Thirsty Bear, Stamford Street, London

Exceptional pub fayre

Burger source

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The Thirsty Bear positions itself as the “pub revolutionised” and in many ways it is. iPads adorn many of the tables, which also have beer taps attached, allowing you to order (and pour!) your drinks at the table, get food sent to you, call a waiter for help and so on. It’s a small but effective gimmick, cutting down queue/wait time and certainly makes things work differently.

The burgers are the staple of the pub’s American-themed menu, which also features wings, ribs, slaws, soft tacos and beyond. All we know is about the burger origins is that  “All burgers are a whopping 6oz of prime rib-eye, fillet and sirloin patty.”

The order

I ordered a ‘BBQ bacon’, and colleagues had various eccentric variations; one featuring pulled pork, one peanut butter. The BBQ bacon featured 6 oz beef patty, crispy smoked bacon, Monterey jack, lettuce, tomato, red onion, BBQ glaze, bun. Side of Cajun fries, and we had some wings and ribs too.

The meat of it

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Appearances can be confusing. In the darkness of the pub, what was clear was that this burger appeared to have a rather flaccid bun; there was ample (perhaps excessive) salad poking around the side. The burger was topped with thin-mandolined pickled cucumber. BBQ sauce was dripping around the bun. The cheese had an excellent melt and was glooping around the side. A stray red onion loop makes its presence felt.

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The cross section reveals a fine grind, densely packed. Not sure how this is going to go.

Then the first bite. The crunch from the uber-crispy bacon reports like a rifle shot. The taste is instant; the salt and crunch of the bacon; the slight resistance from the well-charred burger exterior. The juicy drip of its interior – drier than it could have been, but better than many. A smokiness and sweetness, from the meat and the BBQ sauce, peels through each mouthful. There’s a light bonus crispness and sweetness from the salad; tomato and onion, mild lettuce, perfect pickle. The meat blend makes every mouthful tasty, despite the fact that the burger is a little too dense and too chewy, and the lettuce portion is unnecessarily generous…  the overall impression is one of lush, well balanced flavour. This is an excellent pub burger.

Sides were fun: the Cajun fries (and the regular, and sweet potato fries colleagues ordered) were truly excellent. Crisp and well seasoned on the outside, squidgy in the middle, without being unduly salty. Cajun seasoning adds a (very) mild spice flavour.

We also tried some buffalo wings and ribs. The ribs were dry and tougher than they should have been; the sauce a little meanly applied though not without flavour. Overall, a solid meh. The wings, on the other hand, had a good crunch, decent heat coming through the hot sauce, and only a smidge too little sauce. The meat was juicy and not overdone. Definitely moreish, though, and recommended.

The colleagues I was eating with enjoyed theirs as much as I did mine, so verdict verified.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5 – soft but surprisingly sturdy
Build – 4/5 – may not look like much but really very well contained
Burger – 3.5/5 – could have been a shade or two rarer without hurting anyone
Taste –  4/5 – very solid flavour, if a little dense and less juicy than it could have been
Sides – 4/5 – excellent fries, good wings, middling ribs
Value – 4/5 – £12 for burger and side, ish. Plus £5.50 for a pint, and £12 to share a jumbo starter.

Burger rating – 4/5 – really very good overall.

The deets

Just off Southwark Street, about 8 minutes down the road from Waterloo Station. Worth the diversion for supper and a pint. Limited Vegan options available.

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The Laughing Gravy, 154 Blackfriars Road, London

Extraordinarily tasty burger with somewhat ordinary chips and even more exceptional pud

Burger source

This is a restaraunt with really a very high calibre of food across the board. So the burger doesn’t feature centrally, and gets just modest billing on the menu. Nonetheless; I expected from the reputation the restaraunt had acquired that this would be no “pub” burger.

The order

I had the Aberdeen Angus cheese burger with hand cut chips, with added smoked bacon for an additional £2. Portobello mushrooms and fried onions were also available as an alternative topping.

No starters, though I did share a pudding with an old friend. More on the 3-way salted caramel to follow.

The meat of it

This burger tastes extraordinary. Let’s look at it a little more closely.

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You can instantly see a good crust on the meat. The bun looks sturdy – perhaps excessively so? That rather depends on the meat, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The gammon-like bacon is thick, and covered with a good amount of very melty cheddar. A small drizzle of grease has escaped the otherwise perfect plating and speaks to a juicy feast to follow.

