Category Archives: Food

The Joys of a ‘Neighbourhood’ Restaurant – mine’s Chez Bruce

The definition of  a neighbourhood restaurant really depends on where you live I suppose. If you live in the country the chances are that to get to your choice of restaurant you’ll have to either jump in the car or get a cab. In London, you may be lucky enough to be able to walk to it just go a couple of tube stops. Well I can walk to Chez Bruce, so that is my neighbourhood restaurant. There are obviously restaurants closer to my house, but I’m not that keen on Chicken  Cottage (although my brother took a girl there on their first date. They’re now married. So you know.), but CB is special for our family and it’s not just to do with the food.

I should clarify at this point that this is not, and is not intended to be, a restaurant review.  Many other people have done a far better job of that, and anyway, I’m a ‘sure thing’. I have a deep and undying love for CB.  Mr Poole could serve up fish fingers, chips and beans and I would relish it as I would the finest gourmet meal (because let’s face it probably would be the finest gourmet meal). However the connection for me is as emotional as geographic. This was my mother’s favourite restaurant, one that she generously took me to one more than one occasion, and where we always celebrated her birthday.

After she died we (well Dad actually) decided that we would not remember the sad  times, and that we would remember, and celebrate the good times.  Henceforth, on her birthday or thereabouts we have a family lunch at Chez Bruce. A win-win situation I think you’ll agree?

So on Thursday 2 April we converged on Wandsworth Common…..trying not to drool in anticipation.  We kicked off with a glass of champagne whilst deliberating the menu.  The service is unobtrusive, yet attentive (this is the place where, suffering from a heavy cold, a box of tissues, appeared at my elbow, as if by magic), and they don’t stick their noses in every five minutes.

Always the hardest part for me. What to choose? And will I get food envy (inevitably yes, regardless of how delicious my own choice is). I, after much deliberation, went for:

Poached lamb’s tongue with breast St Meinhold, crushed jersey royals and morels

Lamb's tongue with breast St Meinhold

Silence of the Lambs’, quite literally…..

I was slightly off put by my brother going ‘baa’ softly in my ear  but other than that minor distraction I managed to polish it off. Lots of different textures from the soft lamb’s tongue to the crispy brick of lamb breast. I think I may have had to get extra bread, you know, just to mop up some of the sticky, unctuous sauce as well. Yum.

My second course was Anjou pigeon with stuffed onion, pearl barley, sauce poivrade and foie gras.

Pigeon with foie gras, stuffed onion and pearl barley

Pigeon with foie gras, stuffed onion and pearl barley

Unfortunately is looks very brown here and this doesn’t do it any justice at all.  The pigeon was perfectly pink, the pearl barley filled the onion. Posh  comfort food.

And for pudding…….please note, that honeycomb do not come from bees (as my brother thought. He’s 43).

Chocolate ice cream with honeycombe

Chocolate ice cream with honeycomb

And they gave us these:

Chocolate truffles from Chez Bruce

For my nieces, the chocolate truffles. How kind!

*Ahem*. Here I make a public apology to Olivia and Isabella – sorry, James and Poppa ate them. Not me. Honest.

Despite the obvious deliciousness of the food, we come to CB each year to remember with joy the good times past (as well as creating some new ones too). And they never fail to deliver. Thank you Mr Poole.

Turning Japanese…..(more specifically: Uniqlo, Muji and noodles)

Now I have to be honest here, I’m not what you would call ‘minimalist’, I have a lot of ‘stuff’ (my friends despair and I am regularly forced to declutter), but I do have a love for many things Japanese. Namely, as the title suggests, Uniqlo, Muji and soba noodles. So I thought I’d write about them together. As things are meant to come in threes. Aren’t they? I know Uniqlo and Muji are well-known high street brands but I just feel they are SO underrated and deserve some love. First up I must rave about Uniqlo clothing: the jeans, cashmere and lightweight down jackets and gilets are incredible value and are all machine washable. And did you know that you can have jeans and trousers taken up for free in a matter of hours. That’s no slouch when my local dry cleaners charge around a tenner. Their cashmere is often mentioned in other more fashionable blogs than this one and their featherlight down gilets are perfect for layering under a leather or denim jacket when there’s a bit of a chill in the air. The latest thing that has accidentally fallen in my basket are these ankle-length white denim jeans with zips for a mere £34.90. Perfect for updating the summer wardrobe for not very much.

