Shake Shack Collaboration

You may have heard of a skinny Italian Chef whom skilfully shines with 3 Michelin stars upon his shoulder. Said Chef is known for being nothing short of crazy, with an obvious air of creative genius. Massimo Bottura, whose phenomenal, foodporn filled cookbook Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef was recently published (hello Christmas gift!!), is one of my culinary heroes. His restaurant nestled in the streets of Modena, Osteria Francescana, sits firmly atop my Foodie Bucket List.

Now if you remember, I told you about New York’s favourite burger being brought to London last year with the opening of Covent Garden’s Shake Shack. Well, restaurateur and personal hero, Danny Meyer (yes, most of my heroes are food related), launched a peculiar, but marvellous collaboration. Shake Shack culinary director Mark Rosati teamed up with world-renowned Chef Bottura and together the two created The Emilia. After being devoured by hungry New Yawkers, the beast was flung across the pond for a more civilised debut*.

*Read aloud in poshest accent manageable

You know when people show pictures of their babies (please don’t) and you think, “Do they know? Are they aware how ugly its alien-like head and horrifying facial expressions actually are? Should I tell them? No, best sit here and listen to the hundreds of awe-inspiring talents it has as it wriggles around in some ridiculous outfit.” But then, you learn of its ability to fit shapes through the correct holes, watch as it rides the family cat with perfect form and even struggle to escape from its super human grip. You’re impressed. A little shocked even, that such a vile, mundane looking creature has any capability to inspire. That is what occurred with The Emilia.

Now please don’t take this to mean I ever doubted the incredibly capable creators of this burger, but, just look at it.

Shake Shack: London

Shake Shack: London

Although Emilia won’t be winning any upcoming beauty pageants, she would definitely pack a punch in any flavour round. Named after the Emilia-Romagna region, this burger combines a custom-blend of 100% Aberdeen Angus beef patty with cotechino sausage and parmigiano reggiano. It’s then topped with salsa verde and Villa Manodori balsamic mayonnaise, which is made with Chef Bottura’s own Villa Manodori Artigianale balsamic vinegar.
Shake Shack: London
It may not be pretty, but damn is it beautiful! A flavour combination fit for the Guide itself. Shake Shack: London After a smile and nod to Chef Bottura, beaming warmly from behind a rave of flashing cameras, we tucked in to a creamy Big Blend concrete. This is a classic combination of chocolate and vanilla custard with St. John Bakery brown sugar biscuit and chocolate hazelnut brownie thrown in.

Moments later, with my mouth full of custard, the lovely and New York style friendly Mark Rosati joined us with something special. Shake Shack: London He and Massimo didn’t stop at their meat monster, they took the creativity a step further with something sweet. A beautiful blend of chocolate and coffee custard was topped with a generous drizzle of cherry balsamico. As someone that could happily consume balsamic vinegar on almost anything, this made perfect sense and was an appropriate ending to our casual culinary feast. Shake Shack: LondonFor the balsamic lovers out there, I urge you to pour a bit of good quality balsamic into your bowl the next time you indulge in some chocolate or vanilla bean ice cream. Thank me later and be sure to tag me in the foodporn @Alessandra_LDN.

Shake Shack: London

I know I’m a bit late on this one, but you’ll soon forgive me as the food porn is well worth the wait.

Shake Shack finally floated across the pond and swung open its doors smack bang in the middle of Covent Garden early July this year.
Londoners & expats alike queued up for hours, desperate to get a bite of New York’s famous burgers.

I was away in America at the time, but as soon as I returned, I was determined to size up London’s most recent burger addition.

Now I know what you’re thinking, another bloody burger restaurant!?

But just take a look at this.

