When Burger Club picked Lucky Chip’s Rudolph Burger for Christmas dinner, I have to admit, I came down with a bad case of FoMO. And top of my Burger Buyer’s Remorse list was BIRD’s mighty Crimbo Burger. But, as you’ll remember, the trip to Lucky Chip worked out pretty well for me, and there’s no reason I can’t try another Christmas burger – or all of them – this festive period. After all, ’tis the season to stuff your face, relatively guilt free.
I leave it late, but finally, when the leftovers have run dry, I grab two buddies and head down to BIRD’s Holloway Road joint for another Christmas dinner. The first thing we say to our waitress is, “Please tell us you have Crimbo Burgers.” She looks at us, blankly, giving nothing away. “Just let me check with the kitchen,” she replies. Then she disappears. We sit in anxious silence, nervously hoping for the breast. Needless to say, it’s a long minute.
“We’re all good guys,” she says. “We’ve got a few left. But I think today’s the last day.” Hallelujah, it’s a Christmas miracle. We order three, with Cheesy Korean Fries and pints of London Pale Ale all round.
When the burgers arrive they’re breathtaking. There’s no other way to describe them. We literally stare at them, without breathing, our faces frozen with a mixture of disbelief and excitement. In photos, the Crimbo Burger looks almost unreal. Photoshopped, even. Yet here’s an identical trio of them, looking just as beautiful, delicious and vertical as BIRD’s Instagram account would have you believe.
First, I pick off my bacon-wrapped jalapeño popper starter. And the well-dressed mini sausages pop in my mouth, exploding with cheese, pork, bacon and tangy jalapeño. Impressively, the burger has two wooden skewers through it; one for the poppers and another larger one to support the rest of the burger. Someone knows what they’re doing.
I squash my burger so there’s a small chance it might fit in my mouth. And wow. Panko-coated fried brie erupts in my mouth, squirting everywhere as I sink my teeth in. It’s backed up by a sweet cranberry glaze and BIRD’s trademark crispy-on-the-outside, juicy-on-the-inside free range fried chicken. And it’s all held together by the burger’s crunchy, hash brown-like sage and onion stuffing patty. The combination of flavours and textures, of sweet, sour, crunchy, hot and saucy, is mesmerising. I just can’t get it back in my mouth quick enough.
I do hit a wall, though. I think it’s the stuffing. But it all tastes so good, I keep going. In hindsight, I rush it. All that anticipation and it’s over in minutes. Still, every bite was so full of flavour and personality, maybe that’s all I needed. All I could take.
I pick at my neglected fries and parsnip crisps, sip on my full beer and try to wrap my head around what I’ve just eaten. Decadent. Heavenly. And way too dangerous to add to the regular BIRD menu. Once a year will do. Or not. What a burger…
At first, Brewdog’s Hoppy Christmas Festive IPA reminds me of the classic Jack Hammer Ruthless IPA – which is also a heavy hitting seven-point-two-percenter that makes you pull a face like Homer Simpson sucking a super sour ball (at first). Only, the festive version’s less angry. Less forward and in your face. It’s had a few. It’s merrier.
Once poured the light head disappears quickly, and despite the name, hop levels are relatively subdued. The “pineapples, citrus and papaya” mix is surprisingly gentle as well. Reserved. Held back. And the crisp, refreshing bronze IPA goes down quickly and smoothly.
It’s good, but I was expecting something crazier, really. Something more screamingly Christmassy and special. More off the wall, even. Seeing as how it’s once a year and all. Instead, Hoppy Christmas is subtle. It’s understated. Boozy. With a strong backbone. But… not bad.
So, I finally sunk my teeth into a Shake Shack burger and, I’m sad to say, it was a massive letdown. To set the scene; it’s Covent Garden, the place is bursting with tourists, giant disco balls hang from the ceiling and the smell of mulled wine lingers like the last vestige of Christmas. I spot a Shake Shack through the people thicket and decide to cross another entry off my global burger list.
The joint’s swarming, but still, I’m surprised by the slick, conveyor-belt operation playing out in front of me. From the neat, multi-pronged curly fry production line to the smiling, airport-driver style delivery crew, everything’s been operations-managed and streamlined to churn out burgers, fries and shakes as efficiently as possible. It’s quite something to behold, really, but not what I was expecting at all. Kind of like a green Five Guys/McDonald’s hybrid – only more McDonald’s, less Five Guys.
I order a single SmokeShack – registered trademark, of course – which is topped with applewood smoked bacon, chopped cherry peppers and the trademarked ShackSauce. I take my vibrating receiver and make my way to the food court. When the receiver lights up I head over to the Shake Shack welcome station and grab my burger from the smiley crew. It’s tiny. I can’t believe it.
I sit down in the food court, underwhelmed. Everything tastes alright, for a good 24-hour McDonald’s at 1:00am, but the burger’s dry, flavourless and cheap-seeming. The cheese is randomly dribbled over the lifeless patty. The bacon sticks out all over the place. And the bun looks like it was meant for a slider burger – or a kid’s patty.
