Nanny Bill’s, in residence @ Vinegar Yard, London Bridge

Glorious, innovative double patty smash

Burger source
Nanny Bill’s was named in homage to the founders’ grandma, Bill, who ran a cafe in the 70s and 80s. Founded in 2015 in East London as a food truck venture, Bill’s is part of the decade-and-a-half love affair with high quality American fast food Britain is experiencing. Had I known they were famed for their ‘Mac & Cheese’ croquettes, we might have tried those too…

The burgers are interesting; hand pressed, clearly high quality meat, and some interesting variations – from the Dalston Dip (served with gravy) through standard bacon double cheeseburger (with BBQ sauce) through to the spicy Jam burger, various chicken and vegan options and more.

The experience was definitely one for our Covid times. We had to book and pre-order drinks in advance, we had to show our Covid check-in on the NHS app to be allowed in, everything was table service, managed and paid for on our phones, after going to a website by scanning a QR code at the table. It was, per the law, masks on at all times when not at the table. We’d primarily chosen to meet at Vinegar Yard as it provided an outdoor (under cover) space, which felt sensible in the age of Corona. And knowing Nanny Bill’s was there gave us something else to look forward to… their Insta pictures are glorious.

The order
I was tempted by the standard bacon double cheeseburger, but the Jam was calling out to me. Double beef patty, smoked bacon, American cheese, pink onions, hot sauce, shredded lettuce, bacon jam, burger sauce on a brioche bun.

In our rule-of-six compliant group, friends tried the Dalston Dip, the Bacon Double Cheese Burger and the Hot Mess chicken burger. All looked great.

Sidewise, I went for the Aggy Fries – rosemary salt fries, garlic buttermilk mayo, hot sauce, grated Parmesan and spring onion, and nabbed a chicken strip with rum’n’ting BBQ sauce.

The meat of it
So, how was it?

Let’s take a look.

There’s a lot to take in. The crust on the meat is immediately apparent, peeking out from the shiny, super-soft brioche. The cheese has a perfect melt, the lettuce is bright and fresh, you can see the burger sauce forming a protective layer on the perfectly toasted bottom bun.

This burger is a thing of beauty and power. But how did it taste?

In a word? Glorious. The crust is amazingly seasoned and tasty and gives way with a crisp crunch, revealing (amazingly) an ever-so-slightly pink centre. The bun is soft and sturdy (strong and stable?) – it holds up to the fillings and provides a starchy, only-slightly-sweet counterbalance to the umami bomb of the burger and its fillings.

The sweet / savoury / sour contrast is a delight; the melty cheese, chewy bacon, perfectly seasoned meat deliver a savoury mouthful; balanced perfectly with the sweetness of the bacon jam and the burger sauce. The pickled red onions lend a bright sour tang. In the background of the mouthful you can pick up the faintest heat from the hot sauce – a little more would not have been a bad thing.

Every mouthful brought another crunch/chew/taste sensation. It is probably the best patty smash burger I have had in the UK, bar none. Outstanding.

To the sides…

The aggy fries were interesting. A thick coating of hot sauce – Frank’s? – made the centre of the pile somewhat soggy, but amazingly flavoursome; lovely mild buffalo heat with every mouthful. The rosemary seasoning is mild and pleasant, the mayo a lovely creamy contrast to the crisp fries; even the Parmesan plays an unexpected role, boosting the flavour and adding a mild cheesey funk. And of course, I’m one of those people who things chopped spring onions improves almost everything – really wonderful, very moreish, and an extremely creative take on fries, one that adds rather than distracts with its novelty. Obviously the standard rosemary fries are excellent too, and don’t suffer from the soggy hot sauce centre.

The chicken strips were… disappointing .The breading is too light, and underseasoned – insipid. The ‘rum n ting’ BBQ sauce is pleasant, but would have been better cutting through the heat and seasoning of a crisper coating for the wings; as it was, it was not-quite-managing to redeem the juicy, but otherwise flavourless, chicken strips.

Drink wise, we had a very pleasant, fruity and slightly flowery session IPA from the London Beer Factory called Hazey Daze. Can recommend, not least for the outrageous ringpulls.

In all, this was an extraordinarily creative and tasty take on some standard burger fare; the team at Nanny Bill’s clearly know what’s going on and I wish them every success.

Monkey finger rating
Bun – 5/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste – 4.5/5
Sides – 4.5/5 –
small penalty for mediocre wings, but fries were great
Value – 4/5 –
£17 for burger and side, ish, with service. OK but not exactly a meal deal.

Burger rating – 4.5/5 – really outstanding overall. Would be tempted to have again, but having seen how amazing their other burgers looked… I’d be tempted to try one of those.

The deets
Nanny Bill’s have a few locations, but if you’re looking for outdoor eating in this time of Covid, Vinegar Yard behind London Bridge Station is the place for you. You can find other locations here, as well as buy their home-kits if you want to give it a try in the comfort of your home kitchen!

