Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Burger Monday w/ Ben Spalding, Andrew's Café

The man can cook.  It's safe to say that when the Mrs. and I went to Roganic over 8 months ago, we were suitably blown away by nearly all of the dishes placed in front of us.  Ben Spalding's cooking most definitely belies his years, incorporating a multitude of ingredients, many of them unknown to me, in his dishes.  However, despite the exotic sounding plant names and dizzying stylish presentation, he always seems to put flavour first.  My kind of guy.

So when the email announcing him manning the helm for a Burger Monday hit my inbox, I didn't hesitate in booking a couple of spots.  And as many of you know, Burger Monday tickets don't last long (understatement); I'm sure Daniel can give the exact figure, but I'd be shocked if they lasted 10 minutes.  And we were well up for this one.
I love Andrew's café - it's around the corner from my office and the go-to spot for a proper Bacon sandwich -- white bread, lots of butter, fatty bacon and brown sauce.  Might just pop out in a minute.  Anyhow, as usual, Andrew's is always a bright, warm, buzzy refuge during Daniel's events, and this night was no different.  I really enjoy the group seatings as we've met some lovely people, and the two sisters we broke bread with last night were great company indeed.

Not long after we sat down, we were presented with what the menu called "Nibbles."  These turned out to be Pig skin; Veal breast; and Salt beef, horseradish mayonnaise & sourdough.  

I gobbled the pig skin far too quickly to take a photo, but I think the table was unanimous in agreement that we could've eaten a meal of just that.  Imagine the lightest pork flavoured prawn cracker with a touch of salt that literally melts in your mouth, and you're there.  Aside: among my litany of grammar grumbles, near the top of my list is a hatred for the misuse of "literally;" so, yes, I mean it when I say it.  Ben was not permitted to have his entire FOH staff, but he was allowed one gentleman who informed us that the skin was simply dried for 16 hours or so and then quickly deep fried in olive oil.  I am going to try this at home.  Oh yes.

The almost gamey salt beef was perfectly complemented by some smoked horseradish, with the crisp sourdough adding more texture than flavour.  Again, a success.

The veal breast was breaded and deep fried and then topped with pickled shallots and mayweed (no, I'd never heard of it either).  The flavour of the meat was lovely and deep, although it was a bit dry.  I loved the acidity of the shallots and the crunch of the breading (although who doesn't?), and the mayweed was attractive if not overwhelmingly flavourful.

Appetites sufficiently whetted, it was on to the proper first course, "Soup & burnt toast."  Ben was kind enough to provide a detailed list of ingredients for each course at the end of the meal, hence my actual descriptions of what we ate.  This course was a cauliflower soup with pickled cauliflower, roasted cauliflower cream, pearl barley and chervil.  The burnt toast was squid toast -- presumably, squid ink had been mixed in during the dough formulation.  

Picture Homer Simpson on a mountain of donuts, and you'll see my face whilst eating this.  Before last night, I certainly would never have said, "I could live on this pickled cauliflower," but what a difference a dish makes.  The bread was crumbly and crisp, more suited to dropping in the soup than mopping up bits, but it worked.

By this time I was very eagerly awaiting what the menu described quite thoroughly as "Burger & Chips."  We had caught a glance of some at the adjoining tables; so we knew what to expect in terms of presentation:

Quite humorous.  I loved the fact that he rigged the burger boxes with a rubber band to give them a spring-loaded effect when opened.  All of the chips bags had messages scrawled on them....well, all but mine.  I said that I wasn't hurt, but perhaps I just buried my feelings.

The chips themselves were hot, crisp, fluffy and well-seasoned, but if I'm being honest, I did feel that at £41 a pop, getting only 7 chips was a bit mean.

On to the main event: the final menu described the burger's elements as chuck steak & 45 day aged rib fat burger, iceberg lettuce, onion jam, cucumber pickle, mild cheddar and a granary seed bun.  The patty, replete with well-melted cheese, sat atop the other ingredients.  The thin slice of pickle was very tasty and quite reminiscent of a typical USA deli pickle style.  I usually enjoy the crunch of iceberg on a burger, and this was no different.  The onion jam was sweet, perhaps a bit too much so, but they had a bit of firmness to them which was good.

The bun: we were told that it was air dried to hold up to the juice of the burger, but I didn't enjoy it at all.  I'm sure some of it is a personal bias, as I'm generally not fond of buns encrusted with a variety of seeds.  I like sesame seeds on a burger bun, or poppy seeds on a deli kaiser roll, but when they're tossed together with sunflower seeds thrown in, I'm not usually thrilled.  And to me, it was far too firm.  I feel that burger buns should be soft and yielding but able to stand up to any juice onslaught.

Perhaps I was also less than impressed with the bready wrapper due to the fact that it didn't have many juices to stand up to.  My burger was overcooked.  It didn't have the pinkish interior of those in my fellow diners' clutches, and the overall package suffered sorely as a result.  The flavour of the meat itself was deep and pleasant, but my enthusiasm was sorely dampened by the lack of juices.  

The dessert had yet another dizzying array of ingredients: salted caramel; mint & lemon granita; toasted hazelnuts; white chocolate rocks; iced milk mousse; lingon berries; cloudberries; coffee tequila, amaretto & maple syrup soaked sponge; classic wafers and half baked cookies.  With that many elements you'd never be able to taste each one completely distinctly, but it also meant that each bite offered up a different flavour.  With the exception of the slightly-too-powerful mint in the granita, I thought it was fantastic: a wide variety of textures, lots of memory-triggering flavours, and not too thick or cloying.

So was it a success?  I left mostly satisfied, as I'd had some very tasty dishes and bites, but I couldn't help feeling let down by the main event.  I know that it's tough to sling a whole mess of burgers simultaneously and get them all right, but I was pretty disappointed with the burger itself.  That said, I can't wait to have a bit saved up for a return trip to Roganic.

Andrews Café
160 Gray's Inn Road

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