The Troll Laid Bare – An Interview With The Troll’s Pantry

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.

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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

 

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Délice Cheese Beef Burger, at Cafe Délice

I used to visit Cafe Délice most lunchtimes when I first moved down to Brighton from the Big Smoke. My new place of work was right round the corner from Kensington Gardens, where the cafe sits at the end. Without fail, I ordered the Monster Club to take away – ham, cheese, mayo and salad inside a massive baguette the size of a grown man’s foreman. The ham was thick cut and excellent quality, and such was the enormity of the baguette (it wasn’t called Monster Club for nothin’), eating it felt as satisfying as a full meal. Afterwards my desk was always swamped in crumbs.

Cafe Délice has undergone a major refurb since those days; gone is the oversized glass counter that housed the fresh ingredients and whole cakes, gone, too, is the emphasis on takeaway lunches. In its place are the rustic wood panelling and rickety tables that evoke memories of a Parisian lifestyle, reinforced by the wine racks on the counter, the extensive liquor cabinet on the wall, and the accents of the pretty young things that bustle around us taking orders and serving meals.

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And by the fact my charmingly-named Cheese Beef Burger came in a baguette, of course. There was only one burger on the menu, so choosing it was easy, although I decided on the addition of bacon too because… well, who wouldn’t? Those who are of a more fungal disposition can add sautéed mushrooms for the same price. My fiancé chose a smoked salmon ciabatta, free from the obligation of choosing another burger on the list, because there wasn’t one. She regretted her choice though, as she only got half a ciabatta, and felt her meal hadn’t been worth the price.

The Burger

I’ve made my distaste of raw red onion clear in these posts before, so was skeptical of the bright purple ooze spilling out from my burger as it was placed before me, as if the patty had suffered a mortal wound and was slowly expiring atop that attractive serving board. But it was delicious – a soft and tangy red onion marmelade that helped cut through the richness of a beautiful piece of beef and a smoked and streaky ribbon of bacon, pink as a human tongue. The patty was so homemade it even struggled to be round; its surface undulated wildly, creating peaks and troughs in which the cheese had happily settled to melt slowly into the meat. A light serving of lettuce underneath was just enough to provide some balance to those heady rich flavours.

And then there was the ‘bun’. The baguette that all this goodness was housed in looked crusty, which can be a tricky proposition for a burger, as the first bite tends to push out the ingredients ungracefully onto the table. But this baguette was beautifully soft and floury, so much so that it began to split down the middle about halfway into the burger, but doing just enough to survive to the bitter end.

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The Fries

Half a dozen entires in, and I’m finding it’s becoming difficult to write about fries without retreading old ground. They were good – thin and crispy, and (fairly) plentiful. That’s about all I can say on the matter.

Summary

While the burger was indeed “délice”, not everything was to my liking. At £10.20 (including the £1.25 supplement for bacon), it wasn’t the cheapest burger and chips I’ve ever sampled, although also not the most expensive. The main bugbear was how long it took to arrive – so late in our allotted lunch hour that we had to snaffle it up pretty swiftly. But these are minor quibbles. This is a very tasty burger indeed, the red onion marmelade a surprising winning component alongside quality ingredients all-round. If you have time to take in a lazy lunch, you could do far worse.

Price: £8.95 (+£1.25 for bacon)

Rating: 4 out of 5

The Welsh Baaaarger, The Mucky Duck

The first burger written for the blog to comprise lamb instead of beef as its main ingredient, and one that on paper sounded like a real winner, The Welsh Baaaarger from Kemp Town establishment The Mucky Duck was ultimately a bit of a mixed bag. Described as a ‘lamb, sautéed leek and thyme burger with grilled rarebit on top’ and to be fair, turning up to be exactly that, the end result was something that was a little underwhelming. It looked a bit spartan, the ingredients dwarfed by the seediest bun I’ve ever seen, ill-fitting like an overcoat several sizes too large. The atmospheric lightning didn’t help either; which is why these low-light iPhone shots don’t do the burger any favours either.