Palm Brasserie, Deane, Nr Basingstoke

Well seasoned, tasty, but an ultimately dry & underwhelming burger

Burger source

Ok, it’s been six months, people. SIX MONTHS since I’ve had a burger out. Even though the beautiful Palm Brasserie restaurant in Deane is a trendy, high-end eatery with a delightful seasonal menu, tinged with Asian fusion elements, I was always going to have the burger. Always.

I’m just going to briefly wax lyrical about the restaurant. Located in Deane, a village about 10 minutes drive from Basingstoke, this converted pub is a delight. It’s been modernised elegantly – bright and airy, beautifully laid out – even in these Covid secure times – and with a charming blend of modern and traditional decor (Jane Austen posters in sharp, modern frames surround the lounge area, where we had an aperitif).

Service was crisp and polite; servers seemed happy to see us despite a chaotic month of feeding Eat out to Help out diners, and on a Friday in mid-September on what feels like the verge of a second lockdown – the restaurant remained ‘full’ in its socially distanced set-up, making for a nice vibe without the sensation of being crammed in. Despite our slightly unglamorous table position by the kitchen doors.

The order

I had the ‘signature beef burger’ on the summer menu, a 6oz beef burger, topped with house pickles, tomato, sriracha relish, paired with a brioche bun. I had the optional halloumi topping… and we shared some halloumi fries on the side, because… why not?

I was designated driver, so whilst Amanda had a refreshing-looking mojito and a glass of pinot grigio, I restrained myself to a fresh drawn half pint of Atlantic Pale Ale. Very nice.

The meat of it

Let’s look at the stack again.

You can see some immediate things that are odd about this…

First, the burger patty is too small. I suspect it was tightly packed, thick instead of wide, and as a result you get that problem of poor bun/burger ratio. The thick slices of halloumi are attention grabbing. The vegetables are bright and fresh.

In cross section….

No sign of pink

You can see the burger is packed tight, and overcooked, and the bun/burger ratio problem becomes more evident. There’s no juice spilling out onto the plate, but burger and pickles are both falling out of the bun. As to the bun – it looks beautiful, soft and shiny but… is slightly dry and stale. I didn’t finish it.

As to the taste… I ate one of the pickles that had fallen out. It was insipid; no bite, no sharpness, just a mild, inoffensive sweetness.

This isn’t going well, is it?

But… surprisingly, on first bite of the burger proper, it kind of comes together. The sriracha mayo is under-sriracha-d (virtually no heat) but it provides much needed moisture for the burger. The meat is beautifully seasoned to compliment the halloumi, which is soft and rich and creamy, adding a delightful umami to the burger. The bun, whilst dry, is soft and provides a subtle sweet counterbalance to the intense saltiness of the burger + halloumi. The vegetables are fresh and provide some sweetness too. I think the lean/fat ratio was too low for the burger, but the halloumi and mayo help compensate somewhat.

Whilst imperfect in many, many ways, there’s promise here. The chefs understand flavour, and the flavours are good. But the burger construction left me wanting, the burger was overcooked, the bun dry and uninspired, the pickles disappointing for house-made… there’s lots of room for improvement.

As to the fries… they were well seasoned and crisp despite their pale complexion, but undercooked on the inside. You could feel the bite of slightly uncooked potato. I suspect they were not par boiled or needed a second fry.

The coleslaw was sickly and limp; tasted like something industrial served from a large plastic tub. Nothing exciting there, also left unfinished with the fries.

And the halloumi fries?

An indulgent portion

They were literally immense; the halloumi in the burger seemed soft, but these golden, deep fried beasts – were dried out somewhat, and needed both the chilli drizzle on them and the sriracha to make up for it. But even average halloumi is still halloumi, so this was mostly demolished between us.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  2/5
Build – 2/5
Burger – 3/5
Taste –  3.5/5
Sides – 2/5 -bump for the halloumi fries, else would have been a 1, sadly
Value – 3.5/5 – £30 for a head with drinks and a side, or £14 alone for the burger and fries in a place this nice seemed fine.

Burger rating – 2.5/5 – I probably won’t have it again – everything else looked so much better, I had cross-table food envy. But it had promise, so if they revise the recipe… then I may be tempted.

The deets

The (beautiful) restaraunt is West of Basingstoke, near Oakley, on the road out to Overton. It’s worth the drive if you’re in the area, a lovely experience. More details on the website here.

Newlyns Farm Cafe, North Warnborough, Hampshire

Fresh but dry farm burger

Burger source

Newlyns Farm is a lovely, although expensive, family-run farm with a history running back generations, but a commercial strategy clearly developed in the 21st century. The farm shop sells high-end frozen meals as well as premium produce and condiments, and the (far more affordable, relatively) farm cafe produces high quality food from the self-same ingredients. There are ‘in-residence’ gift and wine shops, an eponymous cooking school and associated events, and more. Plus they probably do farm stuff too. It’s a middle class dream, basically. When you’ve tired of Waitrose… there’s Newlyns.