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The grease is explained. The coarse ground meat is cooked to a perfect medium, and whilst it looks and seems dry in the first pic, you can see here that the bun only just holds up to the meat juice. The bacon portion is ludicrously generous, and there’s a little red of relish in there of some description. You can see the cheese melting off to the side, a forgotten spider web of dairy deliciousness.

On first bite, you’re overwhelmed with umani. Whislt I ordinarily don’t love non-crispy  bacon in a burger, this thick cut smoked meat adds a delicious taste on top of the already well-seasoned beef. The beef itself is high grade, aged Aberdeen Angus, with a little of the delightful funk you get with dry-aging. It’s not overpowering though; this is not a complex burger, simply a very well constructed one. The melty cheddar binds without overwhelming the burger but the overall impact is very salty; the little relish is overpowered and the burger would have benefited from a sweet contrast. Perhaps my own fault for adding bacon but not ketchup.

I ate this burger slowly; it’s very rich and deserved savouring. They’ve made something wonderful here.

To the sides; the small side salad had a sweetish dressing and was a nice, if token, gesture in the direction of health. The chips were thick-cut, chip-shop style chips and were inconsistent – some soggy, others crisp to the point of shattering. A happy medium would have delivred a better experience throughout.

The pudding, of which I have no picture I’m afraid, was extraordinary. Brownie in multiple forms, a lush salted caramel gelato, cruchy bits in a sweet caramel goo, plus gooey salt caramel and chocolate embedded in a crisp brownie. There were peanut pieces surrounding the salted caramel gelato adding both salt and crunch. Wonderful. We shared it – at £9.70 and with three different grades of indulgence scattered across a large plate, it’s best shared between two!

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste –  4.5/5 – – more relish, or some sweet pickle and this would be up there
Sides – 3/5
Value – 3.5/5 – £16 for burger and sides, ish, with added bacon, and best part of £5 for the pudding (SHARED!) – this place is definitely more £££ than ££. But it is that kind of place.

Burger rating – 4/5 – despite the price and middling chips, this is a very special burger indeed.

The deets

Just up from Southwark Tube, it was quiet on a Friday lunchtime. It’s a well kept secret indeed, but definitely deserving of wider recognition!

Coin Laundry, 70 Exmouth Market, London

A tremendous disappointment of a burger; dry, overcooked, underseasoned, under-topped

Burger source

So when looking for new burgers, I routinely Google other people’s ‘best burgers’ list and this one came up number two on Esquire.com. The review is extraordinary, the photo lush. I mean, look at it:

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I’m reminded, in a movie reference that will show my age, of Michael Douglas in Falling Down.

There is something wrong with this picture.

Regardless, this is what Coin Laundry’s website has to say about it:

“Cheeseburger, hot smoked pork belly, red onion, kohlrabi pickle, fried potatoes.” There’s no real clue as to the origin of the burger itself, other than the restaraunts own claims that it uses: “ingredients … from the best local suppliers…. Our meat and veg are organic where possible.”

So, there’s that.

The order

I was there for a birthday meal with my sister and some friends and, whilst Sheila joined me on the burger the others ordered a selection of sharing plates from the menu. I’m not going to get into the small plates except in passing; so the order was really just the burger for me. I’d asked about the potatoes; generally I’m more of a fries guy but was sold on them by the waitress: “they’re, like small roast potato chunks,” sounded good at the time.

The meat of it

So, the burger. First impressions, not positive:

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The stack is lopsided. The plate is unnecessarily small and potatoes are literally falling off the edge. They look ok, though, so I’m reserving judgement. Cross section next.

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Perhaps the clue should have come when they didn’t ask me how I wanted the burger cooked, because it’s well done (not ideal). Worse, there’s little evidence of the ‘hot pork belly’ – ample red onion, and plenty of the pickle… but the pork belly had such promise!

Down to the taste. The bun is incredibly soft and is tragically the highlight of the burger; sweet and sturdy enough for this burger. The meat? Is underseasoned; the crust is soft, there’s no tang whatsoever from the kohlrabi, you can’t taste any cheese (or much salt at all, to be honest). The grind is  coarse enough but the meat is packed in hard and the overall impression is chewy hockey-puck like. The red onion is not unpleasant but despite the lack of salt, the dryness of the burger forced me to condiments; ketchup and mayonnaise help a little. It’s just unworthy of a seeding in any ‘best burger’ ranking and belongs in the kitchen of a mediocre pub, frankly. It was sad.

