Burger &  Shake, Marchmont Street, London

Good all rounder, over-ordered like crazy as a result. Hard shakes are ftw.

Burger Source

Having eaten our way through many of the mainstays of London burgerness, we are having to hunt harder for top shops to feed our (well, mostly my) burger habit. Friends wanted to meet near Holborn, so Burger & Shake it was to be. The other mooted venue was a Hoxton Burger, but I also wanted my first experience of the famous Hoxton Grill to be in Hoxton, rather than in the more generalist restaurant that supports the Hoxton Hotel in Holborn, so I vetoed it…

To call the website minimalist would be overstating things, but the menu does tell us this much: “Our 100% beef patty is made up of cuts from Aberdeen angus and charolais cattle, that graze in Ayrshire Scotland. We cook our beef burgers medium rare as standard…”

So far, so good.

The order

The friends who wanted to meet in the area (and who worked locally) were late. So we kicked off with some wings and some chilli fries. I kicked in for a “Bourbontun” hard shake, feat. Vanilla, peanut butter and bourbon… because obviously. Then came the main order; Jimjamjebobo and I split the House Burger (“180g beef patty, lettuce, tomato, pickle, American cheese and sweet cured bacon with our mustard and horseradish ketchup sauce”) and the New Yorker (“180g beef patty, lettuce, French’s mustard, Monterey Jack Cheese, pickle and fried onion. Served in our potato bun that is cooked with the patty under a cloche on the grill.”)

That’s when things started to go wrong (in terms of how much we ordered).  And I’ll take a lot of responsibility for this – I’d been ill for a few weeks and this was a first outing with friends in a while, so I was celebrating/commiserating the bloc of time out of commission with food.

And so we ALSO ordered onion rings. More chilli fries. A further double portion of wings. Mac & Cheese with bacon.  AND sweet potato fries. Even between five of us, this was WAY too much food.

The meat of it

Both the burgers we ordered looked great – fresh, glazed potato roll, well stacked with a healthy six ounce patty that was clearly well cooked (if perhaps more the medium side of medium rare than the rare side). Grind, pack and fat ratio was good (I like my burgers like I like my women… coarse ground and loosely packed*), meat was juicy but not dripping, the build was excellent on first impression.

Then to the taste…

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The House burger was good, if perhaps lacking in the bangin’ beats the name and description promise. There wasn’t a hint of horesradish in the horseradish ketchup and, if I’m being critical, the patty was a little underseasoned. The bacon was good but not crunchy enough to provide textural contrast, and not enough saltiness. The bun and other fillings held up well, but there wasn’t quite enough umami in this one for me. Could be better.

The New Yorker came up trumps, though (no pun intended). The onions and pickle provided a lovely crisp, sweet finish, the monterey jack cheese added a salty oomph to the thing, and the whole was greater than the sum of its parts… although the burger did slide around on the onions something chronic.

If I’d had to choose between them from the descriptions alone, I’d have backed the House burger for the top job (everyone else ordered it), but the New Yorker came up from behind to win it all. Impressive work. Even if it’s less effective an analogy for the 2016 presidential raced than it initially seemed it might be.

As to the sides:

  • the wings were lush, substantial, crispy and perfectly coated with the uncle Frank’s hot sauce/butter combination that is Buffalo.
  • The chilli fries – weren’t seasoned before the addition of chilli (WHY, OH WHY?) so they were a bit bland and soggy, but the chilli was good as those things go. Depth of flavour and lovely hint of heat, rich meat and bean sauce in plentiful supply.  Regular fries would have been better in my view, but I think I’m perhaps the kind of guy who likes fries AND likes chilli, but doesn’t love them together.
  • The onion rings were disappointing for me; the batter hadn’t stuck, and the onions were glistening through like an exposed femur on an animated corpse. The flecks of pepper in the batter felt like false advertising; there was little flavour to them. That said, the onions were sweet and the batter crisp… just a few (major) minuses holding it back from excellence.
  • The first bowl of sweet potato fries were sent back as they were undercooked. The second batch were cooked but still somewhat limp and lifeless, and needed seasoning to oomph up.
  • The mac & bacon (no pic, soz) was fine but bland as I always find mac & cheese variants. Probably a reasonable example of the genre, if you were someone that had tried it enough times to care to differentiate between one bold of cheese mush and another.

