LA Restaurant Review: Umami Burger

umami-burger-logoPeople think that LA is full of health freaks who eat quinoa, drink wheatgrass shots and practise yoga. And they’re right! But in between hydrating on coconut water and energising with a spirulina smoothie, there’s always the option of a retox with a greasy burger.

And as it’s National Burger Day in the UK today (27 August), I thought I’d share some of the highlights from the menu of one of LA’s most popular burger restaurant chains: Umami Burger.

Adam_FleischmanThe brainchild of wine writer Adam Fleischman (pictured), Umami Burger was started in 2009. The idea behind the concept was inspired by Fleischman’s obsession with the fifth sense of taste, umami, which he’d come across while reading Heston Blumenthal’s books.

He bought any ingredient he could find with umami properties and experimented for a month in his kitchen by mixing seaweeds, miso, fish sauce, soy sauce, cheeses and dried fish, before developing his secret signature Umami sauce and opening his first Umami Burger restaurant on South La Brea Avenue.

And what started as a humble burger joint has become one of the biggest success stories among Californian upscale fast food chains, with a growing portfolio of 20 locations around California, Florida and New York.

The secret to its success are its fantastic burgers, which pack a punch on flavour and thanks to their soft buns, go down like a homesick mole. The full recipe is top secret, but the special Umami sauce contains some soy sauce and the dust, made up of ground-up dried porcini mushrooms and dried fish heads, as well as other umami enhancers.All the patties are cooked sous-vide before being seared on the grill and served medium rare.

Here are the top burgers from the Umami menu.


umami-burgerUmami Burger ($11/£7)
The original creation aims to truly maximise the umami flavour experience. Toppings comprise glutamic acid (the scientific term for umami) flavour punchers such as shiitake mushrooms, caramelised onions and umami ketchup, with an oven-roasted tomato and a Parmesan crisp giving texture. It’s pretty rich but utterly delicious.


burger-manlyManly Burger ($11/£7)
This one is not for the dieting LA ladies: covered with huge pieces of bacon lardons, crispy fried smoked-salt onion strings and melted beer-cheddar cheese, it’s a whopper of a burger but a million miles removed from what you might find at Burger King.



burger-truffleTruffle Burger ($12/£7.70)
This is the ultimate burger at Umami, which is about as moreish to the burger fiend as a hit from a crack pipe is to a junky. It’s topped with a mild truffle-infused cheese and a truffle glaze – nothing more, nothing less. Perfection.


burger-hatchHatch Burger ($10/£6.50)
With three green hatch chillies, an abundance of house made American cheese and garlic aioli, this creation is a nod to the Southwest burger. And then some.




burger-greenbirdThe Greenbird ($12/£7.70)
Umami’s take on the turkey burger and a must-order option for the non-beef eaters among its customers. It features birds from Shelton Farms, crushed avocado, green cheese, butter lettuce, sprouts and the green goddess dressing.


burger-ahiAhi Tuna Burger ($15/£9.65)
One of two burgers with a patty from the sea and most certainly the healthiest option on the menu, it combines seared Ahi tuna with avocados, gingered pickles and wasabi flakes that lend a spicy kick against the sweetness of the brioche bun.


IMG_0055Shrimp Burger ($13/£8.35)
Only available at UMAMIcatessen in Downtown LA, this concoction sees a hefty patty of juicy prawns topped with a tangy Japanese shredded seaweed salad, yuzu-kosho aioli and Japanese spices. Original and a definite winner.



In-Digestion – a summary of the latest UK restaurant reviews

In-DigestionMarina O’Loughlin has a remarkable dinner at the two-Michelin-starred Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham, where the prices are as gentle as a caress. The Guardian’s food critic is wowed by chef David Everitt-Matthias’ confidence in his abilities and techniques, as well as his wife Helen’s front of house skills, where she distributes welcome, knowledge and warmth.

Both Fay Maschler of the London Evening Standard and Time Out’s Guy Dimond review Smokehouse, where barbecue aficionado chef Neil Rankin has taken over the kitchen. Maschler says Smokehouse is the place to show us why man discovered fire and one she would most definitely return to, while Dimond adds that Rankin’s on-trend and interesting dishes might be reason enough to visit Smokehouse but the service is also excellent.

Andy Lynes, writing for Metro, says Paesan in Exmouth Market may never deliver a sophisticated gastronomic experience but it’s all about good food and hospitality, and it’s none the poorer for that.

Writing for the Independent on Sunday, Lisa Markwell says Mark Sargeant’s new London restaurant Plum + Spilt Milk at the Great Northern Hotel in King’s Cross is “an amenable place to spend an evening”.

The Daily Telegraph’s Matthew Norman fails to get into the Parisian spirit at 63° in Manchester, a restaurant with a sense of languid contempt hanging over it.

