04 April 2009

Sun, the Southbank and a Long Overdue Secret Burger

The Ex was in town today and so after I'd finished with the day's batch of estate agent appointments, we met at Lantana, my favourite Fitzrovia cafe, for coffee. I declared today the first official day of summer because it was warm and sunny enough for me to go out without a coat, jacket or even a proper jumper, apart from my three-quarter-sleeve cardigan, although I was equipped with my trusty green scarf, which masks a world of sins (forgotten coat and forgotten umbrella, mainly). We therefore sat outside in Charlotte Place while enjoying our coffees (my enjoyment was reduced slightly by having to first extract all of the artisanally applied chocolate topping.

We decided to amble down to and along the Southbank--luckily the Chocolate Festival was not visible or smellable--stopping for a browse at the book market, pausing briefly in the turbine hall of the Tate Modern (it was a fairly interesting exhibition, which I entitled, "Dystopian Nightmares" but probably had a more artistic name--it involved lots of large nightmarish sculptures (e.g. a giant spider) and underneath, a whole load of identikit yellow bunk beds to which a copy of a book telling of a dystopian future (e.g. Fahrenheit 451 and The Man in the High Castle) was chained, while clips from films portraying depressing visions of the future were shown on a big screen), before acquiring some non-chocolate cake at Borough Market and sitting to eat it in the sun. Most of the south of England had the same idea and it was extremely busy with competence levels very low.

After a long afternoon of lingering, it was time for something to eat. Several years ago, while in Covent Garden with the family, Papa took us off to a restaurant called Joe Allen. "It's American comfort food," he said. "You'll get a great burger there." But when we arrived, the menu was distinctly burger-free and back then, I was a much more difficult person to take out to dinner and there wasn't anything on the menu I liked. Since then, though, I have learned that Papa was right after all as I've read several reviews, which said that the best thing to order was the "secret burger," which isn't on the menu. I must have read something this morning that reminded me of this as I decided to go there with the Ex tonight and I knew that when you ordered the burger, you would be asked whether you wanted it medium rare, with cheese and bacon and fries on the side (my usual specifications, anyway). 

I was still quite nervous tonight though. What if I ordered and they denied all knowledge of the burger? What if they only let you order it if they like the look of you? What if I looked like an idiot? I had to at least try though so when prompted, I said, "I'll have the burger, please." I used the definite article to imply that there was a particular burger that they made rather than, "although you don't do burgers, could you get one for me from somewhere?" The waitress replied, "With cheese and bacon? And fries? Medium rare?" Hell yes... And it was a damn good burger. One of the best burgers I've had in this country: the burger was juicy and meaty and very medium rare, the fries were tasty, the bacon was crispy enough and very flavoursome and the cheese was sufficiently melted. It was a shame the cheesecake we shared for pudding wasn't quite so adequate in that only a tiny essence of a base had been applied and the cake was a little too rich to be enjoyed without some pastry for contrast. In general, though, a nice restaurant and a great burger; I'll be back, I'm sure, and will order with more confidence next time.

Afterwards, we entered the hell that is the West End on a mild evening that follows a warm London day. People had obviously been sitting in the parks or by the river all afternoon getting wasted and were drunker than is usual for a Saturday night in April. Finding a pub that was a) acceptable and b) not over-populated with the drunken, unwashed masses proved difficult. Eventually, we settled for a quiet enough, reasonable enough pub near Carnaby Street where we got two drinks for £1.88 (OK, so one of them was tap water but the other was a pint so for central London, that's not bad).

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