Monday, 12 December 2011
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.