Ed’s Easy Diner

January was bleak, wasn’t it? If the weather isn’t bad enough, you probably don’t have any money to do anything fun anyway. If you do happen to find some beer money down the back of the sofa, then there’s no one around to spend it with because all the pubs are empty. And then – even on top of all that – you pile more misery on yourself, either through some lackadaisical attempt at a new year’s resolution, or – in my case – performing some emotional self-flagellation for crimes of gluttony, committed over the Christmas break. I could have easily have just given up booze, but instead I had to go all Billy-Big-Bollocks about it and give up two of my other favourite things as well, bread and cheese. Now, I know I have some previous for this self-inflicted pain, giving up bread for lent last year (which coincidentally we find ourselves in the beginning of now). This time round, however, I thought I’d spare you all the tales of bread-less anguish, and instead just not eat burgers for a month, give you a grumpy paragraph about it, and follow it up with a review of my first burger of the year. So here it is:

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Ed’s Easy Diner is another one of the stalwarts of the UK burger scene, opening it’s first restaurant way back in the 90s in Soho. Nowadays, their restaurants number 50+ and stretch the length and breadth of the country. The location I happened to find myself in was the Ed’s in Wandsworth, nestled in the food court of the Southside Shopping Centre. Ok, I know what you’re thinking, not the most enamouring setting for the first burger of 2016, but I was desperate. February 1st fell on a Monday this year. After the five weekends of January, I wasn’t willing to wait for another one to indulge my habit, and break my fasts. That Monday I just so happened to be working in Wandsworth so, coupled with the dearth of other quick lunch spots, lunch at Ed’s just seemed to make sense.

My first impressions of the restaurant was certainly that Ed’s looked the part. Despite it being in a shopping centre in South West London, you definitely get the feel of being in Diner somewhere in the states – the decor is on point. The menu design also fits into the theme, but my focus of the massive one sided menu was towards the Veggie Burger selection. Of the nine burgers on offer at Ed’s, two are veggie – the Cajun Vegetable, and the Chickpea & Quinoa – I went for the Cajun, served with an Ed’s Plate (fries, onion rings, and coleslaw) but upgraded to sweet potato fries, and for the burger to come with american cheese. All of this washed down with a root beer (breaking Dry January on a Monday lunch would’ve probably been a step too far).

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The burger itself looked pretty run-of-the-mill, a spicy vegetable patty with the usual ensemble of onion, tomato and lettuce inside a sesame bun. I found, though, that it ended up tasting a lot better than it looks. Quite often the main veggie selection of a long standing burger chain can be a bit safe, but this one wasn’t at all boring in it’s flavour. The bits of veggies peppering the patty were crunchy and fresh, and the spice, whilst not exactly hot, was at least present and subtly announced itself to the tongue. The one thing I rejected was my choice of american cheese. When deciding against the other options of Cheddar or Blue, I was picturing Jack cheese, instead it was of the fake looking, bright yellow variety. Going for the Ed’s plate was maybe down to my eyes carless regard for my stomach but I made my way through it nonetheless, the sweet potato fries and the onions rings faultless, whilst the coleslaw had nothing overtly wrong with it either. The root beer (one of my guilty pleasures) brought home the american diner experience.

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Ed’s Diner ticks a lot of boxes when it comes to an enjoyable burger experience. The sign above my table read: ‘Eat here once and you’ll always return’. Whilst always is maybe an overstatement, the offer that they give to new customers – free burger on your next visit with the purchase of any drink – means that you’ll return at least once – probably within 30 days. Other things, for example the slightly inflated prices, means I most likely won’t return that often. Whilst the time, day, and location may not have been completely matched up to when and where I’d normally find myself for a burger review, spending Monday lunch in Ed’s Easy Diner Wandsworth definitely scratched a couple of itches. Firstly, although barely goats cheese spread on toasted sourdough, the sesame bun and yellow gave me my first taste of bread and cheese in over a month. Secondly, and really the main reason, was that it provided a symbolic new beginning to the hope and wonders that 2016 might bring, now that those cold, dark, lonely days of January are behind us.

