Having a favourite type of exam is a bit like having a favourite type of bowel disease. It doesn’t matter which one you’d rather have, because you’d sooner have none of them in the first place. If I was forced to pick one however, written exams would be my choice of poison, because the alternatives – face-to-face clinical exams, or “OSCEs” – are far worse. Such exams often become an unreflective display of stress-induced stupidity and sudden incompetence, and this year’s OSCE was no different.
Traumatised by my atrocious performance, I slumped outside the hospital and simmered in the sun. As I sat there, devoid of the energy that was needed for the big written paper at the end of the week, a motivational boost suddenly sprung up on my phone, in the form of an invitation from Asta Luego’s in North Wembley. Steak and I first set foot in Asta Luego’s when they opened up shop last year, and they’ve since undergone a change in management, a re-launch, and a much-needed refurbishment. Eager to see what changes had been made, I promptly chalked up my final exam, and headed on up to Wembley. All the meat here is halal.
(Note: See “Update: 30/04/16”)
On our first venture, I ordered an “Asta Luego’s signature burger” with an extra patty and a Kinder Bueno milkshake, which were accompanied by the portion of fries that come as standard. Steak meanwhile, decided upon a peri-peri chicken breast wrap and a “Kroom Kroom” – a signature drink consisting of still lemonade, strawberry syrup and diced cucumbers.
With its layers of cream cheese, monterey jack cheese, turkey bacon, donkey sauce and sweet thai chilli sauce, the signature burger was a truly impressive sight. The patties were of a good quality, soft and very moist, and although they had been cooked to medium-well instead of medium-rare, they remained very tender. They were a little bland in isolation however, and it took the combination of sauces and gooey monterey jack cheese to deliver a satisfying bulk of complementary flavour to the meat, with the subtle sweetness of the thai chilli taking ultimate dominance. The turkey bacon was also of a good quality, and was soft, fairly thick, and mildly sweet in flavour. What really brought the burger together (both figuratively and literally), were the brioche buns, which were soft, of a high quality, and very thick, with a warm and wholesome feel.
Suffice to say, it was a very satisfying burger, and all that was needed was a little more seasoning within the patties to really knock me head over heels. (Not that I wear heels of course. I’m more of a steel-toe-boot kind of man).
When it came to the peri-peri chicken wrap, Steak found the chicken to be slightly overcooked and a little firmer than it should have been. Nonetheless, it worked well alongside the peri-peri sauce, which was moderate in strength. My Kinder Bueno milkshake meanwhile, was thick in consistency with a strong, smooth sweetness, and the topping of whipped cream blended into the milkshake without becoming overbearing. Steak’s “Kroom Kroom” however, was less tantalising on this occasion. It lacked an adequate amount of lemonade, and thus, lacked a citrus burst, as well as an adequate amount of flavour and sweetness. The accompanying fries also let down the show a little, as they were readymade and of a rather low quality.
Our second visit to Asta Luegos was, of course, overt in nature, and given that our meal would be complimentary, Steak and I had decided that we would order conservatively, so as to avoid abusing their generosity. As we glanced over the menu, it became apparent that we would not have the opportunity to be so polite, as a Mojito, a Kroom Kroom, and a Reese’s peanut butter milkshake were promptly set upon our table. The mojito instantly took top spot, with a wonderfully sharp character, a strong flavour of mint and lime, and an acidic sweetness that penetrated the tastebuds. Surprisingly, the Kroom Kroom was equally pleasant, and fared far better on this occasion. This time, the proportion of lemonade was far more balanced, and the resulting sweetness harmonised with the mellow flavour of the strawberry, and the strong hint of cucumber. Halfway on the road to a diabetic death, it was the milkshake that delivered the final blow, with a rich, decadent flavour of Reese’s peanut butter cups, and a thick, smooth and creamy consistency, which soothed my furious post-exam appetite.