As a venue, though, The Mucky Duck is a cosy little pub to while away an unseasonably cold March evening in. On the night of our visit, some of its clientele brandished banjos and exotic-looking dogs (I’m terrible with identifying breeds), lending the place a hipster vibe without any of the pretension that would normally entail. And what’s this? Kirin on tap? It’s been a long time since I came across a pub that serves the tasty premium Japanese beer, and its discovery set my expectations up another notch. My friend ordered the Dragon Stout burger, although no pictures survive before he utterly annihilated it – by all accounts, his was a tasty burger (locally-sourced minced beef marinated in Jamaican Dragon Stout, with onions, smoked bacon, cheddar cheese and a red onion relish). I would soon wish that I had ordered the same.

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The Burger

Initial impressions count, and as mentioned above, The Welsh Baaaarger underwhelmed. Although I enjoyed the jaunty little flag poking out the top of the bun, I was alarmed by just how little ingredients seemed to be hidden in-between all that bread. This was mostly, however, due to the fact that the leeks and thyme were actually inside the patty.

The lamb was indeed pretty flavoursome, flecked with those bits of green that gave it a distinctive taste. The rarebit on top was a squelchy mound of cheesy, mustardy pulp, the consistency of mashed potato. It was tangy and provided a good counterbalance to the meat, but overall it felt like it was out of place in a burger. The biggest drawback with The Welsh Baaaarger is all those seeds in that over-sized bun, which soon resulted in picking them out my teeth with tongue and fingernail long after the meal had ended.

The Sides

The saving grace of the meal, in truth, were the hand-cut chips that came included in the price and the smoked paprika onion rings, which were ordered separately. The chips were chunky and crispy, without any of the intense stodge lurking within that some homemade chips can suffer from. They were also good and hot – no lukewarm string fries in this meal. The onion rings were exactly as they sound – plenty of batter without overwhelming the taste of the onion inside, and liberally sprinkled with paprika, giving them a mildly spicy kick which worked surprisingly well. A simple addition, maybe, but a worthy one, and good value for the amount you get for the £3 asking fee.

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Summary

Perhaps I’m being a little harsh on The Mucky Duck. This was a tasty burger, and I’m a big fan of lamb. The addition of the rarebit is an interesting choice, but one which to my eyes doesn’t particularly work. There’s a reason you won’t have seen it elsewhere in your burger.

But burgers are meant to be devoured with your eyes as much as your mouth, and I distinctly remember that little pang of disappointment as the server (a friendly chap who also served us that delicious Kirin) placed it down before me.

Perhaps the Baaaarger would work better with those leeks piled high on top of the lamb, or be better served with that salad on the side of the plate being inside the bun, although I’m aware how considerate it is that it’s up to the customer to decide to put it in there or not. Personally, I’m too lazy for that. Ultimately though, I’d just change up that bun. It’s pretty much all I can remember.

I wish I’d kept that funky little flag though…

Price: £9 (+ £3 for smoked paprika onion rings)

Rating: 3 out of 5

Dirt Burger, Waggon And Horses

I can’t help myself, really. Faced with that long list of options (each one sounding worthy of its own entry) there was a sense of inevitability that I would choose the most outlandish burger, a concept that could easily have sailed east across the Atlantic from our American friends, a behemoth that would perhaps shave a year off my life if consumed. The Dirt Burger. A chuck steak patty, smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato and red onion. So far, so normal. A bun comprised of two toasted cheese sandwiches. Sorry, what was that?

It was a close-run thing though. There was the Truffle, tempting me with it’s addition of (you guessed it) black truffle to its patty. Or the Zombie Head Shot, given consideration merely because of its utterly ridiculous name, a moniker more at home on a trendy cocktail list than a food menu, but putting me off with its blue cheese and guacamole combo – neither of which I’m a fan of. But the Dirt Burger won out, the sheer novelty of two meals, breakfast and lunch, coming together in an unholy alliance under the burger banner.

