Tomorrow, epic burger van The Troll's Pantry begins his unholy pact with the Hobgoblin, taking up a residence in his ample beer garden to serve up some seriously tasty burgers to the good people of Brighton. I can vouch for their quality; I practically inhaled his Smoky Mountain, a permanent fixture on his exotic, beguiling menu that sees him rotate the specials depending on which ingredients are in season.
It’s been about a year since I posted the blog titled The Street Food Revolution and Why it Matters. With the move at the end of the month to the Hobgoblin pub, I felt the time was right to speak a little more about the principles of street food and why they have continued to shape how my business develops. The opportunities the street food model brings are something I aim to continue to utilise even after the move to the Hobgoblin.
Street food is about more than a fancy gimmick. While the idea of buying gourmet food from a van that’s traditionally only ever sold cash and carry value burgers is undoubtedly quirky, there’s a whole deeper set of principles that are central to the Street Food movement at play.
Low prices, high quality
In the wake of the horse meat scandal, the need to know our food has been sourced well has become of even greater importance Many restaurants rely on large wholesalers for virtually all of their food, whether its meat, cheese or vegetables and while this does undoubtedly help keep costs down and save time, there is a catch. When our food is distributed in this way it can become increasingly difficult to ensure traceability Is that beef really 100% beef or does it contain something else? It’s passed through so many different hands it only takes one weak link for the whole system to fail. This is precisely what happened with the horse meat scandal.
The greatest benefit of the street food model is the overheads are incredibly low. That means it’s possible to provide the very best local, sustainably sourced ingredients and not charge £10 – £15 for a meal. While many may argue my burgers are expensive, priced between £5 and £9.50, it’s important to keep it in context. If you were to buy a burger at a gastro pub, you’d be paying similar prices, if not more. But free from the constraints of expenses like waiters, heating and business rates, the street food vendor has the opportunity to go all out and buy the finest ingredients in the land. Best of all, this can be served up at a price affordable to the average Jo.
Chef to Customer interaction
In a traditional restaurant setting, actually being able to speak to the chef is a rarity. Often hidden away around the back, sweating buckets in a kitchen the person cooking your food has little connection with the person they are serving. This has two main drawbacks. Firstly, its possible the chef will not care quite as much about the food he/she is serving up. They don’t have to see the disappointed faces of the customers when an inadequate meal is presented to them. While this may be great for the chefs stress levels, it’s not good for the customer. What isn’t good for the customer isn’t great for the business, or the food industry in general.
When the chef is right there in front of the customer there is just no hiding. You have to have clean fingernails. You can’t drop it on the floor and give it a quick wipe because no one will notice. You are being watched constantly and the pressure can get a bit much, but if that’s what it takes to inspire excellence then so be it!
The other great benefit of the street food model is the fact that with this new interaction, it makes the whole experience just that little more personal. You can see the sweat and tears on the face of the person making this food for you. If the passion is there it will shine through for all to see, not just in the way a chef speaks about the food, but in the food itself!
It brings people together
In street food, there are no set tables, no pre booking, no stuffy waiters. It’s a big bunch of people, standing around, excited and happy to be there. This isn’t like the queue at the supermarket checkouts where everyone’s faces look miserable as sin. When you get twenty people or more queuing for some street food, an amazing thing happens. People start talking to each other! One of the problems with the traditional restaurant setting is so many efforts go towards making the experience seem relaxed and personal, but it’s all a charade, none of it feels real. Maybe the people standing around in the rain waiting for a bit of tasty grub are a bit cold and wet, maybe they are cursing the fact they didn’t bring their wellies, but at least they are communicating. I see complete strangers strike up conversation every day, something you never ever see at other locations. Think, how often does it happen at a train station, or on a bus? The casual atmosphere of street food bleeds out into the street and affects everyone involved. It’s almost as if everyone is becoming liberated by the whole experience.
Now you may be wondering, “Why the hell is this guy harping on about the principles of street food, when he’s just sold the whole thing down the river to trade in a pub?”
Well, I shall explain.
The decision to move to a pub was announced a good few months ago. This isn’t something I was prepared to rush headlong into as I needed to make sure whatever happened, that I was able to keep to the principles I just mentioned. Low prices, chef interaction and relaxed atmosphere.
