Doughnuts with Bob Marley

The humble doughnut, a delicious treat that comes in all variety of shapes and flavours, from ring doughnut to not ring doughnut, chocolate to not chocolate. Previously the preserve of the supermarket bakery aisle, it’s enjoyed a renaissance in recent years, starting with the rise of Krispy Kreme, and more recently with higher-end doughnut establishments such as Crosstown, Doughnut Time and Bread Ahead. Everybody loves a doughnut, and today I would be sampling some of the finest on offer, hoping to solve the age-old question of ‘which is my favourite doughnut?’.

 

My companion today is global superstar musician, Bob Marley. A pioneer of reggae music who was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, the influential music journalism site Answers.com estimates his record sales to be ‘as high as 300 million and in all likelihood not under 150-200 million’. Despite this, my primary motivation for inviting him today is that there’s also a very famous joke relating to how he likes his doughnuts that I hope to capitalise on, to the mirth of up to 300 million people, but in all likelihood not under 150-200 million.

 

I meet Bob on Shaftesbury Avenue, home to one of the many Doughnut Times, a recent import to the UK from Australia. “Hi Bob,” I say.

 

“Hi Andy,” he says. “I’m excited to be here. I love doughnuts.”

 

“I bet you do,” I say. This is going to be so worth it.

 

Doughnut Time has some of the fancier doughnuts that there are to offer. Big, showpiece doughnuts that scream ‘share this image with your friends to remind them that ultimately we are all mortal and something that may or may not be this doughnut will certainly end our existence, for we are all at the mercy of the grim reaper’s wicked game’. You have doughnuts like the ‘Stranger Rings’, a chocolate-glazed doughnut topped with Oreo crumbs, Nutella and glitter, the ‘Robert De N’Oreo’, a doughnut filled with a white chocolate New York cheesecake filling, topped with a brown butter glaze, Oreo crumb, white chocolate and mini Oreo cookies, and the ‘Bueno Mars’, a hazelnut cream-filled doughnut with a chocolate glaze, topped with pieces of Kinder Bueno.

 

“Are you ready to order?” I say to Bob, excitedly.

 

“Yes, all good here,” Says Bob. I can barely contain my excitement.

 

“I’ll have the Robert De N’Oreo,” I say, and then I perfectly tee up the hilarity. “And Bob, how do you like your doughnuts?”

 

“I’ll have the ‘David Hassel-Biscoff’ please,” says Bob.

 

“Hold on, what?”

 

“It looks good doesn’t it!” Says Bob.

 

“Sorry, we’re going to need a minute,” I say to the assistant as I take Bob to one side. “What the hell are you doing?”

 

“What’s wrong?”

 

“It’s just… how do you feel about the jam doughnut? That looks tasty doesn’t it? Mmm… we all love jam. You should go for that one.”

 

“I’d like to try the Biscoff one, why don’t you go for the jam one though?”

 

I sigh to myself. It’s certainly frustrating, but there are a few more doughnut shops to try yet so I guess I can let him have this one. I purchase the doughnuts and we tuck in. The Robert De N’Oreo is delicious. Densely packed with vanilla cheesecake filling that’s both creamy and flavoursome, the Oreo crumb top works wonderfully with it, adding the necessary biscuity element of the cheesecake. Bob’s ‘David Hassel-Biscoff’ meanwhile is also very nice. Lotus Biscoff has become incredibly popular over the last few years, particularly in the spreadable form that it comes in in supermarkets, and here it works well in doughnut form too. It’s a good start to our review, albeit not the one I’d hoped for.

doughnut-time-robert-de-noreo-1.jpg
Doughnut Time’s ‘Robert De N’Oreo’ doughnut.

We begin the walk up Shaftesbury Avenue into Soho, where we’ll find the next of our stops.

 

“So, Andy, you’re a big reggae fan I’m guessing?” Says Bob.

 

“Oh, err… yes, perhaps,” I say, awkwardly. Truth be told I’m not. I’m not really very big on music generally. I’m the kind of person who when you ask them what music they listen to they say ‘all sorts really’, but what I actually mean is I listen to the same 4 Lady Gaga songs on repeat, yet somehow still don’t know any of the words.

 

“Who’s your favourite reggae artist apart from me?”

 

“Oh look, here we are!” I say, as we approach Crosstown Doughnuts just off Wardour Street. Thank goodness. I didn’t fancy having to chance whether Lady Gaga had produced a reggae album.

 

Crosstown Doughnuts has really taken off over the last two years, going from being sold from small independent coffee shops and market stores, to now having 7 stores around London and being stocked in places like Selfridges and Whole Foods. Their doughnuts are more classic looking, but still big on flavours.

 

“Wow, look at those jam ones! They look even more delicious than the last lot!” I say. “Maybe one of us should get one of those.”

 

“Oh wow, yes they do! Ok, let’s definitely get one of them,” says Bob. Here we go!

 

“Can I help you gentlemen?” Says the shop assistant. Before I’m able to speak, Bob interjects.

 

“Yes, I’ll have the chocolate truffle,” says Bob. “Andy?”

 

I stare at Bob in silent fury. “But Bob, I was going to go for the chocolate truffle,” I say through gritted teeth. “I thought we agreed that one of us was going to get the jam one though?”

 

“Oh, I just assumed it would be you as you seemed so keen on them.”

 

I put my head in my hands. “Bob, do you not like doughnuts that contain jam? Are they not your preference?”

 

“I fancied a chocolate truffle.”

 

“Just take one more look, ok? Make sure you definitely don’t fancy the jam doughnut.”

 

“Ok, fine,” says Bob. He browses the doughnuts again. “Ok, you’re right, I’ve changed my mind.”

 

“Amazing!” I say, excitedly. “Bob, how do you like your doughnuts?”

 

“I’ll have the caramel banana cream, please.”

 

“Bob, for the love of god!”

 

“What?”

 

“You’re meant to go for the jam one and say wi’ jam in’! Why are you ruining this?”

 

“Hold on, is that why you’ve invited me?” Says Bob. “Do you even like reggae?”

 

“Of course I like reggae…”

 

“Who’s your favourite artist?”

 

“Bob Marley.”

 

“Apart from me.”

 

I’m just going to have to hazard a guess here, then a name suddenly springs from nowhere that seems familiar. “Jacob Marley?”

 

“Your favourite reggae artist is the ghost from A Christmas Carol?

 

“Yes,” I say shamefully as I stare down at my feet. I’d forgotten that was where he was from. “I like how he rattles his chains,” I add, to compound my own stupidity.

Crosstown Coffee and Chocolate
The Crosstown ‘Single Origin Coffee & Chocolate’ doughnut.

“It’s fine,” says Bob, with a kind smile that makes you feel like maybe we can all get together and feel alright. “I get this all the time. Besides, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t here for the same reason.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“I’ve been trying to make you say your catchphrase all day.”

 

“My catchphrase? What’s my catchphrase?

 

“You know… ‘my dreams are dead and this blog is all I have left’.”

 

“Oh my god, you think that’s my catchphrase?”

 

“You say it all the time!”

 

“I don’t think I’ve ever said it! And how the hell are you expecting me to use it in the context of ordering a doughnut?”

 

“I get that it’s going to be difficult, but I think it’s possible.”

 

“Ok, this is ridiculous, we need to stop trying to get each other to say things and just focus on reviewing doughnuts. Agreed?” I say.

 

“Ok, agreed,” says Bob. We both nod at each other as we tuck into our Crosstown Doughnuts, Bob with his caramel banana cream and me opting for the coffee and chocolate doughnut. My coffee and chocolate doughnut is ok, but not quite as flavoursome as I’d hoped. I’ve definitely had a lot better doughnuts from Crosstown in the past, but I’m sure my disappointment at this will all be forgotten when I finally make Bob admit he likes his doughnuts with jam in.

 

We move onwards to our next doughnut shop, Bread Ahead. Bread Ahead is a more traditional doughnut shop with more classic flavours like chocolate, praline, and most importantly, jam. Whilst their doughnuts are still fairly Instagram-friendly, more than anything they’re notorious for being excellent doughnuts.

