Time for a really big burger

Having taken my eldest for an early evening shopping trip, we decided to grab a bite to eat before heading home.

We didn’t really know what we wanted. Two places did appeal, Casa Brasil and The Real Greek, however both of these are so new they haven’t opened yet.

The Real Greek is replacing Chimmi-changa. I did have a nice meal there a couple of years ago, but hadn’t been back since. Quite like the idea of the new Greek place.

Casa Brasil, which is next door to Pizza Express will be an all you can eat barbecue restaurant. Again quite like the sound of this place.

However as both hadn’t opened yet, we had to make another choice. I was finding this quite a challenge but in the end the 2-4-1 on mains at Giraffe was the deciding factor. This seemed quite a generous offer for a Friday night, but then I wasn’t complaining. I was still being indecisive so went the Giraffe Ultimate Burger, where my eldest went with the beef brisket burger. So I enjoyed my burger, I think he made the better choice.

Burger

This was a generous burger complete with bacon and cheese, as well as two beef patties. This was full of flavour, not overly seasoned. A bit challenging to eat with your heads (as you would with a smaller burger) so out with the knife and fork. did enjoy eating the burger and the fries were nice.

Reflecting I realised there are quite a few burger places in Cabot Circus, there is the Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK), Five Guys, Frankie and Benny’s must sell a fair few burgers as well. They are a staple of Coal too. Both Zizzi and Bella Italia has them on their menu too, not sure how Italian they are though?

I quite liked the environment at Giraffe, the staff were welcoming and friendly. With the two for one offer, it was also quite reasonably priced.

If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad!

I have been to a few of these new “gastro” burger places and have enjoyed most of them. In Newcastle overnight for a meeting the next day, myself and a colleague from work were looking for a place for a bite to eat. We chose Byron.

We were given a warm welcome from the staff and given a really nice table by the window. It’s quite a large place and for a Tuesday night I thought it was quite busy. It’s a relatively smart décor combined with a warm atmosphere made it quite a pleasant place to be on a cold wintery evening.

Looking over the menu, I decided that I didn’t really fancy beef or chicken, so went with one of the vegetarian options.

This was a grilled Portobello mushroom, with goat’s cheese, roasted red pepper, baby spinach, tomato, red onion and aioli. Served in a squishy bun.

I had it alongside some fries and the house salad.

The burger was nice and full of flavour. The combination of ingredients worked well and it was very tasty.

The fries were crisp, hot and fresh, maybe a little too much salt, I prefer my fries without salt.

The salad was a nice simple salad, alas it was overdressed, I would have preferred it with the dressing on the side.

Overall a really nice meal, great service and nice environment. It was quite a limited menu, it’s just burgers, but if you are looking for a burger then why not have a look.

Eating at the diner

Butlins American Diner

Recently I was on holiday at Butlins in Minehead. One evening we went to the relatively new Diner. This is an American style diner complete with booths, signage and singers.

It was much bigger on the inside then it looked from the exterior, somewhat like the TARDIS. It was quite early and we had a choice of seats, in the end we chose a booth close to the juke box. Alas the jukebox was fake… I didn’t quite understand why there was a fake jukebox, well actually I did, it was there for aesthetic purposes and not so diners could choose some music. The diner had music, but we as diners had no choice. I also wonder if it was a cost saving measure, as I know a juke box can be expensive to run, both in terms of licensing but also in maintenance. I did wonder if they could go with a digital jukebox. I did make the suggestion to the staff that they should get a real jukebox.

As I was in an American style diner, I decided to go with a burger and had the Fonz. This was a prime 6oz beefburger topped with Monterey Jack cheese, crispy bacon, BBQ sauce and diced avocado. Stacked up with homemade onion rings.

Fonz Burger

Was I surprised when the meal arrived in what could only be called a cutlery draining basket! Why can’t we have plates? What is wrong with plates? I think these basket things are quite normal in US diners. However the burger was delicious. I was less impressed with the roll, which was a standard floured bap. It was supposed to be a glazed brioche bun, but they had run out!

