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.