White Uniqlo ankle zip jeans

White Uniqlo ankle zip jeans

Find them here

As I was having my new carpets fitted earlier this week I decided that I would have to up my tidiness as they would be moving all the furniture around and everything was strewn everywhere. The solution? Muji. Purveyor of the best containers for make up, toiletries and jewellery. All at bargain prices.

Muji storage, acrylic five-drawer box

Muji storage, acrylic five-drawer box

This little beauty is perfect for all my dressing table odds and sods with the added bonus of being able to see it all. I love noodles, they have a knack of being both comforting and healthy, well I think so anyway, (some soba noodles are gluten-free being made from buckwheat, but do check the packaging as some brands do contact some wheat). What could be more soothing after the excesses of the long Easter weekend (what you mean you didn’t stuff your face with roast lamb and chocolate? Liars) than this divine recipe, from Cookie and Kate for soba noodles with a sesame and ginger dressing, with cucumber and spring  which I found courtesy of @foodgoblin1 on Twitter…..healthy, delicious and you can have the leftovers, if there are any, for lunch the next day! Here’s my attempt at it…..and there were no leftovers….

Soba Noodles with cucumber, sesame, ginger and chilli

Soba Noodles with cucumber, sesame, ginger and chilli

Plastered in Paris *

You may (or may not) have noticed that Eurostar have their return to Paris (or Brussels) for £59 and I thought now might be the time to do a recap of my trip to Paris last year when I took advantage of said same deal.

First all, it’s 59 quid, that’s nothing, peanuts, cheap as chips! A train ticket to my dad’s house in Dorset is more expensive. It’s bargain-aeous in the extreme. Am I making myself absolutely clear??

It is also one of the most beautiful cities in the world (after London obviously) I mean how many reasons to you need to go? More? (It’s like Oliver Twist here). Okay I shall oblige.

I’m not going to pretend that I’ve got the inside gen on everything that’s going on in France’s capital and of course, your interests may be different, but what I do want to do is share some of the lovely places we visited (shopped at and ate and drank at obviously!)

We stayed in Le Marais, the cool district stretching over the 3rd and 4th arrondissement, with a villagey feel not unlike Soho in London, and equally access to walking everywhere by foot.

The Le Relais du Marais, was clean, friendly and right by the Temple Metro stop and stone’s throw into the heart of the Marais, with its boutiques, brasseries and boulangeries (sorry, naff eh?). And very reasonable. Three nights’ accommodation and travel for just over £200. Can’t say fairer.

We arrived late on Thursday night, the 7.30pm train, gets in about 10ish and by the time we had found the hotel and freshened up (I am turning into my mother – and I’m not afraid) it was almost 11.

I found an amazing guidebook, which is updated seasonally (Autumn/Winter, Spring/Summer) , so it includes  things that might not be in older books like Lonely Planet or Rough Guide (which are also brilliant). It was particularly useful if you’re looking for gigs/bands are playing. I had earmarked Le Mary Celeste as a bar/restaurant of choice. We decided on a bottle of wine, as we felt that we couldn’t do the cocktail list justice (although amazing). Our decision may have had something do with the second bottle of Prosecco on the train. A tad overenthusiastic on our part. Holiday fever and all that. I heartily recommend an unsozzled visit. Although we didn’t eat (too late) this was one of the reasons I wanted to visit and lots of people seem to (still) be constantly praising both the food and cocktails. everyone from David Leibovitz to Rachel Khoo rates this place.  Our loss.

Although we didn’t have a strict itinerary (who does?) but we did have an idea of the places we wanted to go. Walking featured heavily, after all want better way of soaking up that atmosphere and getting your bearings, wherever you are (possibly war zones accepted).

