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United plates of America: we give London’s American-inspired food the taste test

Posted at 3:15 pm, October 10, 2014 in Food & Drink
meat liquor

There’s American-influenced food and drink all over London. But just how faithful is it to the originals? Time Out New York’s eating and drinking editor Christina Izzo hits the streets of our beloved city to see if our own US fare passes the transatlantic taste test.

BURGERS

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If one dish alone screams ‘God bless America’, it’s the burger. Prototypes can be traced back to the Hamburg immigrants that settled in the US in the mid-nineteenth century. However the modern day burger we know and love is an all-American invention, advancing from humble origins to fast food ubiquity. Beefy buzzwords such as ‘grassfed’, ‘free-range’ and ‘dry-aged’ are thrown around to differentiate one patty from another, but most proper burgers start the same way: a puck of juicy, grilled ground beef inside a toasted, sliced bun with all the toppings (cheese – the plastic-wrapped, processed kind – tomato, lettuce) and condiments (mustard, ketchup, mayo) you can handle. And, yes, Americans always want fries with that.

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Yank influence runs deep at graffiti-tagged Meat Liquor – the riotously loud and low-lit follow-up restaurant to Yianni Papoutsis and Scott Collins’s mobile Meatwagon. You can feast on American classics like crunchy deep-fried pickles (£3.50), chilli-smothered hot dogs (£9) and creamy coleslaw (£3), all served on metal cafeteria trays. But nowhere is that US lovin’ felt more than the burgers, particular the Dead Hippie (£8.50). Inspired by cult Californian chain In-N-Out’s Double Double Animal Style burger, this jaw-widening number crowns a double layer of textured beef patties with oozing ‘American cheese’, minced white onions, shredded lettuce, sliced gherkin and tangy Thousand Island-esque sauce. As for the fries, here you can get thin-cut spuds coated in melted cheese and onions (£4). You’ll need that roll of paper towels set at each table by meal’s end.

Verdict The unabashed greasiness is enough to make a native American weep with pride. Meat Liquor, 74 Welbeck St, W1G 0BA. 7224 4239.  Bond St. Main courses £7-£9.

spuntino

SMALL PLATES

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The Spanish have tapas, the Venetians cicchetti and the Turks and Greeks meze – light bites to bridge that long gap between lunch and southern Europe’s 10pm dinners. But in the States today, small plates are dinner. Chefs have forgone the confining startersmains- desserts trifecta for a cavalcade of grazeworthy dishes, largely working off the ‘New American’ model of locally sourced and organic produce, served on the ubiquitous distressedwood tables. Hell, it’s so mainstream even budget chains such as TGI Friday’s have jumped on the bandwagon.

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Infusing the small-plates concept with bits of the all-American diner and the New York speakeasy (note the lack of door signage and telephone number), scruffy, chippedtiled Spuntino strips away the pigeon-and-burrata snobbery of American small plates. Instead, Polpo owners Russell Norman and Richard Beatty roll out playful Yankee comfort foods such as authentic stick-to-your-ribs macaroni and cheese (£9), crunchy buttermilk fried chicken (£5) and two-bite sliders sloppy with pulled pork (£5).

Verdict Feels ripped straight from cool-kid, small-plates-loving Brooklyn. Spuntino, 61 Rupert St, W1D 7PW.  Piccadilly Circus. Meal for two with wine and service: around £60.

Pitt Cue Co

BARBECUE

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Americans take their barbecues mighty seriously, preaching the pit-smoked gospel from the South (Carolina pulled pork, Texan beef brisket) to the Midwest (St Louis ribs, Kansas City burnt ends). At most ’cue dives, hunks of slow-cooked, wood-fired meat arrive gluttonously piled atop paper-lined trays and alongside a stack of wet wipes. Added sides stick to Southern tradition – buttery cornbread, greens cooked with ham hock or smoky baked beans with a hint of sweetness.

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Soho’s Pitt Cue Co has all the markings of a Deep South charmer, rusticated with country-blue weatherboard walls and lace curtains lifted from a granny’s window. But the barbecue here is less cowboy and more civilized: there’s a dutifully tender pulled pork sandwich, sharply smoky and well-sauced on a soft brioche bun (£11.50). But we spotted even that being eaten with a knife and fork. This twee spot also deviates from all-American grill staples with sleek dishes such as neatly sliced Mangalitza pork rump (£16.50) and a delicate slaw of fennel and apple with soured cream (£4).

Verdict A far cry from the glorious, nine-napkin mess that is the American barbecue. Pitt Cue Co, 1 Newburgh St, W1F 7RB. 7287 5578.  Oxford Circus. Meal for two with drinks and service: around £50.

Happiness Forgets

THE MANHATTAN

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It’s not 100 percent certain that the United States actually invented the cocktail. The first published mention of a ‘cock-tail’ was actually in London, in a 1798 issue of The Morning Post and Gazetteer. But you’d have a tough time arguing that we didn’t perfect them. Take the Manhattan, a New Yorkborn concoction of US whiskey, vermouth and bitters. In its namesake borough the deceptively simple sipper is a litmus test of a first-rate cocktail bar, with world-class drinkeries such as PDT, Death & Company and Milk & Honey building their reputations on such classics.

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It’s not surprising that Hoxton hideaway Happiness Forgets pours a mean Manhattan (£8) – its proprietor Alastair Burgess had a two-year tenure under the godmother of cocktails, Audrey Saunders, at New York’s acclaimed Pegu Club. At his tucked-away Shoreditch haunt, bartenders in braces man a concise line-up of original cocktails, but bespoke tipples are also on offer. Order a Manhattan exactly to your liking: dry, sweet, ‘perfect’ (equal parts dry and sweet vermouth) or as a boozy variation such as the Bonnie Prince, updated with Scotch, absinthe and sherry.

Verdict A strong across-the-pond ambassador for a New York classic. Happiness Forgets, 8-9 Hoxton Square, N1 6NU. 7613 0325.  Old St.

© Olivia Hemingway wenlock arms
© Olivia Hemingway

AMERICAN PALE ALE

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Yes, we’ve got more than just watered-down light beer. The American craft beer movement has long been one of the most influential in the drinks scene, and that’s thanks in large part to the brew that triggered it all: the American pale ale. Pioneered in the 1980s by Californian brewery Sierra Nevada, it’s distinguished by its large quantities of bursting American hops and hints of sweet malt and caramel.

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Brewhounds can find plenty of American-style offerings at cask-ale warhorse the Wenlock Arms. Many tap regulars such as the pale ales from Dark Star and Kernel Brewery (£3.60 for a pint) import high-octane hops straight from the US and shake things up by using English malt. It still packs a hoppier bite than Britain’s more restrained session beers, but is subtler than the West Coast standard.

Verdict A buttoned-up cousin to the big, brazen originals. The Wenlock Arms, 26 Wenlock Rd, N1 7TA. 7608 3406.  Old St.

For more of London’s best burger take a look here.

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