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.

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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.

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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Five Guys, Westfield, Shepherd’s Bush

Overpriced, but competent burger in sterile environment

Burger source

Five Guys is an American institution. Founded in Virgina in the mid 80s, it made its way to the UK a few years ago and has been spreading like wildfire.

Unlike McDonald’s style fast food, the food quality is high – Five Guys prides itself on freshness, not having freezers, sourcing meat well (in the UK, it’s grain finished Irish beef), and offering extremely simplicity in their menu – it’s basically just burgers, hot dogs and fries, though the ‘25,000 customisations’ on offer come in the form of swapping out salad, cheese, bacon, etc. and various other toppings on offer.

They also have Coca Cola vending machines with endless customisation on offer – any syrup, with any flavouring. For a caffeine-intolerant person that’s never been able to try vanilla Coke… well, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The order

I had the bacon cheeseburger – standard salad options – and shared a large fries with Matt and James. And a bottomless Coca Cola vending machine drink.

The meat of it

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The burger doesn’t look particularly special, though it’s clearly good meat and a capable bun, it is somewhat squished into its wrapper. There’s a reasonable melt on the cheese and the salad looks healthy and fresh. So far, so ok.

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The cross section reveals a burger that’s cooked to well done, rather than my preferred medium. Not inherently an issue, the two 4oz ish patties still seem to retain a reasonable amount of juice. A taste of a stray bit of bacon – a thin slice fo streaky – reveals a good crisp finish and good bacon flavour.

On first bite – the burger is juicy but could do with a little more moisture. The meat has good texture, is a coarse ground, high fat-ratio item but the overcooking has left it somewhat wanting. I’d have liked a smidge more seasoning, but the cheese compensates somewhat. The bun is a standard seeded white roll, so the sweetness comes from the vegetables; in a rare break with personal tradition I leave the tomato in place and eat it as is. The pickles are (too) mild, but the mayo helps bind the lot together. The whole is somehow better than the sum of its parts, which – whilst passable – are unexceptional. When you take into account the price – £8.50 for the burger, followed by a share of £5 for the fries and £3.50 for the drink… it feels somewhat overpriced.

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The ‘large’ portion of fries is enormous (MyFitnessPal tells me that a full portion weighs up at 1,368 calories, so definitely share it) – the above is just overspill, the majority of the pack is elsewhere. The chips are crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, fried in peanut oil (peanuts are a major feature of the Five Guys experience, left scattered around the restarunt in large sacks, making it totally unsuitable for allergy sufferers like my wife and nephew).

HOWEVER…. the seasoning is completely overdone. I’d have far preferred a simple salt finish. I should have customised their cajun seasoning right off them, would have dramatically improved it.

The final piece…

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I discovered in about 2000 that I was caffeine intolerant, and am now completely incapable of consuming it. I loved Coke, though, and ‘gold Coke’ – caffeine free Diet Coke – has been my only option if I wanted the flavour. I’ve watched all these novelty flavoured Cokes come and go and been unable to try them.

So I drank a lot of flavoured coke with my meal. Vanilla (YUM), lime (not bad!), raspberry (chemical!) – totally worth the £3.50 for me, though probably not for any normal person who is happy with a single large cup of carbonated (fake) sugar water.

The one critical thing worth noting about the Five Guys experience is that the restaraunt is really very simply adorned; it feels like sitting in a McD’s, complete with over-bright lighting, occasional mess on the floor, unkempt furniture and dazed and confused patrons. It’s not a pleasant place to eat, and given that the price compares with some of the best burger restaraunts in London… well, it loses points on that front.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3.5/5
Build – 3/5
Burger – 3.5/5
Taste –  3.5/5
Sides – 3/5 – 4.5 without the cajun seasoning
Value – 3/5 – £15 for a fast food eating experience with better quality food.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 –  passable quality burger, but not excited to have another one.

The deets

Five Guys is everywhere in the UK now. Find your nearest here. We were en route to the Star Wars VR experience (The Void) in Westfield, hence choosing that particular eatery. THAT was amazing. Definitely try that.

Big Tasty, McDonald’s UK, Oldham

Big Tasty with Bacon – McDonald’s

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The Rustlers experience from McDonald’s. Yes, that is an actual plate.

Burger Source 

Conceived in the meeting rooms of an office on the edge of Belgravia, this burger blog usually covers whatever edgy opulence London’s trendiest burger joints are churning out. Today, however, we’re going back to basics and shifting the focus somewhere a little more down to Earth: McDonald’s (in Oldham). Specifically, we’re here to sample a regular ‘guest’ burger I’ve been avoiding for years: The Big Boring (I mean Big Tasty) with Bacon.