Shake Shack: LondonThe critics and bloggers went wild for the much anticipated arrival, not all of which particularly enjoyed their bite of the American style burger.
Yet, Shake Shack soldiered on, with their Covent Garden venue being complately packed out everyday. Shake Shack: LondonWhen I finally got the chance, I marched my way down to Covent Garden ready to well and truly tuck in after all that pre-holiday healthy eating.   Shake Shack: LondonI perused the menu before making my choice.
I of course had to go for the classic Shack Burger, a cheeseburger topped with lettuce, tomato and ShackSauce.
What’s ShackSuace? you ask.
A crazy combination of mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, dill pickle, garlic powder, paprika and cayenne pepper which is then slathered all over your burger like frosting on a cake.

Shake Shack: LondonSince this was a celebratory feast of sorts (celebrating the opening of Shake Shack, obviously) I also decided I needed to try the SmokeShack Burger. This is an utterly filthy cheeseburger topped with a glorious combination of British free range Willshire cure smoked bacon, chopped cherry peppers and ShacksSauce.  Shake Shack: LondonTo accompany the burgers, a mandatory order of crinkle cut fries was made.

The burgers themselves were great, chips were crunchy and delicious, but I realised what has all the critics’ knickers in a twist.

London’s recent burger blow up has been all about the gourmet burger.
Shake Shack’s fast food contestant doesn’t fight at the same weight as London’s other competitors, which is why there has been a little let down amongst diners.
It is however, a delicious fast food burger made from good quality ingredients, served in a darling atmosphere.

Now for you Shake Shack virgins, I have one final tip.
Order a concrete.
What’s a concrete you ask? all bright eyed with wonder.
A concrete is a heavenly dessert of dense frozen custard ice cream that has been blended at a high speed and is served with your choice of mix-ins.

Go ahead, have a look.

Shake Shack: London

Chocolate and vanilla custard with marshmallow sauce was delicious…

But just look at the chocolate and vanilla custard topped with peanut butter and gooey chocolate hazlenut brownies from St. JOHN Bakery.
SwoonShake Shack: London Shake Shack: LondonNow if you’re still reading and haven’t immediately run down to Shake Shack to join the queue, just remember to gauge your expectations.
The burgers are great and venue is perfect for a group meal with friends or fun date.
But most importantly, you must promise me you’ll order a concrete and send me a picture on Twitter @Alessandra_LDN to make me utterly envious.

Oh and…
Dear Shake Shack,
Please make adult version of this for me to wear ASAP. Thanks!

Shake Shack: London

Union Kitchen & Tap

Whilst I’ve been away, living across the pond, a new local hot spot has popped up in sunny San Diego.
Union Kitchen & Tap is a new, neighbourhood restaurant located in Encinitas, minutes away from the ocean. They serve lunch & dinner and brunch on the weekends.
The interior is minimalist and masculine and would be the perfect spot to watch the big game or meet up with a group of friends.

Union Kitchen & TapUnion Kitchen & TapUnion Kitchen & Tap The UNION Bloody Mary looks like it would punch a hangover right in the face. Asparagus, onion, olive and yes, a big strip of bacon “garnish” this cup of cure. Union Kitchen & TapThey have a great selection of flatbreads which proved very difficult to choose from. We settled for the Fig Flatbread with Laura Chanel Goat Cheese, poached figs, balsamic onions and fried sage.
Decadent, delicious and could’ve easily been dessert. Union Kitchen & Tap Union Kitchen & TapTo accompany our meals, we ordered a side of Kennebec Frites. These were delicious, but were served with a side of their house ketchup which I really disliked.
I think they flavour it with anise, which gave it a black liquorice taste.
Hate to stay it, but I’ll stick with the Heinz, thanks.  Union Kitchen & TapNote the T-shirt: reppin’ LDN in CA Union Kitchen & TapThen my monster arrived.
Green Eggs & Ham Burger with fried egg, prosciutto, oven roasted tomato and pesto. The flavour combination was incredible and the fried egg slathered with pesto was such a decadent topping.
Prosciutto is sort of a tricky meat to take bite size pieces of which made the messy burger even more difficult to eat, but gave it a great saltiness.
Matched with my favourite sweet potato fries, this is definitely a lunch worth coming back for.
Union Kitchen & TapUnion Kitchen & Tap

Union Kitchen & Tap

I would definitely recommend grabbing some friends and heading to UNION for a game and some great food.
And after, it’s only a short walk to the beach to work off the couple thousand calories.