 

Before we reach the shop, I have a bright idea. “You know what would go perfectly with our doughnuts? Coffee. Why don’t you grab us a couple of coffees?” I say, as we reach Soho Grind, just next door to Bread Ahead.

 

“Ok cool, I’ll be right back then,” says Bob, as he heads into the shop. I wait outside, and then when his back is turned I dash along to Bread Ahead just next door.

 

“Hi, I need you to do me a favour,” I say. “Myself and the ghost of Bob Marley are going to come in here in a minute-“

 

“Ok…”

 

“Just go with it. Myself and the ghost of Bob Marley are going to come in here and I need him to buy a doughnut with jam in. Would it be possible for you to hide all of your other doughnuts so he has no other option?”

 

“No.”

 

“Ok, fine, what if I were to buy all of the other doughnuts?”

 

“You want to buy a hundred doughnuts?”

 

“It’s for a very funny joke.”

 

“What’s the joke?”

 

“I ask Bob how he likes his doughnuts, and he says wi’ jam in’!”

 

The cashier sighs deeply. “You really think that’s worth it?”

 

“I will take all of the doughnuts.”

 

***

 

“Here’s your coffee,” says Bob, emerging from Soho Grind with a couple of coffee cups. “Shall we?”

 

“Yes, of course,” I say, excitedly, as we walk a couple of doors along to Bread Ahead.

Bread Ahead Eton Mess
Bread Ahead’s ‘Eton Mess’ doughnut.

 

“Oh Christ, here we go…” I hear the cashier mumble under their breath as myself and Bob enter the shop.

 

“Oh, hello, we’re here to get some of your finest doughnuts,” I say, with a wink. “Oh goodness, it looks like you’re nearly all sold out. Am I right in thinking you only have the jam ones left?”

 

“Yes, sir, we only have the jam ones left,” says the cashier in a monotone voice.

 

“Oh well! I guess there’s no other option then. Bob, how would you like your doughnut?”

 

“In that case, I might just get a focaccia instead then,”

 

“Oh for god’s sake!” I say, angrily. “I spent three hundred pounds on this!”

 

“Are you still trying to get me to say my line? Why do you care so much?”

 

“Because my dreams are dead and this blog is all I have left!” I say.

 

“There it is!” Says Bob.
“Oh my god, it is my catchphrase!” I sigh, as I put my head in my hands. I console myself by tucking into one of the hundred doughnuts I’ve bought, an Eton Mess flavoured one that’s simply tremendous.

 

“It’s ok, Andy, we’ve all been there,” says Bob, patting me on the shoulder.

 

“You worked for Bing as well?”

 

“I mean, obviously not that,” says Bob. “You know what might help you?”

 

“What?”

 

“If maybe we got a couple of jam doughnuts.”

 

“Really?!” I say, excitedly. Bob smiles and nods.

 

“Excuse me, two doughnuts please! A jam one for me, and Bob, how do you like your doughnuts?”

 

“I’ll have a jam flavoured doughnut as well, please,” says Bob, stabbing me in the back again.

 

“Why Bob?!”

 

“I’m not a joke, Andy.”

 

“My dreams are dead and this blog is all I have left,” I sigh. Overall…

 

Doughnut time ‘Robert De N’Oreo’ – 9/10 – Pricey, but unique and delicious.

Crosstown ‘Single Origin Coffee & Chocolate’ – 6/10 – Surprisingly underwhelming.

Bread Ahead ‘Eton Mess’ – 9/10 – A relatively simple but superbly made doughnut.

Iberica with Alexander Hamilton

How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore, and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence impoverished, in squalor, grow up to be a hero and my latest dining companion? That was the question I had to ask myself as I stood on the corner of London’s Cardinal Place in Victoria, awaiting Alexander Hamilton, American revolutionary, treasury secretary, and cultural icon due to the huge success of the musical Hamilton, a spectacular, ground-breaking piece of musical theatre famous for breaking convention not just through its use of rap and hip-hop, but for its incredibly diverse cast in an industry typically dominated by white actors. I’m keen to hear the thoughts of the man himself, and tonight we’d be enjoying the tastes of the Mediterranean as we ventured to popular tapas restaurant Iberica. “Here comes the general!” I say, as Hamilton approaches.

 

“Good to see you.” He says, with a shake of the hand.

 

“The one that I’ve been waiting for!”

 

“Ok.”

 

“I am not throwing away my shot!”

 

“You want to get drinks?” He says, confused.

 

“Oh, I… yes, I guess so.” I say, taken aback by his lack of response. Perhaps he’s just hungry for chorizo lollipops.

 

Iberica is one of the recent additions to a complete overhaul of the Victoria station area. Where previously the area was fairly devoid of much in the way of food, drink and shopping save for a Pret A Manger and a McDonalds, the whole area has been built up to now be a bit of a restaurant destination. As well as Iberica, you now have places like Bone Daddies, Crosstown Doughnuts, Shake Shack, the M Steakhouse, and Hai Cenato all having popped up in the last two years. Iberica was one of the first of these arrivals, a new outpost of an existing chain of tapas restaurants spread across London, Manchester and Leeds. It’s a restaurant that’s as fancy as you want to make it. It feels fancier than other tapas chains like La Tasca, but not so fancy that you feel you have to wear your smart shoes or your emerald-studded cloak.

 

Iberica Pan Con Tomate
Pan Con Tomate

 

“Ooh, what to have… what to have…” I say, scanning the menu. “Anything you’re in the mood for?”

 

“The chorizo lollipops sound nice.” Says Hamilton. I knew it! He’s right though, the chorizo lollipops sound delicious, so we order a few of those, alongside some pan con tomate, ham croquettes, the Spanish omelette, the crispy chicken, albóndigas (beef meatballs), Gambas (prawns in garlic sauce) as well as some jamón by none other than Juan Pedro Domecq, a man who neither of us have heard of, but who has apparently been awarded 3 gold stars for his Iberico ham four times, which is four more ham awards than either myself or Hamilton have ever won (although Hamilton’s achievements are so vast that they could have cut a song about him making fancy ham from the show for all I know).

 

“So, I guess you could say that you’re going to be my Right-Hand Man tonight, eh? Outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered, outpl-“

 

“Why are you being weird?” Says Hamilton, as our food begins to arrive. I tuck into a beef meatball, laded with Vizcaina sauce, a sweet pepper sauce that has its origins in the Basque region of Spain. It’s very beefy, as you might expect for something made of beef, and the sweet pepper sauce does add a nice extra flavour to the dish (namely, one of sweet pepper).

 

“Because of the show! Come on, you know the words! Alexander Hamilton, there’s a million things I haven’t done, but just you wait, just you w-”

 

“What show?”

 

“Oh wow, you really have no idea, do you?”

 

“No idea about what?”

 

“We’re going to need to get this to take away.” I say to the waiter.

 

***

 

“Oh my god…” Says Hamilton. We’re standing on the street outside the Victoria Palace Theatre, where Hamilton is playing. “We have to see it.”

 

“It’s really hard to get tickets.”

 

“We have to find a way. Wouldn’t you want to see a musical about your own life?”

 

I consider it for a moment. Truth be told I’m not sure I would. I’m not sure how much entertainment there’d be in a musical about a man whose life was 75% sighing, 25% eating takeaway.

 

Chorizo Lollipops
Chorizo Lollipops

 

“Ok, fine, let’s see if they have any returns. We can’t take this in though.” I say, gesturing to the bag of croquettes, prawns, crispy chicken and ham.

 

“It’s fine, give it here.” Says Hamilton, as he takes the bag and begins to stuff the food into his pockets.

 

“Oh, err… ok.” I say, as Hamilton marches to the front of the queue.

 

“Hello, we’re here to see my show.” Says Hamilton.

 

“What’s the name?”

 

“Alexander Hamilton.” Says Hamilton. The cashier looks him up and down with disdain.

 

“I don’t have you down here Mr Hamilton…”

 

“But it’s my show.”

 

“Sure.”

