Anchor Inn, Lower Froyle, Hampshire

Amazingly well put together, if overcooked

Burger source

I was so keen, on the occasion of this date night, to order something that wasn’t a burger. After all, I have burgers so often when I go out – who needed another burger? But then… I don’t go out often. And there it was, on the menu; promising a single cut of meat in the burger (suggesting it is made in-house), slaw, and a variety of other things that sounded great. So I gave in.

The order

The British brisket burger featured cheese, ruby slaw, baby gem, fries, onion relish. According to the menu. I opted for the bacon for an extra pound.

The meat of it

There are some unspecified extras on the burger. You can see, in the featured image above, a generous slice of tomato, three dill pickles, and a very moreish burger sauce. Curiously, the burger patty – in the deconstructed plating – is on the top bun. A quick merge, and you get…

Look at the melt on that cheese! The shine on the bun! the colour on the slaw! Hopes were duly raised…

…and lowered a bit in cross section. Whilst the bun continues to look glorious, as indeed do the toppings (and bottomings?), the burger is too densely packed and is cooked to grey.

First taste – sweet, applewood (?) smoked bacon adds bite and an additional savoury boost, the burger has a hard, well seasoned crust – but the meat is a little rubbery, to be expected given how it was cooked. The quietly sweet brioche bun, slaw, sweet gem and tomato and pickles cut into the savoury explosion somewhat, tempering it, smoothing it out. The mouthfeel is… good, the bun is fantastic, the burger sauce is adding moisture where the beef has lost it, the balance is… surprising. And whilst the beef’s texture is off, the flavour is not bad. Not great in and of itself – but not bad.

The build doesn’t hold together well, the patty is sliding all over the place, so whilst the flavours combine well, it is hard to eat in its intended form.

So I have the second half deconstructed, eating each bit separately. It confirms – excellent bun, sauce, thick-cut streaky bacon and slaw. The burger is almost burnt on the outside – the chef must have gone overboard with the sear, and (I’m guessing) squashed the burger on the grill to “help” it cook through. The single cut of beef leads to a very uniform texture but perhaps not the most inspiring flavour – other cuts add this, I seem to remember from the burger masterclass at Cut & Grind.

It was hard to gauge how I felt about this burger. The pub is so good – amazing atmosphere, roaring fire, a gentle susurration from the happy clientele all around us, good Covid protocol that we could see, fast moving and attentive wait staff. I had an excellent glass of Italian red to sip alongside the burger (a Cento Cavali Nero d’Avola). I was celebrating 15 years of dating my wife. Maybe the mood took me, but damn, I enjoyed this burger in spite of its limitations.

And the fries? Perfection. Crisp, soft centred, good potato flavour, well seasoned without being mouth-wrinklingly salty, delicious dunked in a bit of ketchup or mayo.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  5/5
Build – 3.5/5 – weird reverse assembly, slidey in the bun
Burger – 2.5/5 – taste is ok behind the terrible texture and oversear
Taste –  4/5 – the sauce and trimmings make it up
Sides – 5/5 – calling the fries ‘sides’ is generous, but they were perfect
Value – 3.5/5 – £16 for the burger and fries. The glass of wine was pricey too

Burger rating – 4/5 – surprising myself with this score. It may not objectively have been good, but it was a brilliant experience, and I enjoyed the burger in spite of its limitations.

The deets

The Anchor Inn is in the middle of nowhere in North Hampshire. On a cold winter night, expect dark roads, blind turns, the occasional deer in your path. In other words, a perfect country pub. Find out more at the link.

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.

Palm Brasserie, Deane, Nr Basingstoke

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

Burger source

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

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

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

The order

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

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

The meat of it

Let’s look at the stack again.

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

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

In cross section….

No sign of pink

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

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

This isn’t going well, is it?

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

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

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

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

And the halloumi fries?

An indulgent portion

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

Monkey finger rating

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

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

The deets

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

Newlyns Farm Cafe, North Warnborough, Hampshire

Fresh but dry farm burger

Burger source

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

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

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The order

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

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

The meat of it

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

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

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

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

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

Monkey finger rating

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

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

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

The deets

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

Fur and Feathers, Herriard, Hampshire

An exceptional gastropub in the Basingstoke surrounds.

Burger Source

All the menu says is: “Home Made 7oz Beef Burger  or Grilled Chicken Breast with Chips, choose either Chunky Potato or Sweet Potato Chips Served in a Brioche Bun with Tomato, Dill Pickle & Our Own Tomato Relish, Mayonnaise & Watercress (GF, please specify)”

There were a variety of toppings on offer; from bacon and Tunworth cheese, stilton & bacon to chilli jam and guacamole; these people are putting a serious twist on the gastropub burger. But would it live up to the impressive sounding menu? The presence of gluten free options and the option of regular chips or sweet potato chips gave me the impression, rightly or wrongly, that this was a place that took its burger seriously, so I once again broke my no-pub-burger rule and rolled the dice.

The order

The beef burger, obviously, with bacon and Tunworth cheese (whatever that was), tomato relish and regular chips. Accompanied by a lime and soda, because, #datenight #designateddriver.

The meat of it

On arrival, I discovered quickly that Tunworth cheese seems to be a relative of Camembert (a guess later confirmed by a quick Google search) and that it came deep fried. A healthy,  crispy wedge of cheese oozed out on top of a large patty and thick, crisp slice of back bacon, which in turn was sat on top of a layer of thin dill pickle slices and a slab of tomato. The brioche, a not-oversweet representative of the genre, was heavily toasted (charred, some might say) and the burger was served open, as if to say “I defy you to close me up and take a bite.” A coating of watercress covered the facing half of the bun, adding to the challenge.

20170506_203918
I managed to get the bun on. Check out that oozing cheese!

