Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Bone Daddies: the stock falls

None of the Ramen bars beat Tonkotsu.

Last year I went through phase of eating Ramen. More accurately London did, but I followed. I gave up the burgers, steaks and good beer and started trying to drink stock from bowls using chopsticks.

Distressingly it seems I shouldn't have made such a leap. I should have landed halfway, with a ramen burger...

Still, by the time I realised my mistake, I was kind of hooked on downing soup using wooden sticks. I'd also discovered that they usually give you a spoon. A really BIG spoon. A ladle in fact. I was wowed by Tonkotsu several times, semi-wooed by Shoryu and thoroughly mistreated by Koya (although like a cheated-on naive teenager, I'll probably give them another chance). But then ramen got a bit less trendy. The explosion was more of a seepage, and I was distracted by my first-ever good kebab. And my first-ever sober kebab.

So I was surprised as anyone to find myself sat down in Bone Daddies, our Western bastardisation of Ramen – with added rock music, craft beer and eastern European waiters – hoping that this would attract the people who regard a McChicken Sandwich as something a bit different. So I took an instant dislike to the place. I had to sit on a stool, with my legs dangling like a school boy in the headmaster's office. I was so close to my neighbour I got splash back from his stock. And the music was too loud.

Still, I am a food blogger, and I'm currently only doing the latter. Our starters were super – soft-shell crab with chilli and ginger; crunchy chilled tenderstem broccoli with fiery yuzu mayo; and... well... beans. The broccoli in particular, which you can get at their sister restaurant Flesh & Buns, was brilliant. That mayo is just off the scale – spicy, sweet, sour, creamy, spiky. All the things.

And so to the ramen. For direct comparison I went for the tonkotsu, which is essentially a super thick, marrowy pork broth – a dish that 12 months ago I would have been cynical about. Now I love the stuff – salty, meaty and filled with sweet crunchy veg and a gooey Clarence Court egg. Bone Daddies was slammed with stuff in contrast to its rivals. The broth was cloudy like the Shoryu ramen, while Tonkotsu's is clear (if anyone wants to explain that to me...), and comes in second, mostly because while Shoryu and Bone Daddies insist on using dry meat, Tonkotsu use lovely moist roasted pork that's so much more satisfying than the stringier stuff, which belongs on a Sunday roast.

So if you're feeling the January blues and need some hot stock to perk you up, you could do worse than Bone Daddies. But you could do better, and go to Tonkotsu. But maybe stop off for some broccoli on the way home.

Bone Daddies on Urbanspoon

Duke's Brew & Que: brilliant beneath the surface

The details are wrong, but the concept perfect.

If by some mad chance you've read one of my reviews before, you'll know that I'm a sucker for a good beer list. That's why I started my (admittedly much more successful) other foodie project, the Craft Beer Channel.

Now, some restaurants have great beer lists. Byron for one, who work with Camden Town Brewery to find new brews and even make their own lager. The Fish & Chip Shop have a decent list too, and of course MEATliquor, Honest et al champion good beers as well. In fact, after a slightly lacklustre meat fest at Smokehouse, it was their incredible craft beer list that really saved they day (they had Mikkeller on DRAUGHT for god's sake).

But Duke's Brew & Que, where I went on a cold, rainy, kind-of-Christmassy "ladz" night, is off the scale. Firstly it's attached to Beavertown Brewery, one of the finest new London breweries, so it has their entire back catalogue. Their Gamma Ray and Smog Rocket in particular are fantastic, and Neck Oil, a session IPA, is pretty damned flavourful too for 4.2%.

But like every good brewery bar, they also stock a load of other breweries' booze, rightly to champion the entire movement. And boy did they have some fantastic stuff, including heaven of heavens - Dark Star Revelation, one of my favourite beers of all time.

But enough of that. As a place it's strange. The outside is lined with a tent, like it's undergoing Fumigation. Inside it has a diner-esque feel that's nice and buzzy, but with the bar taking up such a large amount of the room if you're sat at a bad table you can feel a little like you're on display. This unease wasnt helped by how rushed we were. I do find it bizarre when restaurants say "we can get you a table, but we need it back within 90 minutes". As if that's up to us. Any delays are going to be cause by the waiters and chefs, not the diners.

Ahem. That said, with a friend running late, we necked two pints and then were forced to order for him. So we got four of their platters, featuring a foot-long beef rib, pork rib, pulled pork, slaw, pickles and Parmesan bread. If that sounds like a lot, that's because it is.

But then he didn't show up.

I didn't realise quite how much I'd eaten until, four days later, I still couldn't say (or indeed write) the words "beef rib" without starting to sweat. But that was partly because, despite the brilliance of the pork rib and the dry but delicious pulled pork, the beef was way, way overdone. The blackened crust was honestly about a centimetre thick, and tough as crackling. And it wasn't just mine, every rib that went by was charred to hell and dry as, well, a bone. That didn't stop us getting all the meat off though, because once you were through the crust the meat was seriously flavoursome. When it came to our extra plate of food though, we were fighting over everything else first, even the chips (I was banned from ordering a salad).

It's a very hip, happening places. The average thickness of people's glasses rims was well over half a centimetre and the bearded brigade were in full force. And that's a good thing by the way. You were surrounded by people who loved good food and beer. Usually there were even a few people dining alone, showing that the place is so loved that it's become sustenance, rather than a great way to meet friends.

Duke's is one of those places that people go all misty-eyed about. But I'd file it in the Tayyabs cabinet - only the uncurious think it's brilliant, because they haven't found somewhere better. Pitt Cue is now the barbecue place to beat, and no where else I have been has come close, even if it's trying to seduce me with copious good beer.

Duke's Brew and Que on Urbanspoon