The potatoes? Not as crispy as they looked. Underseasoned and hard to season (too thick; had these been cubed roasted potatoes I’d have enjoyed the variation, otherwise I should have gone with the fries option). All in all, a solid ‘meh’.

As to other things; had a fried chicken dish (soaked in a mildly spicey sauce and served with a sour cream-esque side) which was nice, tasted a rather delicious courgette fritter (think: bhaji) and enjoyed the totally ungarlicky garlic fries. They definitely can cook here, just… not a burger.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 1/5
Burger – 2/5
Taste –  2/5
Sides – 4/5 – not really sides so much as small plates of other things, but good on the whole
Value – 2/5 – £13.50 for burger and potatoes, £6-7 for the small plates. Overall the meal wasn’t expensive but it was so disappointing.

Burger rating – 2.5/5 – go for the food, beer and atmosphere. Don’t have a burger.

The deets

Coin Laundry is up on Exmouth Market and is full of charm and atmosphere; the service is friendly and most of the food is good. Just don’t order the burger. You can book online via the website.

Popsons, 998 Market Street, San Francisco

A salt-tastic melty smashburger, but not the best SFO has to offer

Burger source

Chef Adam Rosenblum, a respected chef with an number of different restaurant ventures, decided to add to the morass of upper-mid-range burger joints in town, like Super Duper burgers, with a smash burger. Ground on site, the fresh, well-seasoned patties are cooked to order;  the patties are squashed down on a hot grill, crisp up in their own fat, topped with cheese which is then melted both into the burger and the bun before assembly.

The website tells more about the burgers (fresh hormone-free beef sourced from Five dot Ranch and ground on site) and the bread (baked exclusively for Popsons by San Francisco bakery Petit Pain).

They sound and look great.

The order

I went for a double cheese burger with bacon, and a naked fries $17 with service.

The meat of it

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This is not a tidy burger. The stack is wobbling and sliding around, but really the issues there are all cosmetic. Once you pick it up and right what was lost in the assembly, the burger doesn’t suffer for it.

First bite and you’re hit with a salt explosion; the bacon was totally unnecessary as the super-salty, super-melty, super-plentiful American cheese slams your palate like a speedboat filled with salt racing through the Dead Sea. My fault for adding it but… the bacon is thick, chewy and crisp -perfect, really – and the salad, whilst fresh, is completely overwhelmed. There’s a smear of burger sauce under the patties; it drips out slowly with the excess grease from the burger. Remarkably, the petit pain bun holds up; it has a sturdiness to it, and good supporting flavour – love a seeded bun. There’s something gloriously indulgent about this.

That said… the crust on the meat was disappointing on a smash burger – it was a little soft, suspect the grill plate just wasn’t hot enough to get the real char going – and I should probably have added some ketchup to cut the salt down a little. Or Popsons could have gone for a little pickle and/or relish and/or sweeter burger sauce to bring out the flavour contrast a bit.

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The fries are fairly unremarkable; better than bog-standard McD’s frozen fries, you can taste real potato in them – but naked, the seasoning is decent if unexceptional and there’s nothing to write home about regarding the flavour. Acceptable filling, but not even a guest-star in the show. The ketchup is (unnecessarily) fancy ‘Sir Kensington’ something or other. I’d rather have had Heinz.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 3.5/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 3/5 – nothing to see here
Value – 3.5/5 – $17 with a small tip and no drink – this place is more expensive than Super Duper, a (very) nearby Smashburger alternative.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – whilst there’s no question it’s a good burger, it doesn’t quite deliver on the promise and for the money, I’d probably rather have a Super Duper burger (and a drink).

The deets

Near the junction of Market and 6th Street. You can’t miss it.

Super Duper Burgers, 721 Market Street, San Francisco

An excellent smashburger; crisp and greasy in all the right ways

Burger source

“Fresh, quality produce, meat, dairy and buns, sourced from partners located just miles from our restaurants, are the ingredients to making the perfect burger,” is the ethos of Super Duper Burgers. In practice, this means: “All our beef is Brandt Farms, humanely-raised, 100% vegetarian-fed, ground fresh daily, and sourced from a family-owned ranch.”

