Monday, 12 December 2011

Bukowski, Shoreditch


Had I done a bit more research, taken a bit more advice, even gone to the effort of checking their website, I would have known to avoid Bukowski like the plague. Everything about the place seems designed to irritate, from the wilfully quirky way they describe themselves ("We are a new-school fast slow-food American diner", sod off) to the exhausting list of worthy suppliers and liberal use of hipster foodie buzzwords like "single estate organic heritage" (tomatoes) and "artisinal[sic] wood oven" (bread). It seems obvious now, looking back, that this is an outlet that values how they look on paper (and specifically the calculatedly rustic paper they print their overblown menus on) above anything that comes out of their kitchens, but on Sunday afternoon I was in the mood for a burger (shocking but true) and thought I could do worse than mooch around the new Boxpark shopping centre in Shoreditch.


Boxpark is a restaurant and retail space based inside converted shipping containers. If you're thinking that sounds a bit odd, then you're not wrong - the only units that seemed like a comfortable size were those where two had been knocked through into one; most single-container shops had barely enough room to shuffle through single-file, and perhaps understandably the food side of things tended to lean heavily towards a lunchy takeaway theme - Pieminister were there, as were dull rabbit food-peddlers Chop'd. Bukowski itself only has seats inside for a maximum of 16 people; presumably all the retailers are looking forward to spring where the large outdoor seating areas will be of slightly more use, although I do wonder how the already massively inadequate toilet facilities (just some portaloos behind a code-locked door) will cope. I guess Pizza East is only over the road if you want to use theirs, you certainly wouldn't want to visit for any other reason.


Everything you need to know about the food at Bukowski is summed up in the fact that they shun Heinz tomato ketchup for their own homemade lumpy, watery "organic heritage tomato ketchup made from single estate organic San Marzano tomatoes". Heinz tastes better, is cheaper and is good enough for every other restaurant in town but no, why settle for that when you have a golden opportunity to bugger something up? I glumly worked my way through the rest of the wordy menu whilst sipping on a watery Bloody Mary in a plastic cup containing bitter chunks of raw horseradish. I guess it was only a fiver but it didn't taste like it had more than a single shot of vodka in it and still wasn't worth the effort.


I'm not going to dwell too long on everything that was wrong with the Bukowski bacon cheese burger - there aren't enough hours in the day - but briefly, the David Tomlin Rare Breed Survival Trust Hereford Steer beef was overcooked to grey (we'd ordered medium-rare) and tasted of nothing, the Greens of Glastonbury Organic Aged Double Gloucester cheese was completely inappropriate for a burger (I know it's not to everyone's taste apart from geeky burger purists like me but at least give me the option of American Yellow), the Topolski of Kruszewo naturally fermented gherkins would have been better served sliced inside the burger than slowly drying out on the side, and all the ingredients were fighting a losing battle against the overwhelmingly powerful smoked Gloucester Old Spot streaky bacon, which was the only thing that really had any flavour. Oh, and the Bridget Hugo's "Bread Bread" artisinal[sic] wood oven bakery buns had quite a nice soft sweet taste but weren't strong enough and fell apart after a few bites.


Bukowksi are equally adept at royally cocking up other American classics too, though. A pulled pork sandwich contained bland, dry meat and was no better than the version I'd had from Barbecoa, and that was bad enough. House fries - sorry, "Hand cut Heritage Organic chips" were greasy, a strange orange colour (strangely, my iPhone seems to have made them look more normal than they actually were) and absolutely covered in salt although actually when you found one that wasn't too soggy it tasted OK. We briefly tried dipping them into the Scotch Bonnet relish ("Very HOT - Use with caution!") which wasn't that hot and didn't taste of anything much more than blitzed pepper, but very soon lost interest.


You may be thinking that a mediocre lunch for around £15 is not something worth spending too much time fretting about. Ordinarily I'd agree with you, too - this is still not the worst burger in London and at least it's not another branch of some tepid high street chain. But what worries me about Bukowski is the sheer amount of energy and (presumably) expense that has been lavished on finding oh-so-impressive sounding "local" and "artisan" producers without any trace of that effort being reflected in the actual finished product. So keen are they to tout their earnestly foodie credentials that the menu is almost a parody of itself; reams of text describe every item on the menu in such mind-numbing detail you wonder whether you should be ordering off it or submitting it for peer review. And yet despite - or even perhaps because of - all that self-important bluster and showmanship, the food was terribly ordinary.