Upon further inspection, there’s absolutely no sauce whatsoever, trademark or not. Until the very end, that is, when I realise it’s all been pinched up at the back of the burger, along with the stash of chopped cherry peppers – and the registered trademarks. Sauce discovered, the last two bites are less dry and flavourless, but still, they fail to impress. It’s like a toy burger. The kind you’d heat up in a microwave. I almost don’t want an In-N-Out Burger now. Yes, I do…
Pensive Pennsylvania punk rockers The Menzingers have just uploaded a new video for “Lookers,” the second single from their fifth album After the Party, due out February 3, 2017.
1989 vs. 2016
I don’t know what I was expecting from Kickboxer: Vengeance when I saw the DVD cover in Sainsbury’s, boasting, “JCVD is spectacular,” and “Kickboxer is reborn.” Something magical, perhaps. Something worthy of the legacy of Jean Claude Van Damme’s nostalgic 1989 classic.
The original Kickboxer was huge. Part of that memorable, golden era of Hollywood action flicks. I remember Van Damme dipping his roped hands in resin and glass like it was yesterday – an iconic scene later parodied in Hot Shots! Part Deux. Then I remember the bitter disappointment of low-budget 1991 sequel Kickboxer 2: The Road Back. My first taste of the exploitative, straight-to-DVD sequel.
I always felt cheated by the way the second film explained Van Damme’s absence. The way his character Kurt Sloane and his brother Eric were killed off and replaced by vengeful younger brother David, played by Step By Step’s Sasha Mitchell. I mean, Kurt and Eric were basically unkillable in the first movie, and now here they are, killed off in a weak, faceless, five-minute opening flashback – only to be replaced by Step By Step’s token stoner dude Cody Lambert.
Needless to say, I didn’t bother with the next three films (David made it as far as Kickboxer 4: The Aggressor). But for some reason, somehow, I got the impression that Kickboxer: Vengeance was the redemption-spawning real deal sequel. The film they should have made in 1991. The Creed to Van Damme’s Sloane.
My heart sank when I found out it was a reboot. A modern remake of the original with Jean Claude Van Damme in the Mr. Miyagi trainer role and stuntman and martial artist Alain Moussi taking over the Kurt Sloane reins. At least Creed added something to the Rocky mythology. It didn’t just pointlessly retell the same story with none of the personality and character of the original film.
1989 vs. 2016
First of all, this Tong Po, played by former WWE star Dave Bautista, speaks too much English. He’s way too articulate. Too slick and refined. Too sane. The original Tong Po, played by seemingly voiceless Moroccan-Belgian actor Michel Qissi, was an unhinged animal. A killer. He was terrifying. I still remember that scene where Kurt walks in on him warming up, kicking a concrete pillar like some kind of mute monster.
The next issue is Moussi lacks the personality Van Damme brought to the role. Love him or hate him, Van Damme had a roguish charm that was infectious. He was larger than life. Likable. Charismatic. A hero. Albeit a cheesy one. And thanks to an endless string of training montages, agonizing setbacks and bizarre, emotional facial expressions – all set to kick-ass late ’80s power tunes – it was impossible not to get caught up in Kurt Sloane’s quest for revenge. This time I didn’t really care how things worked out for him.
Also, this Kurt’s relationship with sexy Thai police officer Liu, played by low-budget movie queen Sara Malakul Lane, makes daytime soap opera romances look like Shakespeare. He meets her. Beds her. Then, all of a sudden, they’re an old couple looking out for each others’ best interests. And Jean Claude is no Mr. Miyagi. His uninspiring “come on,” “get up” speeches certainly don’t grab you like Rocky Balboa’s Mickey Goldmill, and his sunglasses and fedora combination is just plain weird. However, the worst thing is his voice. I thought he sounded different, odd, more like Christian Bale’s Batman, and it turns out that, due to scheduling conflicts, a lot of his lines were dubbed. Can you believe it. Dubbing Van Damme in a Kickboxer movie.
Lastly *spoiler alert*, the beating this Kurt takes in his final fight with Tong Po is unreal. I know that’s the classic formula: the hero gets beaten until his skin’s about to fall off, followed by a deep and meaningful flashback to a particularly epic moment of his training and then the big, Hulk Hogan comeback with theme music. But this time Tong Po’s glass-covered hands cut Kurt to ribbons. And the way Dave Bautista beats the shit out of our hero is just plain ridiculous. This Kurt should look like Glenn Rhee from The Walking Dead long before his rousing comeback kicks in. And when it finally does, it’s more like cold blooded murder than righteous, heroic revenge.
It was a different time, I guess. Those inventive, enigmatic ’80s and ’90s action flicks had character. Personality. Charm. They were romantic, in a tacky, ridiculous and over-the-top kind of way. But sadly, you just can’t get away with the same kind of cheesy, emotional hero quests today. The world’s a much colder, more cynical place. Viewers demand urgency and gritty, fast-paced blood and violence. Disappointingly, Kickboxer: Vengeance swaps heart, passion and soul for buckets of fake blood, and it’s the most pointless reboot since Total Recall.