Having seen a butchery demo at a Newlyns open day a couple of years ago, and having seen tempting piles of quarter pounders under the butcher’s glass, I thought I’d try one in the café on an odd day off .

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The order

Despite it being a Monday in term-time, it was heaving; retirees, business lunches, even the odd date seemed to be happening around us. Eventually we were served and the burger it was, with optional / premium cheese & bacon, and skinny fries for me. An attempt to order it medium landed me a “it’s too thick, it’ll be well done the whole way through when you get it…” which, I must admit, confounded me with its logic. After all, a thicker burger should be EASIER to finish pink… but no. I put it down to the relatively large scale production they have at the butchery next door…

The burger send up is fairly basic: “Chargrilled and served in a brioche bun, with baby gem lettuce, IOW tomato, gherkins and Newlyns homemade burger sauce.” I suspect a lot vis a vis the meat is taken as read given the location. IOW = Isle of Wight, if you were wondering.

The meat of it

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It doesn’t look bad, does it? The salad’s in the wrong place – it should be under the meat, protecting the bun from the juices – and the overall stack looks oversized, but it’s not too bad so far. The cross section reveals more…

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A few problems reveal themselves: first, that the burger is very densely packed, very well-done (i.e. overcooked), quite finely ground, and almost entirely lacking in juice. That plate is suspiciously clean. The veg, you can probably see, is top notch – fresh, crisp & bright.

As to the taste… I immediately regret the cheese and bacon. One or the other would have been ample; the burger is VERY heavily seasoned. And whilst it has an excellent crust and was clearly quality meat at some point, it’s so overcooked you get taste without texture, and then the salt hits and its… overwhelming.

Deconstructing somewhat; the individual elements in this burger aren’t bad at all. The cheese is a delightful, strong, sharp cheddar. The bacon is thick and meaty, although I prefer it crisper. The tomato is sweet; the sweet hit of dill in the (modestly applied) burger sauce is interesting, and the pickles are delicate and add a freshness to it all. But together… it’s just too much salt for even the sweet, fresh brioche to handle. And a little too dry. Fortunately, the Stokke ketchup they serve has upped its game, from being a thick, gloopy, tomato-heavy pretention to a smooth, shiny, Heinz-beater, and it tempers the burger rather well. So whilst it won’t win any awards any time soon (it really shouldn’t, anyway), it was a pleasant experience.

A brief word on the fries; disappointingly, they were cold on arrival. Had I been a different kind of person with more time and less shame, I would have sent them back. Which is a great pity as they held hints that they might once have been great; a once-crisp exterior (fading to cardboard consistency), a fluffy, potato interior, and a light seasoning (a little too light, but easily remedied at table). As it was – think posh, cold McD’s fries. Boo.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 3/5
Burger -2/5
Taste –  3/5
Sides – 2.5/5 – at least a point penalty for them being cold

Value – 4/5 – £12 for burger and fries, with additional bacon & cheese felt OK. Especially as the ketchup fixed the flavour.

Burger rating – 3/5 – adequate, but a dry, grey relative vs its London brethren.

The deets

It’s just off Junction 5 of the M3, by the Odiham roundabout. More here. Go, an order the steak – medium rare.

Cut & Grind, Kings Cross revisited: The Radical Vegan

The best vegan burger 

Burger source

I’ve reviewed Cut & Grind before – tl;dr, it’s extraordinary. The care, the craft, the ingredients, the construction, the care in the condiments – glorious.

I met a veggie friend there for lunch, and had a brief chat with the owner Pas – who I caught on his way to and from the National Burger Awards – he waxed lyrical about his plans for the Radical Vegan – the restaurant’s own meat-alternative burger, constructed with soy and pea protein.

I’ve tried Honest’s Plant Burger, and a couple of others using both the Beyond Burger and the Moving Mountains plant burger, so thought it’d be interesting to try.

Small disclaimer: Pas was at college with me, though we didn’t know each other, we’re friendly and have friends in common. I was not comped or incentivised in any way to write this review.

The order

So Radical Vegan it was. Served with the new-look v-cut fries.

The meat of it

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You can see a decent melt on the cheese and a good amount of crispy onions falling out the side. Fresh, bright salad and the sweet, crisp pickles surround the perfect stack. The bun is soft and sturdy.

In cross section…

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You’d absolutely be forgiven for thinking this was real meat. The texture, the colour, – absolutely perfect. The outer crust looks different – it’s coated with a crispy something – no idea what it was – but it gave the burger an absolutely delightful crunch. Couple that with a very convincing meatiness, and I’d say eight in ten people wouldn’t know it wasn’t meat. Extraordinary. The other elements of the burger are perfectly balanced – a simple bun, adding to texture and bite but not flavour. The not-cheese, adding savouriness and bind but not complexity. The sweet pickles and the mild mustard providing sweet and mild spicy undertones to everything. Just perfect balance.

