that for another reason is open to your own interpretation. The clean, minimalistic feel makes the performance feel almost timeless - with only certain references within the dialogue to pin it down to a particular decade.

The play runs for around two hours without an interval, so strap yourself in, you're in for an intensive ride that doesn't let up until it's done with you.

Mark Strong stars as Eddie Carbone. This is his first role on stage in some years, and certainly the first I've caught him in, though I have seen him in several films etc. He looks to have lost some weight for the role, which is fitting, and he brings a perfect amount of intensity to the role, when the lawyer, our narrator, describes Eddie as having "eyes like tunnels" Strong is able to capture this perfectly.

Phoebe Fox is Catherine, Eddie's niece, and when they say in the play about the shortness of her skirt, the performance has taken this and run with it - we don't believe there was a single person in the audience that didn't see the character's underwear at least one, certainly the girls in our group commented on it after the play.

Eddie's tragic flaw that he loves his niece a little too obsessively, and this one thing drives him deeper and deeper down a dark route, no matter how good his intentions we can see the inevitable, yet we can no more turn away than he can. The man is intense, flawed, driven, and yet perfectly understandable - while people may not go down the same route as he did, everybody can certainly imagine characters who would.

Eddie Carbone and his wife play host to two illegal immigrants, cousins of hers from Italy, the older brother, Marco, aims to be there for a while to work and earn money for his wife and children at home, and had it just been him there would have been no problem, but his younger brother, Rodolpho is where it all starts to go wrong. He enjoys the American life a little too much, and his traits, in addition to his blossoming relationship with Eddie's niece Catherine, don't sit well with Eddie.

As the play progresses and time passes the small apartment becomes ever more claustrophobic, a steady beat, rhythmical like the ticking of a clock is our only background noise as we experience some of the tenses silences you'll see on stage. Simply sitting watching characters stare at each other is emotionally draining in a way you wouldn't think possible, so you can just imagine what it must take out of the actors to do that, day after day.

I don't want to say too much about the play's climax in case people haven't encountered the play before, but suffice it to say that this is very well done and the stage design works very well for it.

The run is already sold-out, and I can understand why. However it is possible to call on the day, and that's certainly something I suggest doing if you get the opportunity to do so.

Theatre - Showstopper! The Improvised Musical

Who/what/where: Showstopper! The Improvised Musical, The Udderbelly Festival

This is a hard article to write, simply because Showstopper! manages to fit an awful lot in and should never give you the same performance twice. I've seen them perform once before, several years ago, and the experience then was both similar in style and completely different to the one I saw most recently.

The Udderbelly is an interesting venue as it's basically little more than a tent shaped like an upside-down purple cow, but is also one of the places in London to see fringe-style shows. The guys and girls from Showstopper have been a staple there for some time, and from both the times I have seen them they're well-worth catching.

The advantage of the show always being different is that I can get away with quoting spoilers, safe in the knowledge that it won't impact future performances unless there's some really odd similarities in the audience suggestions.

The introduction is a fairly straightforward formula, a man is on the phone talking about how well one of his musicals went, and is asked about the next one. At this stage audience suggestions are taken as to the setting and other, similar shows he can suggest. Along the way there are a few nice little theatrical nods (I suspect more so in some than others depending on the suggestions), so in this case we ended up set within Poundland, with references to Avenue Q, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Phantom, etc.
In addition there are moments where they appear to go out of the way to make things awkward for the rest of the cast on stage, expand out the plot/pad scenes, or otherwise mix things up a little, be it describing a character as incredibly posh and difficult to understand, the landmarks around London that the characters pass, or requiring Simon Cowell who was, for some reason, still in the scene, to rap his way off the stage.

I am sure there's a number of basic plot-schemes they follow (there are only so many basic stories in the world after all) but it's how you work with it that makes it interesting.

This time around, in the flagship Poundland store, the founder of Poundland and manager of the store is approached by Harrods to come and run their store. Leaving Poundland she leaves them to fend for themselves, and to cope with their surprisingly high volume of shoplifters while she sets about making everything a pound. Along the way we see the wonders of Harrods, oompa-loompas, people acting as puppets as part of an Avenue Q homage, and a man learning to love himself so that he might speak more confidently.

