The Blacksmith and The Toffeemaker

I might be a bit late to the party, but in 2017 vegan has gone big. Food bloggers and Instagram accounts may have been hash-tagging vegan for a while as far as I know, but my real gauge is the veggie burger scene. Whilst, in the past, a vegan option was just a veggie burger without the cheese, more recently a number of different restaurants and options have popped up, targeting the vegan market but also offering increasingly enticing, and exciting options that may appeal to the non-vegan consumer, such as myself, without going down the route of straight up meat-substitute products. One of these options is the pulled-jackfruit burger.

It was a particularly alarming moment when I saw Tim Lovejoy & Simon Rimmer sampling the burger on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch. I knew right there and then that I was behind the mainstream, and had to get myself down to the closest pulled jackfruit proprietor. It just so happened that I was working in Clerkenwell that week, and just around the corner from The Blacksmith and The Toffeemaker.

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The pub, nearer the Angel end of St John street has a tasty looking menu consisting of sandwiches and classic bar snacks. The main event for sure, though, is their burgers. Of the five burgers on offer, two are veggie, one, as I have already divulged I was there to sample was the pulled jackfruit, and the other veggie – the halloumi and kimchi burger – was equally as tempting as well. The burger comes with fries and slaw for a very reasonable £8. To accompany my burger lunch on that cold January lunchtime was half of Hobgoblin. I know, hipster burger, dad beer. Maybe I’ve been watching too much Sunday Brunch.

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I didn’t know what to expect from the burger itself but it was a lot fuller than I had imagined it to be. The chunks of jackfruit were virtually spilling out of the brioche bun. Biting into it I was confronted by a texture that I had never experienced before. Having never eaten pulled pork before I cannot make a direct comparison, but it was definitely similar to what I imagine it to be like. At the same time chewy and stringy, lathered in the sweet, sticky BBQ sauce synonymous with it’s meaty cousin. Personally, I’m not too big a fan of barbecue sauce, perhaps because I’ve always associated it with the smell of spare ribs and brisket. The unfamiliar flavour starting to feel more to my taste, safe in the knowledge I was consuming plant-based goods. Saying that though, I’ll hold my hand up – the meal was not completely vegan as the slaw had mayo in it, but could have also been easily missed.

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My own indifference to BBQ sauce aside, I thoroughly enjoyed my first foray into this new world of pulled jackfruit and other trendy vegan delights. As someone who has always been inclined to drag my feet when it comes to veganism, it is encouraging to know that tasty, alternative options like this are becoming the norm. And why not? There’s literally no harm in it.

 

VEGGIE BURGER RATINGS: 7/10 

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10

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BOOM Burger

Good friends of mine will tell you that my favourite time of year to be a Londoner comes at the end of summer, on the Sunday and Monday of the August bank holiday weekend. Over two days nearly two million revellers descend of West London for the biggest street festival in Europe. I am of course talking about Notting Hill Carnival. For me a time to don the string vest, drink copious amounts of Red Stripe and skank out to some bone-trembling bass, it is also one of the few times I truly venture into the W postcode. When I discovered that there was an opportunity to indulge in everything I enjoy over the August bank holiday – minus the string vest – but in the depth of winter (with the added incentive of a burger!) I decided it was probably best I made my way over to Portobello Road.

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Nestled under the Westway on by the covered market, Boom Burger is a cosy little place seating about 20 covers on a few bunkettes, and at the bar – from where you can sit and watch the kitchen do their thing. The colourful interior is backed up by the tunes that are playing out of the soundsystem up against the back wall, a playlist ranging from reggae to garage adding an extra dimension to the dining experience. The menu has six burgers to choose from, one veggie (also one fish) all offering up a varied range of west-indian flavours. With my ‘Veggie Boom’ I shared a bowl each of french fries and plantain fries. To drink, what else could I have but a Red Stripe.

