My London: P Franco and PattyandBun.
The earliest memory I have is with my mum at Megatron, a spaceship themed restaurant on the A14. Little Chef meets The Jetsons if you will. A robot took your order and the food miraculously appeared moments later. It was simultaneously the future and the past. NASA nibbles on Perspex plates. My parents had not long separated and this was the introduction to my new step family. As tragic as this sounds, I loved every minute, and remember it vividly. It wasn’t just the junk food or the novelty. It was meeting my step brother and father. And, possibly, Street Fighter 2 on the arcade machines.
Keith Ferrazzi’s book ‘Never Eat Alone’ isn’t about food but is a philosophy on the importance of sharing these experiences with others. Arnold ‘the omelette’ Bennett might have disagreed but eating with others transforms the experience, ripening and punctuating the memory. What makes a restaurant your favourite? People will say it’s the chef, the familiarity, the clientele or the langoustines. But it’s not. We love our restaurants for the way they make us feel. The romance, the nostalgia, the heartbreak and the joy can resonate forever. The langoustines? They’ll come again. Like losing your virginity, restaurants don’t need to be flawless. Imperfections can galvanize the experience, etching it indelibly in our minds and gasping for an encore. P.Franco and Pattyandbun are random strangers but they are meaningful to me for the people I went there with. It’s the alchemy of food, friends and lovers that can make restaurants the most magical places on earth.
Two years ago I visited P.Franco, Clapton, with an old friend. Both recently single again, we’d watched Swingers with awe and inspiration. ‘Time to get back on the horse’, one of us said. ‘Swingers’ is a coming of age film for my generation. It’s ‘Clueless’ for dudes. Set against a backdrop of sleazy LA night spots and sleazier Vince Vaughn lines, the film is ultimately about friendship, the male psyche and the healing of time. Heartbroken Mike is dragged by horny Trent from bar to bar, his loyal encouragement falling on deaf ears. Bars represent failure and desperation in American cinema but they don’t have to be this way
… P.Franco is an intimate wine bar resembling Parisian caves à manger with antipodean swag, cosmopolitan clientele and a Chinese cash-and-carry sign. That it can be all this with such insouciance signals Clapton’s rise from the murder-mile ashes and an owner joyfully creating his own rules. These include only selling wine the staff love and rotating chefs on six month residencies. Inside it ‘feels like a mate’s home’. There’s a solitary central table and a tiny two-ring induction hob. Behind these culinary decks they’ve had: Tim Spedding (formerly Clove Club), William Gleave (Garagistes), and Túbo Logier (current).The owner is Phil Bracey who reflects: “It’s almost like having a new restaurant every six months which I think is great for the community”.
Bracey’s care for the ‘community’ is endearing and has spread by osmosis through the brilliant team. Community runs through the veins of P.Franco: the suppliers the neighbouring trade (Clapton’s Round Chapel, the walk-ins, the walk-on-bys and, of course, the regulars. Londoners rarely acknowledge strangers despite their ever-close proximity. Passive aggressive manners are common. Restaurants, fun-bars and nightspots encourage safety in cliques or the morning-after pill. P.Franco is comparatively radical. It’s full of people gratefully meeting new people: steamy windows, loud, intertwining, conversations. There’s an energy here that isn’t the alcohol or the music. It’s the tempo – better yet the rhythm. Seductive and infectious. The community love it. The menu changes too often to suggest any dishes. You can expect variegated creations such as Spedding’s Brussels tops stuffed with pheasant, sea urchin Tajarin, and a clementine granita. It’s unlikely there’s a dish more on trend but I’m pretty sure it’s what James Franco would taste like. If he were a dish. Which I’m told he is.
My boyhood idols were less polished than Mr Franco. I liked Kurt, Tupac, Liam and Robbie from EastEnders. To me, they were raw and unrelentingly honest and it was easy to call out their contemporaries as phoneys. It’s the same with restaurants, you can spot the real-deals from the frauds a mile off. It was during these boyhood years that an era of Britpop-infused excess in London was born. Back then, eating out was not the preserve of the edgy cool youth (this came later with Wagamama). Either nothing tasted as good as skinny felt or you never really got round to eating.
But whilst the Primrose Hill set were experimenting with sharks and orifices (separately) something far more significant happened over the pond… Tarantino gave us Pulp Fiction. For some it was about Travolta’s comeback, its quixotic soundtrack or that mysterious suitcase. For me it was about Sam and his Big KAHAUNA burger. What was he eating? We had prudishly been brought up on Wimpy’s neolithic, grey burgers served with a knife and fork. Sam’s smutty hamburger looked other worldly. This was the remedial big bang moment for burgers as we now know them in London.
I first went to Pattyandbun three years ago with Will, a friend who makes incredible bikes. We’d been told this was the real deal place for the perfect, post beers, tête-à-tête, burger-off. PattyandBun is the brainchild of Joe Grossman who cut his teeth on the pop-up circuit for two years gaining invaluable customer insight. Here he fine-tuned his ‘Ari Gold Burger’, Confit Chicken Wings and ‘Lambshank Redemption’ gaining credibility and justified hype. This patient devotion to perfecting his vision reveals a respect that’s absent from so many derivative concept restaurants. Joe’s punters have paid him back. He now has seven hugely successful venues in prime spots across the capital. ‘The best burger joint in London’ is a redundant argument deliberated only by spotty nerds. But if I had to choose, then PattyandBun would be in the top two. PattyandBun is on point with each constituent part; the music, the service, the concept, the atmosphere, the presentation and the variety. The only other that comes close is the seminal Lucky Chip in the Sebright Arms. Like a long lost lover, did it really exist?
PattyandBun proves that something as maligned and ubiquitous as ‘dude food’ can still stand out as brilliant and beguiling when every element is made with love. It really is the difference. This is why even the finest Waitrose sandwich will only ever taste like it was made by a prostitute for her pimp.
In a post ‘Masterchef – The Professionals – (Redux)’ world, it is increasingly difficult to describe food, flavours, and eating out with any originality. There’s a deep reservoir of McCopy out there. But food will forever reinvent itself. And we’ll always listen because it can be incredible. You’re only ever a Magnum away from Utopia. And restaurants? They’re where the action’s really at. They can be redemptive and restorative or reupholstered and ridiculous. London is seething with the best and worst in kind. They’re the last place standing we have conversations sitting down. I’ll always be fascinated by restaurants. Just make sure you take someone.