Eventually Harrods is suffering from selling their products at a pound, while Poundland is losing stock to shoplifters, deliveries aren't coming, and the place is in tatters. It is then revealed that this has all been part of a plot by the alien Simon Cowell to destroy the British economy. Discovering his one weakness is catchphrases from other shows they manage to defeat him and set about restoring order thanks to the radical idea of charging for things what they're worth.

It's an odd plot to describe, but I fully blame our audience for contributing several of the suggestions (such as "Simon Cowell is an alien" from one of the rows) and the main entertainment factor is in watching them take the ideas and run with them, turning them into a single (mostly) coherent plot, with several nice moments built-in.

They're on at the Udderbelly pretty much every Sunday, so if you're in the vicinity it's well-worth popping by.

Burger Monday Championship - Elliot's Cafe vs Disco Bistro

Who/what/where: Burger Monday Championship - Elliot's Cafe vs Disco Bistro, Climpson's Arch

This is the second match in youngandfoodish's Burger Monday Championship (also known as the Wimbledon of Burgers) and, like the others, features two chefs going head-to-head in one-on-one competition.

Once again the venue was Climpson's Arch, a coffee roastery under some railway arches - with the railings surrounding the venue and lack of other establishments around you'd be forgiven for passing by without noticing it, particularly as it's down a side-street, but once you get through the gates you realise this is actually a very good venue for this sort of event, there's space to have two queues for burgers, a bar and a reasonable amount of table space - though a little more for the peak times wouldn't go amiss.

As usual, you're first issued with your stamp card and voting sticker, and then it's a matter of determining which burger to go for first.

This time we went for Disco Bistro first as it was clearly the shorter queue. Their Roller Disco Burger consisted of a 45-day-aged Highland beef (rib, chuck, brisket) & bone marrow patty. Over the patty we had treacle-cured cherry-wood-smoked Mangalitsa bacon - for those of you that were at the London Burger Bash you'll recognise this as coming from the same long-haired Hungarian pig breed as Patty & Bun used for their Piggy Rascal, but treated differently. In addition to that there was pineapple pickle jam - more on that later, and a beer, beef dripping & English truffle cheese. Finally this was rounded off with Carl’s bun sauce, lettuce and pickled onions before being lovingly nestled inside a potato brioche bun. All this made for a big burger, as was evident when one of the people in our group exclaimed "oh my god, how am I going to fit that into my mouth?" - but she managed ok, and it was worth the risk of a dislocated jaw to get it all in.

There was fantastic combination of flavours going on with this burger, making it my personal favourite of the entries in the championship thus far. The pineapple pickle jam was amazing, and is up there with the Burger Bear's Black Cherry Bacon Jam as something that should be added to more dishes, it was sweet, embraced the pineapple flavour and served to enhance the overall burger experience, even those with less of a sweet tooth than I found it a find addition. The cheese was soft, and gooey, and, while potentially a little more fluidic than some might like on a burger, once again provided a nice flavour sensation as you bit into the burger.

I confess, I had not sampled Disco Bistro before, but based on that burger, I will be seeking the out again in the future.

Elliot's cafe, like all the contestants in this competition, has a fine reputation, and today they made what they called the Skirtburger, consisting of a 42-day-aged Dexter beef (brisket fat, flank, chuck) patty, served with bone marrow onions, umami ketchup, a Raclette, Westcombe curd & pickle cheese "skirt" and an olive oil brioche bun.

This was a big, messy burger. It unfortunately passed through the realms of "good" messy and into the "difficult to eat" messy, the cheese skirt was a nice touch, and enjoyable, but caused some issues for eating as it far exceeded the borders of the burger. There were mixed approaches to this, some people attempted to eat it as-is, some attempted to fold over the cheese into the burger, and I opted for eating the excess while ensuring some remained within the burger. The burger was very juicy, and squeezing it led to a lot of liquid being visible. The bun was sturdy and maintained integrity throughout, but was a little too large and bready for one of our group.