One of the reasons I chose the Hobgoblin was the casual vibe it gives off. I became aware pretty quickly that a traditional restaurant concept was not going to work here. People don’t come to this pub to be seated at a table and order bottles of fine wine. They come here to meet up with mates, down a few pints and have some banter. Coupled with the fact that it has a pretty massive beer garden, the name “Hobgoblin” and the fairly central location, this place seemed pretty much ideal.
So the idea was in place. The tricky thing was how to implement it without sacrificing the street food principles. My first idea was to build a burger shack in the garden. However after looking at the costs involved in building such a thing, I instead opted to serve from a pop up gazebo.
The downside to this is I’m once again limited in terms of power, space and equipment. However, limitations that are one of the principle drivers towards the creativity of street food. It forces the chef to come up with unique solutions to problems which inevitably lead down paths the chef may not have previously discovered.
So therein lay the next problem. I wanted to provide a more varied menu, with fries, chill, burritos and other delights, but a big menu doesn’t fit with the street food model. A larger menu means more man power, more time, less freshness and more wastage. All of these negatives inevitably lead to higher prices, especially if everything is prepared from scratch.
So I started to think. Why is it restaurants often have the same menu format day in and day out? Surely nowadays with the powers of social media at our disposal, it must be possible to be more spontaneous and fickle. It was a theory I tested out from the trailer when for a few weeks I made Wednesday a burger free day. Instead I served chilli and pulled pork and it went down a storm!. Only one or two customers who turned up left upon realising there were no burgers. People were happy to try something different, even excited by it. The most important thing for many is the fact that the food has all been made with maximum love, from the best ingredients.
The other issue was that I had decided to trade at a new street food market that opens at the end of April called “Street Diner” on Fridays by Queens Road. It’s taken me a year to get to the level of burger perfection you see now and it will take some time to train someone else up to ensure the quality is always consistent. For that reason I’ve decided that for now, I will always be the person cooking the burgers. Of course, I can’t be in the kitchen every day of the week, lunchtimes and evenings as well as run a business.
So I’ve decided to keep the burgers as a end of the week treat! Until the Street Diner opens, I will be serving the burgers up from a Gazebo on Friday lunchtimes in the beer garden of the Hobgoblin, after which I will be flipping them up on Queens Road. However, do not fear, there will be something equally as awesome coming to the pub Tuesday to Friday lunchtimes. I plan to launch my new Tex Mex menu, with my special smoky chilli (both meat and veggie), triple cooked fries are back, along with a whole new range of burritos! All made using the same locally sourced, quality meat principles I apply to my burgers.
These will be served from the kitchen, but it will be a no frills affair, no plates, no side salad to discard on the floor. Everything is going to be served in biodegradable, sustainably sourced takeaway containers for you to casually enjoy with a pint in the beer garden. For me, the hand to mouth experience is an essential part of street food, so there will be no cutlery barring a wooden fork to eat the chilli. The menu is going to be tight and there will be less choice than at virtually all other restaurants. This once again helps me keep costs down, so I can continue to provide you with the very best ingredients at a price you can afford. No cutting corners!
The Weekend will be all about the burgers. Both Saturday and Sunday I’ll be outside in the Gazebo serving up the burgers you all love and cherish. I’m keeping the format exactly the same. Small menu, cooked to order, queue until it’s in your hands. At the end of the day why change a system that works? Maybe one or two of you long for table service and hate the idea of queuing but I hope now I’ve had a chance to explain my reasoning and you’ll understand that it’s all for the greater good. After all, it’s a quality product that made this business successful. I intend to do everything in my power to keep that quality consistent.
Finally, I hope to see you all on the 31st March for the opening launch of The Troll’s Pantry at the Hobgoblin. We’re both going all out to make this a day to remember, with live music, DJ’s and an amazing atmosphere. It starts at 1pm and will continue on until the early hours.
The event is here;
Much love to you all and I hope to see you this week, for my final week at The Wood Store. Saturday the 23rd being my final day.
The Troll's Pantry - Brighton
Want to know what's in Stinky Breath? You might think you know but it's not related to the morning after ten pints, 20 cigarettes and a dubious doner...The Troll will tell you.
Tucked away in the corner of a woodstore car park in Brighton is a Troll.
This isn't any old Troll though. He's not hiding waiting to pounce on you as you 'trip trap' across the car park.