The fries…

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It’s possibly hard to see what they’ve done here, but these are ‘V-cut’ fries – a little hollow, perfect for sauce. But the increased surface area on these bites of potato gives more room for crisp/fluffy contrast, tonnes of surface area for the perfect level of salty seasoning and… well, they’re possibly the best fries I’ve ever had. Simply extraordinary. They deserve poetry I have no intention of writing. But someone should.

The ketchup – I suspect still home made though I didn’t check – is a new recipe from last time. Smoother, less sickly, and delightful.

Just the perfect plate of food.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  5/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 5/5 – I haven’t had the impossible burger, but this is the best of everything else I’ve tried
Taste –  5/5 – whilst I’d probably prefer a C&G regular beef burger, that’s because they’re ALSO extraordinary. And yet I’d still have to think about it.

Sides – 5/5 – poetry fries

Value – 5/5 – £12.50 for burger and fries, INCLUDING service. Worth the trip.

Burger rating – 5/5 –  C&G was already one of my favourite burgers in London. This cements its spot at the top.

The deets

About 10 minutes’ walk from King’s Cross, this place is worth the trip.

Seven Seeds Williamsburg, Wythe Street, Brooklyn

Finely cooked (underseasoned) burger, eccentrically topped

Burger source

Our final meal on this visit to the US was a brunch with cousins from Singapore in a Eastern Mediterranean style restaurant in the most modern style of hotel you can imagine in North Brooklyn. Totally normal.

The burger had no grand billing but it was ground and cooked on site, and sounded interesting, so I thought I’d risk the eccentricity of the Mediterranean stylings and see where it landed.

The order

I had the Seven Seeds Burger – Angus beef, goat cheese, shaved cucumber, pickled red onion, toum.

The meat of it

Let’s look again.

There are some very interesting elements to this burger. There’s a good crust; the pickled onion looks fresh, bright and inviting, offering sharpness and sweetness in one. The bun looks soft and has a welcome light toasting. The cucumber – no. That’s not ‘shaved’ cucumber, that’s not even a ‘sliced’ cucumber. That’s a full on wedge of cucumber. Too much, picked out and eaten on its own. It was fine. You can see a small pot of toum hiding between the burger and the seasoned fries.

In cross section:

You can see how well balanced this burger is. Perfect coarse grind, bright pink meat, lovely juices held pub by a soft, airy, plain bun.

But… and it’s not an insubstantial but… the first bite unlocks very little flavour. The burger is hefty but underseasoned; the cuts of meat used were insipid – if I had to guess – I’d say it was heavy on chuck. The toppings aren’t evenly spread and it takes to bite two or three to get the feta and pickle properly involved… and they do help considerably, the savoury goo of the feta adds a much needed umami tang. But the flavour is just odd (for my palate) and the mouthfeel of the feta isn’t entirely pleasant, gumming up your mouth unexpectedly.

It’s such a shame as the burger/bun combination is in many ways glorious – good crust, melty meat, tender and juicy with every mouthful. It just doesn’t taste of very much.

As to the fries, they were lightly seasoned and (for me) slightly too lightly fried. Occasional crisp bites but some soft ones. The pot of toum was delicious, though and was better than any aioli as a dip for the fries. Perhaps I should have doused the burger in it…

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 4/5

Build – 4/5

Burger – 3/5

Taste – 3/5

Sides – 3.5/5 – bump for the toum

Value – 4/5 – $19 + service for the burger and fries seemed reasonable for this kind of place in this part of town

Burger rating – 3/5 – there really wasn’t enough flavour to score it higher

The deets

The Seven Seeds Restaurant is downstairs in the Williamsburg Hotel, on Wythe Street in Brooklyn. Find it and book here. Probably don’t have the burger, though, unless you’re a huge feta fan. The other food looked more interesting and was great, by all accounts.

Emmy Squared, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York

Expensive, somewhat overcooked but ok Big Mac tribute; amazing pizza

Burger source

Whilst staying in New York for our Jagged Little Pill jaunt, my brother told us legend of a place that was famous both for its burgers AND its pizza. Such a thing could surely not be – a unicorn, a thing of legend, surely never to be seen in reality?

Founded in Williamsburg but growing across a few locations, this independent chain is the lovechild of entrepreneur Emma Hyland and Executive Chef Matthew Hyland. It’s primarily a pizza joint, serving Detroit-style pizzas, but the burger has received many plaudits. So we were excited!

The order

This was definitely a sharing meal.

We had the garlic cheesey sticks (so new to the menu it’s not even online), the Caesar salad, a ‘Colony’ pizza and Le Big Matt – the $25 burger – a set of double-stack Pat Lafrieda grass fed beef patties, American cheese, greens, pickles, Sammy Sauce served with waffle fries, all wrapped in a Pretzel bun.

The colony pizza sounded exciting too – pepperoni, pickled jalapeños and honey – of all things.

The meat of it

Let’s take a look.

