Hunworth Bell, Hunworth, Norfolk

Enjoyable despite its limitations

Burger source

The Hunny Bell is a local favourite, in the middle of nowhere in rural Norfolk. Rated highly on Tripadvisor, and by locals we know, it was a fun family meal out.

The order

I hadn’t intended to have a second burger in our holiday week, but the description of the HB double cheeseburger, topped with Emmental, served with onion rings, slaw, on a brioche and smoked bacon… well, it just sounded great. So I had to give it a go. We shared a carafe of Sea Change Negroamaro, a red wine whose billing features environmetnal activism, with a proportion of profits going to dealing with ocean plastics. Sold.

The meat of it

Let’s look at the main picture again.

The plating is tidy but a close inspection will show – a burnt brioche, unnecessary onion rings and a burnt edging on the bacon that bodes poorly… but it looks well assembled, and I’m intrigued.

In cross section, the errors compound themselves. These are thick patties, but cooked well done. They are far too big for the burger. The emmental is well melted and there’s an intriguing layer of sauce on the bottom bun… so, on to the taste.

Well, the burger is well seasoned. The crisp bacon adds excellent umami. The vegetables are crisp, fresh and sweet. The patties are a little dry, but the spicy mayo adds the required moisture and a lovely depth of flavour. There’s a wonderful smokiness to the whole thing.

Then… the whole thing kind of slides off the romaine slice and tomatoes at the base… leaving, in short, a mess:

The rest of it had to be eaten with cutlery, in two halves, split top and bottom. Ketchup helped balance the half without the spicy mayo, and yet somehow, the whole thing kept me wanting more. Despite almost everything going wrong with it, I still kind of enjoyed it. Though I think next time, the belly pork Amanda had is more likely to be on my order card.

The sides? The fries were well seasoned, standard french fries, but slightly undercooked. The slaw was soft – lacking all freshness and crispness – the mayo / dressing was just too heavy. But the onion rings were near-paragons of the form – lovely, crisp, well seasoned batter, sweet onion within… if they were a little greasy.

Giving notes on the whole dish:

  1. Don’t burn the bun
  2. Shrink the patties – 3oz each is plenty, 4oz each was too much
  3. Switch to a patty smash. higher fat ratio, melt cheese on each half as part of the build
  4. Go heavier on the delicious, animal-style sauce, consider adding some chopped pickle into it too for a bright, sweet crunch amidst it all
  5. Shred lettuce for a more stable base – the single leaf of romaine is pretty in theory, but irritating in practice
  6. Swap out the emmental for a sharp local cheddar
  7. Double fry the chips
  8. Find a new slaw recipe. It was bad.
  9. More onion rings. Because why not?

And the wine? Delicious. In both form and function. Highly recommend.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  2.5/5
Burger – 3.5/5
Taste –  3.5/5
Sides – 3/5 – the onion rings and wine redeem the fries and slaw somewhat 
Value – 3/5 – £14.50 for burger and fries. Wine and other dishes reasonable.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – really much more enjoyable than it should have been

The deets

The food, service, ambience etc., at the Hunny Bell were all brilliant. The burger isn’t the best but everything else comes highly recommended. Visit if you’re in the region of Holt in Norfolk at any point.

Sands Restaraunt, Wells-on-the-Sea, Norfolk

Pretty good burger with well-flavoured meat

Burger source

After a four hour journey, we were happy to have arrived in the coastal town of Wells for our first ever visit to Norfolk. I should probably have gone for seafood on the menu, but the burger had an impressive billing, and eating out post-pandemic is still something of a rarity, leaving this blog neglected, so…

The order

The “Sands of time” burger featured:

6oz Prime Beef Burger. Cheese, Smoked Bacon, Onion Rings, Beef Tomato on a Bed of Mixed Leaves in a Brioche Bun, served with Fries and Burger Relish.

Which sounded pretty good to me.

The meat of it

The rather ludicrous plating was fun. Unnecessary knife literally embedded into the board, totally hilariously large onion rings adding unmanageable height to the stack… and of course, fun bougie basket of fries and pot of relish on the side.

In cross section… it has a little more going for it.

You can see pink, coarse ground, loosely packed meat making up a beautiful patty. You can see thick bacon and melty cheese – the bacon, whilst back, was crispy around the edges. The salad is bright and fresh. The bun – so far – is holding up. Toasted but soft – though not that warm, unfortunately. The onion rings – left the building. Fun, but a side, not a central part of this burger’s flavour profile or structure.