I think it all goes back to the issue with the 'home made' ketchup. It takes a very specific kind of mind-set to conclude that Heinz not only can be improved upon, but that the way to do that is to blitz up some "heritage" (whatever the hell that even means) tomatoes with a fancy name and put it in a swing stopper bottle. Anyone, literally anyone, and I'm including whoever's in charge of the food at Bukowski here, would prefer Heinz to this bland alternative and yet there it is anyway, an expensive and pretentious waste of time and energy. That Bukowski have gone down this route at all suggests they care far more about having correctly on-trend words on their menu than making good food - even the name 'Bukowski' looks like an attempt to curry favour with local hipster intellectuals - and that saddens me. Save yourself the disappointment and the irritation, and spend your money elsewhere.

3/10

Bukowski Grill on Urbanspoon

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

THANK GOD FOR THAT. Finally someone pointed out just how stupid and pointless Box Park actually is. Not only has it been done before, it's housing a load of brands trying to cash in (late) on the 'East End thing'. The fact that they're selling shit burgers on plates remarkably like those of the meateasy surprises me none either. I hope it all falls down, silly burger joint and all.

Burgerac said...

HA! This is rather similar to a piece I wrote over the weekend, having visited on Thursday last week. Terrible on a whole host of levels. I'll post my piece later today when I get a moment. Dismayed that they're serving shite as standard - but glad to know it's not just me who's been annoyed by the way they're going about their business...

Gregory said...

Rule #5....

One should always be wary of a restaurant that is more conscious of it's image than the quality of the food it serves.

and this can only be magnified when we are talking about a burger !

Anonymous said...

I had a fairly good experience at the place,
Must have come on a good day...

Lizzie said...

I haven't been so haven't tried their food, but I dare say Hawksmoor make a very fine home-made ketchup so all is not entirely lost on that front..

Simon said...

Also went last week and it was deplorable.

They've tried to coax us back via Twitter too, so brace yourself!

federilli said...

Oh how bad can it get? I was getting a headache just reading the food 'titles' I can imagine you having to order from the menu...

Douglas said...

We love your pain!

Ben said...

Walked past on Sunday without giving it a second look (although it *was* quite busy). Good plan. Ended up having a perfectly good burger in the Rivington (though chips were crap).

The Rivington, incidentally, present a small bowl of what looks suspiciously like homemade ketchup with their burgers. On closer inspection, though, it seems to be a mixture of regular Heinz (what you get if you actually ask for ketchup) and mustard (of the French's variety). And it was therefore bloody lovely.

Pavel said...

Totally agree on the ketchup front! Unless you can make it better and cheaper what's the point of not using Heinz?

Whilst the burger sounds awful and I hate pointless menu waffle you can't blame them for playing to their market. Someone's got to cash in on all those Nathan Barley wannabes...

Eva Lai said...

Ketchup can be lumpy!??!? I didn't realise that... at boarding school they managed to feed me with lumpy custard, I thought that was a feat. Even the thought of lumpy ketchup makes me fearful as well...

Emily Monsell said...

Good to know - I work close by and could easily have stumbled upon this trap one evening. Incidentally, I had quite a nice enough, good value burger at The Princess in Shoreditch last night. Again, crap chips.

What's your beef with Pizza East? I've only been once but it was good (if a bit pricy).

Gavin said...

Can't imagine that this "local hipster intellectual" (well, all right, "local") will be passing Hawksmoor to get to this shed. Utter PR style over product. Took one for the team again Chris, ta.

James said...

Zing re. Pizza East - had no idea you disliked it so much. Pray tell why?

Chris said...

Emily/James: I've only been to Pizza East once, but my pizza was crap mainly because of a cardboardy tasteless base that was no better than Pizza Express, and my friend's lasagne was hot on top and cold at the bottom because for some reason they'd attempted to cook it in a pizza oven. Not cheap either.

Anonymous said...

Reading through all these bloggers day in and day out, is much like reading the menus in these desperate places. So what if they wanna bore themselves with naming the veg and meat what it is. So what if they don't wanna use Heinz. So what if they wanna spank all their own cash on something shit. If it makes them happy. Let them wallow.
Bloggers , asides from DWDH, are a doomed product. Widely despised by restaurateurs for being free-loaders. Isn't it high time that you just said you didn't like it. Who the hell are you anyway and what do you matter. Whilst I am sorry that Bukowski is rubbish. It is. At least they have the minerals to do what they believe in. And Pizza East is class. They obviously saw you coming!

Eva Lai said...

Urmmm Anonymous, well admittedly I do not have the same kind of issue that you have with bloggers, although I am a great believer in real life face-to-face interactions that I can trust unless a niche justifies me in going online- for example, an interest in Greek, endeavours in an obscure sport such as shooting. When it comes to reading some bloggers' stuff I believe that is not the same as reading dismal menus, but then you are entitled to your own opinion.

Gina said...

Errrm, Anon - if you think bloggers are irrelevant and "doomed", why on earth do you read their blogs "day in and day out"?
Are you perhaps in the restaurant PR biz?

adventureswiththepig said...

