The Tribute is a contender for the greatest burger in the world; plus amazing atmosphere and delightful service, what’s not to like?
The latest in my Monday night meet-ups shifted to a Wednesday, but otherwise followed the same pattern as before. Four friends, fine burgers. This time, we strayed from Islington’s comforts to hit up Honest Burgers in Kings Cross – significantly more spacious than its Brixton counterpart but home to the same, much-hyped menu. I’ve probably had as many people tell me that Honest Burgers is home to the best burgers in London as have told me of Meat Liquor’s greatness, so, needless to say, we were very excited. I’ve also been told that their Rosemary Fries are ‘crack’ by more than one person, so, was keen to see for myself.
Tom Barton and Phil Eles, the founders of Honest Burger, reportedly met whilst waiting tables in Brighton and decided they could ‘do better’. They met an experienced restaurateur, Dorian Waite, who helped them get set up in a tiny unit in Brixton Village, using savings to fund the initial fit-out. Despite their lack of experience in the food industry, it’s been a hit: their focus on British quality produce, featuring some particularly exceptional meat from the esteemed Ginger Pig butchers, seems to have worked well for them. A round of investment in 2014 also sees them expanding (far) beyond their first home in Brixton Village, and hence – Honest Burgers Kings Cross.
We had sadly missed February’s special – Honest Burgers’ monthly rotating time-limited burger – called the ‘Rib Man Special’, featuring rib meat and Honest Burgers’ own proprietary ‘holy f**k sauce.’ The new special seemed rather conventional by contrast – the ‘Deli Special’ features garlic aioli, emmental cheese and smoked bacon, as well as spinach in place of lettuce. So I persuaded Jimjam to split a Tribute with me – a burger recommended to me by TK, and for good reason, allowing me to try both the special and a menu staple. The Tribute shares the burger and bacon, but swaps out aioli for mustard and burger sauce (a distant relative of Big Mac sauce, to my palate), cheddar for the Emmental and lettuce for the spinach.
We also ordered virtually every side: red-cabbage slaw, onion rings, buffalo wings, and a pot of each of the four sauces on offer – bacon ketchup, holy f**k sauce, chipotle mayo and curry sauce.
The meat of it:
The stack was perfect on both burgers. A cross section cut revealed the same perfect pink medium finish on the loose ground, melt-in-your-mouth, perfectly seasoned 7-8oz patty. This is a big burger. The brioche was muscular enough to stand up to the burger, but only just – don’t leave it hanging – and had the bread’s characteristic sweetness and bite. The burger – both burgers – melt in your mouth, and the thick smoked bacon adds delightfully to the flavour melange.
To each individual burger’s attributes, now:
March 2016’s ‘Deli Special’ features aioli. As far as I can tell, aioli has drifted from its origins as a Mediterranean garlic sauce to become hipster flavoured mayonnaise, (heavily featuring garlic). It can be tasty, and it was, but it was also somewhat overwhelming; the intense (yet silky-smooth) garlic sauce kind of overwhelms the more delicate beefy flavours. The pickles were good but failed to cut through the aioli, and the spinach added very little other than an insulating layer, protecting the lower bun from the burger’s plentiful juices. The red onion, bright and shiny in the promo picture, was barely evident. The net result was pleasant but not necessarily re-orderable, especially when in contrast with…
The Tribute: bringing to mind Tenacious D’s song, this burger is an incredibly nostalgic taste explosion. This is how a Big Mac tastes in your memory; but with a dose of the best bacon cheese burger you’ve ever had, coupled with some more modern refinements. The burger sauce and pickle are a sweet accompaniment to the other ingredients; the melted cheddar adds a sharper and more explosive salty finish, and – somewhat unlike the Deli Special – the combined effect of the different flavours is more than the sum of its parts. This is a fine burger indeed, and a contender for my ‘Best Burger Ever.’
The sides: the rosemary fries are hand cut, thicker than regular fries, apparently double or triple cooked and utterly delicious. The rosemary itself is neither here nor there for me, but the perfect finish and salty seasoning on these delicious fluffy potato fragments makes them, as I was promised, intensively addictive. Especially when coupled with the sauces:
- Chipotle Mayo – mildy spiced, sweet and savoury mayo. Great.
- Bacon ketchup – looking little like ketchup, this lumpy sauce tastes like the best ketchup you’ve ever had with the bonus explosive crunch of bacon hidden within. It’s less sweet than Heinz varieties but no worse off for it.
- Holy f***k sauce – genuinely evoked the reaction in the name. Too hot for consumption as a side, this might have worked better for me sparingly within a burger construct. Or maybe I’m just a chilli lightweight these days.
- Curry sauce – another burst of nostalgia here; this is an utterly refined variant on chip-shop curry sauce, though as far removed from it as the Tribute is from the Big Mac. Much more delicious.
The onion rings featured large thick rings of sweet, crisp white onions, beer (I think) battered and well spiced; and an even crisper exterior than Meat Liquor’s offer. Definitely the best onion rings I’ve had!
The buffalo wings were well sauced and juicy, but lacked the crispness you might have had elsewhere (ahem, Meat Liquor); no blue cheese sauce, though, and inexplicable amounts of chopped spring onions.
The red cabbage slaw was not noteworthy, and left no lasting impression. It was the only thing on the table we didn’t finish. It lacked the crispness of a white cabbage slaw, and there was no real need for it.
The cocktails – I had the Botanic Garden – gin, apple, elderflower and wine – so delicious I had another one, and great value at £5 a pop. Sweet and refreshing. I’m told the beer was good too.
A quick note on the service: the waitresses were amazingly entertaining, engaging with us on our burger choices and manliness (or lack thereof) in tackling the hot sauce. The chefs let me take pictures of them cooking (“but not the face”) which was amusing and gracious in one fell swoop. The overall experience was excellent as a result.
Monkey finger rating
Bun – 4.5/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste – 5/5 (for the Tribute, 3.5/5 for the Deli Special)
Sides – 4/5
Value – 5/5. £28 – felt like amazing value for burger, fries, ALL the sides + 2 drinks apiece. But maybe I’m just too used to London pricing.
Burger rating – 5/5 – I think if I had to choose between this and Lucky Chip I’d be hard pressed – but the atmosphere and drinks at Honest Burgers vs. the Old Queen’s Head, plus the excellent sides, probably tip it in HB’s favour. All the points.
Tonnes of locations now (full list below) but the Kings Cross venue is at 251 Pentonville Road London N1 9NG, just 5 mins walk from Kings X. Tweet them @honestburgers. And go, go go go, if you haven’t been.
- Kings Cross
- Oxford Circus
- Liverpool St
- Old Street
- Covent Garden