I’m ok, I promise.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 7/10

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

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Homeburger

Recently, a group of friends and I decided that we should enter a 6-a-side league in North London on Thursday night. Despite initial grumblings that Thursday might be a difficult night to fulfil (Thursday is the new Friday, after-all) we went ahead with it. Unfortunately, twelve weeks – and eight defeats – later, the team is no more, as we were barely able to make a team on any given week. One positive, though, is that I found a new burger joint. Browsing twitter one evening on my way to footy I stumbled across a few hashtags going around talking about one thing: #NationalHamburgerDay. To be honest, this sent me into a bit of a panic, I had been caught off-guard. Supposedly flying the flag for the veggie burger on the burger review circuit and I can’t even make plans to go for a burger on #NationalHamburgerDay – even though it might only have been said day in the states. As I was playing footy, how could I get my hands on a burger on burger day? Luckily for me, teammates of mine had sampled a burger joint near where we play. I was to have my Burger Day burger after all, from Homeburger.

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As we settled down in The Lamb on Holloway Road, with seemingly everybody around us tucking into their own form of takeaway dinner, it wasn’t long before we had ordered online on our phones and our food was on it’s way. Homeburger is a home delivery or collection service (the clue’s in the name) so we got ours ordered to the pub about 100m down the road! The menu has eight burgers, one veggie (although as I write this it doesn’t currently appear on the menu page on the website) – called the Greenhouse, listed on the website as containing BBQ mushrooms, cheddar & American cheese, and fried onions. I shared a portion of the aptly, if not unnecessarily, named Homefries and Homeslaw for sides. The burger itself was a really, really pleasant surprise. Having resigned my self to another mushroom burger, I was in fact presented with a patty containing mushrooms, but also filled with lentils and fried onions, on a bed of lettuce and tomato. The smokiness of the barbecue mushrooms and the sweetness of the fried onions offset eachother perfectly, while the lentils added the bulk of the patty and gave it some bite. The combo of the two cheeses topping the patty added to the menagerie of favours that littered this surprise package. The triple cooked Homefries were also a delight, whilst the Homeslaw might have been better replaced by Mac Shack and Cheese or some buttermilk battered Onion Shards.

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I was very happy to stumble across Homeburger as it exceeded my expectations in every way. Not only is it rare to find a decent independent burger place out of the conventional burger hubs of London, the fact that it resides on a fairly innocuous part of Holloway road is even more impressive. What pleased me more is that I wasn’t disappointed on #NationalHamburgerDay despite my late awareness to it. The fact that Homeburger delivers – and something must be said for the quality of their packaging – allowed me to partake in three of my favourite activities: playing football, going to the pub, and eating veggie burgers! Whilst the fate of our team on a Thursday night was ultimately doomed, Homeburger left me with something to savour, literally.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 8.5/10

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

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Travel Post: Glastonbury Festival 2015

I love London, don’t get me wrong, but come the end of June there is one place where I wouldn’t rather be: traipsing around a farm in Somerset, along with 170,000 other revellers, seeing some of the world’s greatest artists and soaking up the vibes at Glastonbury Festival. Despite all the excitement that my second impending Glasto weekend had in store for me, whilst I was on the train down to Castle Cary, I was struck by another realisation about what makes the festival so great – the food! That many people need to be fed, and at Glastonbury they are fed well. The festival’s policy of only independent food vendors means that a general high quality of grub is on offer. On top of that, with the positively alternative nature of the Glastonbury festival-goer, there is a strong lean towards vegetarian (and even vegan-)friendly cuisine. A raver two-steps on his stomach and, with five days of partying ahead, I would need a fair few veggie burgers to get me through.

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The Park

With my first ever Wednesday night surprisingly reaching dawn (after earlier thinking the music would be over by midnight!), an afternoon on the hill above The Park munching on a tin of beans and veggie sausages (don’t judge me) before catching the preview of the excellent Amy documentary was much needed. The party restarted again, as well as my appetite, in Stonebridge bar with Mike Skinner in particularly good form reloading everything he and the Murkage DJs played, and led me to my first burger of the festival. Such an occasion as this required a visit to a British summer festival stalwart and a favourite of mine: Vegan & Vegetarian. Usually the prime spot to pick up a banging felafel in pitta, my attention was focused towards the burger menu, where one has the choice of either an ‘Organic Tofu’, a ‘Spicy Mexican’, or a ‘Traditional Veggie’ – I went for the latter. The Traditional Veggie – a soya based, meat substitute burger – is fairly ordinary in it’s appearance. It comes served in a wholemeal bun, with vegan mayo and packed with the leafy green salad synonymous with this particular stand. The flavour of the synthesised patty really comes through as succulent and juicy as I imagine the beef patty it’s trying to replicate would be. What really set it off was a massive dollop of hot pepper sauce which added some much needed contrast to the otherwise fairly straight ensemble. (6/10)

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The rest of Thursday night, and in fact the whole of Friday, flew by. Plans for a burger were made, but one minute I was standing at the Pyramid stage getting rained on whilst grooving to the soulful sounds of Alabama Shakes and the indomitable tones of Mary J. Blige, and the next I was at the Stone Circle watching the sun come up, reflecting on JESUS’s closing set at Shangri-La Heaven.