To find out more about the restaurant, click here and for reservations, you can find their number here.

Bar Boulud

French Chef Daniel Boulud – say it with me, dan-yell boo-loo – decided to give his name to another restaurant and opened Bar Boulud in London’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel in 2010.

Reviews ranted and raved about his dishes, but I never got around to trying it.
In fact, the first time I ever tasted one of Boulud’s dishes was two years later at Taste of London 2012.
You may recall me raving about a certain perfect hot dog here.
Well, this bad boy belonged to Mr. Boulud himself.

A year later, I was surprised with sunflowers and taken to Bar Boulud for a celebration over a perfect hot dog. The restaurant was completely booked and buzzing with men sipping whisky in designer suits and elegant women dining dressed to the nines

Bar Boulud Bar Boulud Bar Boulud Bar Boulud We quickly decided that this was going to be a filthy celebration of maximum caloric intake. A mandatory order of the Tunisienne Hot Dog was made. A spicy lamb merguez served on a brioche bun with mint yoghurt and pepper stew.
The Tunisienne had great flavour from the mint yoghurt with a little bit of kick from the pepper stew, but was missing that snap that completes the perfect hot dog.
Bar Boulud

Bar Boulud Bar Boulud

A little bit let down, we moved on to bigger and better things.
Burgers.
From a selection of New York Grilled Beef Burgers we ordered the Piggie and the “BB”, as well as a mountain of frites.

Bar Boulud The award winning Pigge is a beef patty topped with bbq pulled pork, green chili, mayonnaise, bibb lettuce, red cabbage slaw and melted cheddar on a bun.
I must start by saying this little Piggie made me go wee wee wee all the way home. I couldn’t stop talking about the perfection of this burger and wish we had stopped our order here.
The texture from the cheddar melted on top of the top of the bun is what I would like to call the cherry on top. Beneath this cheesy bun lay perfect pulled pork, crunchy red cabbage slaw, crisp bibb lettuce, spicy chilli mayo and a smoky, succulent beef patty cooked to perfection.
Bar Boulud Bar Boulud This little piggie didn’t stand a chance. Bar Boulud

Then we came to the BB.
A luxurious, if not gluttonous, combination of beef patty, foie gras, red wine braised short ribs, truffle frisée, horseradish mayonnaise and confit tomato on a black onion seed bun.
Although the generous serving of foie was creamy and added a nice, rich texture to the burger, there’s nothing else about this burger I enjoyed.
The beef patty was overcooked, truffle was overpowering of both the horseradish mayonnaise and confit tomato and the braised short ribs seemed unnecessary.
Each ingredient should enhance and complement the dish, yet this burger felt more like what can we throw on here to make it more extravagant.
I was incredibly disappointed and wished that this little piggie had ended on the Piggie.
Our lovely waiter took the burger off our bill which left me slightly less bitter before ordering dessert.

Bar Boulud Bar Boulud Ah dessert.
Recovering from the bitter end of our meal, we over ordered on dessert.
First, the theatrical Coupe Peppermint suggested by the waiter.
Flourless sponge with hot chocolate sauce and mint-chocolate ice cream.
The chocolate disc on top was melted by a hot chocolate sauce poured over the top. This caved into the mint-chocolate ice cream below which had the flavour of fresh mint, rather then that fake, spearminty flavour.
As a result of the hot chocolate, it all became a sort of soupy, minty mush. And the described flourless sponge was apparently one bite-full hiding at the bottom which I wasn’t quick enough to taste.
Overall, although the presentation was exciting, the flavours and textures were not.