Fast food burgers with slow-food values, apparently. Founder Adrian Paganini feels passionately that ‘a burger shouldn’t cost $3’ and has structured the chain to offer the best combination of quality and value. This means a simple menu – few sides, few variants on the burgers – and prices in the mid-range for quality burgers. There was a queue when I popped in on a Sunday evening…

The order

I had a ‘super duper’ burger with cheese and bacon – two 4oz patties smashed and scraped off a hot griddle with a ‘sharp’ spatula. Cooked medium, you’re warned to expect grease, and the burger has the restaraunt’s proprietary ‘super sauce’ (think; lighter burger sauce) and a portion of fries. Together with a ‘fountain’ drink – unlimited refills from a soda machine – the meal came to about $16 as part of a combo order.

The meat of it

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This is a good burger; a fresh, soft bun (standard bun, non-brioche), fresh salad (red onion, lettuce, tomato), super-melty cheese and super crispy bacon, held together in paper that also holds back the grease and spillover super sauce. So far, so super.

On first bite… you get all the crisp, charred, salty wonder that you’d hope for in a smash burger – so called because patties are pressed down onto a hot griddle and crisp up as the fat melts out, and they’re then scraped off the griddle to capture all the crispy elements. The (American) cheese binds the whole thing together wonderfully and the faint hint of the super sauce in the background, alongside the tomato and lettuce, adds a slight sweetness to this glorious, greasy umami-fest.

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In cross section, you can see the glory of the smash; the melt on the cheese and the vivid freshness of the salad. The bacon is quality, thick, crispy streaky bacon. The bun has a good stability to it; it holds up to othe grease well but doesn’t interrupt the burger experience with unnecessary flavour. If anything’s wrong with this burger at all, for me, it’s on two minor counts. 1) I’d have liked more/thicker/richer/sweeter burger sauce to temper all the saltiness a tiny bit more and 2) I’d expected pinker meat in a 4oz patty smash. If they’d done the burger as a 2oz patty smash then there’s no room for pinkness in the middle; as it was I felt it was a smidge overdone. But just a smidge.

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The fries were good; well-seasoned, crisp on the outside and squidgy in the middle, and clearly made from a high grade of potato. But they need sauce, and I didn’t plump to spend the additional $1.50-2 for a variety of sauces and/or toppings. Next time I will make the investment!

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4.5/5
Build – 4.5/5
Burger – 4.5/5
Taste –  4.5/5
Sides – 4/5 -might have scored better with sauce
Value – 4/5 – $16 for a combo meal of a high grade burger in a fast food environment. Very good value for SFO but SFO is an expensive city!
Burger rating – 4.5/5 – a very, very good burger I’d be happy to have again.

The deets

Super Duper Burgers sells $30m of burgers a year around San Francisco and its environs. Find your nearest branch here.

Haché Burgers, High Holborn, London

A near perfect burger, marred only by a dense brioche and average sides

Burger source

There’s little about the burger itself origins, other than the fact that the original owners set out to create ‘gourmet bugers, with nothing but the best ingredients.’ Bought out by Hush in 2016, the restaraunt has expanded from its original site in Camden and now has locations all London; this one was on High Holborn, a short walk from the tube. The new owners wanted to ‘reclaim burgers for grown-ups’ (so far, so clichéd), so Haché Burger Social expanded.

I must admit, the name put me off slightly – have never been a fan of Steak Haché, but Debs at work has been evangelising it to me for some time so I thought to give it a try!

The order

I ordered the ‘Steak le Fumé’ – £12.95 of caramelised onions, smoked bacon, Gruyère & house coleslaw, rather joyfully presented in a smoke-filled dome. It was close enough to my standard ‘cheese and bacon’ standard to be indicative for the review, I felt, but had added panache and drama, which was, y’know, ridiculous but fun. Damian and I shared standard fries (frites, natch) and onion rings (disappointingly not rondelles d’oignon panées). And I broke and ordered the banofé pie for pudding. Drank a raspberry mojito thanks to happy hour.

Let’s get into it.

The meat of it

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The drama was as entertaining as needless as you’d expect. The smokiness was gentle, though, this isn’t a charcoal-grilled burger, a light woody, smokey aroma just infuses everything.