It seems to me that the Big Tasty is kind of like the Liberal Democrats of McDonald’s menu items. Never trusted enough to be considered worthy of a full time position on the menu, yet fostering enough support to hang around in the background and trot out in public from time to time. This is usually whenever there’s a dearth in the planning team’s creativity in between more interesting limited edition burgers and promotions.

This has been the case since it first appeared on these shores back in 2003, and I’ve always avoided it on the menu. Perhaps it’s simply because it takes up precious promotional space on the menu where something a little more exotic could be trialled (hello, Pico Guacamole burger at McDonald’s USA), but I’ve slightly resented this burger for a while without actually trying it.

Sure enough, I cast my eyes skyward when I recently saw that the Big Tasty would once again be returning for the couple of months, in between the festive menu and whatever actual promotion is coming up next. Come on guys, isn’t January dull enough? But then I realised that it was probably worth, y’know, trying the damned thing before knocking it completely. So here we are.

The order

Upon entering my local branch, I immediately marched straight towards the shiny (or greasy… depending on how closely you’re looking) new touchscreen self-ordering kiosks.

If, like me, you’re a terrifyingly anxious OCD-driven control freak then the customisation option provided by these kiosks is an absolute godsend. Gone are the days of awkwardly approaching your server (aggressively eyeballing you over the till and bidding you to just hurry up pick something simple off the menu and order right now) to ask if you could possibly please have a burger without any gherkins, if it’s not too much trouble.

Now it’s all in your hands, and you can discard any ingredients you want (although I note actually adding a different ingredient seems to be totally out of the question, which would appear to jar with the idea of true customisation… but that’s a thought for another day).

That’s why I opted to remove the standard two slides of tomato when ordering my Big Tasty with Bacon. I understand these are here to add a little moisture and possibly present more of a premium option, but I just feel like tomatoes have no business being inside a burger (or sandwich). Their watery complexion and usually weak flavour can ruin a decent burgery bite, so out they went.

Convention requires that I must state that I also ordered a bag of Cheddar Melts, the current moreish cheesy bite side option available at McDonald’s.

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New simple packaging. I quite like it. No tomato.

The meat of it:

What they say: “What makes our Big Tasty so tasty? 100% British & Irish beef with cheese made with emmental, sliced tomato, lettuce, onion, and – of course – that Big Tasty sauce.”

The first thing that struck me was that McDonald’s have recently refreshed their product packaging with a stripped-down, slightly old-school based on white boxes with large, colourful text. This replaces the previous long-serving design with little illustrations of fresh ingredients and some vaguely whimsical copy to while away the time for lonely diners. But you probably don’t care about that. What’s inside?

Let’s be honest, nobody expects a piece of artwork from a McDonald’s burger. While my Big Tasty had more of a backseat Rustlers look than something you’d be served in Hawksmoor, I’ve definitely seen much, much worse. There was none of the dreaded topping slide, everything was distributed fairly well and – yes – my tomato removal request had been honoured.

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Lost in the box

The first thing that jumps out about this burger (when you’ve taken it out of the box) is the size. It’s big – much bigger than the other regular burgers at McDonald’s, but still just as flat. The result is a slightly awkward eating experience that requires you to balance the burger with two hands (well, if you have freakishly small hooks like me anyway).

Biting in, it’s a hefty beef flavour that hits you first. That might sound pretty obvious from a burger, but this seems to pack more of a pure ‘BEEF’ punch than, say, a Big Mac. Afterwards, the salty, slightly smoky taste of the bacon kicks in. I’m not a huge fan of the bacon at McDonald’s, which is usually a little rubbery, but this was fine and definitely adds to the experience. The bun is pretty unremarkable by design – nothing to see here.

Now let’s talk about *that* Big Tasty sauce, since it’s present in every bite. There’s no official description of what’s actually in this, and the ingredients list just contains a bewildering array of preservatives, so I was guided by my taste buds. I picked up a little garlic, some smokiness and some generic ‘background spices’. The overall effect is pleasant, without leaving the same kind of impression of the similarly cryptic Big Mac sauce. It’s nice, but largely forgettable. A bit like the Big Tasty itself, really.

It’s definitely worth having a good mix of sides and plenty to drink with this, because my word, the Big Tasty’s sheer size means that this burger takes a while to tackle. The flipside is that after a while, it all becomes a bit samey and you’re just chowing on for the sake of it.

