Yen Burger, London Bridge

A breathtaking burger experience

Burger source

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

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

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

Here’s the official spiel, from the website:

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

The order

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

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

The meat of it

Let’s take a moment to admire this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monkey finger rating

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

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

The deets

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

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

Wahlburgers, James Street, Covent Garden

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

Burger source

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

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

The order

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

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

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

The meat of it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A rapid fire set of reviews for the sides:

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

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

Monkey finger rating

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

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

The deets

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

Harrild & Sons, Farringdon, London

Good burger spoiled by overcooking

Burger source

Harrild & Sons is a bar and restaurant (really a pub that serves food and cocktails) on Farrindgon Street, sometimes known as the ‘dullest street in the Square Mile.’ It’s a lovely space with a high-end but down to earth feel, lots of exposed wood and interesting design touches, tonnes of real-ale and beer options, an extensive cocktail menu and… a burger. One that looked like it took itself seriously on the menu.

The place is named for a manufacturer of printing presses that had facilities in the area. Nice design touches signal this everywhere.

The order

The Harrild Burger, natch. The meat is from London’s famed Ginger Pig butcher, the burger itself is topped with melty Swiss cheese, bacon, relish, lettuce , red onion & served with fries – all for £13.50. I was drinking one of my favourite beers – a Kona Big Wave Hawaiian ale. On tap.

The meat of it

It looks good, doesn’t it.

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Lovely melt on the cheese. Fresh looking vegetables. Sturdy bun – not a brioche, I think, despite its shiny appearance. Or at least, not a sweetened one.

Let’s check the cross.

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Lovely coarse grind. Flecks of pink in the meat. The bun is holding up, the salad is bright and fresh. Crisp bacon lies temptingly on top of the melty cheese.

First taste. Crunch – excellent crus- wait, no. It’s burnt. It’s definitely burnt. Not just-a-good-char burnt, but fully-taste-the-ashes burnt. Whoops. Also a little underseasoned – although possibly the bitterness of the char is just masking the taste of salt. Either way, it’s not the best first impression.

But it grows on you. It’s not completely charred and the unburned meat contrasts well with a tangy relish, and the crisp vegetables. Some sweet pickles make and appearance and the bacon – thin, round slices of back bacon – are crisp, crunchy and delicious. The textural contrast and overall umami make up somewhat for the burnt taste. A little mayo takes the edge off and it’s enjoyable, on the whole. Such a shame – this burger was maybe a minute or two from greatness.

As to the fries:

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Crisp and grease free. But underseasoned and low on flavour – with mayo these are alright. But I actually left some, which I never do, so they were empirically proven to be less than compelling.

The beer was great. It’s Kona Big Wave. Always reliable.

Overall, not bad for a £13.50 pub burger on a busy Friday night.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 3/5
Taste –  3.5/5
Sides – 3.5/5

Value – 4/5 – £13.50 – for burger and fries is OK in this part of town.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – has it been less overdone, this would have been an easy 4. Lots of potential here.

The deets

Just a few minutes up Farringdon Street, you can’t miss it. And apparently you can book tables! Website here.

Refuel @ Soho Hotel, Soho, London

Tasty but messy beef and chicken burgers

Burger source

A seasonal special, the Soho Hotel has let its chefs go wild and create their burgery delights for the Summer. Only available until 30th September! Here’s the blurb:

This August, the talented chefs at Refuel Bar & Restaurant have each created their own ultimate burger inspired by flavours from around the world.

Try Renaldo’s ‘Greek Island Paradise Burger’, a lamb burger with rosemary, lemon, oregano, feta, tomato and grilled onion with pickle and cucumber tzatziki or ‘Shannon’s Dirty Burger’, a twist on the classic created with a double beef patty, Applewood smoked cheese, golden onions, smoked bacon and topped with a blue cheese dip.  Each of the specially created summer burgers are paired with a refreshing Asahi beer.

More at the website.

We were curious and needed a new burger place to try in Soho, so thought, why not?

The order

Jimjamjebobo and I shared SAM’S EIFFEL TOWER BURGER (Buttermilk chicken, streaky bacon, caramelised onion with smoked paprika mayonnaise and crispy onion rings) and SHANNON’S DIRTY BURGER

(Double beef patty, Applewood smoked cheese, golden onions, smoked bacon, blue cheese dip). Sides of truffle Parmesan polenta chips, french fries and ‘hand cut chips’ were shared. Asahi came bundled with the burger.

The meat of it

To each burger in turn, then the sides.

Shannon, let’s talk.

I mean, what do you even call this stack? The double burgers are SIDE BY SIDe instead of on top of each other, bottoming (tomato, salad) cause the burger to slide around further, the toppings are literally falling out the side – it’s presentationally a mess. But… that bacon, onion, melty cheese, fresh salad – all looks good. What lies within?

A reasonably coarse grind but very little pink (oddly, Jimbo’s half looked better). It’s still sliding all over the place but we’re ready to taste now…

And gosh, it comes together. The meat is uncomplex but well seasoned and with a good crust. The moisture from the sweet bun, the cheese and the fresh salad makes up for the slightly overcooked burger. The cheese is extremely gooey and adds a lovely mouthfeel. The bacon is ultra-crisp streaky and adds a delightful crunch to each bite. Shannon, it may have looked a mess and been difficult to eat (at one point, I just flung the tomato out), but it was delicious. That said, I could do nothing with the blue cheese sauce. It was too thick to dip, too solid to spread, and it added nothing to the burger. It came on the side and was left on the side.

Now, for Sam’s turn.

In contrast, Sam’s stack is rather more elegant. Look at that cheese! Look at that bacon! Plated beautifully, well done. Look at that crisp breaded chicken, topped with crispy bacon… mmm…

So, to the tasting:

The chicken has a crisp, if somewhat uninspired breading – buttermilk chicken in my head has associations of the Deep South of America, but instead this is (as the name would suggest) a rather more elegant, continental breading. The meat is unbelievably moist, perfectly cooked. The cheese is a delight, gooey and luscious, binding the flavours rather beautifully. The bacon is hard to detect; it’s sparse and can’t compete with the other flavours, so was probably surplus to requirements. The burger did need the paprika mayonnaise that came on the side (it was just a bit too much salt without it) but I found that rather strong flavoured and so went without. Really a very credible effort.

As to the sides… A few to mention.

The coleslaw – which came with the burgers – was a bit too mayo-heavy for me and didn’t really add to the experience.

The pickle (aka Pickle Rick, because it was enormous and we like Rick and Morty): was great; fresh, crisp, and, well, big. Eaten on the side, I would have preferred pickle slices in the Dirty burger, I think. But I enjoyed it nonetheless.

The polenta fries… were grim. But that’s because I don’t like polenta fries. They were crisp, the Parmesan topping added a salty tang, but I don’t like truffle and I don’t like polenta. They are just a poor imitation of a thick cut chip and they should stop making them.

The regular fries… were just ok. Well seasoned but not universally crisp, and some of them were a little overcooked.

The hand cut fries… were too significant fractions of a potato for me to enjoy. Hand cut just a little bit thinner next time, I didn’t want roast potato size wedges with a burger then, and I never will.

And last, but definitely not least – the onion rings. Possibly the best onion rings I’ve ever had. A thick round of sweet onion encased in a crisp, extremely well seasoned batter. A lovely contrast of freshness and decadence. It came with Sam’s Eiffel Tower burger, so wasn’t an orderable side, but it should be.

Monkey finger rating

To each in turn…

Shannon:

Bun – 4/5
Build – 1/5
Burger – 3/5
Taste – 4/5

And Sam:

Bun – 4/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste – 4/5

Sides – 3.5/5 – even the delightful onion rings can’t redeem the other chips
Value – 3.5/5 – £22.50 for burger, sides, and an Asahi.

Burger rating – 4/5 – overall, really a good experience. The Soho Hotel is a nice place to eat, there was a good vibe (even on a Tuesday), the service was great and the burgers were interesting. Try it out whilst the offer is on, and you will walk away happy and (very) full.

The deets

Just off Dean Street in Soho, look for Richmond Mews. You can book online.

Brewdog, Clerkenwell, London

Convincing vegan burger; actual meat let down by overcooking/packing

Burger source

I’ve been an “Equity Punk” since 2015 – holding a very small number of shares in the crowdfunded Brewdog empire – but I’ve never taken advantage of it. So we corrected that this weekend and stopped in for a burger and beer at the Brewdog bar in Clerkenwell.

Brewdog bigs up the burger origins a little in its menu: “Our bespoke mix of chuck, rib cap and brisket beef comes solely from British farms including our friends at Alec Jarrett Farm & Foxham Farm.” And its buns too: “Our burger buns are baked exclusively for us at Wrights Bakery, independent and family run since 1867.”

The order

Matt and I split a ‘Patriot burger’ – 7oz beef patty, smoked bacon, cheddar, pickles, onion, baby gem & bbq sauce in a sesame and poppy seeded brioche bun – and a ‘Beyond meat’ burger – beyond meat patty, vegan chipotle slaw, vegan gouda cheese, roasted red peppers, baby gem & pickles in a beetroot brioche bun. Disclaimer: I have a tiny shareholding in Beyond Meat too, following its IPO.

On the side, we shared some wings, fries and sweet potato fries.

We each had a ‘beer flight’ as well – four one third pint glasses of different Brewdog beers. We had Instamatic (wheat ale – v unusual), Elvis Juice (famous Brewdog IPA), East Coast IPA and Clockwork Tangerine. The fruitier IPAs, because I was ordering and I like that kind of thing.

The meat of it

So, as I tried two burgers, each in turn.

Let’s start with the Patriot burger.

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Ok, this has been brutalised by the cross section but you can see from this and the feature picture that this has not been well stacked. Without the ceremonial knife holding it together, the meat is sliding all over the place, the salad is spilling out the sides; pickles undernearth basically created an icerink for the burger. People who read my blog regularly will also know that I’m about to be unimpressed with the meat – overcooked (no pink at all, that’s not just the lighting), packed solid, finely ground. All terrible errors. And because the meat turns up on site as mince, they have little choice – food safety regulations mean they have to cook it medium well. Total shame, as the meat was good quality and well seasoned, although somewhat lacking in crust (hotter griddle needed). And a quick word on the bacon: it was a bit insipid and floppy. I wish more burger places would either take the Americans lead and make crispy bacon REALLY crispy, or use thicker cut/more flavourful bacon if they’re going to cook it like they did here.

Almost everything else about the burger was actually pretty good; the seasoning was great, sweet BBQ sauce, crisp pickle and melty, salty cheddar was actually really well held by the brioche – which felt like a standard white bun, much less sweet than you’d expect of a brioche. It was soft, but served untoasted – actually totally fine in context. Such a shame that the texture of the meat had that slightly rubbery consistency that overcooked, overpacked burgers do.

In contrast, the Beyond Meat burger…

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The stack here was a little more controlled but the ‘bottomings’ cause the same problem. Messy build. The Beyond Burger is texturally consistent though, so no problems there, though probably needs a smaller bun or bigger patty. How did this all come together?

Pretty impressively, actually. The chipotle slaw adds a lovely, savoury crunch (almost bacony), the pickles and beetroot bun provide sweetness, that vegan gouda – why can’t I buy that in a grocery store?? – amazingly convincing, salty, gooey goodness. The Beyond Burger is as good as it always is – not quite fooling you into thinking its beef, but really very close. The overall package was great, and I’d probably have this over the Patriot burger on a return visit.

As to the sides…

The wings weren’t standard buffalo wings – buttermilk batter meant they were super crispy – great – but the addition of a honey glaze substantially tempered the hot sauce. Basically, they were barely spicy. But they were crisp and tasty nonetheless. Without the heat, the blue cheese sauce was surplus to requirements.

The fries were pretty delightful, especially the sweet potato fries. They arrive unseasoned, but once that’s corrected, they are crisp, full of OG potato flavour, and not at all greasy. Really very good work.

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I’m not going to attempt to review the beers. The bartender that served us was – at least apparently, I have no way of knowing – incredibly expert. He guided us on flavour profiles, food pairings (“the esters in the wheat beer will give it a cooling effect for the spice in the buffalo wings, but the Elvis Juice will kick it up a notch”), and more. But it was consistently good as Brewdog always is, and some interesting variations. Nice to have it on tap instead of bottled/canned, too.

Monkey finger rating

To each burger in turn

Patriot Burger

Bun –  5/5
Build – 2/5
Burger – 2/5
Taste –  3/5

Beyond Burger

Bun – 4/5
Build – 3/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste – 4/5

Sides – 4/5 -would have been higher had there been more hot sauce in the buffalo wings, the fries are really excellent
Value – 4/5 – £22 per head for burger, sides, beer per head – with a 10% Equity Punk discount. Pretty good even without.

Overall rating – 4/5 – the experience was fun and the Beyond Burger was really very good. I’d go back, and probably try even more different beers. Or maybe – controversially – the chicken burger.

The deets

There are Brewdog bars all over the place now – find your nearest here.

Temper, Covent Garden, London

Exquisite if slightly over-complex burger

Burger source

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Temper describes itself as a ‘whole animal barbecue restaraunt in London’ – they buy animals whole, butcher them in house, and have a zero-waste policy that means fewer animals are slaughtered to provide the meat required to serve their covers every week.

Brainchild of celebrity chef Neil Rankin, I’d heard lots about how amazing this place was and was excited to go when a theatre night with my sister provided an opportunity to stop in for pre-show supper.

Little specifically is said about the burger, except of course that it comes from the same meat source as everything else.  When you walk in, the smell of fresh and aged meat is in the air – in a good way, it’s not overpowering, but its not for the faint of heart. There is a meat fridge, a wall of dry-aging meat, in the centre of the restaraunt.

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The order

A two-course pre-theatre menu for £16 got me the Temper cheeseburger (Aged beef patty, ogleshield cheese, pickles, salami) and dorito fried fish tacos as a starter. We shared fries (an extra £4) whilst Sheila had the burger too.

Allergies, and our ability to cope with the burger cooked medium rare, were checked. Excitement.

The meat of it

This burger is beautiful. I mean, look at it.

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The plating and construction is absolutely flawless. Perfect structure, clean plate, wonderfully melty cheese, elegance in the toppings, nothing in excess, nothing out of proportion. It looks great, though I was briefly worried that the bun might be over-toasted.

Then the cross section.

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Again, little to worry about here. Perfect medium rare, bun holding up to the juices, somewhat protected by the salad, uinform thin layer of pickle, cheese and salami. The dry-aged beef is less pink than fresh beef, and less juicy, leading to less mess and a different aroma – the soft funk of aged meat.

Then to the taste…

Wow. This burger is perfectly constructed. The bun wasn’t overtoasted, it was just right to hold up to the burger sauces and juice. The mustard and burger sauce perfectly compliment the meat – which, as you can see is coarse ground, loosely packed and perfectly cooked. The crust on the patty is good – a healthy sear – and the seasoning is excellent. The pickles are sweet and crisp and the cheese lends a wonderful umami and texture to the bite (I didn’t know what Ogleshield cheese was but do now – melty, brined cheese from the West Country). The salami is hard to detect, though, adding little texture or flavour next to everything else. And the one challenge eating the burger is that it slides around the bun a little – not sure why as the build looked perfect. Perhaps the layers of mustard and burger sauce on each bun? Or the sheer heft of the patty.

The dry-aged beef, however, is probably not to everyone’s taste. I enjoyed it but found it very hard to benchmark against my other favourite burgers (things like Bleecker, Dip & Flip, Lucky Chip & others). The dry-aging means the meat is less juicy than another medium rare burger – indeed, there are few drippings whilst eating this burger at all. But critically, the funk of dry-aged meat is prevalent. And whilst it is absolutely enjoyable, it makes the whole thing feel a little ‘fancy’ and complex, and imagine not everyone will enjoy the experience equally. It does fit Temper’s profile as a high-end barbecue restaraunt perfectly, and I would certainly have it again with no hesitation. Although I do want to try their pizzas next time…

As to the sides…

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The fries are pretty much perfect. Perfectly crisp, not greasy in any way, not too thick but not too thin (crispy on the outside and squidgy in the middle, much like Armadillos) and very well seasoned. Great on their own or with ketchup and mayo.

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The Dorito fish tacos looked pretty amazing… but were a little disappointing. There’s good crunch to the ‘breading’ (dorito-ing?) but nothing that screams the savoury goodness of Doritos. There’s too much fish – the ratios in the tacos are off – so you lose the sauce, chilli, lime, even the taco – which disappears behind a substantial wall, soft white fish. That said, it’s perfectly cooked and you get hints of brilliance against the background of protein-stodge; a flash of heat from the chilli, creaminess from sauce, and bright clean sharpness from the lime.

A fantastic experience, if some of it was a bit unfamiliar and some things a little off. Temper is on the list of favourite places to go.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4.5/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 4.5/5 – subjective docking of half a point because I’m not sure how I feel about aged meat burgers
Taste –  4.5/5
Sides – 5/5 – really just scoring the fries here. The Fish tacos were technically a starter.
Value – 4/5 – £16 for burger and fries is toppy, but worth it.

Burger rating – 4.5/5 – really very good

The deets

Temper has three locations now, in Covent Garden, the City and Soho. Go, go soon, take your friends. I’m very tempted by the mid-week all-you-can-eat-pizza-and-wine-for-£20 combo.

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Gordon Ramsay Plane Food Restaurant, Terminal 5, Heathrow

Confusing, overpriced, under-seasoned, overcooked burger that doesn’t deliver

Burger source

Gordon Ramsay is, by every objective measure, a spectacular chef. Restaurants around the world, TV series and Masterclasses; even a burger specialty restaurant in Vegas.  I’ve watched both his Masterclasses and really enjoyed them. And it turns out his airport restaurant has a short-rib cheeseburger on the menu, so I thought I’d give it a try.

The order

It’s the only burger on the menu; short-rib Monterey Jack cheeseburger with chimchurri mayo, served on a brioche bun with fresh salad and pickles.

The meat of it

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The burger looks good. There seems to be a good crust on the exterior, the Jack cheese is gloriously melted, the whole thing is perfectly assembled and presented on a piece of wax paper, enclosed in a toasted, shiny brioche bun.

Things aren’t dramatically wrong in cross section, either. Yes, the burger is overcooked – not a glimmer of pink anywhere – but the salad is protecting the bun, the tomato looks bright and fresh, the pickle is fragrant and the chimcurri mayo and beef fat are oozing delightfully out the edges of the burger. The beef is coarse ground and loosely packed, so I’m holding on to hope.

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On the first bite, however, things start to go wrong.

First, despite the overcooked centre, the char on the crust isn’t as crisp and satisfying as it looked. Worse, it’s under seasoned. Even with the cheese, the salty taste barely comes through.

Then, there’s the confusion of the chimchurri. It’s a sharp, fragrant flavour – made from parsley, vinegar, olive oil and other bits. It works well in butter on a steak – but in a burger, the flavours are confusing. There’s the salt of the cheese, possibly some salt from the seasoning on the burger (but this is lost), the sugary brioche, the bright crisp sweetness of the pickle and salad… well, it’s totally confounded by the sharp, tart, creaminess – ?? – of the chimchurri mayonnaise. In breadier bites, the bun was too sweet. When eaten with a mouthful of burger and mayo and salad – you have no idea what you’re tasting. It’s utterly perplexing, and not really in a good way.

The overcooked meat starts to wear, too. The burger feels relentless – and to be fair, whilst I finished it, I just very rarely leave food. That’s my bad. I should have left it. It wasn’t good. Unlike many of my burger experiences, the combination of the good individual parts somehow lessened the total experience. I can only explain this by guessing that….

  1. I was victim of an overzealous grill chef, and it would have worked better with a juicier medium patty
  2. I think more likely, someone who doesn’t have the same view of what a good burger should taste like was responsible for creating what, for me, was a Frankenstein’s monster of a burger

It’s a shame. There was definite potential. Swap out the chimchurri mayo for garlic aioli (or maybe red onion aioli – is that a thing?), get the burger cooked to medium, a tad more salt and a tad more heat on the grill – and this would have been a fine burger indeed. As it was, I had to dose the burger with over sweet ketchup to give it some kind of flavour coherence.

Sides wise, I wasn’t hungry enough (or feeling wealthy enough) to order a portion of £5 triple cooked fries to myself, so I relied on the ages-old tradition of eating leftover food off my kids plates. Zoe and Emily both had fish and “chips” – the same triple cooked fries on the menu as a side.  So I had a couple of theirs.

And whilst they’re not bad – they have the standard thick, crisp crust of anything that’s been triple cooked, and an appropriately floury centre – they’re not chips. They’re between a quarter and a sixth of a large potato EACH. So they’re alright (if you like triple cooked potatoes), but calling them chips doesn’t make sense.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3/5 – sweet? Not sweet enough?
Build – 5/5
Burger – 2/5
Taste –  1.5/5
Sides – 3/5 – calling them triple cooked fries is misrepresentation
Value – 1/5 – £14 for the burger, a ludicrous £4.50 if I wanted to add bacon, and £5 if I’d wanted a portion of fries. Daylight robbery, even with kids eating free.

Burger rating – 1.5/5 – everything else everyone else was eating looked like it tasted better. Mind you, mine LOOKED like it should have tasted better. Maybe the whole restaurant is an exercise in form over function? Style over substance? Chimchurri over common sense?

The deets

It’s one of the main restaurants in T5. I’m sure there are others dotted around. If you go, don’t have the burger.

Prairie Fire BBQ, Mercato Metropolitano, Elephant & Castle, London

Excellent, messy, juicy double patty smash burger

Burger source

Mercato Metropolitano London is a sustainable community market; in practical terms, this means it’s a massive half in/half outdoor food court, filled with a myriad of wonderful food stalls including at least three places that serve burgers. And none of the cutlery is single use plastic, hurrah!

Prairie Fire BBQ serves ‘Kansas style BBQ’  founded in 2013 by American Expat in London Michael Gratz; his job titles include ‘founder’, ‘chef’, and ‘Pit Master.’ The philosophy is Kansas style, sauce heavy, smoked meat, or in their own words: the “…slow smoked, sauce heavy Kansas City Style is the apex of the ancient art of cooking with wood. The rub, the char, the smoke ring, the tenderness, the umami, the sauce, the smile and well used napkin define Prairie Fire and the future of European BBQ.”

The order

I have had the PFQ, their signature burger, which is: “two seasoned chuck & rib tip steak patties smashed into diced onion on flattop. Served with melty American cheese, crisp lettuce, tomato, onion & BBQ aioli.”

I had seasoned fries on the side.

The meat of it

The Mercato eating environment is a lot of fun. Noisy, half indoors, half outdoors, all smell, sounds and raucous laughter.

Food is served in paper baskets; the ordering system ‘texted’ me to collect the prepared food hot off the grill and fryer.

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It’s hard to photograph, but there was nothing bad about the appearance. That said, the incredible amounts of sauce meant it was a slippery burger, whilst perfectly stacked, had this been on a plate it would probably have collapsed in moments.

The pickle, to the side, was crisp, sweet and fresh. Very mild on vinegar, it’s a palate cleanser for the main meal.

In cross section…

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Here’s where you can see the structural limitations of the burger; the sauce is so heavy that the burger is slipping apart even as I hold it up for its glamour shot.

That said… looks aren’t everything, and on first bite you get an immediate understanding of the splendour of this burger.

The patties are thin and crisp – 2.5-3oz each, at a guess, the patty smash on a hot (though not the hottest) plate lets them char in their own fat, developing a wonderful texture and flavour – though I didn’t notice the onions they’d apparently been cooked in. Cheese is melted in on the grill, though it’s hard to detect under the BBQ aioli. The salad, too, is somewhat token, lost in the sauce. But none of this is a bad thing.

The incredible umami of the burger, with a faint hint of dry-aged, quality beef funk, is complemented perfectly by the runny sweet aioli, a mild peppery heat, and something like the memory of cheese. The salad is present but provides little more than textural background noise. The bun is soft and pliant, with a lovely crumb but thankfully little sweetness.

It’s pretty glorious, if messy, in all. My only criticism, and it’s a marginal one, is that a hotter grill would have provided even more crunch to the patties (which would have been welcome), and the aioli was just fractionally too heavily laid on.

The fries are ‘seasoned’ fries – a sweet smoked paprika, basically, heavily dusted over salted, thin cut fries. There’s nothing bad about these, though nothing exceptional either; thicker cut potatoes might have provided more natural potato flavour but it wasn’t necessary. The additional BBQ aioli they are served with was possibly a perfect condiment in the context of the meal.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 3/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 4/5
Value – 3.5/5 – £12.50 for burger and side – felt a bit toppy in a food market setting, but everything at Mercato is a little pricey.

Burger rating – 4/5 – really good patty smash option. Next time will add bacon for a bit more crunch and request they leave it on the grill a little longer than normal.

The deets

Mercato Metropolitano is a 5 minute walk from Elephant & Castle tube, and 15 minutes from my office in Southwark. Recommended for anyone in the neighbourhood. Find more info on PFQ here.

Dirty Bones, Kingly Court, Carnaby Street

Decent (but pricey) mustard soaked thin patty double cheeseburger, meaty vegan burger, enormous crispy fried chicken burger and intriguing sides

Burger source
I auctioned off a guided burger tasting evening as a way of raising funds for Byte Night / Action for Children, a charity we support at work that does very worthwhile work with children in vulnerable circumstances. Naturally, it was bought by a vegan (and an omnivore).

So that meant we needed to find a burger place I hadn’t been to – so we could review it – and one that had vegan options. And actually, in #Veganuary, that wasn’t that hard.

Dirty Bones seeks to bring American comfort food, NYC style, to London. It’s the lovechild of two friends who liked what they saw in NYC and decided to bring it to London. Little about the origins of the burger, but we know it’s dry-aged steak and brisket… So let’s see…

The order
I had the “Classic” – double brisket & dry aged steak burger with American cheese, red onion, gherkins and dijonnaise on seeded brioche. Ed, our vegan, had the Vegan classic: Moving Mountains® plant-based burger with vegan cheese, red onion, gherkin and veganaise on a soft seeded bun. Saad had the free-range crispy fried chicken burger with baby gem, chipotle aioli and sweet chilli sauce on seeded brioche.

In addition, Saad and I shared the cheeseburger dumplings (housemade gyoza dumplings stuffed with burger mince and melted cheese. Served with our signature burger sauce), Ed had the Padron peppers (sprinkled with Madron salt) and a Fordham Gypsy Lager.

The meat of it
You can see this is a well plated burger.

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Pickles, thick cut red onions and an extremely healthy of dijonnaise provider a slippery base, and the well melted american cheese gloops over the two crispy 3-4oz patties. The glossy seeded bun looks solid, yet pliant.

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In cross section, a slight pinkness shows through – the Kingly Court restaurant is small, I doubt they have the space to grind and prep their own meat on site, which means they are limited on cooking the meat truly pink. And it’s not really necessary for this style of cheeseburger, so I’m not concerned. The dijonnaise is really slathered on thick; onions slide out of the base as I cut through for the cross section pic, and half the stack threatens collapse.

The first bite – is all crisp, crunch, sweet onion, and the hot rasp of mustard cutting through the sweet mayonnaise. The bun is soft, holding up well against the sauce and the burger, and – appropriately – not enriched. No need for brioche here, the dijonnaise, pickles and onion provide the sweet counterpoint. As to the meat itself? The grind is tight and packed in hard, but it is good meat, so it’s not chewy. There’s a light crust on the patty, but a hotter griddle and more seasoning would have helped this along, even if it meant a more cooked centre. The fat ratio seems slightly too low – it’s quite a lean burger and the only drippings are dijonnaise, not beef juice. But the overall impression is not bad at all; the heat from the mustard in the dijonnaise is moreish and its ample quantity makes up for the slight dryness of the meat; the bun is perfect, the cheese makes up for some of the underseasoning. It all works, albeit messily.

I have only pictures of Ed and Saad sampling the Vegan Classic and the Spicy Chicken, but I’m told they were good. In fact, Ed had to double check it was actually vegan (having been led down the garden path before), and was provided with a list of ingredients.

As to the sides? The cheesburger gyoza are just plain WEIRD.