Thoroughly enjoyed this review (see many twitter messages). I reckon you could have saved yourself a lot of pain by judging a book by its cover. I mean Bukowski? That's pretty damn hipster obnoxious. (unless its not named after Charles Bukowski and is actually run by somebody of that name - in which case I take it all back.)

adventureswiththepig said...

Now Tom Waits reading Bukowski, thats a different matter:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=va1t6a0zCkQ

Anonymous said...

Gina
No not in the Restaurant PR.
Used to read bloggers. Such as Dine with Dos Hermanos. But now everyone considers themselves a blogger. I heard Cheese and Biscuits was good. And by all accounts the writing is. But its the nasty personal and repetative attack on someones personal attempt and passion at doing something they want and believein. Now like I said above , bukowski is not good. But does that warrant pages of polemic. Its like a reference for me. Just say it aint great and what aint great about it. There is no need to shred someones efforts to pieces. No point. Lavish praise on those who are great and don't on those who aren't. Its really that simple for me. Do all bloggers really have a clue what the hell they are talking about. Above all. Can they boil an egg?
Maybe I read the review in a bad mood. But I am tired of having pretentious bloggers slaughtering an effort just because their site is covered in praise from ' the times' etc. Remember who you are and ask yourself, would I have the balls to open a restaurant and face the people!!

Chris said...

Anon:

"Just say it aint great and what aint great about it"

That sounds like a recipe for the most boring food blog in the world. If I literally just did that, nobody would be reading it, least of all you. So thanks for the, er, "advice" and in future if you really do just want a reference, try skipping to the score at the end of each post and ignore the writing in between. Would make an easier life for both of us.

LBR said...

I am a theatre writer and I live in Bethnal Green. I am not too impressed with Box Park (I stumbled on this review while I was looking for opinions on Box Park). I was there on their opening day, two weeks ago and I would love to rant about this new Pop Up, but as a professional reviewer I have to suspend judgement until press night....(never judge on the opening night). I also went to Bukowski and it was cramped but the burger were good and so was the rest (well above average). The door of this very small place was left open for not clear reasons, with the hideous outside music penetrating inside (pity because they were playing Chet Baker in the diner) together with the chill... The place was hectic: I had two portion of chips while I ordered one ( for the blogger: the “odd” color comes from frying in lard or beef drippings). My bill came into two bits, added up manually (wrongly). Even less impressive than Bukowski is the blogger who reviews a place that has just opened (but one cannot ask blogger to be professional, otherwise he would be writing for real). He orders a medium rare burger and he gets one well done. Does he asks for a replacement? No, he takes pictures and moans. In addition he dispensed some wit about Pizza East (only good for toilets): this could be a fun joke among friends but not a good start for a wannabe journalist. If you want to review be the judge and not the jury, but if you want play “cult “ while trying to forget that you are stockbroker or and IT bloke, rant....

Eva Lai said...

I agree on the "like a recipe for the most boring food blog in the world. If I literally just did that, nobody would be reading it" very true. Bloggers have got to have a bit of passion when criticising and a bit of passion when praising. And even if that's quite unfair. At the end of the day- don't take it all too seriouly, have a laugh, then move on.

Colin said...

This is great, these pretentious, organic, flat-pack restaurants are like a disease spreading over London exploiting the alarming amount of people who buy into this current organic-trend. Nice one for speaking up, and glad to hear someone else hates Pizza East, can't believe somewhere so bad and so expensive is always so busy. Keep up the great reviews. Will you be doing a 2011 top ten or something of the sort at any point?

Biddy said...

It cannot be professional, the nasty personal attack is good, blogging is like a tabloid, you cannot buy it them thinking that you have bought "The Independent." LBR says that is terribly unprofessional and possibly unfair. I would add: possibly even untrue (e.g. notes on pricing are false). But this is what we want when we buy the Sun (we all do but we do not want to admit it), bias mud throwing etc. and we like this.
Anonymous says it is unfair but it is good writing. It is not and LBR points right to the "lowness" of the approach. But this is what we want as we are not be able to find it on a professional level. In the same way we bought the News Of The World because the Times does look through keyholes (and we all like a bit of that). A blogger gets a well done burger instead of a medium rare, great! He will attack this posh lot who think they can do better than Heinz. Most of us -including the professionals -would have asked for a new sandwich and, swallowing the sweet pill of taste, we would have said that the burger are very good but the spiel on the menu annoying. One might even not publish a note on a newly open place as LBR suggests. All this would have been fair but not exciting, you might as well buy "The Independent." You look at blogs and you are looking for this gossipy unfair stuff. I agree with Eva....

Gastro1 said...

Must admit I like the clever name - Bukowski the literary antithesis of Byron.