The stack was good, which is clearer still in the cross section. Whilst all burgers default to medium well, they recommend them medium rare and that’s what I went for. The meed has a good crust and a thick band of pinky-red running through the centre.

First bite, moment of truth.

The brioche (we had a choice of ciabatta, but that, for me, would not have been a proper burger) was dense. It lacked the pliancy you’d expect and indeed want froma burger bun; it’s too chewy and it’s extremely sweet. Unnecessarily so in a burger which had its own sweet caramelised onions, sweet coleslaw and sweet, sweet meat already.

Everything else, however: pitch perfect. Cheese was melty and bound the burger well; the bacon was exquisite; whilst not as crisp as American style streaky, it had a rich, salty, pancetta-y quality that was in perfect contrast to the sweet, pink ground beef. The beef is a star attraction, coarse ground and juicy, lightly smoked, a thick, crunchy, well-seasoned crust holding it all together; it’s melt-in-your-mouth luscious, and thankfully lacks the gaminess some dry-aged bef has. The onions and coleslaw provide a sweet finish (no ketchup needed at all), the meat melts in your mouth, and the overall experience was just… great. Even with the bready bun.

The sides… the fries are partially skin on, thin cut frites, crisp on the outside and well seasoned. Solid but standard. There were variants on offer and perhaps we should have tried those, but they were very pricey and seemed unnecessary to me.

The onion rings, whilst making use good thick chunks of fresh, sweet onion, were coated in an ordinary batter and slightly underseasoned. So they were just OK.

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Pudding… let me start by saying that banoffee pie is one my kryptonite dishes; no matter how determined I am not to pudding, if a banoffee pie or a sticky toffee pudding is on the menu, I will struggle. And I’ve never had a bad banoffee pie – after all – it is simplicity itself; biscuit base, caramel, banana, cream, chocolate. Nothing else to it.

Unless, of course, you get carried away and put on 3 inches of cream. Which is what Haché has done, sadly making an extraordinary pudding… ordinary. Every ingredient is high quality and tasty on its own, but this enormous slab of pud just has too much bland cream atop it.

The Raspberry mojito wasn’t bad, if you’re into sweet cocktails. Minty, fresh with a good soda fizz on top, appropriately limey as well.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 2.5/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste – 4.5/5
Sides – 3/5 -bump for the onion fries
Value – 3.5/5 – £13 for the burger, £3-£6 for sides, £6 for puddings. Not cheap; even with 2-4-£10 happy hour cocktails.

Burger rating – 4.5/5 – the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Desite the bready bread, the ordinary sides and the disappointing pudding, I would put this in my top five burgers in London easily (alongside Dip & Flip, Cut & Grind, Bleecker Street, and Lucky Chip).

The deets

There are branches all over; online booking is easy. Check the website here.

Steam Engine, Waterloo, London

Vigorously indulgent burger; great, edging on brilliant

Burger source

I was looking for somewhere near Waterloo to meet an old family friend; the Steam Engine showed as having a permanent residency from Burger Craft; apparently a partnership with the Publove pubs. It’s not entirely clear from how the relationship with Publove works, but Burger Craft’s mission is clear:

Our craft is burgers: The finest ingredients, wonderful flavours, slow cooked meats, hand cut chips and homemade sauces brought together to create unforgettable burgers. Smashed, grilled and steamed to perfection by our team of chefs to create the tastiest, juiciest burgers around. That’s Burger Craft! Come see us in PubLove  all over London.

Simple enough. The website, whilst somewhat circumspect about who these people are, does go on in beautiful detail about what they’re trying to achieve, how and with who:

Our wonderful dry aged beef (and the rest of our delicious meats) comes from the multiple awards winning Walter Rose & Son’s fantastic farm in Wiltshire. Used by non-other than Tom Kerridge we’ve since discovered.

Our “Springy” & sensational demi-brioche buns come from the master craftsmen & women at The Bread Factory. London’s leading artisan bakery.

We source every ingredient from equally outstanding and dedicated suppliers and continuously work with them to maintain our quality. “Taste, taste and taste again”

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Welcome to the Steam Engine.

The order

Let’s put it to the test, then. A ‘Bacon Dude’ duly ordered – American cheese, streaky bacon – atop the six-ish oz smashburger patty, served in a fresh, soft demi-brioche with hand-cut fries. All for about a tenner; even with my half of Meantime and Andreas’ coke the bill was only £12.25 a head. Reasonable for this part of town.

