You know when people ask you what you would request for your last supper on death row? Or when someone throws that ridiculous 'If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life...' quandary at you? I'm sure the correct answer is supposed to be something exotic, something expensive, something hard to come by yet a real treat to eat. Mine, however, is unashamedly always the same and never takes me any less less than a second to answer - it's Mac and Cheese of course!
Up until a couple of years ago, nothing bet my Mum's homemade recipe for me. As a fussy youngster, those days when I'd come home from school and see Mum stirring a pot of cheese sauce were happy days indeed. Since then it's always been pretty rare to find anything which could rival that when out at restaurants. Sometimes when I'd see it on a pub grub menu (usually when I was hungover or too tired to think about what I wanted to eat) and I'd give it a go but I'd always be left disappointed. Never enough cheese, too stodgy, didn't taste of anything. It was the comfort food without the taste. When I reviewed British Restaurant Bumpkin a while back, that was probably the first time I'd seen Mac and Cheese listed as a side in a London restaurant that wasn't an American diner or a burger joint and I was intrigued. If you read the review you'll know this place still remains one of my favourite restaurants and much of that is due to how good their Mac and Cheese was. Suddenly the idea of good Mac and Cheese on a British menu was ignited, and I began searching out more.
The search unfortunately didn't really take off, it just wasn't really a thing here. It wasn't until our trip to New York at the end of last year that I realised just how it could be done. Although different from the British comfort food that I'd grown up on, New York's Mac and Cheese was definitely rivaling my Mum's homemade if even purely for it's accessibility. Almost every restaurant listed it as a side or even a main (the potions sizes were huge no matter what so it rarely mattered which you chose) and this is where I was first introduced to the Mac and Cheese restaurant/ take out. Restaurants and late night take away haunts solely dedicated to the cheesy stuff - genius! And so, it was there in a funny little takeaway cafe in Hoboken, that The Mac and Cheese Diaries was born. A challenge to search out top notch Mac and Cheese and review it on this here blog for other Mac and Cheese lovers to appreciate.
Although I've still got a bunch of cheesy dishes to review from NYC, I figured it made sense to start with London. Few people understand my obsession with the cheesy stuff. Some share my love for a good bowl when hungover and others will eat it with neither a love nor hate stance but I've met very few who, like me, would actually be prepared to eat this meal every day for the rest of their lives and be perfectly happy with that.
But, I think I may just have met my match in fellow Mac and Cheese obsessive and now When Mac Met Cheese restaurant owner, Sammy Shonn. After successful pop-ups all over town, When Mac Met Cheese has settled, for a few months at least, in it's latest haunt on Porchester Road in Bayswater. When GB took me to the establishment for Sunday lunch on my birthday weekend I was beyond excited, and when we met Sammy I realised he was just as bonkers for the stuff as I was, probably even more.
Like those in New York, this is a place that is dedicated to the love of cheese and pasta (with some chocolate Oreos thrown in for good measure) and is the first of it's kind in London. I'll be honest I didn't think something like this would make it to the UK for a long time, and if it did I wasn't sure how successful it would be, but When Mac Met Cheese seems to have won the city over already just through their creative approach and fun pop-ups. Although a little out of the way, the newest Bayswater stop is a cool, fun and relaxing place to hang out. Perfect to get friends together for some lunchtime grub or a late night snack.
The team have done a great job of renovating the small space, and now you'll find interesting graffiti art lining the walls, quirky cool furniture such as tripod spotlights, unique details that make all of the difference such as cacti table settings and most importantly friendly staff and a welcoming approach.
So onto the important stuff, how did it rate against Mum's best and New York's finest? Well, pretty damn well to be honest. The menu at the moment is fairly small, which makes ordering a breeze as you can basically have everything. But this simplicity is countered with really unique ingredients and crazy concoctions you may never have tried before.
Unique flavours of popcorn were brought to our table to start us off while we perused the drinks; an Elderflower Martini for me and a Hawaiian Longboard Lager for GB, both just the ticket for a lazy Sunday. We started with the infamous Macancini's which I'd heard so much about on Twitter. Deep fried balls of Mac and Cheese, could you find anything better? I reckon we both could have eaten an entire bucket of the things and left quite content. In Scotland we have the Macaroni pie, but hey I'm sure The Scots would be throwing their pies out in disgust after trying the deep fried Macaroni ball.
When it came to the main spectacle and what we were all there for, there were three options; Mum's Classic, Carlos the Cactus (a mix of cheeses with jalapenos, tomatoes and rocket) and Cheesy Green Afro (stilton and brocolli). GB went for Carlos the Cactus, which was delicious. Not too spicy as I had thought it may be and a great mix of cheese flavours. Although I was intrigued by the others, for review purposes I went classic. I figure to judge someone on their Mac and Cheese you need to first taste it in it's most basic form before adding all the fancy details. Each option can also come with added bacon lardons or pork and veal meatballs too if you need a bit more meat.
I have to say, a lot of boxes were ticked with this one. The pasta was the true small macaroni shells, the sauce was creamy and cheesy but not too stodgy. There was a good baked in the oven crispiness to the top with a touch of breadcrumbs. The portion size was just right to leave you suitably full and overall it was simply scrumptious.
For the purpose of my diaries, I'm going to rate each Mac and Cheese I review out of five across five different categories so that I can compare along the way. Here goes...
Presentation - 3/5
Classic polystyrene takeaway box, fun but for sitting in I would've loved a hot plate.
Creativity - 5/5
Unique flavour combos, daring ingredient options, never been seen before dishes.
Consistency (creamy vs stodgy) - 4/5
Good creaminess, not at all stodgy.
Cheesyness - 3/5
Mmm cheesy goodness but could have had a bit more stringyness to it, it's a personal preference though.
Overall Taste - 4/5
To finish there is just one option, but really it's the only option you would ever need - the deep fried Oreo. If you thought things couldn't get any better when I mentioned deep frying a Macaroni ball, then you were wrong. Turns out the Oreo meeting the deep fryer is just about the greatest union there ever has been. Dusted with icing sugar, these tasty treats were the perfect 'melt in the middle' deliciousness needed to end this cheese feast. I've mentioned it before, but cheese + chocolate makes me one very happy individual.
This place is super creative and I love that they are constantly pushing boundaries and coming up with new things as ultimately, that is what will make the name one to remember. Just this week they have launched the Tex Mex Mac and Cheese featuring guacamole and nacho topping and I'm already trying to figure out when I'm in the vicinity of Bayswater so I can drop in to try it.
If I had to give a teeny weeny ounce of feedback, I'd say that they perhaps still have a little work to do on turning their offering from a pop-up into a sit down and eat restaurant, but considering how new that was to them when we visited I can't really fault them too much.
As they grow I'd love to see When Mac Met Cheese become somewhere that you could take a big group of friends and chill out with good grub and delicious cocktails for an afternoon, while still getting that 'eating out' experience. To do that I think they'd need a slightly larger menu offering, perhaps with more sharing plates and they'd need to push the drinks and snacks a little more, allowing time in between the courses. I'm imagining big bowls of the Macancini's as sharing options between a large group and then large portions of Mac and Cheese served in those hot plates that you see in New York for everyone to dig into.
But really, it's all minor criticism as right now, When Mac Met Cheese is one of a kind.
When Mac Met Cheese
43-45 Porchester Road
Bayswater, London, W2 5DP
Follow them on Twitter and Facebook for opening times and updates.