Giles Coren reviews Picture for The Times, a new restaurant from a former Arbutus and Wild Honey team, where he finds “decent modern grub that’s a little bit fancy”.

In Scotland, Richard Bath of the Scotsman says the Applecross Inn in Wester Ross in the Highlands, may no longer be a hidden gem but it remains as idyllic and as popular as ever, while the Sunday Herald’s Joanna Blythman says Italian restaurant Vecchia Bologna in Bridge of Allan seems stuck in an unimproved rut.


My first week in LA

Hollywood hikeWe all know that moving can be a little stressful. Moving halfway across the world to a city you’ve never ever been to with two cats in tow is more than a little stressful. But we made it: we have left London behind and have arrived in Los Angeles. The adventure has begun.

It’s only been a week but in between massaging cats’ egos, trying to open a bank account, organising a social security number, mobile phone and finding a place to live (none of which is easy when you arrive in a country with a credit history equivalent to that of a school kid’s), I’ve managed to explore a tiny bit of this massive city.

So far it’s been a mixed bag. Some parts are simply hideous: ugly, tasteless architecture, rundown neighbourhoods populated by junk food joints and huge convenience stores and don’t get me started on the freeways and traffic. But there are some really cool parts too; little pockets of awesomeness tucked away in the scary concrete jungle. You’ve just got to look for them. The Hollywood Hills are wonderful to go walking in and there are some really quirky cafés and vintage boutiques. Here’s what I’ve discovered so far.

Sunset JunctionSILVER LAKE
The area we’re staying in for the first month should really be called Hipsterville. I’ve never seen so many skinny jeans, beards and tattoos in one place. Ever. It makes Shoreditch look geeky. These hipsters are so hip, a girl couldn’t even bring herself to remove her oversized glasses during yoga class. Not so awesomely cool when they fell off her face while practising handstands.

Hipsters aside, there are some really great streets, shops, bars and restaurants. Sunset Junction has a fabulous cheese shop and deli, where I’ve already spent a fortune, as well as the hippest coffee shop on the planet called Intelligentsia, where they make coffee in gas-fired, cast iron, vintage German Ideal Rapid Gothot roasters from the 1950s, and spray out refreshing mist to cool down the queuing crowds in their unsummery but very hipster attire.

Mohawk BendOur local restaurant is called Mohawk Bend – named after its location – and serves 72 beers and six different wines on tap, all of them crafted in California. Some, such as the Cuvee de Bubba, a wild ale from the Bear Republic Brewing Company in Healdsburg, are very unusual indeed. Our waiter described its taste as “much like a mouldy bottle would smell”. The menu meanwhile is a mix of greasy burgers and gourmet pizzas next to healthy salads and veggie dishes such as the IPA-battered avocado and chips. All the food is of really high quality, with ingredients sourced locally and portions big enough for sharing. Not a bad place to call your local.

I’ve been shopping for groceries at Trader Joe’s, a more affordable version of Whole Foods, which bizarrely is owned by Aldi, but despite this weird fact is amazing and kicks my local London supermarket’s ass on quality, variety and price. Suck it Waitrose!

This area has surprised me the most. Once famous for the hobos of Skid Row, it’s totally cleaned up its act and has been completely transformed in recent years, with many of the beautiful old banks and hotels now housing apartments and a host of thriving coffee shops, bars and restaurants scattered in between. Check out my LA Restaurant Review of one of Downtown’s coolest places, Bäco Mercat.

Downtown LAThere is a big food court called Grand Central Market featuring a hive of buzzing ethnic food stalls, as well as food trucks serving up anything from fish tacos to gourmet sandwiches. I tried Moe Deli – a Jewish deli dishing up a superb selection of Montreal open-ended eggrolls and sandwiches.

The Arts District is full of galleries, photography studios, graphic artists, small advertising agencies and media companies and there are some amazing artworks painted on some of the buildings.

Downtown LA is super clean, feels safe and has a really cool vibe to it, although at night time, it’s dead quiet. If I didn’t have the cats I’d love to live in a Downtown loft in one of the old Art Deco buildings. With a pool on top, of course.

It’s like Camden by the sea: a concrete boardwalk lined with souvenir shops selling random stuff that nobody needs, interspersed with people queuing up to buy weed at the many medical marijuana pharmacies, as well as coffee shops and a whole bunch of vendors, skaters and freaky exhibitionists doing weird shit.

Tasting KitchenBut if you leave the beachfront and head further up to Abbot Kinney Blvd, it’s a totally different scene. Here you’ll find a concentrated stretch of indie retailers, art galleries, restaurants, bars and food trucks, with many of the shops housed in cute, early 20th century bungalows. We had a fantastic brunch at the Tasting Kitchen, where chef Casey Lane serves a daily-changing, ingredient-driven menu in a cool and fun environment. Portions as ever are massive and I’m starting to learn that in most places in LA one main course is usually big enough to share among two people.