The final voting was not as close as the previous round, and will leave us with Hawksmoor vs Disco Bistro in the semi-final.

Burger Monday Championship - Hawksmoor vs Honest Burgers

Who/what/where: Burger Monday Championship - Hawksmoor vs Honest Burgers, Climpson's Arch

Hot on the heels of the London Burger Bash, Daniel Young of youngandfoodish wasted no time in coming up with a new format for seasoned burger chefs to compete in, the Burger Monday Championship (also known as the Wimbledon of Burgers) features a series of chefs going head-to-head in one-on-one competition.

The opening match featured two well-respected names, Hawksmoor (also known for their steaks) and the ever-popular Honest Burgers. Honest also have a particularly good reputation for their chips, which did not feature in this event. It was simply two full burgers up against each other.

It was a Bank Holiday Monday and the sun was shining, perfect for standing in a queue for tasty meat products.

Upon arrival we were greeted, signed in and issued with our stamp card for the burgers plus voting sticker. The stamp card pictured is mine after getting the burgers.

Our group divided and about half went for each of the burgers as our starting offering. In my case, this was Hawksmoor's "The Clogger" - named from The Simpsons, in case their sign wasn't a clue.

This consisted of a charcoal-grilled sausage patty topped with pulled pork, then a second sausage patty which was topped with Ogleshield cheese, an exceptionally large tomato and candied bacon. On the side was sausage gravy (complete with more chunks of sausage) for French dipping and some lovely crackling. There was a lot of crackling and later on we went for some extra as we obviously hadn't quite eaten enough meat at that stage, or, more likely, we had it because it was there and it was awesome.
This was all served in a Hawksmoor-branded container to add to the professional feel of their offering.

This was a messy dish to eat. The burger itself was juicy, and on it's own, we could have probably eaten it without too many disasters as the bun seemed capable of handling it, but there was a dipping cause, so naturally most of us tried such antics as dipping our burgers, which was always going end badly, but more importantly, it ended tastily too.

It was an interesting choice to use sausage, but their logic was that Honest normally use the same type of beef, so for this first round they wanted to do something a little different to distinguish themselves. Finding a sausage patty is uncommon, finding a good sausage patty is particularly uncommon, but they pulled that one off well. Pulled pork is another one of those dishes which seems to be getting about everywhere of late, and, done correctly, I don't have too much problem with that. Hawksmoor did well with the pulled pork. The candied bacon was an interesting touch, it reduced the saltiness of the bacon but wasn't overly sweet so as to provide a dramatic contrast. The cheese was a little weak, but perhaps having too many strong flavours would have messed with the balance somewhat.

After that we switched over, the Hawksmoor queue was definitely the larger of the two and going quite slowly at this stage.

Honest Burgers came up with a patty consisting of 35-day-aged rib and rump cap for the beef, but they'd also mixed bacon into the patty, ensuring that every bite contained some bacon. This was topped with Red Leicester cheese, crispy chicken skin, green sauce, pickles and baby spinach. This was a good looking burger.

The pickles on this burger were actually one of the things I really liked. The green sauce was also popular and consisted of a blend of tarragon, parsley, white wine and dijon mustard, plus probably other ingredients they didn't admit to. Red Leicester is a popular enough cheese for use in burgers, but most of the time it gets blended to produce a distinctive combination - the cheese melts well and therefore makes for a good vehicle for carrying other flavours.

The burger overall had some very mixed opinions on our table - we think there may have been a bad batch involved, as a couple of people found their burger so salty they had difficulty finishing it. While mine was slightly more salty than would have made for an ideal burger we did some piece-trading and established that mine was better than most of the ones around the table. This is a shame as it really had potential to be a wonderful entry.

In the end the votes were tallied, and the winner announced. It was close, really close. Out of 155 votes cast the gap was only three votes.

I like a close competition, and, while both entries had some flaws, both were good burgers, any issues we experienced looked to have been minor blips, and, after a well-fought contest, Hawksmoor progressed to the semi-finals.