I’m a bit fan of French pharmacy brands (La Roche Posay, Embryolisse, Nuxe, Bioderma). The prices (in the UK certainly, but thank God for Escentual sales, actually Escentual in general) not so much. Enter Citypharma. An humungous and jampacked pharmacy in St Germain. This has become rather infamous, as ‘the’ place to go, so much that you really do have to sharpen your elbows to compete again Parisienne Grandes Dames, beauty bloggers and tourists alike. The aisles are very close together too, so all and all it’s a bit of a bunfight. Words to the wise. Fuel up on coffee and croissants and get there early. Make a list of want you want before you go. Get in and out as fast as you can. Done. The assistants are very helpful too. Also if you’re travelling by Eurostar you have no restrictions on liquids but bear that in mind if you’re tramping round Paris all day without planning to go back the hotel. (schoolgirl error – immediately rectified by dumping an enormous bag at the hotel and vowing never to darken Boots’ door again).

Also don’t forget that French pharmacies are everywhere, there were at least four on the street we were staying. Citypharma is not the be-all-and-end-all. Also they all have offers on different things and if I can send my little brother to Paris with a list and he can come back with the right stuff you can.

Second must do (for me anyway) was to find Le Camion qui Fume , as in London, street food has taken a huge leap forward (understatement or what?) and this is a burger van that travels round Paris serving burgers to discerning (and hungry) punters. Have tracked it down through, of course, Twitter, we hot-footed it to La Place de la Madeleine. A tense 15 minutes ensued where I paced round the church, searching for the elusive red and cream van. Apparently relief was etched on my face when we round the corner and we saw a queue and a plume of smoke. Nous sommes arrivées!

And here they are in all their glory.

20131122_132001The Outside

phone pics 120And the Inside

Can I just add as an addendum, that it was absolutely freezing with the wind howling round so not only did they taste divine, they warmed us up.

We then proceeded to walk down Rue Royale towards Place de La Concorde, taking in the amazing Christmas decorations.

20131122_134032How stylish are these decorations!

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Then turning left opposite the Tuileries Gardens we visited Angelina’s for THE hot chocolate. And it really does deserve the definitive article.

20131122_140342Okay. There was cake too.

Laden with goodies it was back to the hotel to rest feet, charge phones and find a bar before dinner.

If Le Mary Celeste was more a bar of the moment, Le Petit Fer a Cheval. (The Little Horseshoe Bar) was its old school equivalent, with a restaurant out back, the front is a small room with, you’ve guessed it, a horseshoe-shaped bar. With four pavement tables outside. We spent a very happy hour and a half with a carafe of house red between us (I don’t think the bar man approved of our wine choice, but hey), people watching. Glorious. There was a waiter from one of the other cafes who kept running over to shop opposite with glasses, wine, then cheese and what looked suspiciously like canapes. Maybe we should have gatecrashed?

Dinner this evening was at restaurant recommended by some French (Parisienne? – I’m not sure) suppliers of some family friends. Robert et Louise (for that is it name) was a short stroll down the same road as the bar. Booking is essential and I was in two minds whether to give you the name at all. It’s that good.

Here the meat is the thing. Don’t go here if you are squeamish either (foie gras is on the menu). It’s very French. And yes, I know that’s a cliché, but it was full of French people and that is recommendation enough for me. The food was amazing too and we got chatting to two charming Frenchmen. (WHAT?)

20131122_194407The foie gras terrine, which came with spiced brioche and, oh yes, a glass of Sauteurnes

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This is no ordinary fire, *this* is a wood-burning open fire, where they cook all the steaks/meat (Dervla Kirwan should be quaking in her boots after that voiceover)20131122_195812MEAT!20131122_201155POTATOES (WITH MEAT!)

After this I had to be rolled home. Fit to bust.

20131123_104359Next day we hit Merci. I want that car.

Merci is a Parisien ‘lifestyle’ shop, for wont of a better word. It’s a bit like Pinterest in that it makes you want to throw ALL your clothes and furniture out and start again. At vast expense obviously.

20131123_104408All the trees were covered in little white fairy lights….

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As you can see it’s achingly cool and gorgeous. Those chandeliers would look right at home in Tooting don’t you think?

20131123_131259Lunch

20131123_141550Their very cute and vintage van

20131123_165434And it was nearly Christmas so of course mulled wine was obligatory

And then then it was time (after going to the French version of Winter Wonderland and drinking more mulled wine), we decided to admire some of the Christmas lights…

20131123_185952Cartier

20131123_192926Do I really have to say?

The best lights of all were the ones on the Eiffel Tower, every hour on the hour, it twinkled. Yes, twinkled!