My first celebrity spot was immediately after getting off the plane at LAX. But it wasn’t quite the Hollywood A-lister I had hoped for: US X Factor reject Cheryl Cole had been on the same flight as me from Heathrow and had to go through the same, long immigration queue as everyone else. Nobody seemed particularly star-struck by her bar the paparazzi waiting outside.

People in LA are so chilled that when they cross the road they walk as slowly as is humanly possible. As a highly-strung Londoner, I can envisage the road rage therapy sessions already.

* Don’t ask for a flat white. They’ve “never heard of it”.

* Jaywalking is like dealing crack. It’s highly illegal and you get a $500 fine on the spot. And unlike crack dealing, nobody does it.

* People in LA don’t drink water. They hydrate.

* In LA there’s no need to adapt the way you pronounce certain words like water (wah-durr) so Americans know what you’re talking about. Everyone here is so cosmo they even understand a South African accent.

LA Restaurant Review: Bäco Mercat

Baco MercatLA’s Downtown district is much like the City of London. Once a culinary wasteland, it has, in recent years, completely reinvented itself. Today, it is a vibrant city center, which, thanks to its commercial, creative, and cultural rebirth, is bursting at the seams with great coffee shops, bars and restaurants.

One of Downtown’s most celebrated restaurants is Bäco Mercat. It is run by chef Josef Centeno, whose CV includes stints at multi-Michelin-starred establishments such as Daniel Boulud’s Daniel in New York, and David Kinch’s Manresa in the Santa Cruz Mountains in northern California.

But Bäco Mercat is a far cry from the formality of fine dining. It is a vibrant yet chilled out place, where rock music pumps in the background and where Centeno serves up a menu inspired by Mediterranean flavours, with simple, tasty dishes centred on its namesake signature flatbread sandwiches.

Baco MercatLocated in the Old Bank District, it has a cool urban vibe about it with high ceilings, exposed brick walls, vintage wooden chairs, brass-trimmed windows and tables covered in brown paper. It’s a little bit like Polpo in London but struck me as a more grown up version both in its design and food offer.

Intended for sharing, the menu is divided into small plates and bigger ones, as well as the signature bäco sandwiches and coca pizzas. There’s a lot of delicious sounding stuff on here, with a huge selection of interesting vegetables and salads and all produce sourced from top Californian suppliers, so it’s very easy to get carried away when ordering.

We managed to hold back though and shared just three dishes. First up a salad of caramelised green tomato with pine nut, crumbled egg and anchovy, which was deliciously sweet, savoury and spicy at the same time. There were lots of things I would’ve liked to have tried among the vegetable courses: caramelised cauliflower, blistered okra, and “Caesar” Brussels sprouts looked fantastic on the table next to us.

bacoCenteno’s original bäco sandwich was the crispy pork belly and beef carnitas with caraway pepper (pictured). Since then, the bäco bread has taken center stage and works as a vessel for all sorts of fillings: pork, beef, poultry, seafood and vegetables. We went for the soft shell bäco – lace-battered deep-fried soft shell crab with aioli, chile and pickles. Absolutely divine: both soft and crunchy in texture, piquant and rich and so comforting, it’s the kind of dish I could eat in its various guises everyday of the week.

Finally we had pork belly soujouk ravioli, swimming in a spicy, smoky red wine sauce, which gave it a flavour of BBQ pulled pork deliciousness. Other meaty dishes on the menu included seared lamb tartar with lentils, mint lebni and crispy bone marrow; waffle rillettes with duck, raclette and mustard; and veal breast and sweetbread with potato, charred tomato and kumquat. Meanwhile seafood options featured yellowtail collar – marinated in yuzu kosho, white soy vinaigrette and citrus; and stuffed squid with shrimp, fava, kale and pine nuts.

Baco-Mercat-LogoLike most places I’ve seen so far in LA, Bäco Mercat takes its drinks as seriously as its food. There’s a good wine list with both Old and New World choices, as well as an extensive selection of draught and bottled beers mostly from Californian craft breweries, and a huge range of whiskies and bourbons.

I’m not sure there’s a label for Centeno’s food – it could be modern American or global cuisine – but maybe that’s a good thing. What matters is that his dishes are vibrant and colourful, simple in their presentation but brilliant on flavour – what more could you want? And with so much choice, it’s the kind of place you can come to once a week and always try something different. I’ll definitely be back.