 

“Ok, fine, I can see we’re going to have to resort to unconventional means here…” Says Hamilton. “Perhaps you could… look again?” He says, as he removes a croquette from his pocket and casually slides it across to the cashier.

 

“Is that a croquette?” Says the baffled cashier.

 

“Make that… two croquettes.” Says Hamilton, as he slides another croquette across.

 

“You know these tickets go for hundreds of pounds.”

 

“How many croquettes is that?”

 

The cashier sighs the sigh of somebody who has sighed many sighs. “Look, we have two returns in Row F if you want them, but it’ll be four hundred pounds.”

 

Hamilton looks at me. I look at Hamilton. “Ok, fine.” I say, as I hand over my credit card. “We’ll need those croquettes back too.” I say, as I take back the croquettes and we walk into the theatre.

 

The Albóndigas (Beef Meatballs)
The Albóndigas (Beef Meatballs)

 

I take a bite of the croquette as we take our seats. It’s covered in hair with a faintly musty flavour, a very disappointing flavour combination, though in fairness I don’t believe that the restaurant had ever intended for it to be served directly out of the pockets of an 18th century ghost (if they had then it was very avant-garde). The lights dim, and the music starts.

 

“Who’s that?” Whispers Hamilton to me.

 

“That’s Aaron Burr.” I say.

 

“Aaron Burr? And who’s that?”

 

“George Washington.” I whisper, quietly.

 

“Seriously?!” Says Hamilton, loudly. People seated around us give us filthy looks and try to shh Hamilton. I mouth an apology as Hamilton just glares back at them.

 

“Just… keep it down a little bit, ok?” I whisper to Hamilton.

 

“But none of my friends are black!” Says Hamilton loudly as the song comes to a close and the theatre fills with silence. I feel the eyes of the entire crowd (and even the cast) on our seats.

 

“It’s not how it sounds.” I try to protest, however my voice is drowned out by the next song starting. I slide down in my seat in shame. Hamilton shrugs and pulls a piece of ham out of his pocket. He hands me one and I eat it immediately. Alas, even the fine tastes of Juan Pedro Domecq’s rich and flavoursome gold-starred ham can’t distract from my embarrassment. Perhaps it was a mistake to bring him here. He loudly chomps his way through some ham as we go through two more songs. Finally we get to the song ‘The Story Of Tonight’ a song where Hamilton, the Marquis de Lafayette, John Laurens and Hercules Mulligan pledge their loyalty to the revolution and sing about how future generations will tell tales about this moment. It’s a great song. Unfortunately, not everybody thinks so.

 

“No! No, no, no!” Shouts Hamilton, getting to his feet angrily. “Stop! Stop the music!” He shouts. Everything grinds to a halt and the theatre falls silent, except for the boos and aggression directed towards our seats.

 

“What the hell are you doing? Sit down!” I say to Hamilton, furiously.

 

“Ladies and Gentlemen, my name is Alexander Hamilton, and these people are all frauds!” Says Hamilton, gesturing towards the cast. He begins to shuffle out of our row and walk towards the stage. The boos begin to intensify. Before I know it, he’s stood on stage along with the cast, who all stand in bemusement. “This performance does not accurately reflect my life at all. Please, if you’ll allow me to interject.” Hamilton says, as he stands centre stage. “Andy, will you please join me on stage.” He says, gesturing to me. I look around as if to pretend it is not me he is talking to. “Andy, please come on up here.” Where the hell are the theatre security staff? How have they not stopped this by now? “Andy, I can see you, please get on up here.”

 

Juan Pedro Domenq's Award-Winning Ham
Juan Pedro Domenq’s Award-Winning Ham

 

Everybody’s eyes are on me now as I shamefully slink out of the row and apologetically trudge up onto the stage. “Everybody, this is Andy. He writes a food blog, which reminds me…” Hamilton withdraws a couple of prawns from his pocket. “One for you, one for me.” Says Hamilton, handing me a prawn. “Mmm… it has a nice taste of garlic, wouldn’t you agree?” I take a bite of my prawn and nod a subdued nod. It does have a nice taste of garlic, though at this point as we stand onstage in front of hundreds of people having hijacked an award-winning West End show to review prawns, my mind is understandably elsewhere.

 

“Right, now let me show you how this really happened.”

 

“Hamilton, no, please.” I protest. “Please don’t do this.”

 

“It’s singing, how hard can it be? I’ll be me, and Andy, you be Aaron Burr, ok?”

 

“What? No, wait a mi-”

 

“Music, please.” Says Hamilton, gesturing to the orchestra. To what will surely be their eternal regret, they for some reason decide to oblige him. “Hello, hello, hello… like, hello…” Sings Hamilton, tunelessly playing for time. “It is me, Hamilton. I have written some documents, would you like to read them?” He gestures to me.

 

“Yes, I would like to read them.” I try to sing. Me and Hamilton then just stand opposite each other bopping about for what feels like hours. Just two prawn-obsessed maniacs out of their depth in musical theatre, both unsure what to do next. He may have written 51 essays defending the U.S. constitution, but the man can’t freestyle to save his life.

 

“Ok, cool. They are about government things.” Sings Hamilton. “Government things. Government things…” He then begins to try and dance, flinging crispy chicken and prawns everywhere. It is at this point that the theatre security finally arrives, grab us both and lead us offstage to cheers from the crowd. They toss us out onto the kerb. “Take your wonderfully rich and meaty, nay almost buttery Juan Pedro Domenq gold-starred ham and stay out!” Shouts one of the security guards, as we’re followed shortly afterwards by our crispy chicken, prawns, and Juan Pedro Domenq ham.

 

“Yeah, well you take your expository dialogue and… and… yeah!” Shouts Hamilton, but it is too late, the door has already slammed behind us. The evening may have ended in disgrace, but overall I have to say…

 

9/10 – Lovely croquettes.

Sexy Fish with Karl Marx

karl-marx-at-sexy-fish-e1542023173737.png

Every food writer needs a bad review. People love seeing somebody’s dream torn apart in a whimsical way, their entire life’s purpose reduced to rubble by a cutting quip from somebody who writes about human fuel for a living, their self-worth completely vanquished because they had the audacity to grill their turbot for thirty seconds too long. People absolutely love that. It racks up the page views much quicker than somebody praising a great restaurant. If I want to be a true food writer, I have to find somewhere to hate, and today I think I have just the place.

 

Sexy Fish is a place of incredible opulence, an Instagram-friendly indulgence of gilded surfaces, glass dragons and eye-popping prices. It’s a place to be seen, a celebrity-haven that once hosted the Conservatives’ Christmas Party, which gives you some kind of idea of the typical clientele. I’ve always imagined it as somewhere that people looking to flash their cash come to spend extortionate sums on average food. Today however, it would be host to a different kind of a clientele, as I ventured there with everybody’s favourite writer on the means of production, Karl Marx. Marx famously wrote The Communist Manifesto back in 1848, a critique of the wealthy and their exploitation of the working-class for their own ends, making him the ideal candidate for my spectacular demolition of this bastion of the bourgeois.

 

I meet Marx outside the restaurant, at my suggestion. I can’t wait to see the explosion of fury as he walks in and sees potentially the grandest display of capitalism he’ll ever see. We walk through the door and…

 

“Wow, look at this place!” Says Marx. “This is amazing!”

 

We’re shown to our table and handed our menus. “Oh my god! They’ve got black cod! I love black cod!” Continues Marx.

 

“What is happening?”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“This! The decadence, the prices! Don’t you think it’s a bit… bourgeois?”

 

“Oh… I guess so, yeah.”

 

“You guess so? Does it not make you angry?”

 

“Why?”

 

“Because you’re Karl bloody Marx! Is this not everything you’re against?!”

 

“Oh, well we can’t all be angry all the time, can we? Sometimes you just have to let your hair down and have a good time! Hey, why don’t we get some wagyu?”

 

“We’re not getting wagyu!” I say, as I see it priced at £89 for 150 grams. “Look, I’ll be honest with you, we’re here to write a bad review.”

 

“But why?”