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The whirlwind nature of Friday meant the main agenda of Saturday was nutrition, and lots of it. A free vegetarian lunch curtesy of the Hare Kirshnas set me on my way but the evening meal meant a rendezvous at one of my favourites from last time around: The ‘Fresh Organic Veggie Burgers stall. This is a must stop for the veggie burger enthusiast. Located equidistantly between the Pyramid, Other and John Peel stages, it has a prime location and one that me and my mates met up at especially this year for a veggie burger reunion. What’s special about this stall is that they offer a ‘create your own’ experience, where you can combine one of their three homemade ‘mushroom magic’, ‘spicy bean’, or ‘balti burger’ patties with two of six special toppings. I went for the spicy bean, with a topping of vegan coleslaw and satay sauce. Again served in a wholemeal bun (no brioche here), and with a healthy serving of lettuce. The flavours from this burger cut through the dulled sensations that the festival had rendered on my taste buds. Equally fresh and rich at the same time the burger propped me up for the night to come with the nuttiness of the satay combining with the spiced patty brilliantly (9/10). They also do a scrummy thai tofu peanut curry for the less burger inclined. Just as well my belly was full because Saturday night proved to be one of the best periods of the festival, first seeing Skepta performing at his peak to a a rowdy crowd, before witnessing the ‘greatest living rockstar on the planet’ in the shape of Kanye West at the Pyramid Stage. Love him or hate him, he was definitely worth his slot as Saturday’s headliner, and managed to somehow hold the enormity of the Pyramid stage all by himself. Later, the killer combination of DJ EZ and ShyFX at Wow!, and – even later – Four Tet at Genosys, provided the other highlights of the night.

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Kanye West at the Pyramid Stage

Sunday arrives and by day five your running on fumes, but by this time the vibes are in full flow and everyone is at optimum festival mode. Lionel Richie set up the day perfectly with a set easy like the sunday afternoon it was on. With seemingly the majority of the acts I wanted to see performing on the Sunday there was barely time to fit in one more burger but I managed to find time between the sun-soaked Future Islands set on the Other Stage and FKA Twigs slot on West Holts. I went to ‘Gourmet Burgers’ for my last stop which had a fairly a simple burger menu selling four different burgers (Beef, Lamb, Pork & Felafel). Being a burger store I was expecting a felafel patty but instead, unfortunately, got given a white bap with a few felafel balls and salad in it, with garlic and sweet chilli sauce – a poor man’s felafel wrap (without the poor man’s prices). I took a bite and couldn’t have anymore. I don’t know whether it was my distaste for the burger or just my excitement for the night to come, but my appetite just wasn’t there, so I shared it out with my mates and got on with my night (2/10). It was a bit of downer as it was to be my last burger of the festival but all was forgotten once I got back to the music which culminated at the unparalleled drag-queen disco, NYC Downlow.

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When I left Glastonbury after my first visit two years ago, I left with feeling of general satisfaction. Not incredibly overawed by anything in particular, I had a feeling that they just managed to do everything slightly better than every other festival managed to. This time though I left with a feeling that I had experienced something truly special. Knowing my way around the festival better, experiencing new aspects that I hadn’t last time, and going a bit more with the flow probably also helped. The fact is, that from the wide-eyed first-timers to the weirdos, face-down in the Stone Circle at 10am, the festival is being enjoyed by all and is absolutely unique to itself in the amount of effort it puts in to making that happen. Whether it’s in the company of the people you love, or the new friends you’ve made, or even just enjoying the beautiful munch you’ve had along the way, Glastonbury is an experience like no other.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 6/10 (Ave)

OVERALL RATING: 10/10

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The Breakfast Club

The first thing that comes to your head when you think of The Breakfast Club (aside from the excellent 1980s coming-of-age movie) will most likely be breakfast. Many might be surprised that there is another opportunity to eat at the restaurant that doesn’t include eating eggs and/or standing outside, queuing in the cold nursing a hangover on a Sunday morning. The Breakfast Club does actually serve lunch and dinner and for those who can resist ordering from the ‘Late Late Breakfast’ section the main cuisine on offer is *drum roll*….. burgers!