On first impression, there’s a lot to like. There’s a good melt on the cheese; the burger sauce is generous and interestingly orange. The Pretzel bun looks sturdy (though possibly a little too sturdy?). The salad looks bright and fresh, the burgers seem to have a good crust. We’d been offered it cooked medium or well done and had naturally chosen medium.

Next, the cross section.

OK I was sharing this one with two siblings, so it’s not quite a cross but you get the general sense here. It’s two, 4oz patties – hefty – but not at all medium. This was overcooked. You can also note that – despite the fact its been sitting for a few minutes, despite the weight of 8oz of beef, toppings, etc., despite being cut like a Mercedes logo – the bun is barely compressed at all. It is a dense bread.

On first taste, I’m a little underwhelmed. The burger sauce is very reminiscent of the Big Mac, sweet and savoury together, but no crunch from tiny pickle, no texture to note. There’s an unexpected heat from some hidden hot peppers (perhaps that’s what greens are in Brooklyn?) – which add a lot to the flavour profile of the burger and make it interesting, The crust of the burger is a little soft, the meat is a little dry and could have used a little more seasoning. The umami is not quite where it should be. The beef is coarse ground but has been somewhat compacted in the cooking process so is a little dense; and perhaps the biggest crime for me is the large, cold pretzel bun is so firm as to feel almost stale. The burger is too dry to soften it up, and it wasn’t toasted or warmed that I could tell.

To be clear, at no point did I think of leaving my third of a burger unfinished. The meat is good, the toppings are good, the spice was interesting and the burger sauce binds it well. But a mediocre bun, overcooked meat and not quite enough seasoning let it down for me.

As to the waffle fries – crisp, tasty, a little underseasoned again (no salt not he table), but nice with a little marinara sauce and the home made ketchup provided. Better with a little mayo.

On to the pizza…. and I’m aware this is a burger blog but if you’ll allow a brief diversion.

It’s utterly glorious. The skirt is crisp without being burnt, bubbled and crispy with oil or butter. The pepperoni is delightfully crunchy, and the generous helping of both pepperoni and jalapeños leaves you searching for the browned, stretchy, generously spread cheese beneath.

And the taste does’t let you down. The pizza sauce is layered on thick, the cheese pulls and falls like its being filmed for an advert, the jalapeños are soft, sour and slightly spicy to contrast with the crisp crunch of the buttered crust and the perfect pepperoni. The honey tempers the umami bomb and helps the sauce cut through. It’s an utter delight. I never wanted to stop eating this. This is my new desert island pizza.

In the same category, the sides:

This delightful jenga stack of cheesey garlic bread sticks was a joy. Using the same base as the pizza, it seems, is a good call. Detroit style garlic cheese sticks served with a rich helping of garlicky, sweet and savoury marinara sauce – utterly wonderful. At $6, it’s one of the best value items on the menu and we were informed it’s been selling like hot cakes.

The Caesar salad was served with crushed croutons and a generous amount of pecorino as well as anchovies and Caesar dressing. Every bit of the crisp, fresh romaine lettuce was a a crisp unctuous pleasure, with creamy crunchiness contrasting with the sweet, sweet salad. I’ve almost never wanted to order a second salad in any context, but here… well, we had enough food, but the thought definitely occurred.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 2/5

Build – 4/5 – little to fault here

Burger – 3/5

Taste – 3/5 – spicy peppers make up for the overcooked, underseasoned meat and the dry bun

Sides – 5/5 – the pizza here is >>>> the burger

Value – 2/5 – This is not a $25 burger and fries, despite the generosity of the waffle fries portion. It is, however, a $20 pizza, and then some.

Burger rating – 3/5 – whilst I probably wouldn’t order the burger again, I’d have the pizza any time. And I’m tempted to buy the cookbook for it!

The deets

There are a few locations across New York and the continental United States. Check out the website to find them in Brooklyn, the East Village, Nashville and Philadelphia.

Rare bonus pic: cross section in progress. I like to think of myself as a master craftsman instead of an annoying git in these contexts:

Lambs Club, 132 W 44th Street, Manhattan NYC

A fine burger; juicy, savoury, lightly overseasoned

Burger source

Chef Zakarian, one of the partners of the Lambs’ Club, is clearly a passionate foodie.  A serial entrepreneur, the Lambs Club is his latest venture and there are a wide range of menus available to cater for all tastes.

We were eating off the main bar menu, following a triumphant viewing of my brother’s new musical – JAGGED LITTLE PILL – at the Broadhurst theatre on Broadway.

The order

The sole burger, is TLC Burger (The Lambs’ Club Burger, natch), which features Cabot Sharp Cheese, special sauce and the optional Applewood Smoked Bacon.

The meat of it

Let’s take a closer look.

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You can see the spectacular melt on the cheese, covering the burgers in their entirety. The bacon is super crisp, poking out of a toasted crusty roll. Unusual in this day of brioche.

And the magical cross section look.