 

“Because writing about something you hate is much more popular than writing about something you like. You think The Communist Manifesto would have been as popular if you’d written about how much you enjoy exploiting the poor?” Marx shrugs his shoulders. “Please just try and have a terrible time for me, ok?”

 

“Ok, I’ll try.” Says Marx.

 

Sexy Fish Chicken Wings
Chicken wings.

 

“Can I get you anything to drink?” Says a waiter, interrupting.

 

“Yes, of course, I’ll have the…” I say, as I scan the menu, looking for something of more style than substance that I can criticise. Alas, it’s one of the nicest and most interesting cocktail menus I’ve seen, including one particularly delicious sounding drink that catches my eye. The Rocky Road Old Fashioned is a twist on a regular Old Fashioned, but using buttered whisky, with a toffee twist and a digestive biscuit crumb. It sounds like my dream cocktail, but then really you could sell me anything by adding the word ‘buttered’. I’d probably have been sold on invading Iraq too if you’d told me they had buttered WMDs. I’m basically only ever one well-placed adjective away from an aircraft carrier and a ‘MISSION ACCOMPLISHED’ banner.

 

I order the Rocky Road Old Fashioned, the criticism can wait. Marx settles on a Japanese whisky. Sexy Fish professes to have the second largest collection of Japanese whisky in the world. Who the number one is I have no idea, but if I were to hazard a guess I would say Japan.

 

It’s easy to come to Sexy Fish and rack up the bill like you’re playing a pinball machine, but I’ve planned this well in advance and know exactly what to order to keep it within budget. We go for the chicken wings, beef skewers, the black cod, lamb chops, the Iberico pork ribs, and the duck breast. Factoring in our two cocktails and tip, that keeps us within £200. It’s a pricey meal, but it’s hard to get out of here spending less.

 

As mentioned, Sexy Fish is something of a celebrity haven, you come here expecting to see somebody famous. Even coming in with this knowledge, we’re surprised to see who enters the front door next.

 

“Oh my god, is that-” I say, aghast.

 

“Che Guevara.” Says Che Guevara. “I’m here for the event.”

 

“Of course. Right this way, sir.” Says the Maitre d’. He leads him through the restaurant, missing myself and Marx as he does, and they exit into a back room.

 

“That was strange.” Says Marx. “What’s he doing here?”

 

“I have no idea… It’s fine though, forget about him.”

 

sexy-fish-rocky-road-old-fashioned.jpg
The Rocky Road Old Fashioned.

 

Our first dishes arrive, the chicken wings and the beef skewers. ‘Here we go!’ I think to myself, as the starter’s pistol is fired on the review that’s going to propel me to fame and fortune. Before I know it I’ll be sitting down with Graham Norton, telling a hilarious anecdote about the beef being closer to well-done than medium rare, as Will Smith pats me on the shoulder and tells me I’m the freshest of all princes.

 

I take a bite of the beef skewer and my blood runs cold. To my surprise, the beef is juicy and works very well with the asparagus and smoked chilli sauce it comes with. I fumble for a chicken wing, hoping for something to salvage the criticism, but alas they too are crisp and flavoursome. It’s almost like they don’t want me to write them a poor review.

 

“What do you think?” I ask Marx, as the black cod, the pork ribs and the duck breast arrive at our table too.

 

“I don’t know, maybe he’s here for a job interview or something.”

 

“I mean the food! I told you to forget about him!”

 

“He’s a communist! Don’t you think it’s a bit hypocritical?” Says Marx, as he tucks into the black cod.

 

“Look at you!” I said, as Marx wipes the black cod from his face and takes another sip of his Japanese whisky.

 

“Oh, well this is different isn’t it?”

 

“How?”

 

“You know… I’m… German.” Says Marx, clutching wildly at straws. I take a bite of the black cod. My heart sinks as I realise it’s unironically tasty. Rich and creamy unlike regular cod, it’s surely only a matter of time until some London restaurant makes a ‘fish finger’ sandwich using black cod, at which point London will have finally completed its journey to becoming the Capitol from The Hunger Games.

 

Sexy Fish Black Cod
Black Cod.

 

“This is actually quite good, isn’t it?” I say with a sigh, as I see my Will Smith friendship dream dying in front of me.

 

“It’s awful.” Says Marx.

 

“Really?” I say, excitedly.

 

“Yes. If he were coming here he should have let me know.”

 

“Oh for goodness sake, this again?”

 

“I’m going to go and say something.” Says Marx, folding his napkin as he gets to his feet.

 

“And what will he say if he sees you here?”

 

“Oh, I guess you’re right.” Says Marx, sitting back down again. “Ok, I need you to go and say something.”

 

“Why the hell would I go and say something?”

 

“Because I’ve taken your family hostage, Andy.”

 

“You’ve what?” I say, stunned.

 

“All it takes is one call, Andy…” Says Marx, as he slowly withdraws a calculator from his pocket and hovers his finger over the ‘CE’ button.

 

“You know that’s a calculator, right?”

 

“The guy told me this was an iPhone!”

 

“What guy?”

 

“He said he was the CEO of Telephones.”

 

“Where did you see him?”

 

“He was by the bins.”

 

“Did you see his ID?”

 

“He said he’d left it in his office.”

 

“Where was his office?”

 

“Los Angeles.”

 

“So he’d popped over from L.A. for the day to just hang around by some bins and sell phones?”

 

“I can see why you’re sceptical, I was too at first-“

 

“You should be bloody sceptical! You’ve been trying to text people on a calculator!”

 

Sexy Fish Iberico Pork Ribs
Iberico Pork Ribs.

 

“Ok, I don’t have your family, but can you please just find him and have a word? Just ask him what he’s doing here?”

 

“Fine.” I sigh. I take one final bite of the pork ribs (sadly tremendous), and head for the Coral Reef room, Sexy Fish’s private dining room, so named due to the huge coral reef fish tank along the back wall. Perhaps here, in the scene of maximum opulence I will find something to criticise. I swing the door open and-

 

“Oh my god!” I say, stunned. I see Che Guevara seated at a table, flanked by Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Chairman Mao, Joseph Stalin and Fidel Castro. They’re all laughing together, pouring champagne and feasting like kings. The whole scene is like something out of The Great Gatsby, were Gatsby to host exclusive parties for autocrats responsible for the deaths of millions of their own people, a film I’m not sure even Leonardo di Caprio could have saved.

 

“I just think the cod could benefit from more miso glaze.” Says Stalin, in a thick Russian accent.

 

“What is this?!” I say, and then I see… her. Valerie Rhombus, author of significantly more popular blog, Meals With Departed Historical Figures. Valerie is an Instagram ‘influencer’, the kind that has pictures of herself staring wistfully into the sea or brushing her hair out of her face alongside some faux-intellectual caption like ‘sometimes to get where you’re going you need to go back to where you started’, a quote which only really works if you’re on a roundabout. She completely stole my idea for my blog and passed it off as her own by changing small details, such as the name, the font, and making her blog interesting rather than a self-indulgent shambles. I despise her.

 

“Andy! Good to see you!” Says Valerie, with a smug smile.

 

“I should have known it was you! What are you doing here?!”

 

“I thought it would be fascinating to have the clash between the world’s foremost socialist thinkers and the extravagance of Sexy Fish. It works particularly well in the Coral Reef Room, don’t you think?”

 

“That was MY idea! You knew I was doing my review here!”

 

“Your review? Which D-lister have you got this time? Joseph Aspdin?”

 

Everybody laughs loudly at me.

 

“Oh shut up, Stalin! I bet you don’t even know who Joseph Aspdin is!”

 

“He invented Portland cement.” Says Stalin. I have no idea whether he’s telling the truth or not. None of us really know who Joseph Aspdin is.

 

Sexy Fish Beef Skewers
The Beef & Asparagus Skewers.

 

“So come on, who did you invite?” Says Valerie.

 

“What the hell is going on here?!” Says Marx, walking through door. All the Communists look stunned and get to their feet immediately.

 

“Urgh! This place makes me sick!” Says Lenin, as he dramatically throws his napkin on the floor and stamps on it.