Price: $77 excluding service for two, including three sharing dishes, a dessert and three beers.
Contact: Bäco Mercat,408 S Main St, Los Angeles, CA 90013; +1 213 687 8808; @bacomercat

British Street Food Awards expand across the Channel

British Street FoodThe British Street Food Awards are this year expanding their reach across Europe.

Now in their fourth year, the awards, which take place on 28-29 September in East London, will showcase the very best in street food not just from the UK but from across the entire continent.

OesterkarOrganisers have announced that applicants from across the Channel include Claus Meyer – the restaurateur behind Noma in Copenhagen – as well as Kristin Frederick from Le Camion Qui Fume burger van in Paris; gourmet food truck Keep On Toasting from Brussels; and De Oesterkar oyster car from Amsterdam (pictured).

The British Street Food Awards will comprise a whole weekend of events, including a series of how-to seminars, music mash-ups and beer buckets, while the public will get to sample all the finalists’ food, and vote for the winner.

Richard Johnson, the founder of the British Street Food Awards, sees 2013/2014 as a period of huge growth. “It feels like the message of street food – that good quality, fun food should be accessible to everyone – is finally getting through,” he said.

Three-Michelin-starred Restaurant at Meadowood unveils stellar line-up for its Twelve Days of Christmas event

Christopher KostowThe three-Michelin-starred Restaurant at Meadowood in Napa Valley, California, has announced the line-up for its sixth annual Twelve Days of Christmas dinner series.

Hosted by James Beard Award winning chef Christopher Kostow (pictured), the event will feature top US chefs including David Chang of Momofuku in New York, Toronto and Sydney; David Kinch of the two-Michelin-starred Manresa in the Santa Cruz mountains in California; and Andy Ricker, who runs Thai restaurants Pok Pok in Portland and New York.

Rasmus KofoedThere will also be international chefs cooking at the event, with former Bocuse d’Or winner Rasmus Kofoed (pictured), who runs the two-Michelin-starred Geranium in Copenhagen representing Denmark; and Rodolfo Guzman from Chile, where he runs Boragó in Santiago. Each night’s dinner will be paired with wines from a different Californian winery.

Taking place at the Restaurant between 6 and 21 December, tickets to join one of the dinners in the dining room are priced $395. Meanwhile guests preferring an expanded menu amidst the kitchen action can book seats at the Chef’s Counter for $750.

The Restaurant at MeadowoodThe Twelve Days of Christmas dinner series will raise money for Napa Valley-based charities the Holly Cranston Foundation and the Napa Emergency Women’s Services. Meadowood will donates $2,000 in honour of each chef plus 20% of every dinner ticket sold to be split between the two charities. Since its inception in 2008, the event has already raised more than $230,000.

“This event has always been an opportunity for us to give back; to promote the ethos of our Restaurant and community, and to create an opportunity for prolonged cross pollination and enduring friendships,” said Kostow.

The 2013 Twelve Days of Christmas chef and winemaker lineup includes:

Friday, 6 December
Andy Ricker (Pok Pok in Portland and New York)
Mike Grgich and Violet Grgich, Grgich Hills Estate

Saturday, 7
Rodolfo Guzman (Boragó in Santiago, Chile)
Juan Mercado, Realm Cellars

Tuesday, 10 December
Carlo Mirarchi (Roberta’s and Blanca in Brooklyn)
Andrew Mariani and Adam Mariani, SCRIBE Winery

Wednesday, 11 December
Tim Cushman (O Ya Restaurant in Boston)
Stephen Martin and Dennis O’Neil, Checkerboard Vineyards

Thursday, 12 December
Ashley Christensen (Poole’s Diner in Raleigh, NC)
Freddy Constant, Constant, Diamond Mountain Vineyard

Friday, 13
David Chang (Momofuku Restaurants in New York)
Larry Turley, Turley Wine Cellars

Saturday, 14 December
Matthew Accarrino (SPQR in San Francisco)
Tuck and Boo Beckstoffer, Beckstoffer Vineyards

Tuesday, 17 December
Mark Ladner and Brooks Headley (Del Posto in New York)
Glenn Salva, Antica Napa Valley, Antinori Family Estate

Wednesday, 18 December
Rasmus Kofoed (Geranium in Denmark)
Spring Mountain Vineyard

Thursday, 19 December
Nicolaus Balla and Cortney Burns (Bar Tartine in San Francisco)
Lily Berlin, Oliver Berlin, and John Berlin, El Molino Winery

Friday, 20 December
David Kinch (Manresa in Los Gatos, CA)
May-Britt and Denis Malbec, Notre Vin, Malbec and Malbec Cellars

Saturday, 21 December
Christopher Kostow & Sous Chefs (The Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena, CA)
H. William and Deborah Harlan, Harlan Estate

To book reservations for the dinner series, please call +1 707 967 1205 or email