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.

Falling hard for the flavour of brave, beautiful, Korean dining…

Jin Juu may translate to ‘pearl’ but make no mistake – this place is an absolute diamond of a restaurant and the fact that I keep thinking about it and having stomach-growlingly real flashbacks days after my visit shows what a memorable eating experience you’ll have there.

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Barely a week into 2015, The Londonist published an article entitled ‘8 Restaurants That Will Be A Big Deal in 2015’ and top of that list was Jin Juu, stirring immediate excitement in my brain, heart & stomach for a few reasons; firstly, my infamous love of all things edible means that I’m instantly curious about anywhere that’s promoted as note-worthy; secondly, when I fell deliciously face first into a Korean BBQ burrito last year, it triggered the start of a mild-verging-on-obsessive quest for good Korean food in London; and thirdly, it looked like it might just achieve that culinary holy grail of being exciting, delicious and affordable.

The last point is important to me because much to my regret, I don’t have a bottomless fund with which to bankroll my food obsession and there are so many places in London that look wonderful but are simply priced out of the majority of people’s pockets.

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Make no mistake, Jin Juu is stylish – from the Korean & British graffiti dragons adorning the walls to the frosted bottles lined up behind the bar like happy little soldiers ready to soothe away the day to the Steve Jobs quote hanging in the busy but ordered open plan kitchen, the vibe brought back so many memories from stateside travels…part NYC hip touched with just a hint of elite Seattle and finished with a nod to its too-cool-to-care London locale, it wasn’t weird enough to be found in Portland & not pretentious enough to sit downtown in my beloved LA. It was just very very cool in style but very very warm in its service. Read More

Finding a gem in the rubble of an earthquake…

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Napa Valley is renowned for being one of the most beautiful places on earth. It’s also famous for being one of the most well-known wine producing regions in the world, delivering 5% of California’s wine each year. Some of the most acclaimed Cabernet Sauvignons on the planet come from Napa and 3m+ visitors each year come to the region to drink, eat & enjoy some of the very best local produce.

After a solid 12 hour drive from Portland, stopping only for a little lunchtime magic at the culinary delight that is Denny’s – judge me not, there’s a hell of a lot of nothing between Oregon and Napa – J and I arrived in Napa around 9.30pm on the Saturday night, ready to hit the hay and wake in the morning, refreshed & ready for our adorable vintage wine trolley tour.

Hmm…

Y’know what else Napa can lay claim to? Earthquakes. Ask me how I know…

I’ve only ever been in one earthquake before; a little 2008 5.4 in Chino Hills that I experienced mid-morning in a classroom with many other people. There was a little rumble, the walls vibrated, everyone stopped…then everything carried on as normal. Scary? Not really. Exciting? Little bit.

Now imagine going to sleep and waking up at 3.20am in the pitch black, in a place you’ve never been before and barely looked at when you arrived 6 hours earlier. Imagine being woken up because the walls are shaking the headboard which is shaking you. Imagine feeling the bed move and lift you up. Imagine feeling like the cabin you are in is about to lift off the ground and take you with it. Imagine not knowing how long this is going to last or whether it will stop and start again or if something will fall on you. Imagine holding onto the person beside you and literally clinging to them because you have no idea what to do or where to go. Scary? Yes. Exciting? Err, no actually. Not at all.

Not quite the welcome to Napa we were expecting and after getting up, seeing drawers slung out of their chests and a fridge several feet away from where it started, learning that there was no electricity or wifi, going back to bed, undergoing two aftershocks and then waking in the morning to learn that the quake had been a 6.1 and the largest in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1989 and that so many vineyards had been damaged that the trolley tour was cancelled, we were faced with an unusual prospect…

…what exactly do you do for 24 hours in Napa when there’s no power and no wine?

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