Honest Burger

Honest burger might be London's most reliable. The house burger is packed with enough salt to choke a flamingo and a balanced ensemble of cheese, bacon and chutney. You'll be gasping for water in the cab home, wishing you'd opted for an uber lux.  Honest Burger provides a lesson in successful expansion. It's Mongol-like spread is comparable to Franco Manca's. I remember queueing with a tinder date to get in to one of Franco Manca's first sites in Tottenham Court Road, loudly telling her that the manager had told me it would be a 2 hour wait. Half the line immediately left. Suckers.


It once set the standard in sourdough pizza, but a recent visit to the Gloucester Road branch left me flabbergasted. A disaster of seared dough and a blob-like ham/mushroom fusion. Like Marcus Aurelius, grabby expansion has exposed cracks in the Franco Manca empire. The administrators dispatched to distant boroughs have not administered with the clear-eyed majesty of their brethren in the Capital. The impoverished flatbreads that greet eager converts are limply splattered with soupy toppings with all the appeal of a half digested Quiche Lorraine making its way through a dysentry-addled urchin. All the while barbarians are amassing at the gates of Rome, barbarians called Voodoo Ray, Pizza Pilgrim, and Homeslice.


Honest Burger has maintained a decent standard. A special Rib Man burger named for the eponymous BBQ legend on brick line packed a pleasing piquant. Rosemary chips could dehydrate the Pacific, but were irresistible. Honest Burger is foolproof. 



KILN smells wonderful. Aromas come wafting across the counter, waves of kaffir lime and lemongrass one time, dense ginger and turmeric the next.

But they never seemed to make it onto my plate.

My mother managed to fiercely guard 3 seats at the counter by flirting with the Portuguese waiter, as slick-haired henrys puffed their cheeks and blew hot air, sent packing.

We kicked off with a heroically bad langoustine. A cold, meatless, exoskeleton lamely draped in leaves. 

Then came cubed lamb bits with cumin and what must have been mustard gas. 

I fancy myself relatively tolerant of heat. I spent 4 days rushing deliriously between Seoul's hottest stews and hotpots. I was a one-time habanero hot wing-eating record-holder. But these lamb skewers were hot as a punch in the tongue from the human torch.

Roast pork loin with a thinking man's sweet chilli sauce, and some generic pan-fried veg failed to recreate the excitement of the skewers. 


Our final two courses trumped all others. Laotian Pollock with chilli was a satisfying bowl of dry flakes powdered and seasoned. This was followed with a Burmese wild ginger short rib curry, rich and dense,  and speckled with floating strips of stringy meat. A bath of curried bleach with the half-dissolved remains of a cow bobbing around in it.


El Cartel



A night at Spank! is the ultimate Edinburgh Fringe experience. Spank! takes place in a beery basement in the Cowgate. It features 6 or 7 comedy acts and lasts from midnight until 3 am. 

The most infamous part of Spank! is undoubtedly the "naked promo", whereby any audience member can promote his or her own show to the rest of audience (a good 200 people) on the condition that they do so naked. Invariably it's some hairy-arsed beta male telling you that his Game of Thrones improv really is worth the £6. The whole thing can be rather depressing.

Last year I performed the naked promo myself, promoting the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed between Iran and a suite of other powers with a mangina.

However, by far the best story I've heard was from a friend who went along early this August. One particularly lairy audience member shouted at the naked promoter "Your cock looks like a snail!". Within seconds the audience were chanting "SNAIL!" again and again, presumably until the poor man jumped into a canal. 

I had to get back to Spank! again this year.

After doing battle with the heaving crowds on the Royal Mile to get my tickets, I needed a frozen margarita.

El Cartel has 4 slush puppy machines going at any one time. The gorgeous, tooth-achingly sweet margaritas will really mellow you out. 

Here's a good acid test when eating Mexican: if a "taco" is a giant crisp, like the overgrown village idiot of a Dorito hamlet, then don't bother.

Fortunately El Cartel seems to take a lot of pride in its food. 

The guacamole was brilliantly executed, garnished with pomegranate and feta, and arrived within 45 seconds flat of ordering. 

The main feature are the tacos. Ox tongue with salsa verde and radish is a rare treat, with the consistency of a rolled-up Lorne sausage. It turns out ox have very large tongues. They also have a pleasing dry and crisp quality. Embarking on one of these generously-sized tacos is like frenching Gene Simmons after a dry weetabix.

Steak tacos with dried tomato, duck with a faintly Chinese honeyed chipotle, and cod are all excellent too. 

I'm no chicken wing zealot. There is a place in this world for baked wings. But why bother? They will never match the luxurious bite of the humble fried wing. El Cartel's come in a decent chilli sauce.

The Frijoles, a drunken mess of cheese, beans and other beans is undeniably tasty, although it will leave a black hole of impossibly dense anti-matter in your stomach. 

On a sunny day with the doors at El Cartel open, you can sip on a frozen margarita, enjoy excellent tacos, and dream up all the devastating things you can shout at a nervous naked man at 2am. Bliss. 





It is amazing what I will endure to eat a few paper plates of hot wings. 

The basement of Wings on Fishmarket Close is a damp, unpleasant space. Its creators have filled the basement with vintage games consoles, posters, and memorabilia from Star Wars, and other Nerdom intellectual property. 