 

“Yes! I am glad we have come here to… to… experience it first-hand so now we can better understand how to seize the means of production!” Says Trotsky, wiping bone marrow from his moustache. “Bloody… capitalism!” He says, shaking his fist at a passing clown fish.

 

“Oh, knock it off!” Says Marx, angrily. “You’re all hypocrites! You claim to stand for the redistribution of wealth, yet here you all are indulging yourselves with champagne and seabass! What would the proletariat say if they could see you all now? You’ve brought shame upon the Communist movement!”

 

The Communists stand hanging their heads in shame. There is a moment’s silence before Che Guevara pipes up.

 

“Hold on, what are you doing here?” Says Che.

 

“Me? Well I… you know… I was here as a… you know, as an ironic observer, right Andy?”

 

A waiter enters behind us.

 

“Sorry to interrupt, sir, but how did you want your wagyu cooked?” Says the waiter to Marx.

 

“Oh for goodness sake, you’re just as bad as them! You should all hate this place! It’s everything you claimed to stand against but look at you, you’re literally champagne socialists! What do you have to say for yourselves?”

 

“Sorry.” Mumble the Communists as one, as they stare at the floor. “We’re very sorry.”

 

“Ok, good, thankyou. And you, don’t you ever steal my ideas again!” I say to Valerie. “Come on Marx, let’s go finish our review.”

 

I go to leave, but Marx remains still. “Marx, come on!” I say.

 

“But… they have a fish tank.” Says Marx. “Can I stay here?”

 

“Of course you can stay here.” Says Valerie, smiling wickedly in my direction. “Do you like sea bass?”

 

“I love sea bass!” Says Marx.

 

“Well we’ve got plenty, get yourself a seat!” Says Valerie, as Marx excitedly runs around to sit next to Fidel Castro.

 

“You bloody bastard! I need him for my review!”

 

“Sorry Andy, at least somebody’s seized the means of production this evening.” Says Valerie, as she closes the door in my face. I’m left alone with the laughter of 6 dead Communists echoing through the corridor. I make my way back to my table and glumly nurse my Old Fashioned (wonderfully buttery), when I’m interrupted by the waiter.

 

“Excuse me, sir. There’s somebody here to see you.”

 

“What? Who?”

 

The waiter moves to reveal a man I’ve never seen before stood looming over the table.

 

“Hello, are you Andy?” Says the man.

 

“Yes… who are you?”

 

“I’m Joseph Aspdin, inventor of Portland cement.”

 

I sigh heavily. My evening of misery is, for want of a better word, cemented. “You know what, fine. Sit yourself down and tell me everything you know about cement.” I say, as I down my Old Fashioned. I came here to criticise the place in the hope it might make us all feel better about ourselves, but overall I have to say…

 

9/10 – Tremendous black cod.

Meat Liquor with Mother Teresa

Meat Liquor

“Hello, I’ve got a reservation for two under the name Patrick Kluivert.” I said to the waiter. I’d recently taken to using an alias when making bookings. If I wanted to be a successful food critic and get a fair trial of an establishment, I needed to refrain from using my real name to avoid tipping them off in advance and receiving special treatment. Unfortunately I had only realised this as I was calling to make a reservation, and in my panic had reached for the first name I could think of, which sadly happened to be that of late 1990s-mid 2000s Dutch footballing superstar, Patrick Kluivert.

“Yes, here we are. Right this way, Mr Kluivert.” Said the hostess. Thankfully the name hadn’t rung any alarm bells and I should be able to dine in anonymity. She seated me at my table to await my guest, who was evidently running late. Today I would be dining with the famous writer, Ernest Hemingway. The author of classic books such as The Old Man And The Sea, as well its significantly less classic follow-up titles, 2 Old Man 2 The Sea, and The Old Man And The Sea: Tokyo Drift, he lived a notoriously hedonistic lifestyle of excess, and so where better to take him than to rock and roll burger chain Meat Liquor.

Meat Liquor is a very in your face, unapologetic swathe of fat-laced high-end diner food. Hulking great burgers packed with juicy beef patties paired with sides richer than Macauley Culkin in the 1990s, and an alcohol menu that ranges from classic cocktails to hard milkshakes and pickleback shots. It’s a place of indulgence, the kind of place you come to forget you’re trying to diet because your body fat has been steadily creeping up all the time, despite you thinking you’re doing more exercise than ever and eating salads from Tossed for lunch twice a week, somehow the number just continues to creep up and you stop using the machine at the local Nuffield Health because what does it know anyway? It doesn’t know you, and everybody is different, right? It’s probably broken and just can’t tell the difference between fat and muscle. It’s the place you forget that and have a milkshake or five.

Meat Liquor Monkey Fingers
The ‘Monkey Fingers’.

I sit at the table for a good half hour or so, continually checking my phone. Where the hell is Hemingway? He’s probably running late from another hedonistic meeting, and as we only have the table for a couple of hours, I decide to order for him in advance. I order a large portion of monkey fingers (chicken breast coated in batter and slathered in buffalo sauce) to share. To accompany this, I opt for the Dead Hippie Burger, which consists of two beef patties fried in mustard, the usual lettuce, cheese, onions etc, as well as their famous ‘dead hippie sauce’. Quite what this dead hippie sauce is remains a mystery, though the name makes you worry that years from now you’ll be on a Panorama documentary where they reveal that you were a willing accomplice in the Sweeney Todd situation you worried it was. For Hemingway, I choose the Tower Block Burger, a combination of fried chicken, cheese, jalapenos and a hash brown. I also order some chilli cheese fries, onion rings, a deep-fried mac ’n’ cheese to share, a black forest milkshake for me, as well as a chocolate milkshake and a classic martini for Hemingway. Somewhere in the distance, I hear the scream of the Nuffield Health body measurement machine. I continue anyway, to spite it for giving me what is actually probably a very accurate measurement of my BMI and body fat level, and add some hash browns to my order. This should be enough to keep us satisfied.

No sooner had I finished my order than the door swings open, and who is stood there other than…

Mother Teresa?

Meat Liquor Mother Teresa.jpg

“Hello, I’m here with Patrick Kluivert.” Says Mother Teresa. She is ushered to my table. “You must be Patrick Kluivert.” She says, with a smile. Clearly she has little to no knowledge of that era of European football, which should come as no surprise I suppose. She doesn’t look the type to have owned a pair of Adidas Predators.

“Yes, sure.” I say, standing to greet her. “Where’s Hemingway?”

“Oh, he couldn’t make it in the end, so he sent me instead.” She says, as she takes a seat. “What are we having today?”

I look at the menu. How do you explain Meat Liquor, a restaurant with Satanic overtones and where the name is a euphemism, to an elderly Saint? “It’s called Burger Town.” I say. It’s easier this way. “Have you ever been to an American diner before?” She looks at me blankly. “They serve burgers, hot dogs, fries, that kind of thing.” The blank stare intensifies. “Well anyway, you’re going to love it.”

Meat Liquor Dead Hippie Burger.jpg
My Dead Hippie burger.

Teresa nods, and pours herself a glass of tap water. We sit facing each other for a while.

“So…” I say, lost for conversation. I am acutely aware that despite knowing of Mother Teresa, I have absolutely no idea what she did, as I hadn’t been expecting to meet her today. It must be something good, as she’s always held up as some kind of bastion of decency, but what that was I couldn’t say. Did she look after animals? No, wait, didn’t she heal the lepers? No, of course, she was the one who travelled back through time to find love! No, I realise, this was respectively St Francis of Assisi, Jesus of Nazareth, and Domhnall Gleeson in About Time. Alas, I have no idea whatsoever what she did, so I go with the same tried and tested gem of conversation as ever. “Have you seen Stranger Things?”

“I once saw an owl with the face of God.” She says.

“Ok, err… I mean I guess that’s technically a stranger thing. Tell me more.”

Mother Teresa begins to tell me the tale of the time she saw an owl with the face of God. I’m sure it’s a very interesting story, but I’m distracted by what’s going on elsewhere, as people are excitedly chattering and looking around the restaurant. I attempt to eavesdrop on one of the tables.

