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Fast food the way it should be at Shake Shack…

When it comes to food, I am a fully paid up split personality. I love to eat healthily, I like trying new wholegrains, I’m obsessed with avocados and I’ve totally trained myself to enjoy the sort of green juice that often has a vague aroma of feet…

…however, I also completely adore fat burgers that drip between my fingers, bursting-at-the-seam burritos that are bigger than my arms, pizza that sags under the weight of its own bountiful toppings and ice-cream sundaes loaded with enough hot chocolate fudge sauce to make Augustus Gloop’s eyes gleam.

What this little glimpse into my psyche means is that while I’ve been dying to try Shake Shack since it opened on these shores last year, I’ve had to wrestle with when that would happen thanks, in no small part, to the rise of all things that fall under the banner of ‘clean eating’ and all the frankly freakin’ awesome burger joints we currently have in London. However the time has come, the day has been, the Shack has been sampled and oh lordie, it was gooooooood.

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Given that the original Covent Garden location always appears to involve queuing for roughly the same amount of time you’d need to devote to transatlantic flying, I skipped round the corner to New Oxford Street. Here you’ll find the most cavernous location where the menu filled an entire wall, plasma screens told us about the restaurants’ suppliers and slatted wooden tables stood under enormous brushed metallic letters proclaiming devotion to the gods of ‘shakes’, ‘burgers’ and ‘fries’.

It’s important you know the difference between the two types of burger places currently on offer in the capital – Honest, Patty & Bun, Bobo Social, these are all sit down, have a beer & enjoy table service sort of spots. Shake Shack & its main US originated competitor Five Guys are self-serve and fast food. This isn’t a bad thing you understand, it just means that you have to think of them more along the lines of those golden arches…except they’re in a whole other league when it comes to taste and quality.

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Service wasn’t bad; staff on our early Saturday evening visit had the weary demeanours of customer facing workers who’ve been on their feet for 8 hours already but they were perfectly pleasant. For such an apparently huge space, there aren’t as many tables as you might expect so it took a few minutes of diner-stalking to bag seats as a couple left but food was pretty quick to arrive via a handheld buzzer that took me back to my (short lived before being moved into the kitchen) heydays of waitressing in Pizza Hut.

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Two burgers, one cheese fries, two sodas and a frozen custard totalled around £25 so not as cheap as the aforementioned Ronald McD but for the most part, it was totally worth it.

Patties were juicy, buns were sweet, cheese was melty, lettuce was crisp, and tomatoes were ripe. I absolutely devoured my burger in greedy bites, loving each one a little more than the one before; it was everything a top quality fast food burger should be. Fries were retro-perfectly crinkle cut – anyone else have one of those hand-held slices with the crinkled edge?! – and generously covered with the sort of gloopily delicious cheese sauce your inner fat kid wants to pour on everything…yep, this food made me one happy gal.

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A word of warning; for me, the frozen custard which we had in the form of a New Oxford Street Style Concrete (frozen chocolate custard ice-cream blitzed with St. John Bakery brownies, peanut butter sauce and banana) was something of a let-down. I’ve had better ice-cream (Udderlicious), I’ve had better fro-yo (Pinkberry) and I’ve had better take-out from the supermarkets (Ben & Jerry) of our capital. I didn’t consider it anything outstandingly creamy or delicious and while it didn’t offend me, I definitely don’t rate it as worthy of the £5 price tag.

I’ve spent a lot of time stateside where celeb-fave In’N’Out has always topped my fast food treat list but a recent visit there proved disappointing and in an age where good burgers are the holy grail of our ‘grams and tweets, you just can’t rest on your laurels so from now on, Shack, I got your back.

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Pop your cork with absolute pleasure at Trufflesecco…

Prosecco. Truffles. Two things that have worked really rather well for our neighbours in the valleys of France & the forests of Italy over the past several hundred years and which I’m delighted to report are working equally well for the good folk of Camden town and beyond.

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Billing itself as a place in which ‘to celebrate everyday life in style with a glass of bubbles and a bite of truffles’ and inspired by a trip to the heart-stoppingly beautiful Florence, this newly opened bar on Camden High Street is the perfect place to go with colleagues on a Friday night, girlfriends on a Saturday afternoon or the one you love on a Sunday lunchtime.

Smaller inside than a spot of pressing your nose up against the windows outside might suggest, the interior is darkly lit with a burnished rose gold glow casting everything into bewitchingly intimate shadow; bulbs and vines twist down from the ceiling and row upon row of gleaming glass flutes hang at the ready, impatiently waiting to be filled with chilled golden bubbles.

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A row of stools at the bar make the perfect perch on which to nibble at a sharing platter while chairs at old wooden tables are practically begging for a first date to be sat round them. FYI, you would definitely enter the dating hall of fame if you brought someone here in the first round or two…

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Staff are kind, convivial and passionate about their wares with a menu that beautifully marries cheeses and meats together in a style that makes you long to run away to the continent and spend your time dining in a very Audrey Hepburn-Sophia Loren sort of way. Mortadella with pistachio and burrato with ribbon thin fragments of fresh truffle are especially dreamy and the platters are generous enough for two to split the cost but maybe not the entire contents of; the tallegio cheese dear readers, is worth fighting for every last crumb of.