Kroom Kroom mark II and a Mojito
We then proceeded to order a helping of chicken wings to share, a BBQ buffalo burger with an extra patty (for myself of course), and a “Halloumi Uppercut” burger, with both mexican chilli and flame-grilled BBQ flavoured chips. Expecting brash and bold American-style wings, we were surprised instead by a more tandoori-esque coating, with homely, South-Asian flavours, and a garnishing of crunchy jalepenos and lettuce. The wings were large and wonderfully succulent, but like an Indian man quadbiking across the Arctic whilst wrestling a rabid polar bear, the masala flavours felt a little random and out of place.
The BBQ Buffalo burger was a little more suited to its surroundings, and arrived with a plentiful smothering of cream cheese, monterey jack cheese and chives. Unlike my waistline, the brioche buns seemed a little thinner than last year, but were of a good quality nonetheless. Once again, the patties were bland in isolation and rather overcooked, this time to well done instead of my medium-rare order. The resulting lack of moisture could have spelt disaster, had the patties not been salvaged by the exquisite sweetness of the caramelised onions, the strength of the sticky cheese, and the lubricative powers of the BBQ sauce. Yet again, it was these auxiliary components, and these auxiliary components alone, which ensured that the burger remained satisfying and delectable.
BBQ Buffalo burger with flame-grilled BBQ fries
The halloumi uppercut burger followed the same path, with a bland patty that was compensated for by the sweetness of the caramelised onions, and the pleasant, salty touch of the sliced halloumi. Thankfully, the accompanying chips were of a significantly better quality than those encountered on our first visit, with a softer and thicker dosage of potato. They were still of a readymade variety, and as a snob and an advocate of homemade chips, it was only I who was slightly bothered by this. Both flavours of seasoning added a pleasantly dusty texture to them, but whilst the mexican chilli delivered a subtle kick, the smoked BBQ didn’t have quite as much presence. Luckily, a pot of thick and creamy garlic mayonnaise was on hand to deliver a rich flavour that was nothing short of heavenly.
Halloumi Uppercut burger with mexican chilli fries
By this stage of our meal, we had annoyed our waiter so much that he became hell-bent on making sure we left in an ambulance, a hearse, or perhaps both, given that our stomachs would need a vehicle of their own. He suddenly presented us with a “chocolate lover” waffle, along with two forks and two spoons – presumably so that I could pin both of Steak’s hands to the table, and utilise an alternating-spoon technique to speed up the eating process. Sadly, as we took our first bite, it became apparent that the waffle was of a rather average quality. Although it possessed a crispy outer surface, it was very doughy and stodgy within, which detracted from the mouthfeel. This didn’t matter too much however, as the waffle was covered in a delicious mess of crumbled flake and nutella, which, naturally, added a rich and chocolatey sweetness. By contrast, the accompanying ice cream was far subtler in character, with a flavour that was more reminiscent of milk than vanilla. The consistency too, was overly light and thin, and we both felt that a thicker scoop of quality ice cream would have been better placed.
On our first visit, our bill amounted to around £24, whilst on our second visit, it would have amounted to £37.50. Generally, burgers at Asta Luego’s cost between £8 to £10 with fries alone, or £10 to £12 with fries and a regular drink or milkshake, which is exceedingly good value to say the least. Other side items and burger add-ons cost around £1 to £3, milkshakes cost around £3 to £4, and desserts range from £4 to £8. There is certainly room for improvement in the quality of certain components, but as a whole, the calibre of the food, the size of the portions, and the prices, are very reasonable.
The overt nature of our visit ensured that Asta Luego’s’ staff members were exceptionally welcoming and friendly from the moment we walked in, and so, we aimed to disregard the treatment we received when it came to formulating a service score. Instead, we observed their treatment of other customers (in as discreet a manner as we could), and we can honestly say that we didn’t see much difference at all. Our waiter was just as interactive and enthusiastic with other customers as he was with us, and maintained a high standard of hospitality throughout. At one point in the evening, he gave a free item to a customer, simply for having to relocate them in order to make way for a larger group, whilst another received a free milkshake, simply because they had a little extra in the blender.