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Under the hood: a very consistent spread

That’s why it’s pleasing that the Cheddar Bites on the side are a reliably solid effort. Simultaneously crunchy and chewy and featuring a very decent cheesy flavour, they’re great value for money. It’s a shame the staff forgot to throw in the accompanying pot of rich tomato dip, but I got over this with some ketchup.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 3/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 3/5
Taste – 3/5
Sides – 4/5
Value – 3/5.

Burger rating – 3/5 As a recurring guest star on the McDonald’s UK menu, the Big Tasty needs to have mass appeal, and that’s why it’s all very safe and generic. I’m glad I tried it, but (particularly in light of increasingly creative promotional offerings from KFC) I’m much more interested to see what other, more interesting limited edition burgers McDonald’s has in store for 2018 and beyond.

City Burgers, Vauxhall, Amazon Restaurants delivery

Decent burger; bad sides, both suffer in delivery

Burger source

We wanted to try out Amazon Restaurants to use a voucher I had been sent, and City Burgers came up top. There’s no useful website, so no idea on the origins of the meat or the restaurant. It seems to be pop up within the Vauxhall Street Food garden, so a place with aspirations of gourmet but accessible food. Here’s their write-up:

Introducing our in house Burger stall, serving delicious, carefully sourced Hamburgers freshly prepared to eat in or takeaway. With a selection of burgers taking influence from global cuisines expect to have your tastebuds tingle to the flavours of London, New York, Madrid, Munich, and beyond.

The order

Cheese & bacon burger, skin on fries. Comes with a double 4oz patty. Colleagues had sweet potato fries and buffalo wings as well, and due to a glitch in the order we got to try the wings too.

The meat of it

The order system allowed you to specify a ‘done’ rating down to rare; I went for medium rare.

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Arriving in a cardboard box with no wax wrapper, the stack was still mysteriously intact. The potato roll had a lovely shine on it, the melt on the bright yellow American cheese was remarkable, and the single slice of back bacon had a charred crust – the look was lovely.

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In cross section, it holds up. Although more medium than medium rare, it’s not bad looking for a delivery burger.  Layers of salad protect the lower bun; onions, pickle top the bacon and the melty cheese drapes down the size. You can see the ooze of ketchup providing sweetness throughout the burger.

On tasting it – it’s impressive for a relatively mundane delivery burger. The meat is well seasoned, the bun holds up well, the bacon is crisp and adds a bit of bite, and the ketchup provides the necessary sweetness given the bun is a potato roll rather than the more popular brioche seen so often these days.

However… if there was a charred crust on the burgers, it softened in delivery and for being transported in a steamy cardboard box.  So the texture felt slightly off, despite a coarse grind and a loose pack. And there was probably just slightly too much meat in total – 2x 3oz patties would have been plenty!

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The fries – were terrible. Again, delivery would have been a factor, but not only were my portion a mix between standard frozen essential-type French fries and the skin-on variety advertised, but they were definitely undercooked. No effort to compensate for delivery had been made, so the chips lacked any crispness and were underseasoned (no salt was provided in the delivery bag). The sweet potato fries – which I didn’t try – reportedly had a raw crunch to them.

The buffalo wings – were a misnomer, really. They were fried chicken wings where the very light breading had buffalo flavour woven through the seasoning. They were dry and bland, lacking both the taste and texture you’d hope for buffalo wings.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  3.5/5
Sides – 1/5
Value – 3/5 – £7.50 for burger, £3 for a giant but rubbish portion.

Burger rating – 3/5 – a good burger, let down by terrible sides and a couple of delivery defects.

The deets

I think both Amazon Restaurants and Just Eat will sort delivery for you if you’re in range. Or head down to Vauxhall; 6A South Lambeth Place, SW8 1SP London, United Kingdom

 

Byron Waterloo, 41-45 The Cut, Southwark

Byron started the gourmet burger revolution for me. Does it live up to my memory of it?

Burger source

Byron was founded by Tom Byng, who, according to its website, spent many a night in the US eating burgers he couldn’t find in the London of 2007… and so he set up. In my mind, this man, and this chain (now owned by a private equity firm with upwards of 60 locations Nationwide) kick-started the burger renaissance London is currently undergoing and showed GBK – then the only ones with a claim to the gourmet burger – that it had no idea what it was doing.*  In my memory, their ‘pure cuts of British beef’ were always cooked to a perfect medium, delivered with super-melty cheese in a soft brioche, and were just plain delicious. They even have their own cheese for extra meltiness – Freddar, a cheddar hybrid named after one of their chefs!