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As the venue for a leaving do, it was a gorgeous send-off for a gorgeous lady. As the place for summer feasting, it will be every woman for herself to secure a seat at the bar and a heavenly sounding Bellini Popsicle. The sound of corks popping is an unbeatable way of lifting your mood…long may they continue at Trufflesecco.

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Sirocco’s Lamb, Fennel & Apricot Lollipops…

There are some cookbooks that sit nicely on your shelves, looking ever so fashionably current & lovely. There are some that get leafed through eagerly upon purchase and then spend the rest of their lives propping up pots & pans, looking wistfully across the kitchen as you bake, boil & roast without them. And then there are those that you buy and love and use again and again and again until the pages are graffitied with pencil scribbles and dripped, drizzled & spattered with your valiant attempts to recreate the magic that lies within them. ‘Persiana’, for me, fell squarely into the latter category.

I loved everything in it from the simplicity of the instructions to the eye-opening ingredients lists to the dishes that looked intimidating but actually fell into place with remarkable ease and I found myself returning to it over and over, whether I was looking for something to pimp up a mid-week salmon supper for two or a feast with which to impress my culinarily adventurous friends.

What this meant was that by the time Persian virtuoso Sabrina Ghayour’s second book came out, I was already hopped up on anticipation and eager to see if ‘Sirocco’ would pick up where its older brother left off. Bringing the flavours of the east to the kitchens of the west, this kaleidoscopically vibrant tome has dishes for every meal of the day and talks about some of the now-easy-to-find ingredients that should become cupboard staples in your adventures through big flavour and beautiful presentation.

I’ve never found Sabrina’s recipes to be intimidating in the way that ancient French volumes like Larousse Gastronomique might be; there are a lot of ingredients required for 1 or 2 of the dishes which might stir your nerves but honestly, my advice would be to relax, pour a glass of wine, close the door, put on the music you love, pick a dish and just get stuck in. Now it this all sounds like something you could do, let’s pop that cork and have a look at something that’s rich & fresh with flavour not to mention perfect for the summer.

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These Lamb, Fennel & Apricot Lollipops are so simple that I feel confident in promising you that there’s nothing to fear and no room for error. I made one tweak to the recipe by baking instead of frying and it’s this method that I describe below – I was making 3 times the amount listed below for a big group lunch and wanted to ensure an even cook throughout without trying to fry nearly 60 of these beauties! They turned out so well though I have to confess a smidgen of chef’s bragging rights..

Thirty minutes at 180c/160c fan/350f/gas mark 4 with two lots of rotation, one each at the 10 and 20 minute mark, and they were beautifully juicy and caramel in colour; I’m sure that frying would give you a crisper end result but the platter I served them in was bare at the end of lunch save for a bunch of discarded cocktail sticks so I’m gonna take that as a sign of approval from a hungry horde!

INGREDIENTS (makes 18-20 lollipops)

  • 450g/1lb lamb mince
  • 140g/5 oz dried apricots, finely chopped
  • 65g/½ cup/2.25 oz fennel seeds, toasted & finely ground
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 onion, very finely chopped (I used red as I’m obsessed with them!)
  • 2 heaping teaspoons turmeric
  • 20g/0.5 oz of dill, finely chopped plus extra to garnish
  • 2 heaping teaspoons flaky sea salt
  • crushed freshly ground black pepper
  • vegetable oil
  • wooden skewers or cocktail sticks

TO DRIZZLE ON TOP

  • 145g/5 oz Greek yogurt
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • sweet tamarind sauce
  • small handful of nigella seeds

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METHOD

  • Put all the lollipop ingredients, except for the vegetable oil, into a large bowl and mix everything together well using your hands.

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  • Feed everything continuously through your fingertips and really incorporate all the ingredients thoroughly until you have an evenly combined mixture.

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  • Lightly grease a baking tray with vegetable oil and get yourself a bowl of cold water in case your hands get sticky, then begin rolling the mixture into golf ball sized balls.

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  • Place each ball onto the baking tray leaving roughly 1-2cm between each ball and then pop your baking tray in the fridge for 30 minutes to allow the balls to firm up slightly so they don’t lose their shape.
  • Remove the tray from the fridge, lightly brush each ball with a little more vegetable oil then place on the middle shelf of your oven (TIP: if you have extra dried apricots, throw them whole onto the baking tray here along with the meatballs for a little extra colour as well as a ridiculously, deliciously sweet, sticky & chewy addition!)
  • Bake for thirty minutes, rotating the balls every ten minutes to ensure an even bake and colour.

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  • Thin out your Greek yoghurt with the lemon juice then season with salt & pepper.
  • Remove your lollipops from the oven and place onto a serving platter.
  • Drizzle the yoghurt over the top, followed by your sweet tamarind sauce, a scattering of nigella seeds and extra fronds of dill if you like.
  • Pop your skewer or cocktail stick into each ball and proudly serve to your guests who will be climbing the walls at this point due to the insanely good fragrance coming from your kitchen!