The meat of it

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I’m not going to lie, the plating isn’t great; the burger itself looks fantastic, but that sad sprawl of fries doesn’t inspire confidence. However, the second you touch the bun you can feel that this burger is something beyond the ordinary; it’s unbelievably soft, the stack is perfect with the burger sat atop a thin spread of what seems to be BBQ sauce, a slim slice of tomato and then coated with a lush, bright yellow melt of proper American processed cheese and a healthy wodge of nicely browned, lightly smoked bacon. Touch is the right word; this burger is an unashamed multi-sensory experience. You taste, touch, sell, feel all in one go.

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The cross section doesn’t look as pink as many other high-end burgers in London but it is a patty smash-and-steam job – the meat is pressed down on the grill to get extra crispness on the patty and steamed under cover to get a good cheese melt, so this finish is expected. The meat is coarsely ground and even with the smash retains a loose-packed finish. It looks good.

A first bite shows the impact this cooking method delivers; the super-soft bun is wrapped around completely melty cheese, a thick smokey bite of bacon, soft – and if I’m brutally honest, slightly over-soft and slightly undersasoned – melty meat, and somewhat indistinct salad. That said, the cheese and bacon compensated for the slight underseasoning of the burger, and the meat itself is clearly top-notch, with that a light touch of that gamey flavour you get when meat has been dry-aged; fat oozes out of it and drips out of the soft, slightly sweet bun. The bacon was slightly flaccid, like it had been under a heat lamp and lost some of its crispness; and so the only real problem with the burger as a whole is textural. The limitations compound, but are minor. The overall experience is gluttunous, voluminous, glossy and pliant. The burger is tender, juicy and plump.

The fries – were underwhelming IMHO. Some of them were fine; crisp and well-seasoned, happily married with a dollop of ketchup. Others – were limp, sorry excuses for a french fry – not quite underdone but somehow structurally incapable of holding the crisp finish their most impressive peers did. They are well seasoned, though, and tasty enough – it was just a bit of a mixed, visually underwhelming bag; an unfair pairing for an otherwise superlative burger.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4.5/5 – really high quality
Build – 4.5/5 – the veg was slightly over-done and there could have been a smidge more sauce
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 2.5/5
Value – 4/5 – £11 for burger and side, ish. Pretty good for something in view of Waterloo station.

Burger rating – 4/5 – really rather good., in spite of the fries

The deets

There are a few Publoves scattered around London; this one is pretty much down the road from Waterloo, right by Lambeth North tube. Check the website for other locations.

Guest pic: Andreas, my Norwegian brother from another mother.

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Harvest, Brattle Street, Harvard, Boston

A beautiful burger that doesn’t quite live up to appearances

Burger source

I was in Boston for work and my brother happened to be in town to launch the phenomenal Jagged Little Pill musical at the American Repertory Theater. So, we met beforehand and shared a burger and a lobster roll at this popular eatery in the centre of the Harvard campus.

The order

Arvind had the lobster roll; I took on the menu’s sole burger, served with skin on hand cut fries; gratifyingly I was given the option of having it cooked medium, which I took. We shared a cold-cuts and cheese platter to begin with, and a deconstructed Boston cream pie for pudding. Seeing as it was my first trip to Boston, and I was being a tourist, I also had a Sam Adams.

The meat of it

As you can see from the photo, the presentation of this burger is glorious; it’s a perfect stack, a glorious melt on the cheese, fresh, bright salad in call caught between a perfect, lightly seeded roll – I think a non-enriched potato roll rather than a brioche.

The cross section promises even more; the meat’s a perfect pink the whole way through, no graying at the edges and what looks like a decent char on the meat. The grind is coarse and its juicy without soaking the bun. So far, so brilliant. Pickle on the side, tomato, onion and lettuce leaves piled on top of the cheese.