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Whilst the stack is a little uneven, the burgers are cooked to a perfect medium, despite the thin patties. A good fat ratio means they are juicy and ooze concentrated flavour onto the plate. The salad provides some meagre protection for the bun, but the sheer juiciness of the meat is almost too much – it barely holds up.

On first tasting, the bacon shatters under bite. It’s cooked to a complete crisp, which is possibly – even to my tastes – a little too far. The coarse ground burger is juicy and luscious but too heavily seasoned; coupled with the sharp cheddar and shards of crispy bacon, it’s a bit much. Almost; it does work. But is calling out for a little sweetness. The burger sauce is barely evident, the crispy salad lost in the melange of savoury flavour, and the side-pickle – too pallid and lacking in sweetness or sharpness to add a great deal.

All that said, the overall experience is brilliant. The crusty roll holds up – just – and adds a good contrast to the intense umami of the burger. The sharpness of the cheese cuts through the flavour profile, adding whilst lifting the overall experience. The melt binds the burger, and even though it’s a little too far – the crunchy shards of bacon add excellent textural contrast. It’s a joyous burger.

As to the fries.

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They look kind of amazing; heavily seasoned in ‘pastrami spices’ – probably pepper, salt, sugar, paprika and a couple of other unknowable things, they seemed crisp and inviting… but were in fact a little underdone, and whilst unquestionably tasty, would have benefited from a little more frying for crunch. A lovely compliment to the burger, though, soaking up juices on the plate and adding yet more umami and partnering beautifully with the home made ketchup for a little sweet contrast.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 3/5
Burger – 4.5/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 3.5/5
Value – 3/5 – $35 for burger and fries at full price is toppy, however discounts kick in for members of the club

Burger rating – 4/5 – a really very special burger, you won’t be disappointed

The deets

The Lambs Club is in the heart of theatreland in Broadway, a few minutes stroll from Times’ Square. More here.

The Armoury, Shrewsbury, Shropshire

A very respectable pub burger

Burger source

This wasn’t a burger of any great conceit. Simply billed as a ‘steak burger,’ it sat in the middle of a menu replete with every Roast dinner you can imagine, and some you probably wouldn’t (mixed beef and pork roast is a thing, apparently, and weird as it sounds… it actually looked kind of tempting. Turf and hoof?).

I was in the area for a close friend’s birthday and couldn’t resist ordering the burger, as it’d been a while since I tried a new one.

The order

I ordered the sole burger – a steak burger topped with grilled bacon and Cheddar, served with coleslaw and chips.

I tried to order it cooked to medium, but was told it came as it came – the beef wasn’t minced on site.

The meat of it

This looked decent on the plate. Let’s look again.

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Glistening bun, solid melt on the cheese, bright, crisp-looking veg and a pot of home made relish? Very tempting. You can see and sense the crunch on those chips, and whilst the coleslaw is a little unremarkable, you reserve judgement. The overall impression is good.

In the vital cross-section:

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A few things to note.

First, the meat is pink. They’ve cooked this burger perfectly. And the meat is coarse ground and loosely packed, just as I like it.

Second, it’s not a brioche. A standard bread, it is surprisingly dry. Which means in turn that the meat isn’t desperately juicy. Which is perhaps slightly unsurprising, if this is a burger made of a single cut of beef, steak mince no less, with a relatively low fat ratio.

Third, the salad is hefty. I’ve already removed the sweet, fresh tomato – I prefer that on the side than in the burger. Also out of shot is a thick slice of pickle – too much for the burger, really, a thinner option would have been welcome.

On to the taste.

The meat is light on seasoning and the crust is soft – perhaps their griddle wasn’t hot enough to get a really good sear on it. The cheese is a bit on the mild side – a bit more sharpness would have been welcome, or the savoury goo of American cheese – but the bite is firm and the bacon adds good flavour, making up for the low-salt elsewhere. The relish adds a sweetness – unremarkable but necessary given the relative dryness of both bun and burger. It doesn’t quite make up for the low fat ratio – mayonnaise would have been a welcome friend. But the overall impression is more than serviceable; the flavours come together well, the crisp, fresh crunch of the vegetables, the salt from the bacon, the heft of the meat.

As to the sides; the coleslaw added some of the necessary fat to complement the burger, which was great. The chips were as they seemed – crunchy on the outside and squidgy in the middle. Absolutely perfect once salted. The pickle was excessively sour; not to my taste. I prefer a sweet gherkin, this one was more than a little sharp.

Overall, a good combination. If the chefs at the Armoury want to stick with a single cut of meat, they could spark it up by offering an aged cut, and adding a bit more fat to the sandwich via mayo or some other mechanism. A touch more seasoning and a touch more heat on the grill, and a good burger would become a great burger.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3.5/5
Build – 3.5/5
Burger – 3.5/5
Taste –  3.5/5
Sides – 4/5 – great chips
Value – 4/5 – £13.75 for a large portion seemed reasonable, though I don’t know how to gauge value in this part of the country!

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – in the upper echelons of pub burgers.

