A few months ago I swore to myself I was going to stop reviewing anywhere that’s part of a trendy chain; Dirty Burger and Honest Burger and Burger and Lobster and Patty and Bun. Not because I don’t like them – I slum it with the rest of the plebs when I’m not working – but because I’m sick to death of writing about burgers and lobsters and rotisserie chickens and other things that are intrinsically nice unless you go out of your way to make a mess of them.
You know how your job is really boring because you have to sit at a keyboard all day fighting a losing battle against a tide of hopelessness and despair? That’s how I feel when I’m eating lobster.
So my new rule is: if there’s a chance I won’t be served an amuse bouche, I’m not going. It’s working out quite well, thank you very much.
But the other day I was walking up Mile End Road towards my flat in Stepney – a barren vacuum in the middle of the east end, the equivalent of salted earth where nothing new can ever grow – and what do I see but a brand spanking new Dirty Burger/Chicken Shop (the two Soho House ventures combined under the same roof for the first time, no less). In Stepney. Stepney*. The arrival of a Dirty Burger is surely on some government list used to draw up gentrification indices. It’s all over: sell up, move out: Stepney belongs to The Man now.
And not only that, the new Dirty Burger is in a building that’s fascinated me since I moved there years ago. That stretch of Mile End Rd is a hotch-potch of grand old tenement buildings and horrible new ones that were thrown up in the spaces left by bombs from the Blitz. Breaking up the pattern are two squat brick buildings that date from 1695, decorated with little ships, guarding a pleasant gated square of houses. Apparently the land was donated by a sea captain to accommodate naval officers and their widows, and was used as such for hundreds of years (maybe it still is). I always wondered what was inside those grand old gatehouses, and now I know: rotisserie chickens and hipster beef burgers.
I could hardly pass on the chance to tick off this week’s review without having to stray more than 10 minutes from my front door, so in I went – to hell with the “no chains” policy.
It’s laid out a bit like a garage, with the original gatehouse doors opening onto outdoor seating. Inside rotisserie chickens spin over open flames and ceramic roosters perch on the bar. The tables are made out of chipboard, but in a cool way, yeah? It’s very Brooklyn circa 2006.
The good people of Stepney are obviously more clued up than I am – it was packed, and the staff were in no hurry to seat us, even when I made a show of pacing around looking exasperated, which I’ve been told I’m very good at. In fact, the service is what I’d politely describe as rubbish. It’s not a big place and the waiters navigate the spaces between tables by charging into one another and hoping they end up facing in the right direction, cutlery flying around them like confetti.
There’s no menu, just a big stencil on the wall. You can choose between three burgers: cheese, bacon and veggie. If you want chicken there is a quarter, half or whole. That’s it; not an amuse bouche in sight. I ordered a whole chicken. It’s marinaded in barbecue sauce and blackened over the rotisserie, and my god is it good. You can’t beat a well sourced, well cooked chicken. You already know what it tastes like: really good. You don’t need me to sit here and waste both our times describing what chicken tastes like. It cost £15 for two of us.
I liked it so much I went back the next day, and this time I ordered everything on the menu. The burger: very nice, yeah, thanks. What, you want me to tell you what a burger tastes like? Sort of meaty, you know. Not burned. The coleslaw: creamy, had cabbage in it. It was a Sunday so I ordered the all-day breakfast burger burger filled with egg and sausage. That was nice, too. A bit gloopy.
You see, I told you, it’s hopeless trying to review either Dirty Burger or Chicken Shop, let alone both of them together. If it was crap, I’d be able to tell you why, but it’s not. It’s just nice. And did I mention it’s in Stepney? Miracles will never cease.
*OK, so it’s actually closer to Whitechapel but as it’s east of Cambridge Heath Road I’m giving this one to Stepney. Don’t take this away from it, it’s all it has.