Evolving a business can be a tricky thing to master, or so I’ve discovered. When things are going so well, changing the formula can be a risky game, but sometimes change is forced upon you and it’s necessary to adapt or die. This is the situation I’ve found myself in the past few months and deciding which moves to make next have been at the forefront of my mind for a while now.
As many of you are aware, the clock is ticking away at the Wood Store. The Circus Street development is stepping up a gear and it won’t be much longer before they are forced to find a new premises. This means the end of the Wood Store pitch for me, so I decided rather than wait for the inevitable, it’s time I started to plan my next move.
I’ve tried to gather as much feed back as possible from you all over the past few weeks, whether face to face, via social media, or experiments such as the Bounty Hunter pop up. It seems there is a huge untapped demand for evening openings and it therefore it seemed obvious to try to work towards that goal.
Knowing what had to be done was the easy part, but working out how to do it and still keep all the key features that have been the cornerstone of the businesses success is the hard part. The easiest solution seemed to be to take up a franchise in a pub, but it soon became apparent that even that seemingly simple solution was fraught with dangers. Would there be table service? If so would extra staffing push prices up to unaffordable levels? Would ordering at a bar lose much of the appeal with no chef/customer interaction?
Perhaps the biggest worry was would I be able to keep up with demand? In the trailer I currently can do up to about 8 burgers every 4 minutes, with three options available. Despite my speed almost doubling in the past 2 months as I’ve become more efficient, queues still continue to form. Would people end up waiting for over an hour if I worked from a kitchen?
I was also afraid of detaching myself from the whole street food movement, which I think is so important. My whole philosophy is to help people feel more connected to what they eat. I want to have that direct link to the customer so that not only can they see the food cooked in front of them, rather than tucked away in some detached kitchen, but also so I can talk to them about where the meat comes from and the seasonal ingredients I use. Don’t even get me started on eating burgers with a knife and fork, something I strongly disagree with. If you can’t eat a burger with your hands then it’s not a burger. That immense feeling of satisfaction as you lick the last drips of grease off of your fingers is one of the crucial elements of the burger experience.
The other big problem was ensuring the quality remained. Working exclusively from a pub, serving burgers 6 days a week, lunchtimes and evenings is something that I would need some extra help with. Making everything from scratch including the baking the buns and making the sauces all takes time. It’s taken me over a year perfecting the art of making an amazing burger. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t be able to train people up, but they are going to have to be the right people and it’s going to take time.
A couple of months ago, I became bombarded with offers from various pubs and cafes regarding pop ups or franchises, but I realised that if I wanted to keep all of the elements that had made my business a success, then I needed to stick to the street food formula as closely as possible. So I approached The Hobgoblin on London road.
Not only did the name seem appropriate (an alliance between a goblin and a Troll) but it also has a fairly big heated garden, a range of local ales and shares a similar demographic to my own. It also has a very relaxed easy going vibe which I thought would work really well with street food. The customers seemed like the kind of people who would go for a quick burger with their pint, rather than a stuffy sit down meal.
The original idea was to build a burger shack in the garden, but that’s been toned down for now while we have a test phase to make sure my unconventional idea will actually work. Instead the plan is to just do Saturday’s and Sunday’s, serving up in the garden from a pop up gazebo. On the down side this does still mean there’s going to be a limited menu for the time being (still no fries). On the positive side it means I get to keep the prices low, keep the quality high, as well as turn ensuring a quick turnover.
The other reason for limiting it to just the two days is that it frees me up to concentrate on other projects. I also plan to do the new street food market that’s opening on Queens Road in April (follow them on twitter at twitter.com/StreetDiner )
I’ve also decided to utilise the pop up idea to help promote other small ethical food businesses over the summer, perhaps either weekly or fortnightly. If you own a business that sources your produce locally, or a pub that sells local ales and are interested in a one off popup, then feel free to get in contact at email@example.com so we can discuss viability.
I’ll shortly create an event on Facebook, but the plan is to do the first evening at the Hobgoblin on Sunday 31st March. Co incidentally that’s also almost exactly one year after I started trading, so it’s a bit like Easter, birthday and a celebration of a new venue all rolled into one. We’ve still yet to discuss all the details of the event, but expect live music, a great atmosphere, delicious local beers and of course, plenty of burgers!
