Gourmet Diner Trend Arrives in London
The latest hot dining trend is London is...good food at affordable prices. Who'd have thought? The city has endless excellent restaurants, but wallet-friendly prices are generally not on the menu. Moreover, these new good-value restaurants specialize in fresh takes on, well, traditional American dishes, producing what might be called "gourmet diner cuisine."
There is a catch, of course. They do not take reservations, so until their popularity wears off you may find yourself waiting in line, and they each have highly-specialized menus with a limited choice of dishes. Low prices mean low overhead, so we're talking cheap silverware and paper napkins. On the other hand, the service is fast, the atmosphere fun and funky, and the food is absolutely delicious.
This small (35 seats) stripped-brick room in the media hub neighborhood of Fitzrovia specializes in additive-free hotdogs, whether beef, pork, or veggie, served in plastic baskets with a variety of toppings. The classic New Yorker (£6.50) comes with the familiar smothered onions or sauerkraut, but there also are more exotic offerings, like a Mexican-themed version with salsa and avocado or one with with kimchee for lovers of Korean food.
This is one of the few places in the UK where you will find actual proper buns imported fresh from the US (Brits have a tendency to use substitutes like baguettes) and the mustard in a squeezy tube is the genuine neon yellow kind.
Ok, so that's the dogs. The "bubble" refers to an extensive, well-chosen sparkling wine list, mostly sourced from small producers—no Moet or Cristal here. You can spend £6.50 for a glass or as much as for £70 a bottle. There are also highly creative cocktails. Come expecting an excellent champagne bar where excellent hotdogs are the bar food and you won't be disappointed.
The Chicken Shop
With its low wood ceiling, mahogany-lined walls (one from a library, the other a Brazilian wood refrigerator), red leather (as opposed to leatherette) chairs, and hand-crafted recreations of classic formica tables, The Chicken Shop is a cross between a diner and one of those hipster bars with sawdust on the floor.
Free-range chicken is served on enamel trays in three sizes: a quarter (£4), and half, and a whole (£14.50), with generous portions. More importantly, the meat is unbelievably juicy and tender, thanks to being steamed before being char-grilled (if you sit at the butcher's block counter you can see the chickens turning on a spit over the grill), and deliciously spicy, the result of being marinated for 24 hours in paprika.
Everything comes in threes: The accompaniments (crinkle-cut fries, lightly-dressed coleslaw, and grilled corn on the cob), the wine ("house", "decent," and "good"), and desserts. The yummy home-baked deep-dish apple pie—soft, sweet apple chunks and cinnamon under a light flaky crust—is a bargain at £4.
With no signage to give the location away, the Chicken Shop has the feel of an insider's hangout, perhaps not surprising considering it's owned by Nick Jones, the man behind private members' club Soho House. It's located not far from Hampstead Heath, underneath a (signed) pizza restaurant also owned by Jones.
Pitt Cue Co.
This 30-seat hole-in-the-wall aims to recreate Tennessee in Soho with a combination of barbeque, bourbon, and blues. The free-range pork is smoked for 12 hours before being pan-fried so the fat infuses the meat, making it meltingly soft and flavorsome. Pulled pork on a brioche bun with BBQ mayo, smoked red peppers, and cucumber pickles is £9.75, while smoked ribs are £12.95. The bar specializes in bourbons, whiskeys, and ryes from small American producers like Knob Creek or Eagle Rare. And if you can't get in, they do takeout.
Those in search of burgers are spoilt for choice. There's Honest Burgers (branches in Soho and Brixton), home of tender, succulent burgers on a brioche bun, and, the grand-daddy of the "Gourmet Diner," MEATliquor (Marylebone and Covent Garden), serving deliciously sloppy, juicy burgers on steamed sourdough buns. Fried chicken, meanwhile, gets the gourmet treatment at the floating Rita's (various locations in Dalston, East London) and the soon-to-open Wishbone in Brixton.
Photo Credits: Bubbledogs: Paul Winch-Furness/Bubbledogs; Chicken Shop: Courtesy of The Chicken Shop; Pitt Cue Co: Pitt Cue Co., Soho, London by Ewan Munro
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License; Honest Burgers: Courtesy of Honest Burgers
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