Monday 14 January 2013

Some London Restaurants Serving Craft Beer

       It is very noticeable that many restaurants opening in London these days are making at least a small effort to have craft beer as part of their alcoholic drinks offering. While it is still true that wine dominates the restaurant drinks menu at every level, and especially at top end places, it is good to see that more venues are acknowledging the demand for good beer with food. The one area where this is most obvious is the huge amount of casual, affordable and on-trend restaurants that open at regular intervals in central London, often with a no bookings policy and an inexplicably large amount of twitter followers. Hopefully, beer appearing in these places is a result of informed, sustainable consumer demand, and not just an obligatory nod to what is trendy right now. Either way, now is a good time to be going out to eat in central London if you like a beer with dinner. Here are a few examples;
        Meat Mission in Shoreditch is the latest opening from the people behind Meat Liquor and Meat Market, purveyors of burger fetishism and high priced junk food. For fans of the format this is another winner, with the heavy metal club meets disused church vibe in full swing. Service was slow on our visit but generally worth the wait, the classic cheeseburger and fries essentially faultless; an ode to salt, fat and sugar. The much raved about monkey fingers (fried chicken in buffalo sauce) were good when piping hot but a bit slimy after a few minutes. Served with a blue cheese dip, this is in every sense not for the faint hearted. A more varied menu of sandwiches, and combinations of meat, chilli and fries that are assembled into dishes labeled ‘onnaplate’ complete a guiltily enticing menu which largely delivers on flavour and texture. To accompany this there are several good draft beers available, including Budvar Dark and Yeast. The Yeast (an unfiltered version) was sublime, arriving in a 3 pint flagon looking a million dollars and tasting better; a perfect fresh, clean and balanced contrast to the heavy food. None of this is particularly cheap – a pint, a starter, a burger and fries will set you back around £20, but this is not unusual for London and the quality of both beer and food is high.  
         Getting a table in Honest Burger in Soho (there is another in Brixton) takes almost exactly the same time as a flight from London to Hamburg, where one might reasonably expect to find a decent example of what is now fast becoming a ubiquitous foodstuff in the capital. Fortunately if you do opt to leave a name and number and return somewhat closer to midnight than intended, the burgers here are very good. You might expect them to be, as they have done away with traditional burdens like starters, deserts and coffee to be essentially a one dish café, ranging from a burger and chips (£7.50) to a burger and chips with some extra stuff (£9). Prices then, are very reasonable for this part of town and portions are decent. The patties themselves could be bigger, but are generally exemplary in flavour, and the generous portion of chips had everyone raving about them until halfway through when the rosemary just became too strong. London’s Redchurch make up the craft part of the beer menu, with the Shoreditch Blonde pretty good and the Bethnal Pale Ale excellent – juicy new world hop flavours and a lasting bitterness. This is a fast improving brewery and it is good to see it represented in such a busy place. Overall this is a fun place to go with friends for a cheap dinner but nothing you haven’t seen before. 
       Perhaps the only food more on trend right now than the burger is ramen, the Japanese noodle soup that delivers just as much fat with a bit more style. Of all the new Ramen joints opened recently, the most talked about is probably Bone Daddies, again in Soho and again with a slight queue problem. Walk through the unmarked black curtains and if you are lucky there will be a table free, as there is no leaving your name and number here and no bar area to wait your turn. Once you are sat down things get good pretty fast though – starting with the smoky, bitter, spicy chilli condiment on the table. This is great with their fried chicken, which at £5 a pop is more expensive than you pay in KFC but is a whole lot better. The ramen itself should be the star of the show, and thankfully it is - big bowls of colourful, steaming noodles arrive swimming in sticky, velvety liquid, salty and warming, luxurious yet uncomplicated. The 20 hour pork broth in the Tonkotsu is deep, rich, fatty and satisfying, and although the pork and noodles were unremarkable the boiled egg floating within it was a sensational squidgy mouthful. The Tantamen version with chicken broth and pork mince was far more dynamic, being sweeter and spicier, but became a little cloying toward the end of the bowl. Although they are expensive (£9-£11 each) these are interesting, exciting dishes that fill and thrill in equal measure. Hoppy, fresh beers are just the thing to have with this type of food, and alongside the expected Asahi and sake, The Kernel's Pale Ale (whichever ones are current) and Redchurch offer something local and desirably bitter to counteract all the richness.
     Although it would be nice to see more thought going into restaurant beer menus, and eventually more emphasis on knowledge and actually pairing and matching, for now it is simply good to see high quality, in-demand eateries recognizing the qualities of beer.   

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