So there you have it, the next phase of the master plan. This is still only the beginning and I have still got many ideas swimming around my head for the future. Maybe I’ll tell you all about them one day.
Expectations can be tricky things. When they're low, and met, there's an element of pleasant surprise. But unfulfilled expectations can be a crushing disappointment. It's fair to say that my expectations of the burgers being served up at The Troll's Pantry were sky-high. Almost everyone who had got in touch with recommendations via the fledgling Brighton Burgers Twitter account had suggested the place.
Well what a month it’s been, I never for a minute imagined it would all snowball quite this suddenly. It’s been getting busier and busier and with it new challenges present themselves along with the obvious rewards. As many of you know, I’ve had to streamline my menu quite a bit recently to cope with the increased demand. The limitations of working in a box sized trailer greatly affect how effectively you can run a large menu. As queues have gotten longer, it became necessary to make a few sacrifices in order to keep queue times down, not to mention keeping my sanity.
Many of you will also be aware of my recent talk of the possibility of moving into a bricks and mortar premises. I’ve thought very hard about all the pros and cons and it seems most of you are happy to see me make the switch at the expense of losing the seal of “street food”. The fact is, the Wood Store is not going to be around for much longer at its current location with the new Circus street development plans, I’ll soon be out of a pitch. With no other pitches available in central Brighton it became obvious I had to make some hard decisions and make them quickly.
I’ve been approached by a huge amount of establishments over the past few weeks, some interested in pop up events and others in bringing the Troll’s Pantry brand to their pubs. Out of all of them, there was one place in particular that I have had my eye on for some time and they have agreed to get me set up there within the next couple of months. I’m keeping quiet as to where it is for now until all the contracts are signed and the details sorted, but it’s all looking like its going ahead.
While this is of course awesome news, it does mean quite a bit of my time over the next few weeks is going to have to be devoted to organising all this and creating something truly epic! Finally I will be free from the constraints of the trailer and into a fully functioning kitchen with a decent fat frier, non leaky griddle and space, loads of glorious space! The place I have in mind also has a pretty big garden, so I’m thinking of ways that can be utilised in the summer. Smoked and spit roasted chicken anyone? BBQ ribs? The possibilities are endless!
More importantly for me it means it will finally be practical to train some staff up to take over some of the duties such baking the buns and making my slaws. This would free up more of my time to focus on doing even more exciting things as well as of course constantly improving the burgers.
In order to allow enough time to focus on this new project I’m going to have to make some brutal decisions regarding the trailer. The first one being taking an extra day off. From now on my trading hours will change from Wednesday to Saturday, allowing me Monday and Tuesday to devote to making this new venture truly spectacular.
I have also just lost my assistant Marcus and it seems pointless training anyone else up with everything about to change, so I shall be single manning the trailer until the move. In order to make this possible and to free up a lot of prep time I am stripping the menu right down to it’s bare bones. But it’s only temporary, so don’t panic! I plan to have a full range of burgers, including veggie burgers, chilli and a variety of delicious home cooked sides when I start in the pub.
Cashing in my chips….
Doing triple cooked fries takes about an hour and a half to prep each day, not to mention causing loads of other problems with damp in the trailer, power failure due to the huge wattage of electric friers. In summary, doing them in the trailer is a major pain in my backside. After tomorrow they are going off the menu.
Do not panic! This is only until the switch where I will be offering two types of fries! The regular skinny ones you love so much as well as chunky King Edward beeefeater style chips. Triple cooked of course. I’m also going to bring back my cider battered onion rings!
Better Catering to Veggies!
I’m sadly going to have to take the veggie option off for now. Hugely controversial I know, but in order for me to keep up the speed with only one pair of hands it’s simply just too time consuming to make. If I’m going to keep up serving speeds as fast as before I’m going to need the entire griddle space for meat.
Before I hear calls of blasphemy, I am not forsaking you vegetarians! It’s just for a short while. In the next few weeks, you are about to get pampered! I used to be veggie myself for best part of a decade and I have some pretty mean skills when it comes to vegetarian cooking. Finally I will have the space and equipment to cater to your every need! Look forward to veggie chilli, a number of veggie burgers (with steamed buns) and more!
Stripping down the meat!
