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. To mark the next step in The Troll’s Pantry’s inevitable global domination, I tiptoed across the broken cattle bones littered outside the Troll’s lair, and stole a few words with Paul, the Troll’s Assistant, little knowing that I may well have been chatting to the Troll himself. I escaped with this wisdom, hastily scrawled down on parchment in my own blood, the corners slick with burger grease…
Brighton Burgers: Tell me how The Troll’s Pantry got started. What made you decide to enter the world of street food and what inspired it?
The Troll’s Pantry: It’s quite a long and complex web of stories, but I’ll try and summarise. I’ve always loved cooking and, since I left home to go to university, I’ve always tried to make everything from scratch. I had often fantasised about working with food but was put off by the stories of having to spend years washing up and cutting chips before you might possibly one day find a job at a Harvester. In the restaurant industry it’s hard to catch a break, especially with so much mediocre food out there. I’m sure many a potential great food visionary has been chewed up and spat out by the industry and left disillusioned and apathetic.
Street food on the other hand is a totally different animal. It enables someone who has little money or experience to test out some ideas on the public with very low financial risk. I was unemployed at the time of starting, but managed to get a small loan from a bank after spending a year writing a business plan. I’m not sure if I had any inspiration from anything in particular, it just seemed like a logical idea. Coupled with the fact that the low overheads meant I could ensure the highest and most ethically sourced ingredients, while at the same time keeping the prices affordable. The traditional restaurant model normally makes quality food unaffordable to the masses due to unnecessary overheads. With street food, it’s all about the food. The glamour, the creature comforts and the ambience are all taken away which shines a bright light on the only thing that truly matters.
BB: How did you come up with the name?
TTP: While I would never openly admit that I am a fantasy geek, I do appreciate many aspects of the genre. Often in these stories of Trolls, warriors and wizards you hear of adventurers out in the wilderness with a wild boar slowly roasting over a spit, gallons of ale and merriment. It’s these kind of connotations that I felt really worked well with my own beliefs about food. With the Troll’s Pantry I aim to strip the eating experience back to its basics. Eating with your hands, outside, and surrounded by good friends.
BB: Are you the Troll? :)
TTP: This is something I’m still trying to work out for myself. I used to believe the Troll was communicating with me from another dimension and I was carrying out his will, but recently after some deep self reflection I am starting to wonder if actually I am the Troll and he is my alter ego, in a Brad Pitt/Edward Norton Fight Club kind of way. I’m just going with the flow for now and we’ll see what happens. Perhaps the real Troll will reveal himself in all his glory one day.
BB: Within a few days of publishing Brighton Burgers, your joint was the recommendation to me on everyone’s lips. How do you feel about the success The Troll’s Pantry has garnered? Has it surprised you at all?
TTP: Not really. I don’t mean that in an arrogant way, but I have for the past 12 months been viewing everything that’s happened from a very detached, objective perspective. It’s still not really sunk in. All I know is I have failed to meet my initial financial projections that were detailed in my original business plan. It took a good few months to find the pitch at the wood store which certainly slowed everything down. So I guess I actually expected it to do better than it has. Some may call that blind optimism, but I was just 100% sure the idea would work. As I said previously, I spent a whole year writing the business plan. I knew I had one shot at making this business work and there was no way I was going back to the dole queue, so I planned for every single contingency I could think of. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very glad it’s taken off as planned, but there is still much work to be done. This is only the beginning!
I often quote references to the film Hellraiser when advertising the Hellfire, with lines such as “Pleasure, pain, indivisible!” If Pinhead were real, I think he’d approve of this burger.
BB: It certainly is, as you move to the Hobgoblin this weekend to start up your residency there. How did that come about? Is this a permanent move, or will the Troll be wandering further afield?
TTP: It came about because of necessity. I was using someone else’s kitchen for making buns and as such was limited as to how many I could make. I needed access to a proper commercial kitchen that I could use whenever I needed it. That, coupled with the fact the trailer is like an oven in the summer time. I struggled in it last summer and I wasn’t even that busy. I don’t think I’d survive another with queues as big as they’ve gotten.
I was approached by a number of establishments, but I’d always had my eye on the Hobgoblin. I actually approached them a few months before, but they were launching their new Street Thai menu. Later I learned that it didn’t really take off, so I approached them again. This time they had heard of my reputation and negotiations began.