For its breadth of scope, Waggon And Horses should be commended; offering no less than fifteen different burgers on its permanent menu and a further three specials, from which my companion for the day (the newly reinvigorated fiancé taking one for the team once again) chose her lunch – the Holy Guacamole. Comprised of chicken, halloumi, guacamole, salsa and salad, hers almost rivalled mine in sheer towering size.

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The Burger

Ah what a curious creature the Dirt Burger is, a sandwich of two halves so to speak; literally so, once I’d sawn it awkwardly in half for a cut-through shot. The first few mouthfuls are surprising but tasty – the toasties providing delicious melted cheese, the smoked bacon holding its own against a chunky and coarse patty that’s cooked well, and the raw red onion (my nemesis) not competing too aggressively to be the dominant flavour. The crunch of the toasted bread, boasting slightly too much char, is a not unwelcome texture to the experience, certainly providing a more durable receptacle to house the burger’s innards than several other buns I’ve had down the years that break apart as soon as you give them that first lustful glance. But as time wears on the Dirt Burger begins to become a bit of a chore. Those two layers of cheese that bookend the experience start to harden and congeal, and suddenly all the moisture of the burger gets sucked out. The patty, whilst undoubtedly of good quality, isn’t the most juicy, and with no detectable sauces hiding away under the salad, the Dirt Burger soon becomes the Dry Burger. I had to dunk the last four or five mouthfuls in my splodge of mayo reserved for my fries, so desperate was it for some moisture.

And afterwards, the remorse. The slow calculation of how many calories might have just been consumed. The post-burger belly beginning to cramp up immediately. The slowly-dawning dread that its actually a fair old walk back to the comforts of home. By no means a bad burger – this has plenty going for it, not least the sheer gluttony of it all – I won’t be eating it again. Although I’m certainly not put off in trying some of the other interesting looking sandwiches on the list.

The Fries

“Any spare centimetres in that overflowing gut of yours?” the Waggon And Horses asks? “We’ll see to that.”

Alongside my burger colossus on its tasteful wooden platter was a small white bowl positively overflowing with crisp golden fries. So much so that a rogue one sabotaged my artfully composed burger shot, and another had given up and launched itself off the side. Fantastic value at just £2.00 extra, the fries were tasty enough but almost immediately stone cold. Hard to begrudge this when they’re all sitting out in the open like that, far away from the warmth of their receptacle, but still – nobody really wants cold fries do they?

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The Venue

Waggon And Horses is a cosy little pub that sits on the corner of Jubilee Street and Church Street, where the staff are friendly and the whisky list is extensive. In the summer, the place positively heaves, buoyed by an enormous beer ‘garden’ (essentially an area staked out on the pavement outside) that attracts sun-seekers looking for liquid refreshment. Inside, you’ll find the usual items that denote classic English pubs up and down the land – fruit machines, brass light fittings, and old boys in flat caps whiling away a lazy lunch hour. The staff were suitably warm and friendly, like most places in this fair town, and all in all its a very decent little boozer.

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Summary

For sheer novelty factor, the Dirt Burger will be tough to beat. Whilst the Troll Pantry surprises and delights with exotic ingredients (take a bow, Jim Beam bourbon) the Dirt Burger goes for all-out calorific war, fusing two gutbusting meals into one, and channeling the spirit of American burger joints across the pond. But here’s the rub – it actually gets worse as a burger rather than better, mainly because of that lack of greasy, juicy goodness that keeps a burger satisfying to the end. Here’s a pro tip: if you do get one – and you still should, all things considered – split it with a friend, and wolf down those decadent toasties whilst the cheese is still all good and gooey. You, and your belly, will thank me for it.

Price: £7.50 (+ £2.00 for the fries)

Rating 3.5 out of 5

Smoky Mountain, The Troll’s Pantry

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. Claims of the ‘best burger in Brighton’ were being bandied about with eyebrow-raising frequency. How could The Troll’s Pantry not be the next establishment I visited?