And then the taste; this is where it lets itself down a bit. It’s every bit as juicy as it looks, but the char isn’t quite there so the whole impact is a little soft; in essence, not the best mouthfeel. This could have been addressed with some crispy bacon, or a slightly hotter griddle and a little more seasoning. The meat was good but with this finish they should probably mix up their meat blend – it tasted a little bland; wonder if they overdid the chuck and could have done with some rump in there. But I’m a meat blend amateur here, so could easily be wrong. The salad was as fresh and crisp as it looked; the cheese was a little gungey and bland, and the roll, whilst sturdy, did little to balance out the burger. A brioche might actually have helped with sweet/savoury contrast, as might some burger relish (ketchup is a necessary condiment here). Net impact: it’s tasty but not interesting, sadly. Which is a real shame as so many elements were done really well.

The fries – were slightly limp. They would have benefited from a second, or third, fry. That said, these are high grade potatoes, the seasoning was great, and they tasted good. The portion was the size of my head so they remained largely unfinished.

The cold cuts and cheese were delicious – sorry I didn’t grab a pic. We had a triple-cream soft cheese, like a soft extra salty brie, served with small whole meal toast triangles, prosciutto di parma, cornichons and a sort of beetroot puree. $12 well spent between us.

The Boston Cream pie was really nice, but I have no frame of reference. I understand it’s normally a traditional sponge with cream and chocolate sauce; this deconstructed variant makes me really want to have the original; soft, airy sponge, thick sweet butter frosting/icing, crunchy chocolate pieces and sweet chocolate sauce – what’s not to like?

Sam Adams – is a solid American lager, and tastes exactly the same as it does when you get it on import in the UK. I, worryingly, seem to be acquiring a taste for interesting lagers these days.

I traded a bit of burger with Arvind for a bit of his lobster roll – I’m not a huge lobster roll fan, as find the flavour of the lobster to be too rich for my liking. But you could tell this was special; the bread is a heavily buttered and crisp brioche, kind of like a luxury grilled cheese texture; the lobster was fresh and utterly free of the fishy flakiness you get when you’re not in the lobster roll capital of the world. There was, if anything, too much lobster for the roll!

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 4/5

Build – 5/5

Burger – 3.5/5

Taste – 3.5/5

Sides – 4.5/5

Value – ??/5 – A friend picked up the tab but the pricing looked reasonable, even allowing for the ludicrous 20% service that’s more or less standard in the US. $16 for the burger and fries.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – It’s good, but not great. I think if I asked for it medium well and with bacon, it’d probably jump up quite a bit – and perhaps even more if I switched the cheese. So try that if you go!

The deets

It’s just off Brattle, a five minute walk from the Harvard metro station, near the American Repertory theater. If you’re in the area, I would definitely recommend it — good food, a lovely buzz (though it was graduation week so everything was busy!) and all the food looked great. Portions are big – bring your appetite. Website here for more info.

Pool-Pub, Rentemestervej, Copenhagen

Surprisingly tasty fayre at this sports bar; amazing curly fries

Burger source

So we’re on a stag do. We go to a pool bar where we play a veritable Olympiad (technically a pentathlon) of indoor sporting events. I have zero expectations for the food… but then the chef engages me in a conversation about it. “We grind them on site, of course. We cook them to medium, naturally! We have a high fat ratio, yes, 7-15%!” Only in Denmark is a ‘high’ fat ratio less than half what a modest fat ratio would be elsewhere in the world. But nonetheless, they earned my attention.

The order

There were three burgers on offer; we went for the Mr Cheesey (their house burger featured boiled egg, which, y’know, weird). This featured, as Google Translate would put it: “Chopped beef, cheddar, iceberg, tomato, cucumber, red onion and ketchup! Bun lubricated with mayonnaise.”

Mmm. Tasty, tasty lubricant.

All the burgers are served with curly fries.

The meat of it

The stack looked good. A thick bed of chopped iceberg lettuce, cucumber (!) and tomato, followed by a healthy looking patty with an excellent melt of cheese on top fo it. The potato roll gleamed with a light toasting and probable enrichment of some kind.

The cross section disappointed somewhat. This was not a medium cooked burger. But it was a good coarse grind and there were pink hints to it so on we went…

And it was pretty good – good charred exterior, nicely seasoned, and despite the overcooking the burger was relatively juicy – a little more fat would not have been a bad thing – but the mayo and the cheese held it all together very well indeed. The texture was good – I think bacon would have helped a little, but then I always do – as would a relish for contrast. I was dipping the whole burger in ketchup!

The curly fries were amazing – highly seasoned, crisp on the outside and squidgy in the middle, super moreish. I sometimes wonder why they bother with straight cut fries.