First bite – bitter edge from slightly too much salad (rocket? spinach? not standard lettuce), crisp umami from the bacon and melty cheddar, and tasty, slightly undersalted but otherwise well flavoured beef. The meat carries a slight funk, like it’s been dry-aged and was juicy with good mouthfeel. The relish added light sweetness without the vinegary effect you can get with ketchup. It was firmly not bad, but, beyond the choice of salad leaves, a couple of minor notes to the chef… heavier on the salt would not have hurt this burger. The strong flavour of the meat needed its savoury edge. And a hotter griddle for the crust would have added textural depth… one this burger needed, as by the time I got to the second half, the juice had completely soaked the lower bun, which was dissolving. That said, the bun was soft and tasty, so points where its due.

On the sides – I’ll treat the onion rings as sides. Despite thick slices of onion within the batter, there was little natural sweetness from the onion nor savoury bite from the batter – they were underseasoned, and I must have just gotten unlucky with the onion. The texture was otherwise crisp and on point.

The fries – were well fried and well seasoned, but seemed standard french-fry cut frozen chips. Nothing bad about them, but little to write home about.

£14.50 for the lot would have been reasonable in London, and I guess is the going rate in a Tourist-heavy town with ‘arguably the best view’ in Wells (it wasn’t bad).

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3.5/5
Burger – 3.5/5
Taste –  3.5/5
Sides – 3/5 
Value – 3.5/5

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – my hopes (and perhaps standards) aren’t high for burgers in restaurants that don’t specialise in them (or steak more generally), so this really wasn’t bad.

The deets

Stroll along the Quay in Wells and you’ll find Sands Restaurant upstairs at no. 13. Or visit the website here.

Miller & Carter, Winchester Road, Basingstoke

This burger tastes better than it has any right to

Burger source

I was arranging to meet a client who happens to live locally for one of my first face to face meetings in about six months. He happened to like burgers, was sympathetic to my fondness for them, so I looked for a novel burger place – and to my surprise, discovered a local steakhouse I’d never heard of. So we went. First Monday of indoor eating in months. V exciting.

The order

Ordinarily my baseline review is a bacon cheeseburger – standardising the reviews somewhat. But the trademark burger was jumping out at me – the Miller’s Dirty Burger. And you can see why:

Tender fillet tails cooked to your liking, aged Cheddar cheese sauce, pulled beef barbacoa bearnaise, smoked streaky bacon, Monterey Jack, chorizo, special recipe burger sauce

Wawaweewah. It had to be done.

The meat of it

Other than the disproportionate height, the plating’s not bad. Clean plate, artful portion of what is (I promise, sorry for the soft focus) some nice, crisp, fresh coleslaw that’s not too heavy, standard posh chips in a tin-cup presentation and a burger that is well stacked. Lovely glossy bun, lettuce shielding the bottom half from the heft of meat, sauce, and toppings. I was given a choice of how I wanted the fillet tails done (medium rare), but the burger had to be cooked well done. This is par for the course in any restaurant that doesn’t grind its patties on site, but was nonetheless a shame in a place that prides itself on its meat.

Anyway, the cross section…

Somewhat predictably, the polish isn’t so evident in cross section. The burger is kind of a mess. The lower bun immediately gives way to the mass of everything, you can see the burger patty is cooked to a pale grey pallor, and is so tightly packed there’s almost no moisture left in it. The burger is so filled with toppings (I made those fillet tails out as medium, but that’s fine) so as to be impossible to eat as a sandwich, so I resort to cutlery and give it a taste.

And… against all expectations at this point… I really like it. The burger beef is well seasoned and has a good crust, and whilst its dry and dense as you’d expect, the fillet tails are soft and dreamy, the bearnaise, burger sauce and melty montery jack cheese (indulgent, much?) coalesce into a savoury, moist, gooey, bright yellow joy. There’s also the occasional spark of spice from the chorizo, and the fresh, sweet salad adds a clean crispness. But it’s not really a burger – I end up eating it in two halves, unable to get the mountain into edible bits without this drastic step. The fillet tails – tender, moist, luscious pieces of steak – are delicious in their own right, the bread is firmer than it appeared, holding up well… though I think the bacon was probably just a dead mound of calories, lost in all the other flavour. So yeah. Not bad, if not quite a burger. And working despite my understanding of what makes a good burger by almost every other measure.