In order to keep up a fast turnover and ensure maximum quality, I’m reducing the number of burger options to just three. That’s the Imperial, the Smoky Mountain and then a daily special. With queues as big as I’ve been having at weekends and me now on my own this is necessary in order for me to be able to ensure each burger is cooked to perfection. It’s a race against time as soon as those patties hit the griddle. The less sauces and fillings I have to rummage through the less chance your burger has of being overcooked.
Revamp of the Smoky Mountain!
Once again, hugely controversial but I’m going to run this slightly different version for a week and gather some feedback. Quality is always the most important factor in any decision I make, so if you guys don’t think it’s as good then make sure to tell me. In order to free up a huge amount of griddle space and time, I’m going to be adding bourbon bacon jam instead of whole rashers. I think it has the potential to be better. Currently it can be tricky to cook the bacon to the perfect level of doneness with such limited space and loads of cool/hot spots on the griddle. This new version will start on Saturday, so please let me know what you think.
I know many of you may grumble abut these changes, but I hope you all understand it’s for the greater good and more importantly only temporary. I’ll keep you all updated with further developments as and when they are confirmed.
One thing I absolutely promise all of you. Whatever happens, I will always make sure these burgers are to the highest possible standard and only ever use the very best quality ingredients, wherever I go.
I don’t know about you guys, but I’m pretty excited!
As many of you are aware, I’ve been making quite a big deal about this new burger being launched Wednesday 30th Jan. I’ve tried lots of new exciting sauces in my burgers over the past 9 months, such as the Troll’s Stink sauce, beetroot ketchup and black pudding jam.
Until now I’ve always kept the beef pattie the same. This is for a number of reasons, but primarily cost and to ensure low wastage. Having multiple meat mixes will inevitably lead to some being thrown away at the end of each day.
The mix I’ve been using so far has consisted primarily of chuck steak, which is almost ideal for burgers. It’s one of the less used cheaper cuts, is packed with flavour and has a high fat content. It does have it’s downsides though, the main one being it has quite alot of collagen. This means that it needs a fairly fine grind in order to break down this toughness.
Some of you may recall when I first opened in Hove, I used a course grind on my burger mix. I loved having some real chunky bits of meat to chew on rather than having your teeth sink effortlessly through it. However, I ended up opting for a medium grind after a few weeks as quite often you would find really hard to chew bits which I thought might put off some customers.
This is a problem I have tried to address with The Bounty Hunter. It’s going to be a little pricier than the other burgers, simply because the cost of the meat is practically going to double. Some of the finest, beautifully marbled, rib eye and rump steak are going into this burger. No expense is being spared I assure you! You are getting the best of the best with this one!
I’m trying a new technique to making the pattie, rather than the traditional method of throwing it all in a meat mixer and having it evenly distributed, I’ve tried to create two different layers of texture. First, I take some of the usual medium ground chuck steak and create a parcel. Inside each parcel, I place some roughly chopped but fairly small chunks of rib eye steak, before encasing it with the parcel and sealing the edges.
This rib eye is ridiculously tender and packed full of flavour. I can quite honestly say it’s the best rib eye I’ve ever eaten. It’s for that reason that I want to keep it’s marvellous texture, rather than waste it by throwing it in a grinder.
The downside is, I’ve come to an arrangement with the suppliers that I don’t place too much demand on them for rib eye steak. It’s for this reason that this will always remain a very limited edition burger. When I do put it on the menu as a special from time to time, I may only have as many as 5 burgers each day. It will be first come first served. That’s one of the reasons I chose the name. You have to be first to collect the bounty and claim your meaty reward!
The other reason for the name is (no I’m not putting coconut in it before another person asks) I’ve gone for a kind of western theme with this burger. I wanted to keep it fairly simple, with the emphasis being on the meat, but with a little bit of smokiness to help it shine. This is why I’ve opted for a bourbon peppercorn sauce, Foresters smoked cheese and chipotle mayo. It’s simple, to the point and damn tasty!
If you want to be one of the first ones to taste this burger, then get on down to the Trailer at the Wood Store between 6pm and 8pm. Be warned, there is a very limited supply and once it’s gone it’s gone. I’m baking as many buns as I can , but sadly I’ve yet to master the art of sleep baking…still working on that one. I wouldn’t be surprised if we have sold out by 7pm.
To sign up to the event see here. http://www.facebook.com/events/409144015834596/
Come, collect your bounty!