 

*mind you, I haven’t been to a GBK in years!

The order

We were there for a work related do, so shared a variety of starters (buffalo wings, nuggets served with BBQ sauce and nachos topped with sour cream, salsa, guac and melted cheese) and sides (fries, courgette fries). For my burger, I went for the B-Rex, medium rare (more common now than I thought it was in London!) – which is a bacon cheese burger with jalapenos, pickles, onion rings, BBQ sauce and mayonnaise. What’s there not to love?

The meat of it

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The burger looked perfect. I mean, look at it! A perfect stack, layered up as you’d expect it. The patty looked a bit tooperfect, holding together in a slightly suspicious way and I feared it might have been overcooked…

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…but look at that cross section! A perfect medium rare! Strong melt to the cheese, brioche holding up admirably against the sauces and one would assume burger juice.

Then a bite. The meat’s slightly underseasoned, or at least struggling to cope with the sweetness of BBQ sauce, onion and brioche. It’s also slightly low on the fat ratio (I’d guess an 80/20 lean/fat at best), which means it’s not as juicy as you’d hope. The grind is good, though, the texture melt-in-your-mouth perfect, the cheese glorious, the japalenos and pickles a sweet, crisp counterpoint to the crunchy onion ring. The bacon gets somewhat lost in all of this, but it’s adding salt to the hot sweet mess of this burger, so isn’t without purpose. The jalapenos are reasonably non-descript, adding the faintest hint of heat. Unfortunately… whilst all these elements are coming together well, the overall balance of this burger is a bit off – too much sweetness, not enough umami. Add to this the fact that the beef is just fine – unexceptional if good quality ground beef – and there’s no longer any specialness about this Byron burger. A serviceable output of a decent chain… but little to write home about.

As to the sides…

  • The wings are good. On the mild side of standard buffalo, suspect either they weren’t using Frank’s hot sauce but some poor imitator, or overdid the butter. Crisp and tender, though, and not bad for London.
  • The fries were fine – a small portion for the money (£3 for a portion about the same size as a small fries at McD’s), crisp french-fry style, well-seasoned.
  • The courgette fries are great – sweet, crispy and salty all in one go. Don’t even pretend they’re healthy, but they are delicious!
  • The chicken nuggets and nachos – meh. Chain fayre, nothing exceptional, except for the BBQ sauce which seems eccentric and different to standard, mostly in a good way.

Drinks-wise I was having Woodford reserve off its decent bourbon list. Burgers and bourbon – a killer combination. Or you can have craft beer if you prefer…

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 4.5/5
Burger – 3.5/5
Taste –  3.5/5
Sides – 4/5 – courgette fries bump it up half a point
Value – 3.5/5 – £9, £3 sides, expensive drinks… a little overpriced for standard fayre.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – it’s either gone downhill to ‘average’ or I’ve been spoiled by everything else that’s cropped up since 2007!

The deets

Everywhere in London (and some beyond), but this particular one was on the Cut, which runs from Southwark to Waterloo. Nearer the Southwark end. Find your own here.

Dirty Burger Shoreditch, 13 Bethnal Green Road, London E1

Has Dirty Burger peaked?

Burger source

For me, Soho House’s Dirty Burger is part of the great opening salvo of London’s battle against burger mediocrity. I rememer being distinctly impressed, one Friday lunchtime jaunt out with colleagues to the Vauxhall Branch. It introduced me to some key burgering techniques, including the mustard fry (mustard on the grill with the patty, a key tenet of In&Out’s Animal Style), I vaguely recall. They also use the ‘lid technique’ to ensure a good cheese melt on the burger, covering cheese topped burgers on the grill plan and squirting water on to create a cloud of steam that does the necessary work. Invaluable in home-burger creation. I was looking forward to revisiting with a review in mind, so post a team shuffleboard session (more fun than it sounds), we braved a torrential Summer downpour and headed to the Shoreditch branch.

The order

A Dirty Bacon (a cheese burger with bacon), naturally. And crinkle cut fries, because – why not? And onion fries too, because I remembered these being legendary.

The meat of it

As it’s basically a take-away, service was expectedly rapid (if not up to the speed of a lesser fast-food joint). We were the only customers on this particular rainy day. The burgers initially looked glorious – check out the stack!