The fries… are just slightly under-seasoned, under-cooked and a little shy of hot. But not terrible – good potato flavour, just on the tolerable side of cooked enough; a good stodgy compliment to the richness of the burger.

It being lunchtime on a Monday, the drink was a lime & soda, but we did have coffee and a ‘mini’ pud – I went for an Eton Mess.

It wasn’t particularly mini. And it was divine – light, crispy meringue, rich, sweet cream, sweet and sharp passionfruit laced throughout it… I inhaled it. I’m not an eton mess connoisseur, but after this, I kind of wanted to be. The shortbread was a waste of space, though – what use does anyone have for unsweetened shortbread? Perhaps I was meant to use it as a spoon for the mess…

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3.5/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 3/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 3/5 -bump for the onion fries 
Value – 3/5 – £30 for burger and pud and drink – a little steep.

Burger rating – 4/5 – perhaps slightly generous, but I enjoyed it in spite of its flaws.

The deets

Apparently Miller & Carter is a National chain. Who knew? Find your local here. Maybe have the steak. We had brilliant service and a good experience of it, can recommend.

The Hoddington Arms, Upton Grey, Hampshire

A glorious pub burger, an appropriate post lockdown celebration

Burger source

I’m gonna be honest – it was my first meal out in six months. There was a chateaubriand on the menu. It didn’t matter; it was always going to be the burger. There was no ceremony in its description – it simply was the eponymous Hodd Cheese Burger, hopefully a staple of the menu…

The order

The Hodd Cheese and Bacon Burger featured mature cheddar, cured bacon, mustard mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, crispy onion ring and skinny fries. I had a pint of Shipton Pale ale as an aperitif and washed it down with a nice Sangiovese. Pudding was sticky toffee pudding (my kryptonite on any menu), and I was persuaded by my neighbour to have a Balvenie Scotch as a digestif (I’ve always been more a Bourbon fan and sceptical of single malts; the peat is too much for me, but this was great).

The meat of it

Well.

This was a happy-inducing cross section. A pub burger, with pink, coarse ground, loosely packed meat. With an ample coating of throughly melted aged cheddar. Salad on the bottom, protecting the bun. The bun itself, sturdy but not hard and dry. Pliable. Warm.

First bite. Moment of truth. Perfectly seasoned – good flavour, excellent sharpness from the cheese, enough moisture from the mustard mayo and salad. The meat’s a little too loose and fibrous – wonder if it was the way it was ground? There is perhaps not quite enough sturdiness to the crust, perhaps a hotter griddle would have pulled it all together. Regardless – the net impact is one of savoury goodness; I slow to take in each mouthful carefully, mindfully savouring the flavour. I must admit, I didn’t notice the bacon, but given the taste profile, it would have been adding subtle umami. Side note; whatever made the bun red didn’t noticeably add to the flavour, but it was good nonetheless – soft, seeded, fresh.

Onto the fries, for which I refer you to the featured image above. These were glorious; crisp on the outside, soft in the middle. Not exactly skinny fries, more svelte at best – perfectly seasoned, likely double if not triple fried – absolutely delicious. Dunked in mayo and ketchup for kicks but great on their own.

The onion rings were coated in a wonderful batter, crisp and non-greasy, with a thick, sweet ring of fresh onion at their core. They were slightly underseasoned and totally unnecessary within the stack, so I chucked on some salt and had them on their own. Very fine indeed.

Pudding was a medjool date sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream and was a paragon of its type. Just beautiful on the plate, warm and melty, a luscious island in a sea of warm, soupy, slowly thickening toffee sauce. The sponge was light and fluffy with dense pockets of date. A complete delight.

For a digestif – a Balvenie. Lightly smoky but sweeter and smoother than the few single malts I’ve ever had, this was a good return to scotch for the bourbon drinker that I am. Enjoyed it.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4.5/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 4.5/5 – just needed a harder sear, I reckon
Taste –  4.5/5
Sides – 5/5 -bump for the onion fries 

Value – 4/5 – £50 for burger, side, pud, pint, glass and a half of wine and double digestif. Not ridiculous but not every day eating.

Burger rating – 4.5/5 – didn’t live up to its erstwhile glory.

The deets

A wonderful pub in the idyllic North Hampshire village of Upton Grey, about 5 miles south of Basingstoke. Utter delight. More here.

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 .

IMG_20170610_130014_398

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

img_20200302_131832

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…

img_20200302_131908

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

img_20200219_131127

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…

img_20200219_131224

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…

img_20200219_131120

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: