Perfect burgers in Surrey

A review of Brisk Burgers, Oxted, Surrey

Having grown-up in America, I think I have at least a little right to a strong opinion on the subject of burgers. I’m sure there are many delicious burgers to be had in the UK, but unfortunately I have encountered very few of them. For me, burgers in this country are usually overcooked and dry, with not enough toppings or condiments.

So imagine my delight when I found Brisk Burgers, a newly-opened burger bar in Oxted, Surrey. This place really ticks all of the boxes for me.

The menu

The menu is relatively simple but has a nice variety of burgers for different tastes. I chose the “All-American” (as this was the true test for me), but “The Gurkha”, a lamb burger with curry seasoning and a yoghurt dressing, sounded delicious.

Husband chose “The Bandit” (pictured above), which had chilli sauce and roasted red peppers in addition to the usual bacon cheeseburger toppings.

There were a range of different chips you could order with your burger: standard chips, thinner “fries”, skinny fries, courgette fries and sweet potato chips. Other standard sides, such as coleslaw, were also on offer.

The drinks menu was large and comprehensive. I was particularly impressed that they offered local real ale, imported American beers and milkshakes.

There was a children’s menu as well, with a beef burger, chicken burger and bean burger as the main options. We were there without the kids around 7:30pm on a Saturday, but it was nice to see lots of kids there and know that ours would be welcome at that time on a future visit.

The food

My burger was a beautiful thing. It was slightly pink in the middle which rendered the meat soft and juicy. The tomato and onion were fresh, the streaky bacon nice and crispy. My favourite thing was the pickles served in a mustard dressing. I love pickles generally but these were quite special – not too sweet, not too vinegary. And there were a variety of condiments provided, including the must-have mustard for American burgers, French’s.

Husband was equally impressed with his burger, despite being far pickier than I am. He said the red peppers were sweet and just the right consistency (not slimy as roasted veg can sometimes be), and the chilli offered just the right kick for his chilli-loving self.

We had skinny fries (pretty good) and courgette fries (amazing). It was the first time I’d had courgette fries and they were delicious. Little squares of soft courgette coated in a tempura-style batter and delicately seasoned. And I’m pretty sure they were one of my five-a-day.

The atmosphere

IMG_20160730_193826The restaurant had a carefully studied hipster vibe that would have been at home in Shoreditch. There were funny drawings of moustachioed hipsters wearing burgers as hats on the wall. And despite it being quite a narrow space, the bare brickwork and light-coloured furniture made it feel bright and airy.

The only feedback I have is that they should consider adding some hooks under the bar for hanging personal belongings. We waited there for our table and I couldn’t figure out where to rest my handbag.

The service

Very friendly, professional and happy to accommodate special requests. It was a little bit slow at times, but it was very busy and the place has only just opened, so I expect they will tighten things up as time goes on.

The price

This really surprised us. We had 2 burgers, 2 sides and 4 alcoholic drinks, and were expecting to pay over £50, but the final bill came to under £40.

The verdict

Unique, outstanding and definitely worth a visit.

 

The Blacksmith’s Arms, Isle of Wight

Fresh seafood & breathtaking views at a child-friendly pub

It is so easy to find disappointing pubs on holiday. Usually, the food is bad. Often, the beer is bad too. Pubs on holiday too often are visited by merit of their location or simply because the kids are starving and/or they need the toilet. “Are we going to the pub, mummy? Look, mummy, there’s a pub! STOP MUMMY STOP! There’s a pub RIGHT THERE!”

However, The Blacksmith’s Arms surprised us. We followed a half-broken sign near our holiday park. The second half of the pub’s name was gone, so we only knew we were going to the Black-something. We followed the sign because it said “fresh local seafood”, but we weren’t holding out much hope.

When we arrived, it was a little worrying that nobody seemed to be there, but it was only just 12pm, which is the absolute latest lunchtime our monkeys will stand for. We decided to go for it and found a table in the terraced garden, which had an absolutely breathtaking view over the Solent.

The view was not advertised on the broken sign. But I’m pretty sure I’ve never been to a pub with a better view. I’m also awarding extra marks for providing tables with sun umbrellas, as we are slightly vampirish in our ways and don’t like being in direct sunlight.

Inside the pub, we received a friendly welcome. There was a large specials board and an even larger menu, and a bit of local real ale on tap (and other more girly drinks as well, obvs). I ordered the local dressed crab with salad and new potatoes, Husband got salmon with a prawn sauce, and we ordered sausage & mash for both boys.

The kids ate more food than they’d eaten in days. You don’t get sausages like that in every random pub with a broken sign. Husband loved his salmon and my crab salad was quite good too. My only criticism was that the salad could have used more dressing. There were only a few splats of balsamic vinegar and full-on vinaigrette would have been much nicer. Also, the portions were huge. This can only be a good thing, but worth knowing if you’re planning to order starters or pudding.

After lunch we enjoyed the playground with the kids. It’s not flashy, but there’s enough there that both our children had tantrums upon being asked to leave. It had a basket swing, a normal swing, and a little wooden castle with a tunnel.

I also can’t sign off without mentioning the ladies toilets. They are clean and a very plush changing table resides within a carpeted sitting room containing leather sofas. It’s so nice to be able to change the baby in a public toilet without feeling like you need a shower afterwards.

The Verdict

ShelliconShelliconShelliconShelliconShellicon5 out of 5 shells – best holiday pub ever

 

Garlic & chilli heaven on the Isle of Wight

Breathing fire and smelling like a dragon

That’s right. We devoted an entire day of our holiday to two of my very favourite ingredients. Both of my pregnancies had me fairly obsessed with garlic and chilli, to the point that I carried a bottle of Tabasco in my handbag and used half the bottle of garlic piri-piri sauce every time I went to Nandos (which was a lot).

So you can imagine my excitement to find that The Garlic Farm and House of Chilli were within a short drive of one another. We also accidentally discovered some other fun stuff at Holliers Park, where House of Chilli was based.

House of Chilli

This place is a shop, a tourist attraction and a way of life all rolled up into one. Their homepage says their aim is “not just to help the hardened chilliheads feel the burn, but to offer a rangehouse of chilli of products suited to all tastes”. The walls of the rather large shop were lined with chilli-based sauces beyond what you’ve ever imagined.

The main attraction of the shop is their extensive tasting table. The large table in the middle of the shop had about 20 different things to taste, including salad dressing, mayonnaise, pickles, chutneys and salsas. The mechanism for transferring condiment to mouth were some rather lovely tiny pieces of tortilla. I tried everything. My favourite was the Chip Shop Curry Sauce.

There was also a smaller table with an actual health warning on it. About 5 sauces that are not for chilli rookies, arranged in order of hotness. I managed two of the milder ones and was temporarily deprived of the ability to speak (a very rare occurrence). Husband tried the hottest one and he was stoned on chilli endorphins for the next half hour.

It was also a child-friendly shop with a great big chalkboard at the back where they could draw and a reading area with some children’s books. There was an ice cream machine as well, although that may have been more for those adults who go a little too far with the chilli samples.

Holliers Park

Husband was suffering some serious chilli intoxication after leaving the chilli shop, so we decided to have a nose round the other shops on the property while he sobered up.

First we popped into Island Artisan. I groaned on the way in, expecting it to contain a variety of generic tourist tat. Boy was I wrong. This was a real hub of unusual artisan goods with a number of artists in residence who you could watch in action. steampunk hats

One man had lost many abilities due to suffering a stroke but had found new purpose in doing pyrography. I was very tempted to buy his portrayal of the Lady of the Lake bestowing Excalibur upon King Arthur. I also really wanted to buy one of the steampunk hats. I’m sure those would have multiple uses, mostly involving alcohol consumption. But my house is really small and my two little monkeys are the reason why we can’t have nice things.