Of course, it’s all too possible that such admirable acts of customer care were only carried out because of our presence, but given that the waiter in question hails from the US of A – (where excellent service is ingrained into the restaurant culture), we’re willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. One point of criticism however, is that service can be rather slow, and you may find yourself waiting a while before your food is served. This may be due to the fact that the kitchen area is rather small, that Asta Luego’s also functions as a rather busy takeaway, or perhaps because the patties spend a little too much time on the grill.
As mentioned earlier, Asta Luego’s has undergone a recent renovation, and the new layout is a substantial improvement over the old. The crisp, monochrome theme and elaborate murals have been retained, and the decor has very much been enhanced. The new mixture of white and black chairs remain surprisingly comfortable despite their stiff structure, and thankfully, the booth-style seats are now composed of actual seats, rather than a wooden box that could hospitalise your backside. An admirable amount of effort has also been invested into a set of personalised tables, adorned with the “Asta Luego’s” logo, and strings of motivational quotes, presumably borrowed from a 12-year-old’s twitter account.
If, like myself, you’re a fan of spaghetti-westerns, you’ll also be delighted to hear that the saloon doors leading to the bathrooms remain in place. Were it not for the restraining-techniques that Steak has been trained in on the mental health ward, I would have swiftly worn a Stetson, lit up a cigar, and burst through them whilst shooting brioche buns at everybody in sight. You’ll also be relieved to hear that the restaurant as a whole is far cleaner and much better cared for. Rest assured, if you rest your arms on the tables, you will no longer face the risk of getting stuck and having to amputate them to get back home. The restaurant itself is literally a step away from North Wembley station, and parking spaces should be relatively straightforward to find on nearby residential roads.
For the most part, the atmosphere at Asta Luego’s is quiet, laid-back and almost a little dull. That said, the reserved ambience can make for a rather peaceful meal – provided that you don’t end up sharing the main seating area with a rowdy group of young men like we did. If you’re fortunate however, you may encounter some entertainment via the pull-up bar in the centre of the restaurant.
As we approached the end of our meal, our waiter handed out a challenge to the group on the next table – “Beat the record of 40 pull-ups, you eat for free. Get 10, you get 10% off. Get 20, you get 20% off”. What ensued was a rather amusing competition, and one that I was eager to avoid partaking in, given that: a) I can’t do more than 20 pull-ups in one set anyway, b) we were getting a 100% discount, and no way in hell was I going to do 100 pull-ups to earn it, and c) after our meal, I could barely pull myself off my chair – I certainly wasn’t in any state to pick a fight with gravity. It’s certainly a great addition to the restaurant, and a good way to get customers to burn 10 calories, before gaining 10,000.
When we first visited Asta Luego’s, we praised their quirky foundations and satisfying food, whilst noting that their full potential was being significantly dampened by a multitude of flaws and weaknesses. One year on, and many of those flaws have been rectified, from the decor and cleanliness, to the level of service and customer care. Many others however, remain unresolved. The burgers for one, sit dangerously on the fence between “incredible” and “inedible”, with only the auxiliary components on hand to swoop in and save them, should the patties push them towards the latter. The mere fact that Asta Luego’s can still produce an appetising burger with overcooked patties, speaks volumes about their skills at burger formulation, and should they take a little more care in the kitchen and improve the quality of certain components, they would swiftly go from being a good gourmet burger establishment, to an absolutely great one. Would I recommend you pay them a visit? I certainly would. Not because they gave me a free meal, but because they serve simple, satisfying food, for a price that won’t break your bank. And because it’s about time you did some pull-ups. Fatty.
Originally Published: 18/05/15
Disclaimer: I was invited to review this restaurant.