Thursday, 20 September 2012
Slider Bar, Soho
If there's any lingering doubts over the massive influence street food has had on the way we eat in London, just consider two of the city's most popular new restaurants.
Pitt Cue and MeatLiquor both started life as mobile vans, building up a loyal following partly through judicious use of social media but mainly by being damned good at what they do. Once they realised there's only so much money you can make from a car park in Herne Hill or under a railway bridge on the South Bank, each secured a West-End location and (despite the usual grumblings of "selling-out" from self-important food snobs who can't understand why anyone would do anything as mainstream as try and make a decent living out of their talents instead of toiling for a pittance for eternity) success was secured.
MeatLiquor are now about to open their third bricks-and-mortar site near Hoxton Square, and Pitt Cue were named Best New Restaurant by Zagat.
And so, hot on the heels of those street food champions comes Slider Bar, by Lucky Chip, who paid their dues at Netil Market in Hackney where I caught up with them late last year, and more recently at a residency at the Sebright Arms pub, somewhere I haven't had the pleasure of visiting but have heard nothing but good things.
Slider Bar is a collaboration of sorts with the Player in Soho, a well-respected cocktail bar which up until now wasn't known for its food offering. If you're wondering how a 3rd-party burger van can just "slot into" an established bar and start selling food, well, you're not the only one, and the confusing number of menus on each table downstairs on Broadwick St hints at a rather uneasy partnership. The Player has their own little book of cocktails, but then Slider Bar have some on their menu too, presumably made by the same barman but who knows - I was on the wagon this weekday lunchtime but I wonder how they divide the profits when you order from both menus at once.
Anyway, let's not worry about how Lucky Chip and the Player have built their partnership model, what's important is the food, and fortunately they are doing almost everything right in this regard. For £10 I got to choose two different sliders (mini burgers, and yes I know the big is-it-a-slider-or-isn't-it debate and quite frankly I don't care, if they want to call them sliders they can) and have them served with a bijou portion of fries and a pot of aioli spiked with cayenne pepper.
Just one thing stood between the mini "El Chappo" burger and greatness, and that was the choice of bacon. The only suitable bacon in a burger is streaky; this is not a point of debate, this is a simple fact. So a thick, gammony slab of back bacon did no favours for this otherwise delicately constructed little sandwich and could have easily spelled disaster. Fortunately, thanks to some gorgeous aged beef paired with strong (and properly melted) blue cheese, a lovely sweet bun and just the right amount of salad, it was still hugely enjoyable.
A classic cheeseburger was ordered mainly as a control variable, but still had plenty going for it. Shredded lettuce and sliced pickles both win points in my "how to do burger" checklist, and that same aged beef soaked in plastic yellow cheese was a pleasingly familiar combination.
Fries were delicate little things, air-light but full of potato flavour from leaving their skins on. I enjoyed the aioli, too, which is just as well as I'd ordered chipotle mayo. Service is still a bit ropey, as you might expect in the first few weeks of the operation; my waiter gets full marks for enthusiasm (and volume, you could hear him from Soho Square) but rather less for knowledge - I overheard him describing wasabi to someone on the next table as "a kind of cabbage". Still, who cares about vegetables anyway.
With a kind of pink grapefruit virgin cocktail and a bowl of candyfloss sundae as a dessert (nice enough this, a bit Mr Whippy for £4.50 but came with loads of crunchy bits and pieces of puffed sugar and toffee) the bill came to just over £21 - pretty much what you might expect these days, not a bargain but not anything approaching unreasonable either. I imagine you can fair tear through the budget if you go for the drinks though; I already have my eye on the "boilermaker" section of the Player menu which pairs craft beers with shots of interesting spirits, and most of those are pushing £15.
So for the boilermakers, and the burgers, and in fact for pretty much everything else, I will be back to Slider Bar. Soho is hardly short of fantastic ways to empty my wallet but if there's one thing I'm never going to get tired of it's cocktails, craft beer and meat sandwiches to soak them up with. And when there's a Slider Bar, and a MeatLiquor, and a Pitt Cue on every high street in the country, I'm sure I'll still be saying the same thing.