The almighty juggle of the summer holidays has begun, and, trying to have some fun amid the kids’ various activities – Jonah’s been climbing with Mile End Climbing Wall in the Breacon Beacons, while Ava’s been doing pottery on a holiday course at Wonderland ceramics, Victoria Park – and our full-time jobs, is, as usual, a bit of a squeeze.
With what’s left of summer fading to leaden overcast and rapidly shortening days, there is often little to ask the Mexican manny to do with the kids while we dash off to work. And save paying through the nose to have them supervised while they watch Minecraft videos ad nausem, I’m often left scrambling at last minute to think of things he can do to get them outside which are more engaging than Pokemon Go.
On Friday, the weather was nondescript and there was nothing on the agenda more exciting than picking blackberries in the local eco-park – which in any case are not quite at their best. Out of mild desperation – the manny’s as well as mine- and with Jonah largely uncooperative about rehearsing for an audition he’s been asked by his agency to do for the new Mary Poppins film, I ended up shoving twenty quid in Ronaldo’s direction and telling him to take the kids to the local cinema to see Finding Dory that afternoon.
Luckily for me, my cycle to work takes me along the new, improved cycle superhighway past Whitechapel – a local area that has until recently remained rather insalubrious, but as time passes it too is getting polished up. One of latest jewels we’ve uncovered is the Genesis, a genuine independent arthouse cinema complete with a stylish bar, interesting food (cronuts, anyone?) and genuinely affordable tickets.
This means that, at £4.50 a pop (if you have an adult in your group fora kids’ film, they pay kids prices) it was nothing but a bargain to pay for the manny to accompany them to see a film I wasn’t so bothered about. And it also means we could meet them there on the way back from work in time for an early supper. I met Tom for a drink slightly before the film (better than Finding Nemo was the kids’ verdict) had ended, and then wandered out into the early evening sun to find somewhere to eat.
As an area I only really pass through, rather than, under normal circumstances, a destination in itself, I was thinking we’d try one of the biryani houses that have broken away from Brick Lane – there are one or two that look as though they might pass hygiene standards, and I’m always on the look out for an independent cheap eat. But with the local Nandos sign beckoning the kids – there are at least two on this stretch, though at best, they are cheap, cheerful but entirely soulless – we stumbled upon a quirky looking eaterie under the arches of mid-refurbishment old department store that has the honour of being one of the world’s weirdest.
Dirty Burger and Chicken Shop might feel like a hidden gem, but as usual in these offbeat brands that cater to an on-the-up location, there’s big money balls behind it. Owned by Shoreditch House group (I’m not cool enough to get membership, apparently), the finesse shone through chipboard tables and retro ketchup bottles. Pink wine, served in enamel jugs was cool and palatable, while the kids’ rhubarb fizz was, while out of a can pleasant enough to please even the kids’ saccharine palates. The pleasantly rustic (natch) toilets boasted a selection of Cowshed products.
The burgers, when they came were exquisite: sloppy and full, with just enough Macdonaldsy sweetness to be nostaglic without being disgusting, and wrapped in wax paper to protect the incoming clientele’s ironic garb.
Sadly, a staff chosen rather more for their look than their ability to speak English resulted in an over-efficient, though certainly gorgeous waitress throwing away Ava’s bun lid with her paper, and not quite understanding why we needed another half a bun, with a full one arriving some minutes later cut into four.
But that aside, and the fact we completely over ordered on coleslaw, dressed (some might say overdressed but not me) butter salad and yummy red onion fries (the new rings, appaz). With sides, and between four, two servings of crinkly cut chips is too many (and you’d hope so at £4 a pop), But when the bill arrived at £72, I couldn’t help feeling it was justified, though totally alienating to the local market (of which a genuinely East End Bangladeshi version still languishes outside).
But, newly flush will two City incomes, we had a ball, with the kids buoyed up on fizz and waking up after three hours in a darkened big screen, erupting into a game of thumbs wars. For once, they were perfectly content to leave without pudding and walk home catching Pokeballs through Meath Gardens and along a pea green canal. I learned later the manny had allowed them sweets rather than the agreed popcorn at the cinema earlier.
If I were to write a top ten of burger restaurants in East London, (god knows, I get around them a lot) Dirty Burger would certainly rank. Whether it would top our beloved Greedy Cow on value, (and for being genuinely independent gem), I doubt. But comparing it with recent outings to Byron Canary Wharf (shame on them for their immigrant worker sting, though their watermelon and feta salad is quite nice), as boutique burger joints go, this is certainly worth venturing to the wilds of Whitechapel, before it becomes completely overun by hipsters.
The four hungry tigers rate Dirty Burger ****.5/5