Bar Boulud Bar Boulud IMG_8070 IMG_8072 Bar Boulud Next to try was an assortment of macarons.
Now I must warn you, the macaron happens to be my favourite sweet treat and over the years I have become a bit of a macaron master through extensive taste testing research. This frequently results in over-analysation of these finicky confections and I’m often left disappointed.
Hesitantly, we ordered the assortment of macarons: chocolate lime, hazelnut and passionfruit.
Have you ever smelled a citronella scented mosquito candle?
If so, you’ll know exactly what this chocolate lime macaron tasted of. I can safely say both mosquitos and I will be staying far away from it.
The hazelnut macaron didn’t have the perfect texture, but had a nice, if not muted, flavour of hazelnut.
To save the day/plate, the passionfruit macaron had good texture and a lovely, strong passionfruit flavour.
Overall, I’d give a 1 1/2 out of 3.
Bar Boulud To finish on a sweet note, the Birmane.
Fresh mango julienne, saffron crumble, mango orange mousse and a blood orange sorbet.
The presentation was simple but beautiful in a small glass. The mousse was creamy and sweet and contrasted perfectly with the cold, sour sorbet. I only found one piece of saffron biscuit, but enjoyed the snap of saffron. The pieces of juicy blood orange and strips of mango added a great texture and overall I really loved the dessert.

Bar Boulud The food at Bar Boulud was good and I’m assuming that a one off mistake was made. The service was great with knowledgable, friendly staff that were attentive and happy to  rectify the burger mishap.

You can book a romantic date or caloric massacre here and I’d thoroughly recommend making a reservation as this place fills up quickly.

Welcome to London

It’s tourist-time and the Brits are all a-buzz with Olympic excitement. That is, those that haven’t fled the country in search of peaceful beaches and days filled with sunshine. So, you’re coming to London with all the excitement of a four year old on Christmas, but have done zero planning and have only been told by helpful friends and family to ensure you eat some Fish and Chips.

Fear not, I’m here to help!
First of all, we need to get some before travel organisation sorted. You’ve come to the right place as I happen to be the packing master. I always manage to perfectly smush everything into my case and have yet to forget an essential item.

What to Pack
A couple days before packing, make a little list of all the things you think you’ll need or must not forget. It seems silly, but things can get a bit hectic the morning you leave for the airport and there’s nothing worse than stirring from your tired daze on the way to catch your flight to a sinking feeling in your gut as you picture your passport sitting by the door at home. A checklist is just a super simple way to ensure you’ve got all the goods with you.


Clothes

This may be the city of fog and rain, but this time of year is hot and humid. Combine humidity with faulty air-conditioning on a packed unground train, and you have yourself a disastrous, sweaty concoction.
Bring light clothes, shorts, jeans, tshirts, tank tops, dresses, a cardigan or light jacket, and a rain coat just in case the weather changes. (it always changes)

Besides your passport, nothing is more important than comfortable walking shoes! If you’re coming to London, you will be doing a lot of walking. There’s nothing that puts an immediate damper on a sunny day of exploring like a blister. Personally, if i’m going to be sightseeing or walking around all day, there is nothing i’d rather wear than some workout clothes and running shoes. But, the Brits find this very odd. Here, work out clothes are for working out, period. If you’re happy to be spotted as a tourist from a mile away and want to just be comfortable, wear whatever you want. But please, no jeans and running shoes. Please.

If you plan on going to posh restaurants, afternoon tea, or clubbing, I’d suggest bringing a few nice dresses and one pair of black or nude pumps that go with everything. Men must have formal shoes and a nice shirt to get into a nightclub, no T-shirts or sneakers allowed.

Toiletries and Necessities
This seems obvious, but I have a few tips to travel light when it comes to toiletries.

I happen to have a strange obsession with travel size products. I don’t know what it is about a mini tube of toothpaste or mini bottles of shampoo that drives me crazy, but I love them. However, these wee gems are incredibly overpriced.
Here’s my tip: go to your grocery or drug store and purchase empty mini travel bottles. There are usually different sizes and containers designed for different consistencies of products. Fill up your containers with your favourite products, and put a little sticker labelling the contents.

A good toiletry bag is incredibly helpful for organised packing. If you’re in the US, I’d recommend Target or Sephora for the best travel bags. If you’re packing something that would be disastrous if a leak were to occur, put it in its own ziploc baggie before placing it with the other toiletries.