“No, really! I heard one of the waitresses say it!” Says one.

“I can’t see him anywhere.” Says the other, scanning the restaurant.

“Well they definitely said it. He’s here! Patrick Kluivert is here!” They say, excitedly.

Oh god. They had clocked the name after all, and now somehow they’d let it spill to the rest of the restaurant. I kept my head down. I knew I should have given a different name, like less well-known 1990s-mid 2000s Dutch footballer Boudewijn Zenden, or almost completely forgotten 1990s-mid 2000s Dutch footballer Wim Jonk. Alternatively, I could have gone with a name not based on the Dutch World Cup squad of France 1998, but for some reason that didn’t seem like an option right now.

“…and then it hooted ‘if you need me, I live in that barn over there. I may be omniscient, but if you could point me in the direction of some mice I’d really appreciate it’.” Continued Mother Teresa.

“What? Oh, sorry, yes, the God owl.” I said, as I snapped back to the table.

The conversation faded out, and we stared at each other in silence again. Several minutes passed. “Any holidays coming up?” I asked.

“No, nothing planned.” Said Mother Teresa. The conversation faded out again.

Meat Liquor Black Forest Milkshake.jpg
Black Forest milkshake.

“Ok, look, I’m going to be honest with you.” I sighed. “I wasn’t expecting you today so I really don’t know much about you. Why don’t you tell me about your life?”

“Of course! I’d be glad to!” Said Mother Teresa. “I was born in Albania back in 1910. I always believed I had a higher purpose, to do God’s work, and so I devoted myself to a religious life from a very young age, leaving my family to pursue missionary work at the age of 18. I gave my life in service to the poor, founding the Missionaries of Charity in 1950 to care for all of those who felt unwanted, unloved or uncared for. We started with 13 of us, but by the time of my death we’d grown to over 4,000 members caring for people around the world. We opened orphanages, hospices, leper houses, at one point we even brokered a temporary peace between Israel and Palestine! In 1979 I was recognised with a Nobel Peace Prize, but the real achievement for me was always the sense of helping people and doing good.”

“Oh, wow, ok.”

“How about you?” She asked.

“Oh, you know, nothing special…” I said.

“All work has value in that it contributes to society and grants life a purpose.” Said Teresa, with a smile. “Tell me about what you do.”

“I work in advertising sales at Microsoft.” I sighed. Her face plummeted. “Have you heard of Bing?” She shook her head, which was actually a little bit of a surprise, as an 87 year-old who didn’t know how to change their default browser was typically our demographic.

“Ok, so you help charities to advertise their causes to the world?”

“Err… I guess it depends if you count Amazon as a charity.”

“The rainforest, of course!”

“Yes… the rainforest…” I said, as I gestured to the waitress to bring a shot of whisky or five.

Mother Teresa smiled a polite smile at me. Despite what she’d said, I feel like even she was slightly unsure whether my life had a purpose. Here was a woman who had devoted her life to fighting poverty, who abhorred the gluttonous greed of the wealthy who had so much when the poor had so little. It was this that made it infinitely more awkward when our food arrived.

“Ok, I’ve got some monkey fingers, a dead hippie burger, a Tower Block burger, some chilli cheese fries, onion rings, deep fried mac and cheese, hash browns, a black forest milkshake, and a classic martini?” Says the waitress, as she arrives with a feast that Henry VIII himself would be embarrassed by (I know this as we recently over-ordered at Wahaca and Henry was so mortified he left without playing Greensleeves).

“Is this ours?” Said Mother Teresa.

“Yes, it looks like they’ve made some kind of mistake with the ordering.” I said. “They must have misheard when I said ‘being alive is nourishment enough for me’. Since it’s here though, how about you have the Tower Block burger and we share the rest?”

Teresa nodded, and we began to tuck into our feast. The dead hippie burger is always a winner, juicy enough to require that the tables all be equipped with a kitchen roll, but still having enough flavour to ensure it’s not just juicy for the sake of being juicy. The mac and cheese balls too are superbly cheesy and somehow just work in the form of fried balls. The monkey fingers are good, but as a replacement for buffalo wings they do lack some of the crunch and flavour. I look over at Teresa as I take a sip of my milkshake. Her face is covered in strands of hash brown from her Tower Block burger. “Good?” I say. She nods, emphatically.

meat-liquor-chilli-cheese-fries.jpg
Green chilli cheese fries.

“Goodness, I would never have thought that a ring of onion could work so well in combination with a fried chicken burger, but somehow it does.” She says. “And this chocolate milkshake is such a blessing, so rich and chocolatey.”

“Excellent, I’m glad you’re enjoying it.” I said. We continued to crunch our way through our feast until there was nothing left.

“That was great, thankyou.” I said, as the waitress took our plates.

“Can we see the dessert menu?” Said Teresa, at this point making a bold claim to be the patron saint of food disposal.

“We’ll bring it shortly.” Said the waitress with a smile. “Is it your birthday today?”

“Me? No. Not today unfortunately.” Said Teresa.

“No, you.” She says, turning to me. “There’s a group of people over there who said it’s your birthday today.” She says, pointing. I turn to see a group of twenty Dutch football fans, all dressed in the familiar orange shirt. Oh god. “We’ve got to go.” I say to Mother Teresa, panicking as I stand up.

“Go now? But why?”

“Happy Birthday to you!” Sing the staff as they emerge from the kitchen, clutching a cake. “Happy birthday to you!” The whole restaurant begins to join in, their gaze following the staff as they begin to make their way towards the hidden celebrity. “Happy birthday, Patrick Kluivert!” They stop at our table. “Happy birthday to you!” The rest of the restaurant stops singing as everybody stares at a man who is quite clearly not Patrick Kluivert. A deathly hush descends over the restaurant, as I awkwardly blow out the candles on their signature Filth Pie, a concoction of Oreo, marshmallow, coconut and chocolate served with ice cream that I would be very excited about trying were the eyes of the restaurant not judging me for having pretended to be Euro 2000’s joint top-scorer.

“That’s not Patrick Kluivert!” Shouts a Dutch football fan.

“He’s a liar!”

“Boo!”

The entire restaurant begins to boo me, which to be honest I think is unfair, as they haven’t even read my review at this point. Without warning, Teresa stands up on a chair.

“Silence!” She shouts, the restaurant immediately quietening down. “How dare you boo this man! This man who works so hard to support the Amazon rainforest!” Again, I do not correct her. “And after all, who amongst us has not once pretended to be somebody they are not? Who amongst us has not once wished we could be somebody more famous, more confident, more impressive? So let us all forgive him, for ultimately are we not all frauds in the eyes of God?”

The restaurant nods solemnly, ashamed of themselves, and everybody sits back down to their own meals.

“That was amazing, thankyou.” I say to Mother Teresa. “You really are a saint, aren’t you? I’m sorry I lied to you.”

“I knew you weren’t Patrick Kluivert the whole time.”

“Really?”

She stands up and shows me her feet, revealing a pair of Adidas Predators. “Never judge a book by its cover.” She says, with a smile. She pulls a football from a bag and attempts to do some keepie-ups, performing them with all the skill and dexterity you’d expect of an 87 year-old Roman Catholic Saint, immediately losing her balance and crashing through a table. It seems like a fitting place to leave the review. Overall…

9/10 – Great burgers and sides.

Benito’s Hat with Isambard Kingdom Brunel

benitos-hat-e1526937951336.jpg
Whose hat? Benito’s Hat.

Burritos were for a time perhaps my favourite food. I always enjoyed the simplicity of wrapping various things I enjoyed individually together in a tiny flour blanket to make something greater than the sum of its parts. A good burrito is a special thing, something not too heavy and stodgy that it sends you to sleep, but something fresh and zingy that makes you think you could probably have another one if you didn’t have a life to get on with. Hoping to find such a burrito, today’s food adventure was to Benito’s Hat.