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Unfortunately, first tasting did not live up to the glamour picture. The “bacon” is really a gammon steak, half an inch thick and adding ludicrous saltiness to this already well-seasoned burger. The cheese was delightfully melty, as remembered… but the burger itself unfortunately was overcooked and a little chewy, with little pinkness on cross section.

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This meant that the bun, sturdy as designed to cope with a juicy patty, was actually a bit too dry. The salad was fresh and sweetish but the ‘bacon’ overwhelmed everything, including the pickles – which went entirely unnoticed. My memory of the mustard fry was either mistaken or they’ve changed the recipe as the only flavour coming through was the salt. The beef might have been great – but overcooked as it was, it didn’t impart huge amounts. Ketchup and mustard added after-the-fact improved the balance somewhat, but sadly on this occasion, Dirty Burger missed its mark.

As to the sides…

As per my recollection, the crinkle cut fries were a limpid offer – slightly soggy and underwhelming. They came unseasoned, so self-salting is necessary. Fortunately, my memory of the onion fries was accurate; they are a savory, crispy enigma. How does something so crisp, crunchy and delicious, contrasting perfectly with sweet thick rings of onion, emerge from the same deep fat fryer? Spectacular, if greasy, indulgence.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 3.5/5
Taste –  3/5
Sides – 4/5 -bump for the onion fries
Value – 4/5 – £10 for burger and side, ish.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – didn’t live up to its erstwhile glory. But I’d go back on the offchance they were having a bad day, and perhaps not order the gammon burger…

The deets

Dirty Burger is increasingly all-over. The Shoreditch branch is at 13 Bethnal Green Road, just opposite Box Park (where you’ll need to go if you need the loo, as the tiny restaurant has no facilities). Fortunately Dirty Bones just around the corner is a good place for a cocktail after, if you want to keep the theme Dirty…

Marks Bar @ Hixter Bankside, Great Guildford Street, London SE1

Sumptuous, meaty glory

Burger source

The “rib steak” burger (it’s rib-eye cut, according to Wikipedia, unless Mr Hix puts ground up bone in there) and fries announces itself with little ceremony on the menu. Mark Hix’s reputation as a chef and restaurateur promised an ‘upscale’ experience, but I really didn’t know what to expect.

The order

So, eating with the effervescent Mr Sullivan is an experience as, whilst we were offered blue cheese and bacon as toppings, once he established that customisation was possible, a world of opportunity was unlocked. Namely; the option of mushrooms and of regular cheddar. I went for the latter and bacon, and we ordered some sides to top up the table – onion rings, chicken popcorn and chicken skins. Just to see! And of course the burger came with fries. As a surprising bonus, our waiter allowed us to order the burgers medium rare (often disallowed in London, presumably for food safety reasons), so that was exciting.

The meat of it

So this burger doesn’t look that special on arrival. I mean, it looked good, but not extraordinary.

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A single slice of back bacon (surprising in itself – usually streaky’s the choice for burgers) resting on well melted cheese, resting on the 6oz patty… whilst all veg and burger sauce lies deconstructed around it… some assembly required. In some ways I can understand this – I immediately dispensed with the tomato, it has no place in my burgers – whilst Craig left the red onion to one side, a judgement call I understand but don’t agree with.

Anyway, some light assembly later, tomato-based burger relish, onion and pickles manually inserted and bun topped, I went for the cross section.

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Wow. Look at that pinkness. The meat was practically melting just after the cut. The bun – which looked somewhat dry from a distance – is necessarily sturdy to withstand the juicyness of the meat.

And then the taste. Funky, meaty, juicy… melty texture… the crunch of the bacon was totally unexpected from back bacon, the crisp sweetness of the pickle a delightful contrast and even the tomato relish added to the overall gestalt. The bun withstood the onslaught of flavour and provided the necessary starchy contrast and you tasted the high quality beef with every mouthful as there was clearly some restraint in the burger’s seasoning – no doubt for this very reason. This is one of the best burgers in London, without a shadow of a doubt.

The sides – well, the fries were outstanding if conventional french fries. The dipping sauces – some kind of parsley aioli, a rich curry sauce and ketchup – helped cut the edge of the generous salting they’d had. The chicken skins – like ‘healthy’ pork scratchings, provided a delightful savoury crunch. The onion rings were a revelation; seasoned, crispy, spicy, flecked with pepper and running spicy and sweet as the seasonings contrasted with the natural flavour of the onion. The only disappointment is that “chicken popcorn” was, in fact, chicken flavoured popcorn… not popcorn-shaped chicken, as we’d mistakenly assumed. I didn’t even try it in protest at my own folly.