20131123_194210Non-twinkly

20131123_200055 20131123_200036 20131123_200022Twinkly!

It really was quite breathtaking.  And beautiful. I’m really pleased we went all the way to the actual Tower.  We may have had a glass of mulled wine sitting under the Eiffel Tower, but I couldn’t possibly comment.

By this time it was quite late and we had walked for miles, so got a cab back to La Marais. We hadn’t planned anywhere for dinner (big mistake), all the places that looked nice (think, bistro, checked tables cloths, etc etc) were heaving. In desperation we ended up in a very non-descript, and empty, brasserie, having said that, I had a delicious Poulet Bresse casserole, it was just lacking a little in atmosphere – and customers, but we were so knackered we just wolfed it down and headed back for some kip.

Our last day, Sunday we spent mooching round Le Marais and the various ‘brocantes’ which line the streets every Sunday.  It’s also worth remembering that not all shops are open on Sunday as they are in the UK and some are only open until 2 or 3pm so check before setting your heart on something only to find the shop isn’t open. If in doubt – BUY IT!

20131123_103245My birthday, spooky huh?

20131124_111517No surprise at the number of amazing food stalls

20131124_145606

20131124_113256Just look at those chickens, they smelled even more amazing!

20131124_114240Bit of house hunting – one can but dream!

20131124_11430320131124_133107A delicious final lunch with the steak perfectly sangé, I nearly licked the plate clean

20131124_145404Le Marche des Enfant Rouges

We also discovered Paris’ oldest covered market, where you could eat, and buy, food from all over the world, and also surrounded by a number of different more formal restaurants.

We finally, sadly, made it back to the train. And obviously to prolong our holiday we *had* to use our Euros up:20131124_173307

So there you have it, a fantabulous long weekend in the City of Lights. I’m off to buy my ticket. And I suggest that you do too!

*We weren’t really!

An afternoon with Jose Pizarro

The other day Twitter came up with something rather wonderful, (I was supposed to be writing, but, you know…Twitter) via @LondONtheinside, there was the offer of a FREE cookery lesson with José Pizarro and The Good Life Embassy. FREE I tell you!

There were three time slots on offer:

10.30am – 12pm Spanish Brunch
1pm – 2.30pm Spanish lunch tapas
3pm – 4.30pm Spanish ‘tea’ and cocktails

I decided that tea and cocktails sounded right up my calle.  Food and booze, were promised (the confirmation email ask me to bring ‘a healthy appetite’) and of course a demo by the lovely José. What’s not to love?

I’ll start by apologising for the quality of some of the photos, which could be candidates for Dimly Lit Meals for One, (this is an hilarious blog, check it out).  My camera phone/hand co-ordination wasn’t at its best, but I hope they give you a flavour of what was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.

So last Saturday afternoon I arrived to be ticked off the list. The Great Little Embassy had taken over the whole of Pizarro (194 Bermondsey Street, SE1) for the occasion and there were lovely people from both the restaurant and company looking after us (thanks – you were all fabulous!).

phone pics 585 phone pics 587 phone pics 590

We learnt that everything we were going to eat and drink on the day would be using the wonderful Olive Oils of Spain (did you know that there are more varieties of olive in Spain than anywhere else? You do now.)

First off we were offered a choice of either Olive Oil Fizz or Olive Oil Martini. I went for the martini:

phone pics 591

It was glorious, citrussy with a good kick and the olive oil floating on top actually worked. Anyway, it didn’t last long. In that picture you can see the glossy grassy-green olive oil in the pot next to it. It was delicious and we were given crusty bread to dip in…and dip in we did.
phone pics 593
phone pics 592
‘Tea’ or La Merienda was various sandwiches, with jamon and tomato, smoked salmon, tortilla and finally, my favourite, squid with aioli. I’ve afraid they were scoffed down at lightning speed, so no pics I’m afraid.

Then the highlight, a demo from José and the head chef Dan (I think – those martinis are strong!) about how to make a ‘proper’ tortilla – big tip, it shouldn’t go in the oven, flip it over on a plate and slide back into the pan…….

phone pics 595

 José being animated and charming (and a bit blurry)

Finally (after another martini – hic!), we had olive oil cake, topping with vanilla ice cream:

phone pics 597

On the Sunday, I decided to recreate my own version here:

phone pics 604

My quantities were not exact, but there is a proper recipe here from Felicity Cloake which includes refer to José’s and also José’s website here has lots of other amazing Spanish recipes if you’re feeling inspired.