The ‘slaw was really interesting, this was no standard cheap coleslaw. I really liked the small peppers that it had. Not sure for this convention of called coleslaw, slaw, is this an American thing?

I really enjoyed the burger and I did feel that they had captured what an American diner from the movies and television was like. Was it like a real authentic American diner? Probably not, but this was Minehead!

Snow and Burgers

1/4 pound burger  made with Lye Cross Farm beef, with local mature Cheddar cheese and red onion marmalade (from Rose Farm in Wedmore, served in a fresh toasted bun baked by Pullins family bakery in Yatton. Accompanied by a half pint enamel mug of rock salt seasoned fries and slaw, made from vegetables from Chew Valley Farm.

Down in the Mendips (near to Churchill) is the Mendip Snowsport Centre. Here you can ski and snowboard. For the younger ones they can go tobogganing, and as the centre runs tobogganing parties, I sometimes find myself in the Alpine Lounge with an hour to kill. I usually take advantage of their free wifi with a coffee and catch up with stuff. Recently I was there for a late afternoon, so decided to peruse the menu and have something to eat. It’s quite a limited menu, burgers, paninis, and breakfast items. The menu uses a range of local produce, sourced from Mendip farms, Somerset suppliers and local breweries, all of which is clearly signposted on the menu.

I chose the 1/4 pound burger made with Lye Cross Farm beef, with local mature Cheddar cheese and red onion marmalade (from Rose Farm in Wedmore, served in a fresh toasted bun baked by Pullins family bakery in Yatton. Accompanied by a half pint enamel mug of rock salt seasoned fries and slaw, made from vegetables from Chew Valley Farm. I also ordered some extra onion rings.

It arrived on a wooden board, complete with a mug of chips! For those who campaign for real plates with food, they would be very disappointed with the presentation. Personally, though I prefer plates, I don’t mind it that much when they are “missing”.

The burger was nicely cooked, very fresh and full of flavour. The cheese and red onion marmalade added to the easting experience. The chips were nice and hot, crispy on the outside with a soft fluffy middle and tasting of potato. The roll was a slight disappointment, not quite the brioche style posh rolls you often get with your up market burgers, and neither a plastic white roll you would get from a burger van. The slaw was nice and fresh and very crunchy. It was nice to have a bottle of Butcombe Ale with the burger too.

Overall this was a nice burger with some tasty accompaniments. At £7.50 it is not a lot more than you would pay at Burger King on the motorway services (I believe) but this burger was much better value for money and certainly much tastier, as well as having a fair idea of what it was made from. You don’t need to ski or snowboard to go to the Alpine Lounge and with free wifi, it’s quite a nice place to stop for lunch or for a snack.

That’s a darn fine cherry pie!

On the A420 from Oxford to Swindon are some roadside services. In the past there was a Little Chef located there, but that closed in February 2012.

In June a new venture took over the location and opened the Cherry Pie Diner.

Cherry Pie Diner

This is an independent company and this is their first physical location, they are expecting to open another soon in Grove. In addition they have a mobile trailer they take to events.

I have seen the diner a few times as I passed by, but never really had the time, the opportunity or the inclination to stop there for something to eat. No point in stopping if you’re not hungry. I usually catch the train to work, so I don’t drive much, and usually when I do drive, I probably use the A34 and then the M4 rather than the A420. The one time I did have some spare time to stop, it hadn’t actually opened.

However last Friday, knowing that the M5 would be a bit of “car park” took my time leaving Oxford and having missed lunch, decided to stop at the Cherry Pie Diner for a break and something to eat. The fact it was also the 4th July, made this visit a little special too.

Having parked the car in the large car park, I looked over the building. From the outside, despite some attempt to “Americanise” the exterior, you could tell that this was once a Little Chef. I went to try and find the menu in the window. When it comes to eating out, I can be somewhat indecisive, so like to look over the menu before committing. There wasn’t a menu in the window or by the door, so I was forced to commit, I needed to go in and ask! So I opened the door and went in…

Inside I looked around the tables, booths, red and white, it felt like an American Diner. Now I should point out that I have never been to the USA, so have never been into an authentic American Diner, the closest I have got is through the movies and the odd television show, such as the X-Files. The decor and ambience certainly met my expectations, this did not feel like Oxfordshire, it felt more like Arizona or Delaware. The tables, the chairs, even the uniforms, gave this a real authentic feel, much more so than places such as TGI Fridays where they try to do something similar and I think that place feels artificial, the Cherry Pie Diner felt real.

The place was full of people and all the tables and booths were full. There was a member of staff smiling as I entered, I explained I was in a hurry and asked how long service would take, she checked with the kitchen and I was assured that it was quite fast. In the end I sat on a bar stool at a high table and looked over the one page menu.

There was a lot of breakfast options, but this was Friday evening, so I wanted something more substantial. There was quite a limited choice. However I don’t see this as a negative, on the contrary, I found it rather reassuring. The problem with a four page menu, the kind of thing you find at Little Chef (or pub chains) is that it means the food is cooked to a system and very little of it would be freshly cooked. A more limited menu, generally means that the food is cooked to order from fresh, and not re-heated.

Alongside the breakfast menu, the main offering was hotdogs and burgers and variants of these. There were some sides on offer, as well as salads, ribs and a couple of vegetarian options. Though only a page, there was for me a fair bit of choice. As for drinks, there were two pages to that menu!

I was tempted to go with some buffalo wings, as for me that is a good test of the cooking in a place like this, are they cooked from fresh, or merely cooked in advance and then re-heated once ordered? However I knew I didn’t have a huge amount of time, so maybe later.

I went with the Cheesy Chariot Burger, a 6oz burger patty which according to the menu is made to a “secret recipe” using 100% locally sourced beef. It was served
in a bun with shredded iceberg lettuce, beefsteak tomato, sliced dill pickle and a “signature” Cherry Pie Diner relish. Alongside was a small portion of slaw and a bowl of fries.

Cheesy Burger

The burger was nice and I enjoyed it. I think the burger itself lacked though a depth of flavour I was expecting from a such a good looking burger. The bun was good, full of flavour and tasted very fresh. The cheese was so much better than the “plastic” cheese you find in most burgers, as was the pickle and the salad. The fries were fresh and crisp, however the slaw was a little sharp for my taste, they needed a slightly sweeter onion perhaps.

I went for a “classic” coke alongside the burger (I was driving) and it came in a bottle. Personally I much prefer the bottled version over the pump post-mix that was also available. I was tempted to have a milk shake, but in the end went with the cola. It was nicely chilled and I was offered more ice in my glass if I wanted it, you know to be more authentic. I am not a great fan of having coke over a glass full of ice, it waters it down too much for my liking, so I left it as it was, just a few cubes of ice in there.

Overall the food was very good, and for a roadside service station I thought it was very good value for money, the burger and fries were £11 and the cola was £2.30. You could easily spend nearly that amount at a Burger King on the motorway services.

Where I think this place will win out, over other service stations, will be in the quality of the service. Here they need to do a little more work, they are so nearly there, but I am guessing there are still a few teething issues to resolve. Don’t get me wrong, when I first walked in I thought, oh this looks really busy and I don’t really have time to wait too long for food, but when asked and true to their word, they were pushing the orders out really fast. So I didn’t have to wait too long for my food once ordered, though there was a delay in ordering, despite me telling one of the staff I was in a bit of a hurry. There seemed to be too many staff hanging around, either welcoming customers or talking to them, or even just standing around doing nothing, with only a dedicated couple actually taking orders! As I said though, once the order was placed, the food arrived very quickly. My drink though arrived after the food… now they are missing a trick, as I probably would have ordered two drinks in the time I was there, but the first didn’t arrive until much later, so as a result I only ordered one drink.

I did find it amusing though, after placing my order I popped to the men’s room and when I came back, one of the staff, I think she was a manager or supervisor, said to me “thanks for coming, goodbye”. I thought at least let me eat my food first! She did come and apologise once she realised that I hadn’t actually eaten yet.

These really are minor quibbles, as the quality of the service was good, the staff were smiling, friendly, and though the place was packed out, it was speedy and quick.

I liked the environment, it felt like an American Diner and I will go again.

Cajun Burger

Cajun Burger

The last time I had a burger at a restaurant was at Bella Italia and I really enjoyed it. It had flavour and texture and was a really enjoyable meal.

On a recent visit to Frankie and Benny’s I had a Cajun Burger. Now I was hoping to get a similar good burger, however I was to be slightly disappointed.

It was a highly processed burger and not what I was expecting at all. It had a very fine texture and wasn’t exactly full of flavour. The bun however was nice and the garnish for the burger was good as well.

The fries were crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. The relish came out of a jar, I did expect that, however it is the rare place these days that make their own relishes, and you wouldn’t expect that in a restaurant chain.

The one thing that I would have liked alongside the burger was some salad, but I guess that would be a side order that would be extra.

Overall the Cajun Burger was nice and tasty, I am guessing that my expectations were high and what I got wasn’t what I was expecting.

Dinner, wasn’t that good…

Despite a reputation, I don’t spend that much time travelling and staying away from home. However the other day I found myself in the Holiday Inn Express in Burnley. I hadn’t done my homework so I wasn’t sure what was available in the local area and it was quite late (due to big problems on the M6) as a result I decided that the “easy” solution would be to eat in the hotel. When I saw the menu my initial thought was to go and find somewhere else… however it was late so I took the plunge.

It was very apparent that most of the menu items would be prepared in the microwave, so I went with the special, which was a double BBQ burger with salad and chips.

a double BBQ burger with salad and chips

Please note that the menu said BBQ and not barbecue or barbeque. What it consisted of was two meat patties in a burger roll with onion rings and a BBQ sauce. It was served with some lettuce (no way could this be described as a salad) and chips. It was priced at £9.99 which was cheaper than many of the main menu options. When I looked at the menu, it was a combination of the choice and the price which made me think about going somewhere else.

The chips were typical mass catering chips, pre-cooked slightly and cooked to order. They were crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside. There is a huge difference between the freshly cooked chips you get in a fish and chip shop and those that are cooked in places like pubs and hotels. The main difference is that with the chips I got that they are partly pre-cooked before been frozen. So when they cook them they fry much quicker than if they cooked them from freshly cut potatoes. I am aware that some places use these chips, cook them, and then reheat them in the fryer when the order comes in. As a result they are fried three times, which increases the fat content as well as making them more crunchy and less fluffy. It may be just me, but when I have a burger I prefer having smaller fries over chunky chips.

The less said about the lettuce, probably the better.

The burger was a real disappointment, I wasn’t convinced the burgers had even been grilled, they looked and tasted like they had been microwaved. The BBQ sauce was sticky and over sweetened.

Overall the meal was a real disappointment, but I wasn’t expecting anything special. The one thing it will make me do is do more research and find places in advance, so I don’t have to rely on this kind of place in the future.

Raking over the Coals

Cabot Circus

Out in Bristol and needing somewhere for lunch, we avoided the huge queue for Nando’s and went to the Coal Grill and Bar in Cabot Circus. I still can’t get over the popularity of Nando’s in Cabot Circus, everytime I pass it at lunchtime there is a queue of at least ten to twenty people wanting to eat there. It’s not as though there isn’t a choice as within literally spitting distance is Bella Italia, Giraffe, Frankie and Benny’s, La Tasca and Yo! Sushi. Within a few minutes are about another six to ten restaurants. However regardless of that choice and availability, people are still queuing for Nando’s. I think the other aspect that “confuses” me is that this isn’t some kind of area known for eating out, it’s a shopping centre, people are shopping and I would expect generally that most people want to stop for a reasonably quick lunch. Why would you then in addition spend anything up to half an hour queuing for lunch at Nando’s before you even sit down? Why? Okay I know it’s a place that serves chicken… but it’s chicken? It’s not even if the prices are that different then any of the other places around. Also it’s basically just chicken, whereas the other places have a little more choice on their menus. Ah well, one day I may understand… until then I will remain confused.

So we didn’t go to Nando’s, nor did we go to Yo! Sushi. In the main as the children were with us and though I know one of them loves sushi, the middle one would probably give it a go, the smallest of the three was adamant that she wanted pizza. I know for a fact that Yo! Sushi don’t do pizza, I am not even sure if they do any kind of kids menu. So we did consider Bella Italia, having had a fair few nice meals up in the Cribbs branch, but it was full. We did a quick look round at menus and decided to try out Coal.

We’ve never been before and though they have a few branches across the UK, they’re not that big a chain, so much so that all the branches they have, are listed complete with addresses on the back of a business card.

It was busy, but the polite and smiling manager found us a huge circular booth for the five of us. I forget sometimes that five is an odd number for eating out, it’s not two or four, which seems to be the norm for tables these days at restaurants. In the past it wasn’t too bad as the smallest member of the family would sit in a high chair next to us. She is now a little taller and “grown-up” so has a proper chair now.

We ordered drinks and perused the menu. I did feel that the kids menu lacked a little imagination, but my smallest was happy that they did pizza and the middle one was pleased to be able to choose Spaghetti Bolognese, one of his favourite dishes. Now in case you were thinking that my smallest is a little bit fussy, well she is in her own way, however having said that, she does enjoy linguine tossed with pesto and pancetta, and prefers mature cheddar cheese.

My eldest wasn’t quite sure what to have. He’s ten now and in many ways is too old for the kids menu and often prefers to have something from the main menu. After looking over the menu, he seemed to not know what to choose, so I suggested the Chimichanga (£9.95). This was a flour tortilla stuffed with spicy chicken, tomato salsa and cheese with a side of guacamole, sour cream and garlic rice. He does like this kind of thing and he had missed it when looking over the menu. He really liked it and finished the plate off. Personally I thought it lacked colour and looked a little drab, white tortilla on a bed of white rice with sour cream, with only a little guacamole and salad leaves for colour! Yes the inside of the tortilla had tomato, but that was offset by the white chicken!

Chimichanga flour tortilla stuffed with spicy chicken, tomato salsa and cheese with a side of guacamole, sour cream and garlic rice

My wife went with the Crayfish Salad (£9.65), crayfish tails and avocado mixed leaves, toasted croutons, sundried tomatoes. Though she enjoyed it she wasn’t too impressed with the sundried tomatoes as they lacked vitality and flavour. It did look very nice and certainly there were generous servings of both crayfish and avocado.

I was quite impressed with the range on the menu, but looking over it , and in the end, I decided on the Classic Burger (£9.45).

Classic burger tomato, lettuce, coal-slaw, spicy relish and chips

I really did fancy something from the grill, but likewise didn’t want to spend too much money. I liked how you could choose between having chicken or beef in your burger. I also think that a classic dish such as this gives you a really good idea on the quality of the ingredients and the effort that has gone into food preparation. Presentation was different, but looked impressive. The burger came in a good looking bun, a large slice of tomato and a single lettuce leaf. This was a very good burger, great texture, delicious and cooked to perfection. I also enjoyed the burger bun. The chips came in a miniature deep fat fryer, they were crispy, partly as they had been cooked twice, something I don’t always like, as they can be a little too greasy. Accompanying was some coleslaw and a spicy relish. I enjoyed the whole dish and it worked very well.

The service was excellent, just right, not too over the top that you find at some places, and likewise neither the unavailable kind you get at others. It was friendly and professional and family friendly.

Overall I was really pleased with the whole experience at Coal, it was a nice environment, comfortable atmosphere, great food, excellent service. All in all I enjoyed the meal, and would certainly visit again.