Oh and Craig and The Bond wanted mushrooms… they were special; garlicky, buttery, sweet and savoury.

Drinks wise – was mostly consuming Hixter’s Old Fashioneds. They were outstanding, and served with a hefty single block of ice to help them linger.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4.5/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 4.5/5
Taste –  5/5
Sides – 4.5/5
Value – 4/5 – £14.95 for the burger and fries, £10 for three sides  for the burger plus a share of delivery.  So it’s not a cheap burger.

Burger rating – 5/5 – the whole is really greater than the sum of its parts at Hixter. This is a very special burger indeed.

The deets

Marks Bar is in the basement of Hixter Bankside, tucked away on Great Guildford street just by Southwark Street. Lovely ambiance and home to a rather eccentric bar billiards game we utterly failed to understand despite quite clear instructions on how to play. Find it here.

Bleecker Street Burgers, Pop-Up until Sept 30th 2016, South Bank

The best burger in London? Very possibly.

Burger Source

Zan Kaufman, American founder of Bleecker Street burgers, came to London in 2011 and launched Bleecker Street with a van and a mission to serve the best American style burgers on the streets of London. Having learnt everything she could from an East Village burger joint called Zaitzeff, she wanted to bring the same experience to London. As to the beef itself, and the burgers? She puts it better than I could: “There is zero compromise with our ingredients. Burgers are about the beef. We use rare-breed, pasture-fed beef from small farms in the UK. It comes to us from the geniuses at The Butchery in Bermondsey, where it is dry-aged for about forty to fifty days, giving it an intense, beefy flavour. The finishing touches: a sesame seed bun, scratch burger sauce and good old American cheese. We like to keep things simple.” Does the Bleecker Street reality live up to the promise?

The order

The menu is simplicity itself, especially at the South Bank pop-up where the Blue-Cheese special is not available – single, double, bacon and the Bleecker Black – a black pudding slice sandwiched between two substantial burger patties. Having seen people being served singles, which looked like 4.5oz patties at most, my hunger conquered me and I went for a double – and, because I’m greedy – added bacon, alongside the skin-on fries. The South Bank pop up does a good trade in  American beer, too, if you’re into that sort of thing.

The meat of it:

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Now for my close-up

The burger doesn’t look that extraordinary there’s little to the presentation, the sesame seeded bun is toasted and looks very standard fayre… and the patties look surprisingly small. The camera adds a few ounces of flattery in the picture above. Even a double doesn’t have the heft of a P&B burger, for example. And mine, surprisingly, was cooked medium well rather than the medium rare a friends’ Bleecker Black came with. I suspect the guys struggle with consistency in the small confines of the pop-up kitchen as other friends’ doubles were also rarer than mine. The fries come in a generous sized cardboard cup and are crisp, well-seasoned and delicious dipped in the plentiful ketchup, mayo or mustard that adorns the few small tables outside the Bleecker Street Shack.

As to the burger… OMG. The aged beef delivers a gamey taste and, despite being cooked medium well, the coarse ground meat is unbelievably juicy – literally spilling onto the cardboard plate as I took my first bite. It’s really well-seasoned too; though simply – no unusual flavours, spices or herbs. The American cheese singles are completely melted in to create wonderful mouthfeel, and whilst I had initially feared that the sesame seeded bun was dry and overtoasted, in this world of soft brioche, in the end it proved necessary for it to stand up to the juicy intensity of the burger. There was some onion in there, but it didn’t really factor in the taste behind the beef. The bacon – thinly sliced, not-entirely-crispy streaky bacon – was somewhat lost in the beef-fest, which is probably why they don’t do a double bacon cheeseburger as standard. Occasionally the burger got dipped in mustard or ketchup (wow), but it was fine on its own too. I suspect a fat/lean ratio of 75/25, and the result on the taste and the texture… well, wow. I want to go back. This, Honest Burgers, and Lucky Chip are currently in top contention for my personal best burgers in London, but there’s still far to go on this burger gastronomic adventure.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4.5/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste –  5/5
Sides – 5/5
Value – 4.5/5 – I missed out on the ‘deal’ by ordering a custom burger. You save a quid or two otherwise.

Burger rating – 5/5 – very possibly the best burger in London. I want to go back for lunch.

The deets

The pop up supposedly runs until 30th September. You can find it under the Hungerford bridge, by the Royal Festival Hall on the Queen’s Walk, right by the river. A straight walk over the bridge from Embankment tube. From 11.30am to 11pm daily.