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The bourbontun… OMG, this was delicious. Mostly a vanillla shake, the occasional glugs of peanut butter you get are like winning a mini lottery, and the bourbon gives a background hint that you’re not just indulging five year old you (ok, mostly you still are… but totes worth it). Definitely want to have this again, and I’m lactose intolerant!

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 3.5/5 – slight losses for chilli fries and sweet potato shenanigans
Value – 4/5 – £23 a head for burger, a tonne of sides & drink, & tip – not cheap but reasonable value for the quality and quntity o the food.

Burger rating – 4/5 – only really suffering from a minor umami docking and some mediocrity around the sides. It’s a good place.

The deets

The small, diner-style restaurant is halfway down Marchmont Street. Full details: Burger & Shake, 47 Marchmont Street, London WC1N 1AP Tel: 020 7837 7718  info@burgerandshake.co.uk

* This is an Eddie Izzard reference… not a weird fetish.

The Refinery, Southwark

 

Uninspired Wagyu burger with raw chips.

Burger Source

My new office is a 10 minute walk from Borough market, but it being the Christmas season, finding a lunchtime venue that isn’t heaving is slightly more complicated an undertaking than it should be. So the Refinery; a cavernous, uber-local bar/restaurant that bills on its menu once again – two burgers. A standard, and a Wagyu. I was curious and had planned to have lunch with a colleague so we popped down.

Part of the Drake & Morgan group, all the insight I got into the burger’s provenance was the simple word ‘Wagyu’ and having had a good experience at the Falcon, I thought – why not?

The order

It was a working day and I was lunching with a gym buddy so the order was restricted to the burger and a portion of ‘Cowboy fries’ – fries cooked with honey, chilli and garlic somehow – to share. We were reassured the burgers were cooked medium when we ordered; water was the only drink we needed.

The meat of it

When the food arrived, initial impressions were good. The brioche bun held a sizeable patty with nicely melted blue cheese, a sensible amount of salad, well stacked and well presented. The chips – well, they got the order wrong (delivering a portion each), and the honey/chilli/garlic combo resulted in a sticky mess in a tin cup. Not sure what we were expecting, I suppose… but we were expecting them to be cooked, which they weren’t. One bite was enough to dismiss the lot, and the restaurant staff were so busy we eventually sent them back rather than attempting to get a cooked batch delivered.

The burger itself… was a little disappointing. To list the things that weren’t quite right…

  1. it was swimming in a pool of mayo, making it slippery and unhandlable,
  2. the blue cheese was ok but didn’t add a huge amount to the burger
  3. the beef wasn’t cooked medium but was well-done (the photo below is slightly misleading; that pink is more lighting than meat-colour)
  4. there was nothing special about the taste of this ‘wagyu’ – nice but totally unspectacular
  5. the lean/fat ratio seemed a bit off; the burger wasn’t particularly juicy.

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On the plus side; the meat was coarse ground, loosely packed and well-seasoned. The blue cheese didn’t detract from it (if it didn’t particularly add to it), and, whilst slightly dry, the flavour profile was such that it didn’t particularly need any sauce – this was down to a good contrast between a very sweet brioche bun and an ultra savoury patty. The salad in the burger was crisp, juicy and fresh. The pickles were somewhat crisp but a little uninspiring – like they’d been sat on a plate a bit too long – and were served on the side.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3.5/5
Build – 2.5/5
Burger – 3/5
Taste –  3/5
Sides – 0/5
Value – 2/5 – £13.95 for a burger that’s just ‘meh’ at best with no sides is a lot.

Burger rating – 3/5 – Very mid-table in the rankings, the burger isn’t offensive but it definitely isn’t spectacular either.

The deets

The Refinery Bankside is in the base of the Bluefin building, about 7 minutes’ walk from Southwark tube, behind the Tate Modern. More detail here.

Hawksmoor, Knightsbridge

Beautifully cooked, beautifully assembled, averagely seasoned.

Burger Source

For many, the notion of going to a Hawksmoor and ordering a burger is sacrilege. It’d be like making a stir fry with foie gras; the restaurant’s beef is famed for its quality and not to be minced and mashed into a burger. Yet it consistently makes the ‘top burger in London’ listicles, and I was keen to try it. The beef is made from “British grass-fed, dry-aged beef from the Ginger Pig”  and gets put into two burger variants; the Hawksmoor burger (served with your choice of cheese, pink or well done) and the Kimchi burger – which is what it sounds like. Both can be served with triple cooked chips or salad.

The order

My friend James and I both went for the Hawksmoor burger; pink (obviously), with cheddar, with triple cooked chips, served in a metal mini bucket (hipsters!) on the side.

The meat of it

This is an astonishingly beautiful burger. The 5oz patty is relatively thin yet coarsely ground, loosely packed, perfectly shaped, with a brilliant crisp finish and an evenly pink centre. I’ve no idea how they did this without drying out the burger, which remains tender and juicy and with the lovely aromatics you get with dry-aged beef. Sous vide with a grill finish? Who knows. It’s stacked on some lettuce, a crisp sweet pickle and a thin layer of mustard (spread-on, not fried-in, as far as I could tell), topped with a thick slice of well melted cheese and a large slice of beef tomato in a sizeable and airy brioche. The fries were crisp and looked inviting.

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Isn’t it beautiful?

Sounds amazing? Almost perfect, but not quite. Here’s what went wrong: the brioche is overly sweet, getting the flavour balance wrong whenever there’s too much bread in the bite. The burger itself, whilst perfectly tender, richly beefy and well cooked – was underseasoned. This turns the cheese from an umami-fest on top of a good burger into necessary seasoning; a necessary addition to make it feel like you’re eating something other than a sweet bread roll. You barely notice it as a result. Whilst the lettuce and tomato were amazing – fresh, crisp, amazingly complementary to the rest of the burger – the mustard spread is uneven. In most mouthfuls you can’t taste it, in others it’s a spike of unexpected heat. I much prefer the Dirty Burger / In&Out practice of frying mustard into the burger on the grill, which gives a richer, more even flavour IMHO. If I’m being picky – the burger wasn’t crisp enough not to need some textural contrast (from, say, a crisp piece of streaky bacon) – it’s all softness and squidge.

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Tin cup! Who needs chips in a tin cup? Give me a basket any day.

The fancy ketchup – unnecessary for the burger due to the cloyingly sweet brioche – is some strange, slightly spiced, watery version (like a hybrid ketchup / sweet chilli sauce) – and it wasn’t a great help for the chips either, sadly. We both agreed Heinz would have been preferable. The tin cup made it challenging to salt the chips evenly (they were also underseasoned). Pouring them out would have cooled them down rapidly, of course…

All that said, it was still a good burger; it just doesn’t stack [sic] up against my current top rankings; Hawksmoor chefs, please embrace salt!

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Eagle Rare!

Drinkswise, we both opted for a very nice Eagle Rare bourbon from the menu’s extensive, expensive selection. Served with rocks on the side, it has a smooth, sweet finish and amazing aromatics.

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I resisted pudding, it would have been spoiling me too much.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  3.5/5
Sides – 4/5
Value – 3.5/5 – £56 for two including a single shot of bourbon and service for two – the burger and chips by themselves list at £16. Hawksmoor has proven its worth its premium pricing for its steaks – not so sure about its burger.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 -It’s a good burger, but is expensive and underseasoned. Dip & Flip trounces it on many counts.

The deets

There are many Hawksmoors, but make sure the one you visit has a bar menu, as that’s the menu with the burger on it. The Knightsbridge branch is just off the Brompton road, an 8 minute walk from Knightsbridge tube. 3 Yeomans Row,

London, SW3 2AL. 020 7590 9290 for bookings and general steak chat.

Dip & Flip, Battersea Rise

Surprise contender for best burger in London?

Burger Source

I can find surprisingly little on the web on the genesis of this small, seemingly independent chain of burger restaurants. I can tell you what they say about their beef: “West country beef, forerib, chuck, and a little added fat make our 180g patties. They are then smashed onto our imported chrome griddle, which is super hot, sealing in the flavour and creating a wonderful crust, so no flavour is lost on our grill. Served in a soft brioche bun with French’s mustard, ketchup, American cheese, cabbage slaw and pickles.” And, crucially, given it’s a signature feature, what they say about their gravy: “We roast a selection of carefully sourced beef bones to a rich golden brown. Then we simmer them, with organic vegetables and herbs, for a long time. This bone broth is the heart and soul of our gravy. Roasting juices from the bottom of the pan are added to the broth along with a few other little secrets (All beef related) to make our delicious gravy which we serve with almost everything for dipping.”

It’s all pretty delicious.

A little bit of web investigation reveals that “Bob Francis Double Dip Limited”, the company that has registered the dipandflip.co.uk domain name, was founded in February 2013 (as far as Companies House knows), and has one director – presumably company founder – Timothy John Lees, whose past ventures include “Lees Library Consultancy Services Ltd” of Dundee, a company which was wound up in 2014.  Oddly, I was ignored on Twitter when I asked for someone to email some questions to about the company’s history…

Regardless, nothing to see here, so let’s get to the beef.

The order

I went for the bacon double cheeseburger, which was just greedy really. F&D’s 6oz patties are plenty for a single, so you probably don’t need more – I certainly didn’t, but that didn’t stop me finishing it.

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I wasn’t keen to try the actual dip & flip specials, which feature sliced roasted lamb or beef soaked in gravy on top of a burger bun – and felt validated by the choice. Whilst I’m sure it would have been good, I wanted the textural contrast the crispy bacon promised, and didn’t feel that I needed that much gravy. Sides featured regular fries and chilli, gravy, cheese and bacon fries.

The meat of it

Holy moley, this was totally unexpected. The beef patties had a rich, crispy  crust, which surprisingly held a deliciously juicy, perfectly medium patty. The coarsely ground, loosely packed beef was incredibly well seasoned and topped with gooey, delicious cheese. The bacon strips were curled and crispy and packed with salty flavour. Two crisp, large but thin pickle slices, supported by the promised cabbage slaw, protected the underside of the thick, sturdy brioche bun from the intensely beefy juices which dropped out of the burger with each bite, a gift of the burger’s sensibly high fat/lean ratio (I suspect 25%:75%). On initial cross bite, I was worried the burger might be overcooked, but it was just edge factor – the middle of the burger was a perfect medium pink. The (fairly) sweet brioche provided a necessary counterpoint to the umami fest that the rest of the burger represented. Wow. Just wow.

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The fries were crispy but slightly overseasoned. The chilli/gravy/bacon/cheese fries were, on the other hand, perfect. Not soggy till the very end, delicious cheese, a light kick from the chillis and a delicious crunch from the same bacon that topped the burger.

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Almost everything about this meal screamed ‘outstanding’.

But wait, I hear you ask, what about the dip, the gravy? Even the normal burgers come with the gravy which is, admittedly, excellent. Just not wholly necessary; I enjoyed it more with the fries than I did when dipping the burger in it; the burger just didn’t need any further savoury-ness. If anything, something beyond the salt and sweet of meat and bun – perhaps a little more mustard, in the fry (in the style of Dirty Burger) would have sorted it.

Drinks wise, friends had a couple of hard shakes (I had a taste – outstanding) but I stuck with bourbon – a nicely bitter taste to clear the palate in and amongst huge meaty mouthfuls.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  5/5 – even if you don’t normally like Brioche, it’s the perfect companion for this burger
Build – 5/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste –  5/5
Sides – 4.5/5
Value – 5/5 – £18 a head including tip between six of us, with drinks, felt reasonable

Burger rating – 5/5 – This is now in joint first place for best burger in London for me, alongside Bleecker Street and Lucky Chip (which may get a re-visit during its ‘Stranger Things’ month). Amazing.

The deets

There are a couple of Dips & flips around Southwest London, find the locations here. We ate at Battersea rise, 5 minutes walk from Clapham Junction station, by the Northcote pub.

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An urgent missive to pub landlords and restauranteurs around the UK on the humble burger

Dear publican, restaurant owner / manager / chef,

You’ve doubtless noticed that London, and increasingly the UK in general, has undergone something of a renaissance when it comes to burger fayre. No longer are we satisfied with an overcooked hockey puck of beef, wedged into a floury bap and presented with a bottle of squeezy ketchup by way of condiments. That doesn’t mean we’re all pretentious gits who should order something else (well, maybe it does, but nonetheless); please consider the following attributes of a good burger, easily managed in virtually any kitchen, which will turn your ‘burger’ option from a tedious, seldom-ordered staple to a featured attraction.

After eating burgers at well-thought of pubs and hotels in the area out of curiosity (given I write this blog), I’ve been nothing but disappointed, so felt the need to offer some genuinely well-intentioned advice for chefs to consider. One of these disappointing venues, incidentally, is a five star luxury country hotel and the other is a local pub that boasts a chef who worked at a Michelin-starred restaurant in its kitchen, so these aren’t amateurs. Which makes their burger offers all the more mystifying in their mediocrity.

See what you make of the following:

  • If you freeze your burgers, freeze them well. Wrap them individually, seal them (zip lock if possible, cling film is porous apparently) limit moisture lose through sublimation when they’re awaiting cooking. Otherwise the juiciest burgers will become dry and powdery when you take them out to cook them. It’s perfectly possible to make a delicious juicy medium burger from a frozen patty – cook it slow and finish it fast.
  • If you’re buying your burgers in, get them to do all of the above! If they don’t, switch your burger supplier! I found an excellent supermarket burger recently, am sure they’d be available wholesale nationally.
  • The fat/lean ratio is important. Again, don’t feel the need to use lean meat. 20-25% fat vs 75-80% lean seems to be the magic number. People have to cope with the fact that a burger isn’t the healthiest option on the menu.
  • The grind is important. If you’re making your own burgers, don’t pack them full of finely ground meat and squash them till they hold their shape. Course ground, loosely packed. Makes for a less chewy mouthful and that melt-in-your-mouth experience.
  • Burgers shouldn’t be served well done. You’re not allowed by law to sell them below ‘medium’ so go with that. It’ll add a juiciness quotient that is well worth striving for. If you sous vide, this is easy to do for large groups too – just char them on a hot grill for a quick finish and those vital flavours. Unless you’re going for a different burger style (smash-burgers and sliders have different rules).
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You can see all the things that are wrong with this burger. Dry, overcooked patty. Tightly packed, fine ground mince. The thick cut bacon? Flavourless and insufficiently charred for my liking. Bun? Stale. Sauce? Ketchup on the side.
  • It needs seasoning! At least the salt and pepper, the rest is for fancier burgers, but the ‘natural’ flavour of beef is quite bland so help it out.
  • Think through the sauce. A good condimentary [sic] partner  for your burger may not be the cloying sweetness of ketchup or the sharp bite of mustard. A relish, a mustard fry – lots of easy, great options to plan a burger around.
  • The bun matters. Dry, slightly stale floury baps – won’t do. I’m partial to an egg-washed soft white roll, toasted on the inside only. Has to hold up to juicy beef, and depending on the sweetness of your relish/sauce, you may not want the sweetness of a brioche or demi-brioche (much as they are all the rage, it seems).  The bun/patty ratio is important too – except for,dehydrated frozen burgers (the bad kind) most fresh burgers shrink as they lose moisture, so plan your patty size/bun size accordingly. Unlike the BK ads, meat doesn’t need to overhang the bun (you’ll have a problem with bun structural integrity if you do) but less than 95% bun coverage and you start to have plain bread mouthfuls and that’s not a good thing.
  • Cheese needs to be melted on. Nothing else needs to be said here. A lid and a bit of water work well here without needing to overcook the burger (I witnessed the dirty burger chefs do this, also softening the lettuce and tomato slightly at the same time – a great trick).
  • Everything else is an accessory. But accessories matter! Whether you include a pickle. Raw or cooked onion or caramelized onion. Chicken-skin fries, triple or double cooked. Lettuce or slaw. Just think it through in the context of a plate. Less is definitely more.

I think that’s most things, but if I’ve missed anything, I’m hoping the burger community will help me out in the comments, and I’ll update this post (with attributions). It seems like a lot but… it’s not really! Change your burger supplier and your baker (or at least, your order from the same!) and brief your chef and you’re away.

In a year with Brexit, Trump, terrorist attacks and celebrity deaths, the last thing anyone needs is a mediocre burger to top it all off.

Patty & Bun, Old Compton Street, Soho

Huge, tasty, juicy burger; a little rare and a lot caramelised oniony. Eccentric sides.

Burger source:

Another one from the stable of ‘pop-up done good’, founder and chef Joe Grossman reportedly fell in love with the burger scene in NYC and, when he met business partner Mark Jankel and started the P&B story over here, decided he wanted to build on the craze here. More on the origins of P&B here. The hype for P&B I heard was stupendous, possibly second only to how people rave about Honest Burger, so I was both curious and excited as my Burger Crew friends and I gathered for a semi-spontaneous mid-week visit.

The order

I went for the ‘Smokey Robinson’ – largely by mistake and, for my tastebuds – it did prove to be something of an error. It’s loaded with ‘mounds’ of caremelised onions – which I love – but seriously, MOUNDS.

