I’ve managed to get to a few Olympic sites and viewing screens over the last ten days. The sport, the organisation, the support and the volunteers have all been awesome.
The food, however, has been disappointing. Not surprising. But disappointing nonetheless.
The presence of McDonalds and the various very average fish and chip and hog roast stalls at the Olympic Park doesn’t bother me. To moan about the Golden Arches or these event catering machines is both naïve and too easy. Even with the best will in the world, a bloke selling rib buns and hot sauce and a couple of young’uns flogging freshly made pizza from the back of their green van wouldn’t be able to feed hundreds of thousands of people quickly enough. More importantly, the Olympics as we know it would not exist without the cash that corporate clowns like Ronald throw at it.
No, the saddest thing is what is available for the hungry punter around the big screens.
Hungover, hungry and trapped in the Hyde Park video screen area on the first Saturday, I spent about 25 minutes going from stall to stall, my frustration growing with every stand selling overpriced shriveled sausages, van serving dry, grey and rank burgers, and tent serving kebabs so cheap looking and badly packed, that even your least picky drunk friend wouldn’t want to dive into it at the end of a Saturday night. I eventually plumped for a freshly made but over cheesy calzone, which was genuinely the only half decent option in the whole, massive site. Such a shame given the video screens are the perfect places to thrust the city’s burgeoning food scene upon Londoners and tourists alike. A captive and manageable audience. A failed opportunity.
It could all have been so different. Last week Eat St took over Exhibition Road in South Kensington. To be honest, for the first part of the week this was criminally advertised and poorly supported. But it did mean that I and at least few tourists got to eat things like meatballs from Jez, the Bowler, superb Austrian food from Speck Mobile, and impeccable buttermilk fried chicken from Roost. If only Eat St could have morphed into Eat Park. I imagine pitch prices and LOCOG requirements were simply far too onerous for something like this to happen.
The Lamb Shed
All has not been totally lost, though – a few traders housed in quaint wooden sheds near the big screen at Potter’s Field (next the Mayor’s office and Tower Bridge) are giving a lesson on how to provide good food at Olympic sites. Instead of burgers that are ‘90% pure beef’, you can find, amongst other things, Laverstoke Park selling healthy salads with their British buffalo mozzarella, Beas of Bloomsbury flogging their excellent brownies and cupcakes, some quality carvery sandwiches, and tender, succulent meat hued from the legs of Herdwick lamb.
The lamb is (appropriately) sold by the Lamb Shed, a stall run by chefs Alan Stewart and Henry Russell, formerly of Manson and soon to be of their own place. It’s all very simple, but it’s also spot on – just well sourced, quality lamb, barbecued nicely so it’s crusty on the outside, but juicy and flavoursome inside, served with minty runner beans, a potato salad and tomato salsa. They make their own ginger beer and lemonade too. This is exactly what we should be showing off as great British food at times like this. Worth a look-in if you’re requiring a feed and are in the area during the next week or over the Paralympic Games.
The Lamb Shed in 3 words
Proper British takeaway.
£6.50 for quality lamb and veg. Cheaper than a Hyde Park kebab filled with who knows what.
No website – Little blue shed on the edge of Potter’s Field, at the back of the Mayor’s Office, More London.
And just a hop step and a jump (sorry) from the Olympic Park and another live TV site in Victoria Park is Burnt Enz; a temporary BBQ that is, without doubt, one of the finds of the summer.
If, when I say temporary, you are thinking of a foil tray and easy burn charcoal purchased from a supermarket forecourt, you couldn’t be further from the truth; this is temporary only in the timescale they plan to be open.
There are pulleys, heavy steel grids, custom built wood ovens and significant heat. It’s a chef hang out that cooks-up serious food and massive vibes. The fact that it’s in the car park and garage of a coffee roastery on the edge of London Fields belies the fact that a lot of thought has clearly gone into this and, crucially, that it serves BBQ food of a standard that just isn’t available elsewhere in London.
A few weekends ago impeccable scallops doused with XO Oloroso sherry were literally flying off the grill. Some punters devoured cracking looking and smelling lobsters, poked out juicy bone marrow and tore apart whole ducks. Dexter beef foreribs, and suckling pigs (and their heads) were absolutely superb. I had a brilliant afternoon in this sun trap, boozing away and enjoying plump oysters and a very full brisket sandwich (though it could have taken more salt). At one point, about 35 people stopped what they were doing and stood salivating as the table of five next to me tucked into a whole turbot. Chapeau to any chef who’s both proficient and confident enough to cook a not inexpensive fish weighing 5.5kg on an outside grill.
Burnt Enz is open on Saturdays and Sundays, midday to midnight (on a hot day don’t expect there to be much food left in the evening). Go as a group of 4-6, order one of the sharing options and settle in for a session. They also do a very tempting ‘Thursday Thirsty Feasts’, where you basically BYO booze and take on most of their menu for £45.
I wish I lived closer, but will make the effort to get back in any event.
Burnt Enz in 3 words
Higher level BBQ.
£6.50 for a bun filled with BBQ’d brisket, about £10-25 a head when you start sharing bigger items and take on scallops, oysters and the like. £45pp on Thursdays.
Facebook page – Climpson & Sons Roastery, Arch 374 Helmsley Place, E8 3SB