There was loads of other cool stuff there and, thoughtfully, they provided toys and colouring to keep the kids busy while the parents nose around.

All of that hankering after hats began to work up a thirst, and it was simply not an option to ignore the property’s Victory Tearooms. “It’s a double-decker bus cafe!” shouted Eldest Victory Tea Rooms on the Isle of Wightin amazement. And right he was – it was a massive double-decker bus filled with wartime memorabilia. You order downstairs from two cheerful women in 1940s attire, and your order is delivered via dumbwaiter to the top deck of the bus.

The service was a little bit slow to us mainland Southerners, but then there seemed to be a general lack of rush across the whole island. We kept reminding each other that we should try to enjoy the island pace of life. And in any case, where else can you eat tea and cake whilst pretending to drive the bus? Cafes don’t get much more fun than this.

The Garlic Farm

The Garlic FarmAnd so, having tired of driving the bus, we proceeded to The Garlic Farm to have our lunch.

The restaurant has a nice atmosphere but a very small menu. I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t a larger choice of garlic-related main courses on the menu. Many of the more unique garlicky dishes were part of overpriced sampler platters.

I had the roasted garlic starter, which involves spreading soft, massive garlic cloves on slices of bread. I’ve seen this executed much better. There was not enough bread and the butter was cold, so I couldn’t spread it. The garlic also wasn’t as flavourful as I was expecting. Perhaps it was not the correct breed of garlic.

I enjoyed my main more: a flatbread spread with pesto and piled with a collection of roasted vegetables. The pesto transformed the dish from dull vegetarian option to delicious and the sweet, succulent tomatoes upstaged the other vegetables. I did not eat the ill-considered giant wedges of barely-cooked red onion.

Husband had a sandwich with smoked salmon, cream cheese, garlic puree and some other stuff. He said it wasn’t too bad but that it was weird that it was served hot. Warm sheets of smoked salmon just aren’t really a thing, as far as I know.

The kids menu was large and provided in the form of an activity/colouring sheet, which was nice. But the kids didn’t really eat the food. Not even Youngest, who eats everything.

So, I was a little disappointed with the restaurant and think they could up their game there, but the rest of the farm was brilliant. Especially considering that admission and parking are free.

TOP TIP: Despite my moaning about “not enough garlic”, I really wouldn’t recommend going to the The Garlic Farm restaurant if you’re planning a date, a business meeting, or to take public transport. The garlic smell emitted from our mouths (and other places, perhaps) was truly offensive for at least the next 24 hours. It’s a good thing we didn’t have any guests in our caravan.

Besides the shop (where we bought the pesto from my flatbread and a massive braid of garlic), there was a large room where you could taste the wares, an education room hosting arts & crafts for children, a cafe and an ice cream stand.

Wildflowers at The Garlic FarmWhat we enjoyed most was the walk around the farm. There were beautiful fields of wildflowers and rows of different types of garlic with descriptions for each. I had no idea there was such a wide variety of garlic breeds for all around the world.

You could then proceed to take a nature walk through woods and fields, where you may see some cows. The website had implied there was a variety of other animals, but we couldn’t spot them. It was a very hot day so perhaps they were wiser than us and off keeping cool somewhere.

The farm was also a prehistoric settlement and you can see some artefacts that have been found there in the education room.

TOP TIP: If you’re with the kids, remember to get a map before starting the nature walk (I didn’t), and make sure you only attempt “very short nature walk” or “short nature walk”. We did the latter and it was still a big ask for Eldest. At one point, I told him to go have a rest on a random bench, but when he did, it fell over on top of him! So do test any benches before attempting to sit on them.

The walk ended in a grassy area with a children’s playhouse and some free-range chickens. I was a little bit scared that the chickens would attack, so we didn’t stay long.