Bring sunscreen.
I know it may be overcast or raining most of the time, but even when the sun is no where to be seen, you are being exposed to UV rays. You should always use face moisturiser with at least SPF 15 and should cover the rest of your skin with protection to avoid becoming a tourist lobster.

Bring or buy a little hand held fan.
When you’re trapped on the underground in sweltering heat, smushed up against people with no regards for your personal space whatsoever, the only thing to help you through to the next stop is a little breeze blowing against your face.

Bring a secure bag.
A backpack isn’t ideal unless you have someone travelling with you that can keep an eye on it, or a way to keep the zippers secure. Big open purses are perfect for thieves to slip their hands in and steal your wallet, passport, phone, etc. London is reasonably safe, but thieves do operate in most touristy areas.

The most obvious of them all: bring or buy an umbrella. If you’re wondering why, you’ll soon find out.

Don’t panic if you forget an essential, you can pop into our drug store Boots whilst you’re here for any toiletries you need.

London Travel
The most important item for travelling around London is the Oyster Card.
This little card allows you to travel all around London by tube and bus. There are a number of options with this card and anyone behind the counter at the station will be happy to help, but i’m sure all stations will be packed for the Olympics so i’ll you give my advice.

I suggest buying an Oyster Card with a weekly travel pass for £25. The card itself is £5, so your total for one week would be £30, for two weeks, £50. You then select which zones you will be travelling in. If you’re in central London, zones 1 and 2 should cover it. You can top up your card with an extra £10 in case you travel out of the zones you have selected so it can be automatically deducted from your card. This card covers unlimited travel between buses and tubes so instead of paying every time you hop on and off, it’s one set price. Any questions can be answered on the TFL website: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/

What to see/What do do
We could be here all day if I were to tell you all the magnificent things to see and do in London. If you’ve never been, i’d suggest you do all the touristy sightseeing because it really is amazing. I’ll make a brief list of ideas of what to do, see, and eat. You can also check out my London page here for ideas.

See/Do
Take a picture with Big Ben and walk around Parliament Square, obviously
Ride the London Eye and walk by the river on South Bank
Take a River bus from London Eye Millennium to Greenwich
For a different view, visit St. Paul’s Cathedral and climb alllll the stairs to the top
Photo opps at Buckingham Palace, Changing of the Guards, Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square, Tower of London, Piccadilly Circus…
Walk through or have a picnic in Hyde Park and St. James Park
For shopping or to wander: Harrods, Selfridges, Oxford Street, & King’s Road
Go to the Theatre for a show or musical
Wander around Covent Garden & Neal’s Yard Wander around Soho
Wander around Leicester Square (pronounced Lester no Li-ches-ter you Yanks)
Go see Portobello Road and wander around Notting Hill
Free museums! V&A, Tate Modern, Tate Britain, The British Museum, etc.
Go clubbing in Mayfair
Alright, I think you’ll be plenty busy with all of that.

Eat
I could literally do this all day, but i’ll just put some of my favourites for taking visitors.  Afternoon Tea: one of my favourites is Sketch or the famous Savoy
Borough Market: Foodie Heaven. You must go here!
Visit Camden Town and go to the Food Market on a Sunday: whilst in Camden, pop into Chin Chin Laboratorists for the most amazing liquid nitrogen ice cream
Go to Brick Lane on a Sunday and visit the Food Market
Harrods and Selfridges Food Hall
My favourite Italian lunch: Princi
Fresh, Healthy lunch: Ottolenghi Best Breakfast: Modern Pantry
Best Fish & Chips: The Rock & Sole Plaice in Covent Garden
Best burgers: MEATliquor
Best Sushi: YashinRoka, and Nobu are pricey but phenomenal – Tsunami is more reasonable
Best Lebanese: Maroush is incredible and has locations all over London
Beautiful Afternoon in Richmond Park with lunch at Petersham Nurseries
Gorgeous desserts, the best macarons, and some good dim sum: Yautcha

If you’re starving whilst out and about and need something quick, pop into a Pret for a fresh, reasonably healthy sandwich. These are just as prevalent as Starbucks and should not be hard to find.