But the nice thing was that José seemed to think it look alright, which was good enough for me!

 

 

Aside

With the proliferation of street markets/trucks springing up over London (well not really springing any more – they’re a fixture) it’s hard to know where to start, especially at weekends. Head to Waterloo for the Southbank or East to Broadway … Continue reading

Kitchen Memories, or an homage to my Kenwood Chef

So on Friday I had to  make cakes for the office, more specifically I had to make cakes that I would be judged on (not officially, but you know, it’s competitive). Decision, decisions. What to choose? Where to start? Now I think I’m not too bad in the kitchen, I can whip up fresh pesto (kale, natch) and make some decent scoff when required. I have my trusty gadgets (pestle and mortar, Magimix, etc), but when it comes down to baking out comes the stalwart of my kitchen, the Kenwood Chef. I *think* am the third generation of my family to use it. It was certainly my mother’s and possibly her’s too, at least that’s what I have been led to believe. Sadly my mum is no longer around for me to corroborate this information, and much as I love my dad, I’d get a more reliable reply from the neighbour’s cat (sorry dad).

The lady herself

The lady herself

The Kitchen Aid (seen on TV shows, various) at first seems the much more aesthetically-pleasing model, with its clean, retro design. The more modern Kenwood models certainly look great and I’m sure their performance is outstanding. But for genuine vintage you can’t beat the workhorse that is my Kenwood Chef, not least that it certainly looks vintage. Never mind that it sounds akin to a Boeing 747 approaching take off (I fully expect to turn around in my kitchen and see a man with ear muffs, doing semaphore). I’m also a little afraid that the dial might come off in my hand, that the machine will continue to gain speed and momentum and eventually career off the work surface and plunge to the floor. The dial does, sometimes, come off, but pops right back on – albeit with the numbers slightly out. She is like an old, eccentric relative, you never know quite what to expect, but I’m inordinately fond of her; most of the time she behaves impeccably, and afterwards I wonder what I the fuss was about.

 

The dodgy dial

The dodgy dial

 

I suppose it is almost an extension of family given that more than anything it reminds me of how I ‘learned’ to cook, by baking cakes with my mum, bending over the mixer, trying to breaking eggs into bowl whilst the beater was still going and usually leaving a certain amount of eggshell and a scene of utter devastation in my wake. The Vikings had nothing on me. Most of us have memories of our first forays into the culinary world: Me, covered in flour and wrapped in an apron folded so often that I could have passed for a Geisha. This is the reason I chose the lemon drizzle cake – from Nigella Lawson’s How To be A Domestic Goddess, it’s a particular favourite chez Wurzel.

Nigella Lawson, How To Be A Domestic Goddess Lemon-Syrup Loaf Cake

125 g unsalted butter
175 g caster sugar
2 large eggs
zest of 1 lemon
175 g self raising flour
pinch of salt
4 tablespoons milk
23x13x7cm loaf tin buttered and lined

For the syrup
juice of 1 ½ lemons
100 g icing sugar

For the glaze
juice of ½ a lemon
150 g icing sugar

Preheat your oven to 180 C/ gas mark 4. Butter and line your loaf tin well. Cream together butter and sugar and add eggs and lemon zest, beating them in well. Gently fold in the flour and the salt, mixing thoroughly and then add the milk. Spoon the batter into your prepared tin and bake for 45 mins or until cake tester comes out clean. For the syrup: Put the lemon juice and icing sugar into a small saucepan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. As soon as cake is out of oven, puncture all over with skewer and pour over the syrup. Leave cake to cool completely before removing from the tin.

For the glaze: Combine lemon juice and icing sugar until smooth and white, add a little more icing sugar if needed. Make sure your cake is completely cool before drizzling with the glaze.