Benito’s Hat is a burrito chain that started in London’s West End back in 2008, and has since expanded to 7 shops across London and Oxford. It holds a special place in my heart for being one of the first places I ever went for lunch in my first proper job. Back then I was new to restaurants (I lived in a small village in the countryside and Wagamama was probably the fanciest place I had ever been), so in a way this was the beginning of my food adventures. Having expanded my horizons since then, I wanted to go back to Benito’s to see whether it would still capture the magic in the same way it did all those years ago, and who better to try it with than Isambard Kingdom Brunel, fabled engineer and runner-up of the 2002 ‘100 Greatest Britons’ poll.

I had told Isambard to meet me at the restaurant at 6 PM for dinner, and Isambard, being the precise technical architect that he is, arrived precisely at 6. I, on the other hand, found myself running late due to a broken-down tube on the Bakerloo line. When I finally made it to the restaurant at 6:30, I found Isambard had already started working his way through the margarita menu, and was now four deep. “ALAN!” He shouted at me as I walked in.

“It’s Andy, actually.” I said, as I shook his hand. I forgave him the slip, as in his defence it was the first time we had ever met as he had been dead for the last two hundred years, though at the same time I was a little bit taken aback that he hadn’t at least scanned my LinkedIn profile in advance.

“Sorry, Aldy.” He said.

“Andy.”

“Ando.”

“Andy.”

“Hahahaha! Yes!” He said, as he slapped my back. “As in Andi Peters.”

“How do you know Andi Peters?” I asked, confused.

“And Edd the Duck! I love that duck!” He added. I was no clearer about what was happening than before. “Let me get you a drink. It’s two for one!”

“Let’s maybe have some food first shall we? Give this place a fair review before we start drinking.”

“Hahahaha! Andi Peters!” He said. “Ok.”

Benito’s Hat is a very casual dining spot, as burrito joints often are. You design your burrito at the counter, choosing from the usual options of black or pinto beans, salsa heat and designated meat. Benito’s Hat offers a decent selection, with chicken, beef, pork and a vegetarian option of sautéed vegetables too too. I on this occasion had chosen to go for the grilled chicken, my typical go-to for a burrito due to the succulent nature of the filling and its frivolous interplay with the other components within. Isambard meanwhile plumped for a steak burrito. “Steak.” I heard him say. “Pinto beans… Yes… Mild… No. A passion fruit margarita, please.” Before we knew it, we had a chicken and a steak burrito, and Isambard had another two passion fruit margaritas.

Benito's Hat Margarita.jpg
One of Isambard’s many margaritas.

“I thought we were waiting until we started drinking?” I said. Isambard smiled and cheersed himself. “Ok, so mainly what we’re looking for here is the quality of the ingredients. Is the meat cooked well, how do all the ingredients work toget-” I had not finished my sentence before Isambard chomped into his burrito and began to drunkenly chew with his mouth open. “Ok, so the steak, is it tender? Is it quality meat? Would you say it’s more rib eye flavoursome or fillet tender?”

“I got steak.” Said Isambard.

“Yes, I know you got steak, but how is it?”

“Have you ever had pheasant?”

“Yes.”

“It’s good, isn’t it?”

I could see that this review was all going to be on me. I took a large bite of my burrito, careful to make sure I got a bite significant enough to enjoy the combination of all the flavours at once. The smokiness of the chicken was met by the zinginess of the salsa, which in turn played wonderfully with the creaminess of the cheese and the guacamole, rich in both taste and additional cost to the burrito. It conjured up memories of a lunchtime back in 2011, a delicious Mexican interlude in an otherwise sad day in media planning and buying. A summer’s treat to brighten the se-

“F**K!” Shouted Isambard at the top of his voice.

“What’s the matter?”

“My burrito split!” Said Isambard. I looked down to see that his trousers were covered in a mix of pinto beans and steak. “These are my best engineering trousers!” He said, as he drunkenly licked the palm of his hand and attempted to rub the stains off. “F**king hell! You!” He said, as he got up and marched back to the counter. “Your construction has fallen apart!”

“I’m sorry, sir. Sometimes that happens with burritos.”

“Not on my watch it doesn’t!” Shouted Isambard. “Make it again! Better this time!”

“Black beans or pinto beans?” Asked the burrista.

“Pinto!” Said Isambard. “Pinto, yes, mild, no!”

The burriterer made up the burrito, wrapping it as tightly as they possibly could to compact the filling.

“And a passion fruit margarita, please.” Added Isambard. “They’re still two for one, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Great.” Said Isambard. He somehow paid in shillings and crowns for the second time that evening and returned to the table with another tray of margaritas and a second steak burrito.

Benito's Hat Burrito.jpg
My chicken burrito complete with nachos.

“Ok.” I said. “So the nachos too. Let’s try those.”

Isambard took a bite of the nacho, and crunched ponderously.

“Thoughts?”

“Have you ever had pheasant?” Asked Isambard. Bloody hell. Ok, so the nachos had the perfect level of crunch. I find that with nachos, some restaurants try to overcomplicate something that’s actually at its best when simple, but these had the perfect depth, crunch and flavo-

“F**K!” Shouted Isambard at the top of his voice again. I looked over to see that he was once again covered in beef.

“Isambard, for the love of god can you just keep it together for five minutes while I review this bloody restaurant?”

“Andle.”

“It’s Andy!”

“Ah, Andros! Like the villain from Starfox!”

“Where the hell are you getting these cultural references from?”

“These bastards can’t build a burrito to save their lives!” Said Isambard. He downed another margarita and stormed over to the counter. “You! Look at my trousers!” Said Isambard, gesturing to his once plain but now distinctly savoury trousers. “Great Western Railway? More like Great Western Beef Trousers!” He slurred, nonsensically. “Make it again! Pinto, yes, mild, no!”

“What?” Stammered the burriterer.

“Pinto! Yes! Mild! No! Make it again! Again! AGAIN!” Said Isambard. He flings the remnants of his beef burrito over the counter.

“Isambard, please!” I say, attempting to hold him back. “Come on, let’s just go!”

“The Clifton Suspension Bridge would be in the river if it were up to you!” Said Brunel, downing his margarita. “You’re all bastards!” He said. He spun on his heels to leave, but lost his balance, and fell to the floor.

“Isambard? Are you ok?” I said, rushing over. He did not respond, then came the sound of snoring. “I’m so sorry for all of this.” I say to the staff, as I look down at him lying there. I take a sip of my margarita. It is an absolute delight, the perfect blend of sweet and salty. I contemplate whether I have time to sit here and finish my review whilst Isambard takes a nap on the floor, but the faces of the staff (one of whom is covered in shards of lettuce from Isambard throwing his burrito) says otherwise. I sigh, take a minute to finish the drink, then I pick Isambard up from the floor and walk out of the restaurant.

“Gandalf…” Mumbles Isambard.

“It’s An- Oh, forget it. What?”

“We should build a railway together!”

“I don’t think we should.”

“But first, let’s get drinks.” He slurs. “Two margaritas, please.” He says to a bin.

“I think we should go home. Do you want me to call you an Uber?”

“TWO MARGARITAS, PLEASE.” He shouts, as he climbs into the bin. I now find myself watching one of the world’s greatest engineers fumble through a bin, somehow still believing it may be a bartender. “This is my home now! Let me introduce you to my parents.” He says, picking up an empty can of Sprite and a Kit Kat wrapper. “Well done on that bridge and things, son. We’re real proud of you.” He continues, in a squeaky voice.

“Any more thoughts on the restaurant?” I ask, wearily.

“Have you ever had pheasant?”

I give Isambard a pat on the shoulder and head home. Overall we’ve had a… time, but I think the fun has now come to a close. Would I recommend Benito’s Hat? Yes. Would I recommend going crazy on the happy hour deals before eating your burrito? No. Overall…

9/10. Good burritos with nice flavour.

Vapiano with Oliver Cromwell

I stood on the streets of Soho, waiting for my dinner companion. It was a nice, cool evening, the kind of evening that sends your mind away to a place where you can spend all day drinking Aperol Spritz in the sunshine. Summertime in an Italian plaza, wearing the sunglasses that you thought were a good idea at first but you’re now concerned are too big for your face and make you look like a fly. Tonight was the perfect evening for an Italian feast, which was just what we were in for. My thinking was interrupted, as the sound of clanging armour came ever closer.