I wanted this pub in particular, not just because of the name, but also because we attract a similar demographic. Most importantly, I saw huge potential with the massive heated beer garden. I wanted to keep the street food format with the burgers as much as possible and that is something achievable with these particular premises.
Do I intend to wander further afield? Yes, I do want my own place one day, but I’m in no hurry. I’d rather wait for the perfect time and until I have enough revenue behind me to really create something truly epic. Until then, I have been toying with the idea of opening a breakfast cafe. A Full English Breakfast is something I can do really well, plus I have the meat connections to create something amazing.
BB: Other than the Imperial, which comprises the classics, your burgers are characterised by some unusual ingredients. How do you go about creating your specials? Where do the concepts come from? Is their a lot of trial and error alchemy involved?
TTP: There’s very little trial and error, in fact I rarely even try them before selling them to the public. I can taste them in my mind just by combining the flavours in my head. I often drift off into a bit of a meditative state and the ideas come to me. Many of my specials try and make the most of what’s in season and I find that helps the creative process.
Not only do I try and combine different ingredients to create unique flavours, but I also try and make those flavours reflect the natural world’s changing environment and the types of flavours our bodies desire at different times of the year. For example, “The Winter Nymph” had a sauce which contained brandy, cream and peppercorns, all very indulgent, warming flavours which everyone craves around the cold dark months.
BB: What kind of dark, sadistic mood were you in when you dreamt up the Hellfire?
TTP: Quite the opposite. I was a bit fed up with the lack of creativity displayed when it comes to chilli burgers. All you seem to see is a giant pissing contest, with everyone trying to out-do the next person in terms of heat. For me, chilli is about more than just burning the roof of your mouth off, it also has a flavour which when combined with the right ingredients, really shines through. With the Hellfire, I tried to create something that not only packed a real punch heat wise, but also tasted so amazing you couldn’t stop eating it, despite the pain. That’s why I quite often quote references to the film Hellraiser when advertising this burger, with lines such as “Pleasure, pain, indivisible!” If Pinhead were real, I think he’d approve of this burger.
BB: I may catch some flak for the previous question, as I know it’s one of your most popular creations. Am I being a bit of a wuss for not trying it out?
TTP: Yes, absolutely.
I have been toying with the idea of opening a breakfast cafe. A Full English Breakfast is something I can do really well, plus I have the meat connections to create something amazing.
BB: Consider myself humbled, and the Hellfire on the list! What’s your perception of the food scene in Brighton at the moment? Do you see other establishments besides yourself doing quality burgers, in a similar way to the explosion of places like MeatLiquor, Byron, Patty & Bun et al is happening in London?
TTP: Brighton is a bit of a mixed bag. I think it suffers a lot because of its reputation as a holiday resort. Restaurateurs don’t have to make much effort to pull in the tourist over the summer months and that is reflected in a lot of the poor, uninventive fare that’s on offer. Of course that’s not the case across the board. A number of new places have cropped up in recent months with a similar agenda to my own, with the goal of producing quality food from local ingredients. I really hope that this message spreads and other restaurants follow suit. While there is of course always going to be a market for cheap grub, I’m trying to set an example that quality doesn’t always have to be unaffordable. As for MeatLiquor, I’ve still not had the pleasure of trying one, but I’m sure I soon will when they open a few doors up from the Hobgoblin in mid-May.
BB: Crunch time. What’s the best burger you’ve ever eaten?
TTP: I honestly couldn’t say, but it is probably one of my own. I’m sure there are better out there but I really haven’t tried any of the big names such as Lucky Chip, or Burger Bear Tom. It’s rare I get time to go out with the baking and everything else. The few times I do get the chance I don’t order a burger, not these days anyway. I get enough of those when I’m at work.
BB: Lastly, the Troll is dying of a mortal wound, he has just enough stamina to order his assistant to make him a final farewell burger. What goes in it?
TTP: Opium. Possibly some pleasant hallucinogens too. If I said my own flesh would that be too weird? I’ve just always been curious.
The Troll’s Pantry relaunches his tasty burgers (sans his own flesh, hopefully) at the Hobgoblin tomorrow as Trollfest, an epic day of local ales, live music and those awesome burgers. You won’t want to miss it. I won’t be.
Image source: The Troll’s Pantry Facebook page