Neither the tangy, citrus hit, complete with zesty peel, nor the intense sweetness is too overpowering , and let’s not forget,  it tastes divine. And as it contains lemons clearly it’s full of Vitamin C, ergo healthy. (see that was easy wasn’t it!).  Whenever I taste it I’m transported back into that kitchen, elbow-deep in stickiness.  Food and their associations are very powerful triggers, how many of us are transported back to the school dinner hall when we smell cabbage? Or similarly would turn down a three course Michelin-starred meal which contained rice/custard/mushrooms* simply because of a past traumatic encounter? (*delete as appropriate)

Thankfully the associations (at least for me) with cake, and most people’s I’d wager, are all good. Comfort, home and most of all, my mum and, by association, the Kenwood Chef is included in that (I have also inherited her Le Creuset casserole dishes, but that’s another whole story!). I am sure that many other keen cooks will understand the attachment to equipment handed down from family members. I know that when my Kenwood Chef, Grande Dame (for she is a lady to me) of the kitchen finally goes to the great cupboard in the sky, there will not just be a need for new mixer, but it will also be the end of an era. Thankfully I will still have those memories.

The not quite finished article

The not quite finished article

Burgers……Honest, Dirty, you name it we’ve got ’em.

Well it seems it’s all about burgers, well in London at least. Cornwall – pasties. London – burgers. Shake Shack and Five Guys have opened in Covent Garden and the queues are snaking round the block. Honest Burgers has opened in Camden. And, fanfare please, Dirty Burger is opening in little old Tooting. Nick Jones, the man who bought us Soho House and swimming pools on roofs and has made ‘Tooting is the new Shoreditch’. Well actually, no it’s not. Tooting’s just fine as it is thanks, but I’m more than happy about anything good for Tooting. However, I think we’ve got a bit of a wait yet.*

However to get in training I decided to try Honest Burgers, which recently opened their third branch in Camden Lock, (a fourth has now opened in Portobello and as I update post, another has just open in Market Place), a mere stone’s throw from where I work, so it would have been rude not to sample their wares. Right?

I decided to trot down at lunchtime (for I am a piggy. Geddit?), dodging tourists as I went – I was starving. It was rammed, but they also offer a takeaway service and there is the option of phoning your order in ahead (note to self for next time).

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The interior

I went for the cheeseburger, with mature cheddar, normally I’m a plastic cheese kinda girl, but this was lovely and not too strong. There is also the Honest Burger with bacon, or a special involving chorizo, manchego and chimichurri. The specials change regularly. All burgers come with chips (more of these later) and are in encased in a glossy, brioche-style toasted bun, with a generous helping of onion relish.

The menu

The menu

I was close to gnawing my own arm off, so the 15 minute wait seemed like an eternity (it wasn’t). The service was charming and as I was packed off with added tomato ketchup and mayo, the waiter made sure that one flap of my box was open ‘otherwise it gets soggy’. Although I was just in a hurry to clamp my jaws around the bun, it was this attention to detail that made all the difference.

In all its glory…

Setting off at a brisk pace, and god help anyone in my way (I have been known to inhale a burger in under 5 mins**.) Back at the ranch, to my delight it was still juicy and plenty warm enough – and with no soggy chips.  Oh GOD, I haven’t mentioned the CHIPS.  Whatever is sprinkled on these  fragrant, rosemary-salted babies, is the culinary equivalent of crack so addictive are they. They are both crunchy and fluffy at the same time (I’m drooling here).  The burger was cooked nicely pink in the middle (and, thankfully, no Westminster food cops here).

If you’ve got room for pudding (unlikely, but hey, go anyway!), a few doors down from Honest Burgers are the marvellously inventive Chin Chin Labs, who make your ice cream to order in front of your eyes. Quite literally. All very Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

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And here is my apricot and jasmine concoction.  It was heavenly.  They have ever changing special flavours.  It’s fab.

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*(Macdonald’s Cheeseburger, St John’s Road bus stop Clapham Junction c.2010, don’t judge me)

**As this goes to press I have heard on Twitter that we are not getting Dirty Burger, but Chicken Shop instead – still from the Nick Jones stable….and still tasty! UPDATE. Latest news is that Tooting IS getting either Honest Burgers OR Dirty Burger.  Rumours flying around on Twitter.  Can anyone confirm?

Honest Burgers, Unit 34a, 54-56 Camden Lock Place, London, NW1 8AF

Chin Chin Labs, 49-50 Camden Lock Place, London, NW1 8AF