They fail as both gyoza and cheeseburgers, but as a thing in their own right? Delicious; crisp gyoza skin, a hollow centre (where the burger meat has shrunk) and a core of slightly slimey, cheesey burger meat. Dipped in the slightly vinegar heavy, ketchup-based burger sauce (topped with spring onions and sesame seeds – a nice accent), you could eat plate after plate of these. Were it not for the £8.50 price tag…

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The fries are skin-on skinny fries. There’s nothing bad about them – but nothing inherently interesting either. Perfectly capable, well seasoned, well cooked fries.

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I really liked the Gypsy Lager. New world hops, a hint of hony-mead sweetness, all in all, a very smooth beer going down.

Monkey finger rating
Bun –  5/5
Build – 3.5/5
Burger – 3.5/5 (beef)
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 4/5 – I don’t know how to judge them but those gyoza are an experience.

Value – 3/5 – £13 for burger and fries, £8.50 for gyoza – not a cheap meal out.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – really completely capable, upper-mid table burger. With a few tweaks it could be top class; with the fries bundled it would even be good value… as it is, it’s a pricey novelty.

The deets
Dirty Bones started in West London, near Kensington, but has spread to Soho, Shoreditch, and Oxford. Find your nearest location here.

The Laughing Gravy, 154 Blackfriars Road, London

Extraordinarily tasty burger with somewhat ordinary chips and even more exceptional pud

Burger source

This is a restaraunt with really a very high calibre of food across the board. So the burger doesn’t feature centrally, and gets just modest billing on the menu. Nonetheless; I expected from the reputation the restaraunt had acquired that this would be no “pub” burger.

The order

I had the Aberdeen Angus cheese burger with hand cut chips, with added smoked bacon for an additional £2. Portobello mushrooms and fried onions were also available as an alternative topping.

No starters, though I did share a pudding with an old friend. More on the 3-way salted caramel to follow.

The meat of it

This burger tastes extraordinary. Let’s look at it a little more closely.

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You can instantly see a good crust on the meat. The bun looks sturdy – perhaps excessively so? That rather depends on the meat, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The gammon-like bacon is thick, and covered with a good amount of very melty cheddar. A small drizzle of grease has escaped the otherwise perfect plating and speaks to a juicy feast to follow.

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The grease is explained. The coarse ground meat is cooked to a perfect medium, and whilst it looks and seems dry in the first pic, you can see here that the bun only just holds up to the meat juice. The bacon portion is ludicrously generous, and there’s a little red of relish in there of some description. You can see the cheese melting off to the side, a forgotten spider web of dairy deliciousness.

On first bite, you’re overwhelmed with umani. Whislt I ordinarily don’t love non-crispy  bacon in a burger, this thick cut smoked meat adds a delicious taste on top of the already well-seasoned beef. The beef itself is high grade, aged Aberdeen Angus, with a little of the delightful funk you get with dry-aging. It’s not overpowering though; this is not a complex burger, simply a very well constructed one. The melty cheddar binds without overwhelming the burger but the overall impact is very salty; the little relish is overpowered and the burger would have benefited from a sweet contrast. Perhaps my own fault for adding bacon but not ketchup.

I ate this burger slowly; it’s very rich and deserved savouring. They’ve made something wonderful here.

To the sides; the small side salad had a sweetish dressing and was a nice, if token, gesture in the direction of health. The chips were thick-cut, chip-shop style chips and were inconsistent – some soggy, others crisp to the point of shattering. A happy medium would have delivred a better experience throughout.

The pudding, of which I have no picture I’m afraid, was extraordinary. Brownie in multiple forms, a lush salted caramel gelato, cruchy bits in a sweet caramel goo, plus gooey salt caramel and chocolate embedded in a crisp brownie. There were peanut pieces surrounding the salted caramel gelato adding both salt and crunch. Wonderful. We shared it – at £9.70 and with three different grades of indulgence scattered across a large plate, it’s best shared between two!

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste –  4.5/5 – – more relish, or some sweet pickle and this would be up there
Sides – 3/5
Value – 3.5/5 – £16 for burger and sides, ish, with added bacon, and best part of £5 for the pudding (SHARED!) – this place is definitely more £££ than ££. But it is that kind of place.

Burger rating – 4/5 – despite the price and middling chips, this is a very special burger indeed.

The deets

Just up from Southwark Tube, it was quiet on a Friday lunchtime. It’s a well kept secret indeed, but definitely deserving of wider recognition!