As to the taste; well I started with a nibble of the Tunworth cheddar; it had somewhat exploded but the light creaminess was delicious and a very exciting teaser for the feature presentation. The crisp coating added a marvellous textural contrast. I squidged on the top bun (the brioche was soft despite charring on the inside), dolloping on a thick layer of the chunky tomato relish that was served on the side as I went.

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The cross section revealed a densely packed, medium-well cooked burger (less pink than I’d like, and denser – with more chew than strictly called for), excellent coarse ground beef and wonderfully seasoned. It was juicy, to the point of slipping somewhat within the brioche. And the taste somehow made up for the slight flaws in the burger; the umami from the cheese and bacon hits your mouth like a burger firecracker; lighting up your taste buds in all kinds of different directions simultaneously. The bacon was crispy, surprising for thick-cut back bacon and I’m not sure how they managed it. The Tunworth cheese – SO MUCH FLAVOUR. The relish brought a much needed sweet relief to the salt-splosion that the rest of the burger represented, as did the pickles and sweet tomato. The watercress, to my mind, would have been better swapped out for mustard and some fresh onion… but that’s just me.

As to the chips; they were plentiful and crisp on the outside, squidgy on the inside. Absolutely perfect examples of what a British chip should be, and how it can be superior to the French fry when cooked perfectly. My only criticism was that they could have been delivered with a tad more salt, as the coarse ground table salt didn’t stick to the fully-cooked chips very effectively.

On balance, a very, very satisfactory burger. Despite the minor flaws in the burger, the overall experience was remarkable and I’d recommend the pub – and this burger – to anyone in range.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  5/5
Sides – 4.5/5
Value – 4/5 – £15 for the burger and chips – expensive by the standards of the burger scene, but cheap for a gastropub meal.

Burger rating – 4.5/5 – truly the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The deets

This lovely gastropub is hidden away in the village of Herriard, about 5 miles from Basingstoke, in what feels like the middle of nowhere. It’s lovely and they server a LOT of different types of gin, but sadly only two types of bourbon and they were out of the one I wanted.

Find it here: The Fur and Feathers, Southrope, Herriard, Basingstoke, Hampshire, RG25 2PN. Tel: 01256 510510

Shoulder of Mutton, Hartley Wintney

Country gastropub vs. London mainstream – a different burger experience.

Burger Source

The Shoulder of Mutton is a classic country pub, upgraded to Gastropub cuisine standard with the accompanying reviews and crowded tables you’d expect of an excellent pub. The burger seemed to feature reasonably prominently on its menu, and I thought – why not, this place has amazing reviews, the burger should be interesting.

And it was interesting, if a completely different experience from the London scene, for a number of reasons which I’ll get into in this review.

It’s also 15 minutes drive from me, so a perfect location for a night out with Amanda; thanks to Sophie for the recommendation.

The order

The ‘home made beef burger’ is billed as: “fresh minced beef infused with our blend of herbs & spices, tomato, lettuce on a grilled bun served with baby leaf salad and hand cut chips.”

The critical point here is the ‘blend of herbs’ – most burgers these days seem to emphasize salt and pepper over all other herbing and spicing, something I don’t tend to argue with. But I was interested in the treatment this pub would give it…

The meat of it

The preparation and the presentation made for an interesting display. The burger sat atop a bed of thick cut, likely double fried (and duly crispy) chunky chips. The soft white roll was warmed (possibly grilled as promised?), making for a soft yet surprisingly capable foil to the 6oz burger patty. The thick cut bacon sat on top of the meat, coated in a thick layer of cheddar which had not simply been melted on but also crisped up under a broiler, giving a good crust and crunch to the cheese, which was unexpected. The burger itself had a good crust, made of coarse ground, loosely packed beef (my fave), with a pink medium-well shade to it (I like them slightly rarer, but it wasn’t bad at all).

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Such a thing as too much cheese?

The meat was relatively lean (which explains why the standard white bun survived) and unadorned by further sauce or relish. For some reason the promised tomato and lettuce wasn’t in there and I didn’t notice at the time so didn’t make a point of it.

The taste? Well, it was definitely herby, which was an interesting change of pace. Tasty; though my palate couldn’t figure out what was involved but I suspect parsley featured centrally (it was scattered liberally around the plate too). The lean meat (or possibly the broiling?) meant the burger wasn’t as juicy as it should have been but it was still pretty tender. The cheese was somewhat overdone, and the bacon could/should have been crisper in my book, but they were all quality ingredients.

The chips were outstanding, though an excessively large portion. The salad was unnecessarily dressed with a thick squirt of salad cream, which should have been applied more sparingly.

The overall impact? Not as good as it should have been. The burger needed pickle or relish, and – for my mind – a different sort of flavouring. The herbs alone make it taste slightly medicinal (or at least, more meatloaf than burger) and the lack of sweetness in relish or salad or pickle within the burger itself made it overwhelming salty – too much cheese and bacon, a phrase I never thought I’d say, much less write. A better fat/lean ratio would have improved the taste of the burger as well.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 3/5
Taste –  3.5/5
Sides – 4/5
Value – 4/5 – £50 for two including pudding and a round of drinks, incl service. Pretty good.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – It’s really not a bad burger, but the peculiarity of the flavouring and the slightly unsatisfactory toppings mean it’s only maybe something I’d order again. I think maybe the steak next time; the service and atmosphere is outstanding so it’s definitely worth a return visit.

The deets

Whilst the Shoulder of Mutton claims to be part of Hartley Wintney, it’s clearly far closer to Heckfield, just off the A33 between Basingstoke and Reading. Full details: Hazeley Heath, Hartley Wintney, Hook, Hampshire RG27 8NB. Phone: 01189 326 272. Recommend booking – it was busy on a Saturday night.