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Another thing that the people might not know about TBC is that their Soho restaurant is BYOB. This makes it a great place to start relatively boozy birthday celebrations – the reason that I was there. With drinks sorted, my attention switched to the menu where there are five burgers on offer, one vegetarian (don’t let the Mushroom & Swiss burger fool you) – the Don’t Have a Cow, which consists of butternut squash and halloumi stack, topped with avocado, sour cream and Sriracha hot chilli sauce. With lent still in full-flow, my bread-less torment continued so I ordered it and waited for my beautifully disassembled burger – skin-on chips and ‘slaw included – to arrive.

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The burger itself was presented as nicely as it could have been, almost fully disassembled on the plate. The only thing that remained as it would have been in the bunned-burger was the stack, two donut ringed slices of roasted butternut squash on either side of a few thick chunks of halloumi. The other contents of the burger were placed neatly around the stacked centrepiece creating a colourful array of delights ready for me to tuck into. When I did, I was actually reasonably disappointed. Whilst the butternut squash and halloumi worked well together, the butternut squash felt too thin and the halloumi too thick. What this meant was that the thin, soft butternut squash didnt really register, whilst the halloumi dominated – which I didn’t mind at all – but was a bit squeaky on the old gnashers. The avocado was a bit timid and ended up being washed out by the huge dollop of sour cream next to it, the lettuce, as well, missed any serious crunch. The Sriracha, I ended up using as a dip for the skin-onchips – which were pretty tasty – and the coleslaw was nice and flavoursome too. The sides ended up becoming the most enjoyable part of the dish (which isn’t a good sign!)

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The Breakfast club, with its vast array of unique and filling brunches, comes up short when on the veggie burger. The argument could be made that because it was missing the bun it didn’t work but I don’t think that putting it all together in a bun would have made it any better. A burger’s patty or centrepiece should be able to hold it’s own, bun or no bun, and when the booze is flowing – as it is in the TBC’s BYOB soho restaurant – the flavours need to stand out more than ever.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 5.5/10

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

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Gourmet Burger Kitchen

Back in the LDN and in search once more of a proper burger so I decided to head to one of the stalwarts of the burger game – Gourmet Burger Kitchen. GBK has been around for as long as I remember and their name is synonymous with the success of UK burger restaurants. Boasting over 60 restaurants across the UK (with a fair few of those in London) I found myself at the branch in the O2. There is a sense amongst the burger going folk that although GBK has been around since the beginning, it has been left behind by the new wave of tastier, trendier burgers on the scene. I had to see whether that was the case with the veggie burger.

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The menu strikes you as different from the norm just due to the sheer number of options on the menu. The vegetarian section boasts four different burgers with three different base fillings, but when you take into account that you can switch out any meat patty from any of the other options with a pan fried bean patty then the amount of veggie options increases four-fold. I went for the Californian, the slightly more alternative option of the two bean-patty choices in the veggie section, along with the fries, the blue-cheese ‘slaw and a coke.

The burger at first glimpse looked pretty impressive. A neat-looking, bean patty topped with cheese and smashed avocado – as well as all the usual trimmings – in a toasted sesame bun. The first bite gives the biggest impression of the burger and, unfortunately for this one, my first impression was one of dryness. Even the avocado and the smoked chili mayo failed to add any real moisture, with the cheese not even melted. On the flip-side, the real killer ingredient was the house relish that packed the most punch of the whole meal, and really was the most enjoyable thing in the burger itself. The fries were delightfully thin, and vindicated my decision not to get my usual favourite sweet potato fries, but the ‘slaw just wasn’t cheesy enough.

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The trouble with GBK seems to me that they are going off their outdated reputation alone. It is down to the fact that they have been around the longest, and are the most visible burger chain on the high street, that they can keep going. What this means, however, is that there is an inkling of a reluctance to remain fresh and keep up with the times. The way you have to order and pay up-front at the counter in such a big restaurant with so many staff seems like an old gimmick – and means that ultimately the friendly and helpful staff will often miss out on tips. Also, to use the example of the bean patty (the veggie patty that they offer to swap in in every other combination), to serving something so dry for your main veggie burger when you’ve been around for the best part of 15 years shows that there’s very little being thought about and updated in the kitchen. I can’t speak for the beef or chicken burgers but in these times when burger restaurants are a dime-a-dozen you need to evolve or become extinct.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 4.5/10

OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 5/10