The deets

The Armoury is on Victoria Quay, in Shrewsbury, Shropshire. If you’re in the neighbourhood, it’s a lovely place to eat and drink. Be tempted by the mixed roast; I was.

Yen Burger, London Bridge

A breathtaking burger experience

Burger source

Unlike many of the burgers I review here, discovered from word of mouth buzz or from other peoples’ top ten lists (or very occasionally, because I was pitched it by their PR folk), Yen Burger is a place that I just spotted, a short walk from my office, on the way to London Bridge. I was initially put off – Japan-spiced burger? What fresh hell of fascist-fusion cuisine was this? But a colleague was braver than I and passed on the recommendation when I was looking for a new local place to check out.

And so André and I decided to give it a go.

The burger’s origins start in the mind of food entrepreneur Yen Nguyen, who, apparently after success elsewhere in Germany and the UK (a Google search reveals little about her other than her association with Yen Burger), decided that the gap in London’s thriving burger scene was the Japanese twist. And so, Yen Burger was born.

Here’s the official spiel, from the website:

This brand new concept will offer premium Asian-influenced burgers. Starting with the ‘Yen Burger’ which features a 100% wagyu beef patty, fresh pickles, smoked turkey bacon, cheese and shiso leaf, it’s the ultimate fusion burger and a great introduction to Yen’s offerings. Other options include ‘The Finest Chick’ which combines coconut panko chicken breast and homemade slaw with the reviving shiso leaf and a zingy mango sauce…. Each burger is fresh made in-house from the highest quality Aberdeen Black Angus or Wagyu beef, 100% sustainable cod or vegetable alternatives.

The order

I went for the eponymous Yen Burger. 6oz of Wagyu beef, pickles, lettuce, red onion, ‘Yen sauce’, turkey bacon and shiso leaf. I don’t even know what a couple of those ingredients are, but I was excited.

We had ‘Dashi chips’ on the side (dusted with Paprika seasoning) and some chicken Gyoza because, why not?

The meat of it

Let’s take a moment to admire this.

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Ok, so it’s maybe not the most beautiful burger you’ve ever seen at this point. But let’s admire the components. Thick cut pickles. Coarse, crusty burger patty. Bright, fresh shiso and onion. Perfectly melted cheese. And this soft, white, unsweetened bun, inviting you in.

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In cross section, it becomes more special. The Yen sauce provides a sensuous coating. The meat is coarse ground, loosely packed and cooked to a perfect medium. The turkey bacon is there – subtle, but present. I coudn’t wait to taste this burger.

And OH. I was NOT disappointed. The Wagyu is so utterly, amazingly delicate it practically melts in your mouth. But not before you hit the crunch of the perfectly seasoned outer crust; the soft, plain bread providing structure but not flavour, complimenting the sweet/salty contrast of crust and rich, pink burger inner. The Yen sauce lubricates, a sweet/savoury glue. The cheese adds further umami, subtly, whilst the hint of smoke and crispiness is added by the turkey bacon; less powerful than the traditional pork variants. Additional sharp sweetness from the delicious pickles and crunch from the red onion. WOW. I had to slow myself down – I wanted to devour this and order another.

The Asian ‘spices’ – subtle. A hint of something of Japan in the background of the flavour profile. Nothing overt or tacky – this is a traditional burger with Japanese accents. Cooked to perfection, in perfect harmony with itself. Outstanding.

The dashi fries need comment. They look good, right? But seasoned fries can go wrong, I hear you say. They can be overwhelmingly flavoured and over-salted.

No, say I. Not in this case. The paprika seasoning adds flavour, sure, and these are well salted fries. But the exceptional richness of the potato flavour was unexpected – these are tasty fries – as is the perfect crisp exterior, and the soft, lush, fluffy interior. In absolutely perfect balance. Not a hint of greasiness, light, crisp and delicious. And, when the salt got a little much, Heinz came to the rescue.

The only dish that mildly disappointed was the chicken gyoza. Over-greasy from the fryer, the minced chicken within was dry and lacking in flavour. The soy sauce was strong and the balance felt out. Perhaps it was an indulgence too far.

Overall, an utterly extraordinary and unexpected experience. André reported that the Asian spiced burger was also excellent, and the £15 a head tab felt like good value for the feast (we shared Gyoza and fries between us).

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 5/5
Build – 4.5/5 – looked messy but flawless
Burger – 5/5
Taste – 5/5
Sides – 4.5/5 – docking half a point for the gyoza, but the fries were perfect
Value – 5/5 – £15 for burger and side, ish.

Burger rating – 5/5 – absolutely one of the best burgers (and fries) I’ve ever had. Would return without hesitation.

The deets

At the start of Southwark Street, just by London Bridge, you’ll find this nestled to other burger joints; Honest Burgers and Breakfast Club, as well as Borough Market’s own Roast to Go. All are within a potato’s throw of here.

But go here. In the words of Keanu Reeves, it’s breathtaking.