After checking its various media channels, I read of horror stories of an hour’s wait to be served at the one-man burger van. So, to be safe, I headed for Circle Street – where The Troll’s Pantry sits in the corner of a car park opposite a wood recycling centre – earlier than opening hours on a bitterly cold Saturday morning. To be presented with a boarded up van, no queues and an empty car park. Great.

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My companion for the day (a friend of mine eager to pick up the slack from my burgered-out fiancé) and I crashed down on the bench outside of the wood store, and the only seating we could see, and began to chat. But then a funny thing happened. By the time 12pm had rolled around and we surfaced from our chinwag, a queue had stealthily formed in front of the van. The hatch opened, and a handful of people were already ordering. The rumours were true – The Troll’s Pantry was hot news among those looking for a tasty burger. Finally, it was our turn to order. The special for the day, was the ominous-sounding Hellfire, composed of scary things like ghost naga chillies and tequila, and well out of my spice comfort zone. So I plumped for the Smoky Mountain, one of two unchanging stalwarts on the menu along with the classic-sounding Imperial. Five or so minutes later, we retrieved our burgers and somehow managed to reclaim the bench. I took my first bite, and expectations were blown away.

The Burger

Succulent. Juicy. Sweet. Smoky. And yes, a little bit mountainous. Basically, pick an adjective. The first taste of the Smoky Mountain is an explosion of flavour, underscored by the moistness and greasiness of that beef – a 35-day-aged English Longhorn steak pattie cooked to perfection and melting perfectly in the mouth.

Then come the various complimentary notes – a jam comprised of smoked bacon and bourbon, the soft-as-butter caramelised onions, the smoked foresters cheese, a hint of healthy greens in the shredded lettuce forming a bed for that juicy beef. Finally a subtle note of rum BBQ sauce lingers just long enough on the palette before the next heavenly bite. All housed in a home-made brioche bun that, just about, manages to hold firm till the end in the face of all those delicious ingredients. My friend was ready to rejoin the queue (which by this point had already become substantial) for another burger halfway through his first, but by the time we had both devoured our last bites, we were well and truly sated.

At £7, the Smoky Mountain isn’t cheap, but its quality speaks for itself, and it’s hard to begrudge paying extra for a burger that’s clearly put together with a lot of love, skill and effort, in a clearly exhausting environment. Ladies and gentlemen, this is a masterpiece of a burger. I already have my eye on a few of the other specials (the Troll’s Stinky Breath Burger – made with blue cheese and anchovies, perhaps, or the Winter Nymph, with blackberry and cognac peppercorn sauce) and even, maybe, putting my faith in this great burger chef enough to plump for that fearsome Hellfire. In short, go as soon as you can.

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The Fries

There were none. With demand so steep, and manpower so limited, The Troll’s Pantry only offers three burgers each day and a small selection of drinks. No sides. Don’t fret though – you’ll be full enough.

Summary

A browse of The Troll Pantry’s blog reveals a possible pop-up restaurant in some lucky pub in the near future, and it can’t come a moment too soon. As an experience, eating at The Troll’s Pantry would be difficult to recommend without the sensational food, especially in the winter months. With no seating or protection against the elements, lunch here isn’t going to be a long and lazy affair. This is for those looking for their burger fix, and won’t let a thing like the lack of a chair or heating to deter them.

With a product this fantastic, though, it can only be a good thing when more people can get their hands on it – such is the demand, The Troll’s Pantry is only open 11.30am to 2pm Wednesday to Friday, and 12pm till 3pm on a Saturday. So get there, vote with your wallets, get this extraordinary eatery the upgrade in digs it deserves, and celebrate the fact that there’s a rather special place to stuff your face with gourmet burgers in this brilliant seaside town. This is the start of something big, and I’m already counting the days till I can eat there again.

Price: £7

Rating: 4.5 out of 5