Alright, I think that’s a good starting point and i’m sure you already have plenty ideas of what to do. If you have any ideas or suggestions that i’ve missed, feel free to leave a comment.
I hope you have a memorable trip to London and that this post has been helpful! Take lots of pictures and have fun!

MEATliquor

Last night I indulged in a feast so despicable and so naughty, that I don’t quite know how to bring myself to tell you about it. But, I’ll try.

One menu is for meat, one menu is for liquor.
Seems quite simple, one may even say it seems underdone. But let me tell you, MEATliquor is far from underdone.

Co-owners, Scott Collins (liquor) and Yianni Papoutsis (meat) started out with a food truck so appropriately titled the MEATwagon. After gaining a burger-cult following, a permanent home for the wagon was established as MEATliquor. They hadn’t initially considered a location in the West End, but the previous unknown Italian joint tucked under a car park seemed to fit their seedy criteria.

As we joined the queue wrapped around the restaurant, the smell of grilling meat hung in the air. It was 10.30 pm and although the line seemed long, it moved quickly. After a twenty minute wait, we were pressed against the dark, glass doors, next to be allowed in.

Once inside, it takes a few seconds for your eyes to dilate in order to truly consume your surroundings. A red lit room with tables and booths bordering what can only be described as a pit. Above the pit, a dome covered in black, white, and red graffiti illustrations that also covers the walls. Exposed bulbs and neon red lights shine on the plastic meat curtains splattered with red paint giving the place a grunge, slaughterhouse look. Club music mixed with Rock&Roll plays loudly and the bartender can barely understand the boozy guests requesting more liquor.

The liquor menu offers a selection of interestingly named cocktails served in metal tumblers or jam jars. The Brit had The Donkey Punch which consisted of vodka, lime juice, ginger beer, and an absinthe rinse. I had Louisiana Jam – hold the Southern Comfort – with lime, apricot jam, mint, and fresh apple juice. I loved my drink, but only had a few sips as it was mostly ice. They also serve a House Grog which is limited to 2 per person – it’s that strong.

We were eventually seated at the mouth where the bar meets the restaurant, offering the perfect view of both drunkies and diners. After poring over the menu, The Brit ordered onion rings and The Dead Hippie: two mustard fried beef patties, lettuce, cheese, pickles, minced white onion and dead hippie sauce. I ordered fries, “not chips”, and The Green Chilli Cheeseburger: beef patty with cheese, lettuce, grilled red onion, and green chillies. I danced around on my chair whilst watching plates of heaped chilli cheese fries and stacked burgers whisk by.

And then it came. A tray lined with paper was smacked down in front of us, between the condiments and rolls of paper towels. This is burger eating diner style. These beasts are made to be eaten, not looked at. One bite of the sloppy, gooey, juicy burger and my eyes lit up. Fire tingled through my mouth and I couldn’t contain my devilish grin. The fries were smothered in salt, but tasted so incredible with the burning flame in my mouth. Then came my introduction to the Dead Hippie. My Americans, I have found an In & Out replacement. It is so far from the pristine white booths and hidden bible verses of my Californian burger joint, but the quality and execution of ingredients makes this the rebellious, miscreant cousin of In & Out. The two patties stacked on the Dead Hippie are much less intimidating in person and the melty, tangy, toppings are just beautiful together.

Intoxicated from the loud music, buzzing diners, strange atmosphere, and heavenly feast, it was all I could do to not pass out into a food coma right then and there. We tidied ourselves up with a roll of kitchen towels, and stared down at the aftermath of grease stained paper and splattered juices.

I have officially been MEATliquored.

This is a No Reservations Restaurant and i’d advise tweeting someone to find out how long the wait is. A fellow tweeter not only told me the wait time, but informed me to count my cash before paying as her waiter lost the money on the way to the till.

Sorry for the picture quality – I lightened the photos as much as I could while still retaining the mysterious factor.