Wahlburgers, James Street, Covent Garden

Including Transformers: The Last Knight, this is the worst thing Mark Wahlberg has ever done

Burger source

Wahlburgers is a chain of growing notoriety. 10 seasons of reality TV, 30+ outlets in the US, a high-profile arrival in Covent Garden and of course – the Wahlberg family – made me curious. And a mixed barrage of reviews (bad from critics, more positive – it seemed – from punters) made me even moreso. Averaging four stars on Tripadvisor and Google Reviews, it surely merited investigation, yes? Not so much, it turns out. But spoilers…

The “fresh Scottish beef” is, apparently, a “signature blend of brisket, short rib and chuck.” Should be good, right? I mean, that’s some tasty cuts right there.

The order

“The brothers each have a favourite,” the menu acclaims. Well, they were all 4oz burgers and we were hungry, so we went for the 1/2 pound “O.F.D” – “Originally from Dorchestah”, featuring a 6oz patty, swiss cheese, bacon, sautéed mushrooms and a ‘housemade tomato jam.’

There were a few of us, so we tried a lot of sides – Mac & Cheese, cola wings, hummus [sic] and tortillas, sweet potato and regular fries, thin and crispy onion rings.

I drank the Wahlbrewski, an American Pale Ale served on tap.

The meat of it

The summary kind of gives it away. This is a terrible, terrible burger. A crime against burgers. Daylight robbery at £12 for the burger alone. Let’s look at it.

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Barely melted swiss cheese. The bun is cold, though inoffensive. The patty is small relative to everything else.

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In cross section: you see mealy, finely ground, tightly packed meat. The pale red tomato jam has a strange consistency. The bacon is flaccid and the mushrooms are an odd inclusion.

First bite. No seasoning. The meat tastes like its from a cow that has been unbundled from mummification prior to butchering and preparation. Dry, tasteless meat is not salvaged my limpid bacon and tasteless cheese. The bun holds up and provides sweetness and body – but that’s about all that’s redeeming about this burger.

Four of us ordered it, and none of us were willing to waste the calories to finish it. Nearly two full burgers’ worth of detritus went back. In my few years of burger reviewing, this is the first time I refused to finish the meal.

The waitstaff were extremely courteous and apologetic. They tried to explain away our dislike for the burger. “I don’t like Swiss cheese either….” The cheese was a small part of the problem. “Our meat blend is very unusual, a lot of people won’t love it, it’s the brisket…” The meat blend, in theory, is fine. Brisket is a little unusual and would have reduced the overall fat content, but shouldn’t have dried it out completely. “Try our double burger, you’ll love it.” We declined to buy any more of the horrific burgers, but in an attempt to win us round the manager brought one anyway, on the house, split five ways for us to try.

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It was marginally better, in the way that a slap to the face is better than a gutpunch. i.e. Both terrible. In practical terms, a more substantial, Big-Mac-esque burger sauce, and a more melty cheese added moisture and umami. But the meat was the same rubbery, leathery awfulness we’d experienced previously.

My first ever nul points. I would not eat this burger again if you paid me its price. Misters Wahlberg, you should be ASHAMED, to lend your family name to this horror, this caloric vacuum of flavour, this insult to burgers, to cows, to your customers.

A rapid fire set of reviews for the sides:

  • The tortilla/hummus [sic] combo was fine but uninspired. You could have been eating Doritos and Tesco houmous.
  • The Mac & Cheese – was flagrant misrepresentation in that it was neither mac nor cheese, but rather standard penne in a mild, garlicky white sauce. Most of this went uneaten.
  • The cola wings – were great. Really crisp, sweet with a hint of heat, juicy meat that fell off the bone. A highlight.
  • The fries and sweet potato fries – were fine. Well cooked, lightly seasoned, good structure and body though not really notable.
  • The fried pickles – were well fried and tasted ok – but the pickle flavour was very light. The slices are too thin and the pickles too weak to hold up to the batter and deep frying.
  • The thin and crispy onion rings – were extremely moreish. Heavily seasoned, they were salty, sweet, crispy and delicious.

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The Wahlbrewski – a light, refreshing, citrusy American Pale Ale – was really nice (to my craft-beer loving palate). A strong partnership with an American brewery, a sweetness takes the edge off the bitterness of the ale, and its light and well carbonated. A good partner for the food, such it was.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 2/5
Build – 2/5
Burger – 0/5
Taste – 0/5
Sides – 3/5 – the onion rings would get 5 on their own, the wings 4, the fries 3.5.
Value – 1/5 – £30 for burger, sides, drink and shared starters for food of this quality in that environment was just too much

Burger rating – 0/5 – all the points Wahlburgers gets – for the service, for the sides, for the beer – it loses to the appalling travesty it claims is a burger.

The deets

Please don’t go there for the burgers. But it’s opposite Covent Garden tube if you want a quiet American Pale Ale and a basket of onion rings, brilliant service and a brightly-lit fast food environment. And I’d definitely recommend it for that.