An afternoon spent with Jon Favreau and soft, sweet, delicious buns…

Dear Hollywood,

Please feel free to take the remainder of 2014 off because in ‘Chef’, you have delivered the movie of the year. Funny, sweet, touching, charming, inspiring and totally feel good with a brilliant script, awesome acting, a soundtrack to shake your Cubano-loving ass to and flawless food shots that made me want to run up to the 25ft screen at the front of the cinema and lick the glass – FAO all the doubters out there, wait till you see the grilled cheese and then tell me I’m wrong.

Thanks for such a great film and enjoy your extended vacation,
Love Edible Angel. xox

Ok kids, we’ve had a fantastic afternoon. We? That’d be me, the food junkie who dwells within and the every-bit-as-gorgeous-and-lovely-as-the-film J. A quiet lunchtime screening of ‘Chef’ followed by a late lunch/early dinner at ‘Flesh and Buns’ in Earlham Street.

A film labelled as ‘ultimate food porn’ followed by sampling one of the fastest growing trends in London right now? Oh hi perfect lazy Saturday afternoon, love your work.

I’ve been looking forward to ‘Chef’ since the first hunger-provoking trailer hit cinemas earlier this year. This is a simple story of a chef looking for a new direction in life, a way to re-connect with those closest to him and a reminder of why he fell in love with food in the first place. With a fantastic turn from director Jon Favreau as Carl, the chef driven to throwing handfuls of lava cake at a disagreeable Oliver Platt, the supporting cast delivers excellence across the board, the soundtrack blends Miami and LA together in an intoxicating medley that makes you want to channel your inner salsa queen and the food?

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…from that afore-mentioned grilled cheese to a butter-slicked-and-toasted-till-golden Cubano sandwich to BBQ that comes out of its charcoal pit looking so good you can practically feel your nose twitching and your saliva glands go into overdrive, this is a film for those who like to a) eat food, b) cook food, c) look at food, d) talk about food, e) dream about food or f) enjoy a brief on-the-verge-of creepy-crazy Robert Downey Jr cameo. In short, it’s as close to a perfect little film as it’s possible to get and beautifully demonstrates why a good story told with heart & intelligence will always have a place in cinema and deservedly so.

Right, now that I’ve spent so much time lavishing praise onto this film that you might be wondering if Jon slipped me a tenner ahead of time, let me get o the actual food part of the afternoon. Flesh and Buns. Not ‘Fleshing Buns’ as a colleague somewhat bemusedly asked me on Friday afternoon. Flesh i.e. the meat and buns i.e. the gorgeous little hirata buns to fill with said meat.

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Flesh and Buns opened off Covent Garden’s Seven Dials last August and since then has become something of a pilgrimage for foodies looking to experience the next big thing in London’s culinary diary. Please don’t worry if you’ve never heard of hirata buns, Ross Shonhan or Bone Daddies. Up until recently, neither had I. Shonhan, former head chef at Zuma and Nobu, is the brains behind Bone Daddies, the place that recently made ramen the plat du jour only the key ingredient here isn’t noodles but  hirata buns whose origins include both China and Taiwan.

They’ve been the stuff of food critics’ discussion over the past six months but it was only when J and I saw them on ‘Sunday Brunch’ one lazy weekend, that we thought ‘yeah ok, let’s give it a go.’ Actually what really happened was that they looked so fricking delicious, they actually made us put down our avo toast (and we all know how important something must have been for me to do that) and pay full attention to what was happening on screen, namely Simon and Tim snuffling with rapturous joy as they practically inhaled them.

Anyway, it seemed only fitting to follow a cinematic food crusade with something new and adventurous on the plate and in the tummy so off we trotted to a basement restaurant complete with open plan kitchen and soy scented air. Pushing open the red double doors, I was fearful we would be the only people inside as lunch at 3.15pm on a drizzly Saturday afternoon hardly screams ‘Hey cool kids, it’s time to eat!’ but I needn’t have worried as there were several busy tables inside already. A smiley bearded gent showed us to our table and an even smilier but thankfully less bearded lady explained the menu and brought us cold bottles of crisp Asahi beer.

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A good selection of hot and cold starters were on offer as was a generous express menu but my attention was focused on those buns. Suggesting 2 per person, with steak, duck, lamb, salmon or pork belly as fillings and all being served with salad and pickles, I’m not gonna lie, they were what I wanted. Service by the lovely Julia was excellent although it was a tad odd and unorganised when another waiter swooped in after she’d left to try and take our order.

One thing I would suggest that could be a bit clearer though was this – on the menu, the steak options are listed with their prices per 100g however, nowhere on the menu does it say how many 100g you’re going to get so when J and I innocently ordered steak and duck to share, we were told that the steak serving was 500g. At £7 per £100g, this means our bill for that alone would have been £35, a world away from the menu listing of rib eye steak being £7. Yes, it did say per 100g on the menu but  we did not anticipate it being 500g and therefore such a hefty price tag on it. Now I’m sure, given that this place is pretty cool right now, that there are diners for whom that wouldn’t have been an issue at all but I’m a firm believer that good food should be for everybody and therefore, it’s important to know upfront what the prices are so you can order and enjoy your meal without worrying about the end cost. It wouldn’t take much effort to put serving sizes on the menu and, as I’m sure we’re not the only people confused by this, it would be appreciated.

Anyway, at £35 being the cheapest steak option, we earned good bovine karma and avoided it. Unfortunately the duck and lamb weren’t so lucky as they ended up on our plates. Thanks fellas. Your sacrifice was not in vain because frankly, you were divine.

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Seriously addictive, steaming hot and rock salt sprinkled edamame beans helped take the edge of hunger pangs – yeah, I’m right on the verge of mal-nourishment – and then the stars of the meal arrived. The duck was perfectly cooked and shredded for us at the table. Crispy skinned and juicy, the flavour was superb especially when paired with cool cucumber and lettuce, beetroot pickles and sour plum soy so good I could have spooned into my mouth bypassing the bun altogether.

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The kimchi spiced lamb was a hefty portion at 4 chops on the plate and although there was a decent amount of fat on the chops, it no doubt contributed to making them as melt in the mouth and butter soft as they were. There was still plenty of meat for bun filling and the spices were appropriately fiery i.e. no tears were shed and no taste buds were lost in the making of this post.

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The buns though, oh, these were the stars for me, partly because they were delicious, partly because their creation and history intrigued me and partly because, as a devout carb lover, I’m always excited to try a new way of eating some sort of bread product.

They’re soft, they’re white and they’re steamed so there’s not a hint of colour or crispness to them. They’re sweet in a way that reminded me of American bread but not to the point where it was off-putting. The combination of sweet, soft doughiness with tangy fresh vegetables and succulent and moreish meat was a killer one that just got better and better with each mouthful I took.

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It’s quite clear to me why this trend is so big right now – we seem to love food that can be held, assembled and eaten with our hands and I think the multiple burgers, burritos and sandwich chains hitting gold right now are testament to that. However, it’s the texture and the flavour here that makes the difference. You don’t leave feeling weighed down and uncomfortable but rather, like you’ve really just visited another part of the world for an hour or so and I have to say the service from our lovely, slightly excitable waitress was totally delightful and added to the experience.

Would I want to try this again? Yep. So thanks for that Flesh and Buns – I now have another food fixation to supervise…sigh…

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