Sunday, 22 March 2015

Beer & Buns

I tried something a little bit different last week and went to a newish, long-term pop-up called Beer & Buns. It does exactly what it says on the tin, as long as you don't assume that "Buns" is a reference to burgers. Or iced ones. Or bottoms.

No, these are steamed hirata buns, served in a Japanese-style izakaya. Read on for a translation...

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Hirata buns are steamed bread rolls that hail from Asia and are filled with all kinds of delicious things. An izakaya is type of Japanese pub, a place to go after work and drink the week's stresses away. Traditionally, the beer is the main reason you go and the food is just an afterthought, when you realise that you've had a few too many and need to sober up fast or you'll fall asleep on the train home and end up at the wrong end of the Northern line...

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Beer & Buns (located above the K10 restaurant at 3 Appold Street) serves an extensive array of Japanese craft beers, supposedly the biggest collection in the UK. I'm quite new to craft beers, and must admit that I swapped a few with Tom because I chose poorly and liked his better (one of the main benefits of having a boyfriend). I think only two of the beers he drank were ones that he actually ordered, poor thing! After a bit of trial and error I found a couple that I really liked though, and made sure I had lots of them to make up for all the misses. This one below was my favourite...

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It was smooth, easy to drink and flavourful without being overpowering. I also really enjoyed a pint of the Asahi Super Dry, which was served ice cold and was the most effective at extinguishing the heat of the wings. Ah yes, the wings...

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Beer & Buns has broken with tradition somewhat in that the food certainly isn't second to the beer. Especially the wings, which were the best thing on the menu. There are three versions, Tebasake Soy Garlic, Sweet & Spicy and Korean Hot. We chickened out (ha!) of trying the latter, and I'm glad we did because the Sweet & Spicy ones were hot enough! Not too hot by any means, but the icy Asahi Super Dry was very welcome.

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The wings were plump and meaty, coated in a perfectly crisp batter and absolutely drenched in sauce. Expect to get covered in the stuff. And love it.

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I want to avoid describing the buns as pillowy, because that's what everyone says, but that really is what they're like - soft, fluffy, slightly sweet ovals of dough that are folded into pockets and filled with meat and veg. There are four different types and, in the interests of giving the fullest review possible (nothing to do with greed whatsoever), I tried all four.

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My favourite was the pork belly - a generous chunk of juicy meat, crunchy cabbage and mustard mayo enveloped in hirata squishiness. Next was the crunchy fried chicken with cooling, creamy slaw. I found the aubergine katsu slightly stodgy, but the salsa it came with was crisp and fresh. The duck was a bit dry and lacking in sauce, but luckily there was more than enough left over from the chicken wings to be mopped up with surplus bits of bun.

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One of the best things about this place is the atmosphere. It's dark and dive-y, raw and rowdy. The decor has an industrial edge, with old beer boxes covering the picnic bench tables, pinball machines in the corner and graffiti scrawled all over the walls in chalk. The music was a bit loud, but that didn't matter once we'd had a few drinks and got shouty anyway.

Plus the playlist was brilliant - rock from the nineties that I would never listen to now (honest!), but which I appreciated for the hit of nostalgia and the way it made me feel 17 again. Feeder, Incubus, Metallica...Ahh, misguided youth!

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Beer & Buns really feels like an authentic Japanese izakaya so in the name of experiencing different cultures and widening our horizons, we got stuck right in and spent an excellent evening chatting, sharing good food and drinking beer until we were at risk of ending up at the wrong end of the Northern line on the way home.

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