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The burger consists of a spice-roasted sweet potato on a bed of zingy avocado, accompanied by a big bunch of rocket, topped off with some sweet-chilli jam – all in a toasted brioche bun. Even before eating it the burger is impressive, with the colours of it matching those on the shop front, almost as if to be intentionally on-brand. The first flavour you get as you bite into it is the citrus of the avocado, a real kick in the chops before the spicy sweetness of the main content of the burger – the sweet potato – takes over. The freshness of the rocket cuts through what would be an otherwise rich burger, and the subtle heat flavour of the chilli jam rounds everything off. Initially my burger was forgotten from the order so I had time to enjoy the plantain fries before it arrived on the table. On their own the plantain was quite dry and floury, but mixed with the house jerk mayo, and a bit of hot pepper sauce, they were transformed into something magical.

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I was happy that Boom Burger did not disappoint. This little spot is definitely worth the trek if you’re coming from anywhere outside of West London. The burger hubs of Shoreditch and Marylebone, whilst having some of the best burgers in the city, are all attempting to outdo each other at the same game. Boom burger, by offering up something different, provides a fusion cuisine that works, and deserves to be experienced. For me, being starved of Caribbean culture for 363 days a year isn’t the ideal and this certainly offers an outlet. The music, the food, and the Red Stripe mean that I might be making my way to this part of London much more than once a year.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 7.5/10

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

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Yeah! Burger

For what is my last burger (probably!) before Christmas, I decided to finally get over to The Star by Hackney Downs to sample the Yeah! Burger special festive menu while there was still a chance before they moved residency. As luck had it, the day my friend and I decided to go just so happened to be Yeah! Burger’s own farewell Christmas party. So some fun was there to be had, with 2-4-1 cocktails, free sliders, and DJs spinning out some tunes throughout the evening.

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With the promise of trays and trays of free sliders being brought out soon, my mate and I decided to go for a couple of sides as appetisers. We shared a plate of special chilli chestnut brussels sprouts as well as a portion of Yeah! fries off the normal, non-festive menu. Those who aren’t a fan of brussels sprouts on their Christmas table would be swiftly converted by this dish, both nutty and spicy in equally subtle measures, with the sprouts fried to give them a crunchy edge and take away from their inherently mushy nature. The Yeah! fries were also easily devoured – slathered in ‘Yeah! sauce’ (essentially burger sauce) – and fried onions. With both of us being vegetarians though and none of the trays of veggie sliders on the horizon it became apparent that we would have to try the full-size burger.

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The Holy Mary – Yeah! Burger’s veggie christmas option – consists of a few chunks of celery granola-topped, slow-roasted beetroot on top a fat slice of baked camembert and lettuce, inside a brioche bun, finished with a fine mist of Negroni spayed over the burger on serving. For inventiveness, this burger scores 10/10. Inside the bun were some flavours, and flavour combinations that I’ve never tried before, let alone inside a burger. For me, though, the burger was lacking smething. Perhaps there wasn’t enough cheese, although my friend’s burger probably had too much cheese and was breaking apart. The reality was that the burger – for want of a better phrase – was just not meaty enough. The beetroot and cheese would have worked great on top of a christmas  flavoured patty to bite into. Everything in the burger worked, and worked together – the celery granola, for example, was delicious – but in the end the burger just needed something more.

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Ultimately, though, I enjoyed my evening. Aided by the 2-4-1 deal on cocktails, me and my mate made our way through the list of celebrity-named drinks whilst the music got better and better – we were even plied with a free glass of rum punch. To cap it all off the the tray of veggie sliders finally came out and we got to try the miniature version of the burger we had already eaten. The additional mini round of burgers, coupled with the extra sides we also ordered, meant that a fun time was had, and it certainly was a great way to cap off the festive burger season. The Christmas menu may be over for now, but I’ll definitely be trying out Yeah! Burger at their new residency at The Star of Kings and look forward to what they’ll be coming up with in the new year.

 

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 7/10

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

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