“Sorry I’m late.” Said a voice. I turned to see Oliver Cromwell, Puritan, 17th century Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, signatory to the death warrant of King Charles I, and my dining companion for today.

“That’s ok. Have you been to Vapiano before?” I asked.

“No.” Said Cromwell. “Is that a problem?”

“No, it’s fine. I mean, they’re going to ask you the exact same question the minute you walk through that door, but it’s a very simple process so just say that you have. It’ll save time.”

“Ok, cool.” Said Cromwell. I opened the door and we strolled into Vapiano.

“Hello, have you been here before?” Said the woman at the till.

“No.” Said Cromwell. I sighed, and decided this would be a good time to do an introductory background on Vapiano.

Vapiano Soho
Vapiano Soho.

Vapiano is an Italian restaurant franchise that was established in Germany back in 2002, but has since spread across the globe. It’s a restaurant that sort of sits on the same kind of level as Nando’s and Wagamama. It’s the kind of place you might take a date, or in my case, a ghost opposed to Christmas. Their speciality is very much the home-made pasta, freshly made each day and cooked to order in front of you by their expert chefs. It’s ‘boomerang-friendly’ food, the kind that can easily drain your soul when you see a friend posting it on Instagram with a ‘SUNDAY FUNDAY’ graphic, making you think that everybody is having more fun than you are and forcing you to reconsider all of the life choices that led to you still being sat alone in your pyjamas at 4 PM watching an episode of Friends you’ve seen a thousand times where Ross is yelling about some kind of gravy sandwich, ultimately depleting your very essence until you’re just a husk of your once unlimited potential. But anyway.

“… and then you just give us your card on the way out and settle up.” Finished the woman at the till.

“Thankyou.” Said Cromwell. We walked off together towards the stations.

“Do you know what you want?” I asked, as I handed Cromwell a menu.

“What is pasta?” Asked Cromwell.

“What is pasta? It’s a wheat-based shape. You put sauce on it.”

“Ok, great. What is pizza?”

“Are you serious? It’s like a disc of wheat that you cover with other food.”

“Excellent. I will enjoy a disc of wheat.” Said Cromwell.

“Ok, I’ll meet you back here shortly.” I said, as I headed for the pasta queue. The queue for pasta was around 7 people deep, whereas pizza was always significantly shorter. This was very much typical of Vapiano. If you want pasta, you have to be prepared to wait. Being a big fan of their ‘salami e ricotta con rucola’, I was prepared to wait. Five minutes into my queuing, I heard the familiar approach of clanging.

“I’ve got my wheat disc.” Said Cromwell. I looked at his tray to see that he had procured a pizza base that was absent of any toppings whatsoever.

“Where the hell are the toppings?”

“I did not want any toppings. Toppings are pointless enjoyment that detract from a spiritual life.”

“We’re here to review this place! How many people do you think are going to come here and order a plain pizza base?”

Cromwell shrugged.

“Go and sit down!” I said, annoyed, as I continued to wait for my pasta.

 

Vapiano Pasta
My ‘salami e ricotta con rucola’

As mentioned earlier, part of Vapiano’s attraction is that you see them making your meal fresh in front of you. It makes it a little bit more of an experience, whilst also giving you the false confidence that this is something you could (but never will) make at home yourself. The salami e ricotta con rucola that I had chosen seems deceptively simple, a combination of salami, butter, rocket, garlic, white wine and pine nuts mixed in with one of five available pastas. On this occasion, I had chosen the spaghetti. The spaghetti is also available in a more healthy ‘spelt’ version, but as with all things that are more healthy, the less-healthy version is generally significantly tastier. I thank the chef and head back to find Cromwell. Scouring the area, I find that he has procured us two seats in the window of the restaurant.

“What did you go for?” Asks Cromwell, as I sit down.

“I went for the salami e ricotta con rucola.” I say. He looks at me blankly. “I went for the tiny wheat-based shapes.” I sigh. He nods approvingly.

“Now, we must say thanks to God before we enjoy the feast that he has procured for us.”

“Oh, err… really?”

“We must all say thanks to God for the food that he has provided us on this day!” Says Cromwell, standing up and shouting to all of Vapiano. A confused hush descends over the restaurant. “All of you, bow your heads!” Nobody moves. “Do it, now!” He says, unsheathing his sword. There are screams from across the restaurant.

“Cromwell, for goodness sake!” I object.

“This’ll only take a minute.” He says. “Lord God our… God. Thankyou for this generous bounty that you have given us.”

I look at Cromwell’s plain wheat disc. If there is a God, he has long since forsaken him.

“-Most merciful God, we ask that we may continue to receive your blessings as we have done today.”

I mean, literally not one topping. Not even rocket.

“-For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory.”

I’d like to think that if it had been left to an omnipotent being to demonstrate its power and glory it might have at least applied a béchamel sauce.

“Forever and ever. Amen.” Finished Cromwell. “You may now feast.” He said, as he holstered his sword. The silence and sobbing gradually faded away as people got back to their meals. For the fairness of this review, it should be qualified that the atmosphere isn’t usually that of people contemplating the threat of their imminent death. It’s more casual than that.

cromwells-pizza.jpg
Cromwell’s ‘disc of wheat’.

“Let us eat.” Says Cromwell. I take a bite of my salami e ricotta. As usual, it is delicious. There is a fantastic balance between the richness of the cheese and butter and the salty salami cutting through. The texture of the pine nuts adds another level of depth too, providing a beautiful crunch that helps to hold the whole thing together. It is a superb dish. Cromwell meanwhile takes a bite of his pizza base.

“How is it?” I ask.

“There is little flavour.”

“Of course there’s little flavour! You didn’t get any toppings!” I say, angrily.

“We should leave a bad review.” Says Cromwell.

“No, this is on you! Mine is delicious!” I argue. Cromwell shakes his head, rattling his armour as he does.

“Let me try it.”

I twirl a fork of my pasta and hand it to Cromwell. He carefully removes all of the salami, pine nuts, ricotta cheese, onions and garlic before taking a bite. “It is very plain.” He says.

“For goodness sake! You think God is going to judge you if you enjoy a couple of pine nuts?!”

“Pine nuts detract from a spiritual life.”

“Do you even hear yourself? THEY’RE PINE NUTS. We’re never going to get this review done if you don’t eat anything!” I shout. “Now eat the pine nuts!” I say, as I twirl another fork and push it towards his face.

“I shall not eat the pine nuts!” Shouts Cromwell. “As the lord is my shepherd-“

“EAT THE BLOODY PINE NUTS!” I say, as I wrestle Cromwell to the floor and try to force him to eat the fork of pasta. “EAT THEM!” He slaps my hand away with his gauntlet and kicks me backwards, sending me crashing through a stool. I get back to my feet and make sure I haven’t dropped my Vapiano card. As much pain as I’m in, it would be nothing compared to the embarrassment of having to go back to the front desk to explain that I’d lost my card as I was fighting with the reincarnated spirit of a man who shut all theatres except presumably the one that’s been showing Agatha Christie’s ‘The Mousetrap’ for what must be five hundred years. I smash the stool on the floor, breaking off a leg, whilst Cromwell withdraws his sword. We prepare to duel when we’re interrupted by the sound of sirens outside. Concerned that the review is about to come to an abrupt end before it is done, I grab a nearby glass of white wine and take a sip. It is light and crisp, fresh apples with a hint of green pep-

We are both tasered by police and bundled into the back of a van. Whilst this does put somewhat of a dampener on the evening, I don’t feel it’s fair to score down Vapiano for this, as it’s my understanding that not every trip there ends in this fashion.

“You are well within your rights to behead us.” Says Cromwell, as we are seated in the back of the van. “We would think no less of you.”

“Will you please shut up?” I say.

“I only ask one last thing.” Says Cromwell. “Before I die, I ask that you permit me one final disc of wheat.”

“You said you hated it!”

“I would eat it again.”

“I hope this is the last we ever see of each other.”

9/10. Terrific pasta.