A reasonable burger experience overall; an extraordinary one for a sports pub. Highly recommended.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 4/5

Build – 4/5

Burger – 3.5/5

Taste – 3.5/5

Sides – 5/5 – curly fries ftw

Value – 4/5 – I’ve no idea what we paid for anything, probably about a million kroner, because that’s how much everything costs in Copenhagen. But it was definitively better value than anything else we did/paid for in that city, wonderful as it is!

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – go for the pool. Stay for the burger. It’s too out of the way to be a burger destination and as I say – in relative terms it was a good burger. In absolute ones? Above average, but unexceptional.

The deets

I have no idea. Not that central in Copenhagen; we got cabs. It was a stag do. I’m not even sure I was there. Check the website.

Bob’s Cafe, 77 Salusbury Road, Queens Park

A very strong contender from this neighbourhood diner

Burger source

Bob’s Café is a modest looking neighbourhood diner with eccentric décor; upside down plants suspended above the tables, slow-turning ceiling fans spinning gently against the warmth of an early Spring day, rustic exposed brickwork roughly painted, sat alongside wooden booths and furniture. Truth be told, it hadn’t been my intent to go for the burger, but when I saw it listed on the menu of this Franco-American diner (“100%  prime beef, traditionally reared, grass and grain-fed), as well as the native toppings on the burger itself (“gherkins, pickled red onion, tomato, lettuce, house sauce”) I was like, “DONE.”

The order

Naturally I had the burger with fries, with extra toppings of aged cheddar and crispy bacon. Amanda had a pasta dish, which I’m told was nice. The chicken schnitzel burger sounded tempting too!

The meat of it

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The burger presents well – stacked apparently beautifully, toppings edged out the lid of the bun, crisp bacon sat on a perfect, modest cheddar melt; pickles on top and salad underneath, coated in a light house-made burger sauce. Almost like having a lettuce-heavy coleslaw on the underside. I didn’t even notice the tomatoes, if they were there, which for me is generally an upside.

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On cross section, I had a slight concern. Whilst everything still generally looked good, part of the patty had begun to grey out (not the “pink” the promised when I ordered), and it also looked very densely packed. Would this burger be mealy, grey and overcooked like so many frozen burgers from “gastropubs” around the country? Some of the burger looked perfectly medium, so I was reserving judgement… even as the stack collapsed as the burger slipped off the pile of burger-sauce lubed up salad on its base.

First bite, moment of truth….

…and I was pleasantly surprised. There’s a lovely, well-seasoned (straight salt and pepper job, no eccentric herbs and spices), slightly charred crunch to the burger and whilst the meat isn’t as juicy as you might hope, the burger sauce and fresh, sweet salad more than compensated. The bacon is a welcome crisp and savoury addition, though I’ll admit I didn’t notice the cheddar as a discrete entity. Perhaps that’s a sign of how well the burger comes together, as many places overdo the cheddar IMO. The burger sauce makes up for the slightly dry meat, and whilst the burger is slightly dense, it comes apart beautifully as you eat it and seems to be made of high quality albeit non-aged beef with a decent fat ratio. The pickles are glorious; the crisp, sweet/sour tang of both the gherkins and the pickled onions contrasting with the crunch of the bacon and the chew of the meat. The bun (a semi-brioche? Not overly sweet) holds up well and despite the somewhat slippery mess of a stack, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. An excellent neighbourhood burger.

The fries, on the other hand, were slightly uninspired. Giving the impression of freezer fries, they aren’t quite crisp enough and are a little underseasoned; the coarse ground table salt doesn’t coat them well and they get cold and limp relatively rapidly. But they’re not terrible.

Drinks-wise, the wine selection here is not extensive but is clearly well chosen. I had a very drinkable Shiraz with the meal.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 3/5 – wobbly, slidey burger in spite of excellent initial appearance
Burger – 4/5 – really tasty despite dryness
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 3/5 – there are better fries, but there are worse ones too.
Value – 3/5 – £14 for burger and sides, after cheese and bacon added. £6 per glass of wine! Pricey, although I gather there are routine discounts for living in the neighbourhood.

Burger rating – 4/5 – a great neighbourhood find.

The deets

Next to Gail’s in Queen’s Park, Bob’s Café is unassuming, unpretentious, and a wonderful find. There are apparently a few other branches; find them all here.