Okay Frankie, not too bad, this time

The last time I went to Frankie and Benny’s I wasn’t that impressed with my Calamari Salad. I decided back then that if I had a choice then I probably wouldn’t choose them as a place to eat. However having been invited out to a family dinner, I found myself once more sitting down and looking at the menu in Frankie and Benny’s.

To be honest I did quite like the idea of a salad with calamari, but remembering my last experience I thought that wouldn’t be such a good idea.

In the end looking over the whole of the menu, I went with the special menu with two courses for £10.95, which is available every day except Saturday.

For my starter I went with the chicken wings: Buffalo Chicken Wings – Large chicken wings tossed in Louisiana hot sauce. Served with a blue cheese dip and crunchy celery sticks.

Buffalo Chicken Wings - Large chicken wings tossed in Louisiana hot sauce. Served with a blue cheese dip and crunchy celery sticks

You got four half wings that were pre-cooked, heated up and then covered in some weird very hot spicy orange sauce. I wouldn’t have called the wings I got as “large”. As for the blue cheese dip, I went without, not a fan of that. As for celery, well I have never seen the point of celery, really don’t like and yes I have tried and I really really don’t like it. I do like chicken wings, which is why I ordered this dish.

I thought the orange sauce was a little too hot and spicy, so much so that it overpowered the flavour of the chicken. For me spicy is nice, but it should complement and enhance the flavour of the food it accompanies, not overwhelm it. If that is what it does, just eat the sauce on its own.

For my main, I did think long and hard and in the end went with a burger. New Yorker Burger – Our 6oz grilled hamburger topped with BBQ sauce, pepper jack cheese, mayo and bacon, piled high with Cos lettuce and fresh tomato in a toasted sesame seed bun. Served with house fries and tomato-chilli relish on the side.

New Yorker Burger - Our 6oz grilled hamburger topped with BBQ sauce, pepper jack cheese, mayo and bacon, piled high with Cos lettuce and fresh tomato in a toasted sesame seed bun. Served with house fries and tomato-chilli relish on the side.

I forgot to ask for salad so got fries instead. The cheese was very gloopy and sticky, but the burger itself was actually very nice and full of flavour. I love the description of “piled high” as there was one lettuce leaf and one slice of tomato. I wonder if they really think that is piled high!

As I didn’t eat all the fries I did decide to have a pudding. with the £10.95 menu you can have a pudding from a selected range for just £2.25 which seemed a lot more reasonable than the cost of puddings from the main menu. As is the case with puddings from Frankie’s it will either be a constructed ice cream style desert or something heated with ice cream. I went with the Hot Chocolate Waffle – A warm cinnamon waffle topped with two scoops of vanilla ice cream, smothered in chocolate sauce and topped with crunchy honeycomb.

Hot Chocolate Waffle - A warm cinnamon waffle topped with two scoops of vanilla ice cream, smothered in chocolate sauce and topped with crunchy honeycomb.

It was to be honest what I expected, a warmed pre-cooked waffle with ice cream and chocolate sauce, though not enough honeycomb. It was nice, though quite sweet. I should have ordered a black coffee to go with it to offset that sweetness, actually a black tea would have been nice. Something I learnt many years ago was how nice black tea is with very sweet puddings.

Overall I enjoyed my meal, I think my very low expectations were a big factor in that, I wasn’t expecting high cuisine, sophisticated and lever cooking. What I got was typical chain cooking and it was okay.

Burger at the Sainsbury Cafe

Whilst getting a quick lunch at the cafe in Sainsbury, what I wanted was off the menu, so needing to make a quick decision I decided to go for a burger.

It came with chips, coleslaw and some salad. The chips were double cooked, which means they were cooked properly, went cold and were cooked again. Places do that because it is quicker and they can get food out faster to the customer. Personally I don’t like it, as the chips can be quite greasy and over cooked.

I did like the fact that they had used real cheese and not the plastic cheese you get on most burgers you can buy from fast food joints. It was quite a nice burger and had a reasonably good flavour. Didn’t think too much of the burger bun though.

Overall it wasn’t that bad, quite nice in fact, however not sure if I would get it again.