Beavertown’s zingy Applelation seasonal is a gloriously refreshing throwback to the original thirst-quenching farmhouse saisons. The tasty wine-beer-hybrid is back, and it’s an intense 8.7% wave of flavours, combining classic saison spiciness, the tartness of Bramley apples and the smooth notes of rich honey. It’s fruity, boozy, smooth, sharp and delicious. Definitely a standout saison.
Malt: Golden Promise, Extra Pale
Die Antwoord’s latest music video, “Fat Faded Fuck Face,” offers a haunting glimpse into the mind of everyone’s favourite demon, ¥o-landi Vi$$er. The mentally antagonistic clip was directed and edited by the spooky blonde rapper – with additional art direction by her Die Antwoord co-pilot Ninja and frequent collaborator Roger Ballen.
To be honest, I’m not a massive fan of Mount Ninji and da Nice Time Kid, but you’ve got to respect Die Antwoord’s unrelenting battle against censorship. I’m guessing their unwillingness to tone things down is the reason the video’s not available on YouTube. Vimeo, it seems, is less touchy when it comes to demons, drugs and full frontal nudity; a regular night out for Die Antwoord.
The video is strikingly brutal, stark and well edited. Part Larry Clark and Harmony Korine’s Kids, part Ice Cube’s Friday and part Anton LaVey. Lookout for Jack Black. The Devil?
Make no mistake, this decision was not entered into lightly. Burger Club’s end of year Christmas blowout called for a festive burger of immense proportions. Something special and exotic, the kind of Christmas-only decadence that makes your mouth dribble just reading about it. And finally, after digging around on Instagram for weeks and weighing up our options, we narrowed it down to three; MEATliquor’s XXXmas Burger, the Hawksmoor Christmas Burger and Lucky Chip’s Rudolph Burger. In the end we chose Rudolph to guide our burger sleigh tonight.
Some burger joints haven’t embraced the OTT festive period. While some have, but haven’t bothered to shoot their creations professionally. I was especially let down by two of my favourites, Patty & Bun and Stokey Bears (didn’t even play). Lucky Chip, on the other hand, went all out. Their expertly shot, creatively put-together “Santa’s Special,” the Rudolph Burger, ticks all the boxes; deer patty, stilton, applewood smoked bacon, aioli and an intriguing blueberry, blackberry and gin jam. My tongue does cartwheels now, just thinking about it.
Nestled in Ridley Food Market, Lucky Chip, Dalston is the ultimate gentrified hipster burger joint. It’s literally across the road from a group of local butcheries and your table view prominently features hung animal carcasses, heads and other bloody goodies. Inside, we’re worlds apart, and the music’s all classic soft hits like Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al” and “Eye of the Tiger.”
The beer options are great but super expensive. The Cloudwater double IPAs are £8 a bottle and a can of Beavertown Gamma Ray sets you back a fiver. The staff are super attentive and polite, and their somewhat smug, knowing looks suggest we’re in for something special.
When the burgers arrive, all at once, we’re blown away by the presentation. Forget that scene in Falling Down, where Michael Douglas compares his flat, depressing-looking Whammyburger to the glorious, radiant photo of it on the menus behind the counter. Because the Rudolph Burger is every bit as beautiful in the flesh. It’s a work of art. And my picturesque spicy mayo cheese fries play a decadent supporting role. The table goes quiet as we all nibble at chips and onion rings and size up our first bites.
The perfectly cooked deer patty is juicy, tender and stuffed with flavour, and the applewood bacon is glorious. I still can’t believe it. On its own, I’m not a massive fan of stilton, but paired with the sweet blackberry, blueberry and gin jam the cheese gains unholy gooey superpowers. Throw in a dash of aioli and a bed of rocket and you’ve got something really special.
I try to hold back and make it last but I can’t get the burger back in my mouth quick enough. In a sea of delicious, dynamic, new-age burgers, the Rudolph really is a standout. One of the best burgers I’ve ever eaten, in fact. And I honestly can’t believe how well the flavours compliment each other. Santa knows what he’s doing back there, behind the grill.
Burtonesque punk rockers turned Devil’s boy band AFI have their work cut out winning me back after their disastrous 2013 “comeback” Burials. Of course, Burials was meant to redeem the black-hearted Californians after their disappointing 2009 offering Crash Love – which, itself, was supposed to reaffirm them after their lukewarm, but not all bad, 2003 release Decemberunderground. In short, it’s all been downhill for AFI since their show-stopping 2003 album Sing the Sorrow.
There’s always hope. Anyway, here’s the dramatic – and somewhat Sing the Sorrowesque – new video for “White Offerings,” from AFI’s tenth studio album… AFI, aka The Blood Album, due out January 20, 2017 on Concord Records. Don’t you just hate it when bands release self-titled albums, 25 years into their careers…