I have great respect for the people behind Bukowski as the food at Black's has always been very good and am a big fan of Franco Manca Pizza and the bread that is baked in their ovens in Brixton.

Anyway if the burger is not up to scratch then that will be disappointing.

In terms of cheese can't agree with you about validity or so called authenticity of KRAFT cheese slices - most of the best joint places in the US don't use it and the higher end ones often have top noctch cheese.

As far as Heinz Ketchup being best of the industrial mass produced ones don't think it's as good as the wonderful Delmonte made with pineapple vinegar :-)

Btw just had an in and out burger near LAX and thought of you !

Chris said...

LBR: Are you seriously suggesting I'd have a more representative experience if I visited on a "press night" than as an anonymous paying customer? Stick to theatres.

. said...

Chris says it how it is, If someone had really put their heart and soul into Bukowski there wouldn't be a slip ups or issues with overcooking burgers. The way they have written the menu is suggesting it's aimed at people who just haven't got a clue and are willing to consume anything that is put in from of them. I'm not really bothered as I'm heading back to New York in January and there will be a plethora of good burgers to choose from.

Wingz~* said...

totally second what you said about Bukowski, Chris. Had the misfortune of eating there on the second day of its opening, and boy those David Tomlin wherever cows died for nothing...

As for Anon's comments, one doesn't need to know how to cook to tell good from bad. More importantly, let's not forget people don't just dump the cash in for their interest and passion and their beliefs, they are trying to make money from people too...

Anonymous said...

While Box Park space is definitely an issue, I quite like what Bukowski has done with its decoration and graphics. They've put thought and effort into everything - and yes the menu too. The bacon cheeseburger was juicy and tasty, the gherkins great, although the ketchup could have more flavour, as a stronger taste would suit the cheeses - as a huge cheese fan, i loved the cheeses on offer... much, much better than carton, yellow American cheese.

Fries were crisp and tasty, as my two friends proved by rapidly devouring.

Anonymous said...

HI C
What follows is not for publishing because it is too pedantic to be interesting to an audience, just a personal reply to your question. The idea is not to review BEFORE the opening night (can be any time AFTER that) unless you want to catch people with their trousers down (which is fun, but it is not a review).
Have fun....

Chris said...

Anon: Bukowski had been open for at least a couple of weeks before my visit; it was not soft-opening, or press night, or anything like that. I paid full price. It was rubbish.

Anonymous said...

http://foodethics.wordpress.com/reviewers-guidelines/

The accepted guideline (see above) is not to review a restaurant within the first few weeks of opening (if you do so you post your comment as first impressions rather then a review). The "first few weeks" referred above are usually 6. The Times and the Telegraph suggests 8 weeks and at least 2 visits, Michelin 26 weeks from opening...

You should visit a restaurant more then once where possible and certainly 2 times (see code above again) if you had a bad meal in the opening period.

No reviewer from a broadsheet would do otherwise. The code above is an attempt to bring into blogging the standards adopted by the "quality" press. This is not the sufficient condition for a good review but the necessary condition.

A bad burger does not justify a bad review - as well as bad restaurant does not justify a bad reviewer. Sensationalism is short lived. Hard work, as advocated by Brooke Burton and Leah Greenstein (the authors of the bloggers' code), is less exciting than screaming aloud but it makes the reviewer to provide a better service for the user. I know this sounds boring but it is safe and user friendly.

The word rubbish is a condiment that should be used sparsely: it often indicates that that that the writer is a ranter and not a reviewer.

Anonymous said...

Had lunch at Bukowski today and it really was excellent - my best burger for a very, very long time. Juicy, tender, absolutely full of flavour. Chips superb. Only regret was the sauces which looked tempting but were superfluous. Will be revisiting often. If you want Kraft cheese slices and Heinz ketchup, it is probably wise to avoid though.

Anonymous said...

Oh man, an article that hates Boxpark,Pizza East and Bukowski. My kinda blog.

"A bad burger does not justify a bad review - as well as bad restaurant does not justify a bad review"

Sorry but what does justify a bad review then?

As someone who has been to Bukowski both when it was opening and actually went back a few months later I can confirm this article is spot on.

The burger is salty and the meat tasteless, the choices of tomato and cheese are strange at best because they don't complement a burger what so ever and mostly seem to be chosen for their overly wordy names rather than for taste reasons.

This is before we even get to the joke that is the "HOT" scotch bonnet relish which wasn't even luke warm.

The second time I ate there I got the pulled pork sandwich, which was better than the burger, nothing amazing though still seems to miss the point of what makes a pulled pork sandwich great, but if you're craving pulled pork in shoreditch then it's probably a better option than the expensive and poor Red Dog Saloon.

Will say the chips were alright the times I've gone.