The whole place feels like an unwashed children's play area, where distressingly mucky kids have been drooling on the Fisher Price. Playing Street Fighter II on a Sega waiting for our wings, the state of the controllers was almost enough to rob me of my appetite. 

As you would probably expect for an Edinburgh Old Town basement built on plague pits and burnt witches, it is very very damp. Breathing in the ancient fungal spores in that basement that must take years off your live. 

All this, and I like it. It's good fun negotiating the vast menu. Some tips:

  • Stay away from the dry rubs -  these are often unceremoniously dumped on the top of the plate, leaving some wings caked in so much that it's like eating iron filings. 
  • The heat measures are wildly inconsistent - but this is part of the fun. One day the excellent Dance in the Blue Flame will offer a pleasing piquant sensation, and on another it they will melt your face.
  • Order extra blue cheese dip - wings are not served with blue cheese as a default. 
  • It's cheap as chips - order lots and experiment. 

After several trips I've narrowed my selection down to a couple of favourites. The aforementioned Dance in the Blue Flame (pictured above) is Wings' take on the award-winning Bleu Bayou wings at Abigail's in Waterloo, NY. Chef Marshal Grady was singled out as creating the world's best buffalo wing in feel-good wing-food documentary The Great Chicken Wing Hunt, by folding blue cheese dip into the Louisiana hot sauce.

Another favourite is the Shakakahhh named after the great white bat with great white guano in Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (re-watched the other night - holds up well). It's a secret recipe, but seems to a tomato-based hot sauce, with a slight tang - irn-bru perhaps? 

Wings makes a compelling offering of lots of wings, cheap beer, and Mariokart at your table. You can see why I can't keep away.


Ting Thai Caravan


There is often a queue outside Ting Thai Caravan in the evenings. On this particular occasion comedian Mark Watson nervously explained to me that his companion was innocently enquiring about the expected wait time, rather than skipping the queue when she darted into the restaurant ahead of me.

After grunting in acknowledgement and allowing Mark Watson to calm down, I met my friend and we sat down for dinner.

I'm planning to start a new blog.

"But Nick? This blog has literally 4 posts on it? Why would you start another?"

"Well, sometimes a man has such a good idea that he simply has to fork out the extra USD$10 a month to set up another Squarespace page."

Ladies and gentleman, that idea is to establish a definitive guide to the UK's Chicken Wing scene. It will be called GiveMeChickenWingsorGiveMeDeath.com (or the closest available URL), and it is going to be huge. 

In that spirit I ordered Ting Thai's wing offering, the Bangkok spicy Peek Gai. 

The wings were soaked in lemongrass and Nam Pla, giving them that intensely savoury and quintessential South-East Asian flavour that says "I love the smell of Napalm in the morning".  The psychedelic effect of Lemongrass on the palate is not too dissimilar to reverb - tastes like a Saigon acid trip. 

The Pad Thai was a bad try, and by no means the best item on the menu. If you're going, have the pork and rice dishes.  


Pitt Cue

Pitt Cue moved from Soho to a large industrial space in the City earlier this year. They've upscaled the restaurant, so gone are the ribs and pulled pork, replaced by Mangalitza pork steaks.

To start we had the irresistible-sounding mangalitza and eel sausage. The two components had been blitzed to form a surf and turf paste, sadly obliterating all trace of the eel save for a smoky aftertaste. 

Lamb tongues tasted exactly how I would expect a  grilled human tongue to taste - delicious and divisible into think flakes of flesh. 

What are we after when we order steaks? The vast open expanses of pink flesh, dominated by a dark centre of rare meat. 

When it comes to pork, these are the dull parts. Give me the blackened nubs of unknown providence. Give me the burnt skin that rests on your tongue like a creme brûlée. Give me the the bitty edges, speckled with coarse salt and rub. I gnawed my way around the steaks with glee, and left the middle of the steak on my plate. 

The short rib was cooked to a beautiful fuchsia, served with beef dripping-soaked sourdough, and served with a béarnaise so rich it would have choked Louis XIV. 

Our sides were a bone marrow and mushroom mash that was very satisfying (like a microwaved Fergus Henderson entree), and fermented carrots with ricotta (sublime texture, superlime taste). 

Pitt Cue is largely hit and miss. I wonder if something was lost on the journey from Soho to City. 


Dinings is Monocle Magazine's unstructured-blazer-wearer-in-chief, Tyler Brule's favourite London restaurant. So like any self-respecting member of the world's globe-trotting, minimal-aesthetic-appreciating tribe, I had to check it out.

The staff greet you with a halfhearted cry of "IRRASHAEMASE!", the traditional welcome at a Japanese restaurant. But in a Marlyebone townhouse staffed by pan-european croydon facelifts, it's more than a little bit embarrassing. 

The atmosphere is subdued, and the crowd very international. The monochrome Korean couple at the next table were only two drinks away from a nut rage incident.

The waiting staff presented us with a series of beautifully-executed nigiri: seared yellowtail with yuzu pickle; salmon with a savoury salsa; and a molten slab of seared otoro. 

The house special of sea bass carpaccio with truffle oil and salsa sounds unconvincing, but it's a smash hit. Delightfully kleptocratic and rich, like dinner in Moscow with your new father-in-law - Vladimir Putin.