P&B burger

They are not exaggerating. We also had the much-vaunted chicken-skin fries, confit chicken wings (“Winger winger chicken dinner”), Rosemary fries, and some rather eccentric chicken thighs – possibly the ‘Thunder thighs’ – which seem different in my memory from those on the current menu at the Soho branch, but I suspect my memory is playing tricks. Also confit’d I think, and coated with a strong flavoured marinade, apparently Urfa chilli.

The meat of it:

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The meat is coarsely ground, loosely packed and cooked very medium – verging on rare. So much so there was almost that smell of raw meat as you bit into it. A bit too rare for my liking, to be honest. But it is an immense burger – easily 8 oz of meat and fat that’s otherwise well seasoned and luscious for anyone whose tastebuds are that way inclined. The caramelised onions, for me, overpowered the gentle juiciness of the beef; the sweetness took over and I was waiting for a salty bite to recover it. I should have had the Ari Gold burger with bacon, I think, for my tastebuds, but if you like a sweeter burger, it’s a good choice. The demi-brioche bun really struggled under the weight and juiciness of the meat (unlike TomTom Mess Hall, these guys have an excellent meat/fat ratio) and added further (unnecessary to my mind) sweetness to the experience. That said, the overall impact wasn’t bad at all – just not to my slightly more savoury tastes. A bad choice on my part.

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The chicken skin fries were an interesting novelty and reminded me of the Orange Walkers’ Crisps packets from the mid-90s (I know you can still get them, but… who does?). Nothing extraordinary but well fried, crisp, and a good counterpoint to the burger; despite doubtless being natural flavouring, the flavour can’t help but feel slightly artificial as your only other frame of reference is a 60p bag of crisps! The confit nature of both the thighs and the wings added a satisfying crunch but, for me the flavours were too strong – you could barely taste the chicken for the marinade. The fact that the sauce on the wings was cloyingly sweet (and I was having a sweet burger!) and the sourness of the chilli of the thighs was slightly odd (I guessed the spice was tamarind before double checking the menu). On their own, I can understand why everyone raves about the Rosemary fries; but in the context of this mess of a tasting meal, they were lost. Next time; Ari Gold burger with bacon, Rosemary fries, and I’m done.

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I also had a very delicious cocktail – the Would I Lychee You (Kudos, Bob’s Burgers) – which was refreshingly sweet and punchy. And this time, sweet was what I wanted.

Monkey finger rating

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

Burger rating – 4/5 – I blame my poor taste experience entirely on my own error of judgement in ordering the wrong burger. I think everything about P&B is good that should be, even if I haven’t acquired a taste for the more eccentric sides yet.

The deets

P&B is seemingly everywhere, with branches in Liverpool Street, Old Compton Street, James’ Street and beyond. Check out the list of locations here for your most convenient stopover.

Bonus pic with the decor:

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Tomtom Mess Hall, Belgravia

Well presented, well seasoned burger, if somewhat dry. SLOW service.

Burger source:

So, you own a cigar shop. Somewhat obvious course of diversification: open a coffee shop. Less obvious course of diversification: you open up a burger ‘mess hall’ in a 4 * 5m space and fill it with slightly aggrieved looking young people as wait staff, and you serve, actually, quite good burgers. We popped out for a lunchtime burger to bid farewell to my co-blogger Richard, who was off ‘up north’ for what he explained were very good reasons.

The order

Cadet burger with cheese and bacon. Because, who could cope with Raclette on a burger? I’m sure there as some people, but it didn’t even make me curious; other menu options that inspired none of us at the time; the airman burger (chicken, bacon, avocado), the ‘Mess hall’ burger (Raclette, pickles, onions, lettuce and ‘MP’ sauce). I think a return journey (if they fix the service issues) would have me try a ‘Spitfire burger’ with Red Leicester cheese and spicy relish.

A side of onion rings topped the order out at £12.50  a head, with shared rings, without a drink. Not quite ‘mess hall’ affordable; but not bad at all for a burger of this standard. Note: cadet burger comes with fries, making it exceptional value vs. the rest of the menu.

The meat of it:

The 100% chuck steak mince is well seasoned, loosely packed (ideal) and perfectly cooked… but lacks somewhat in flavour and juiciness. I suspect the fat/lean ratio is too high in lean’s favour and as a result, the good (non-brioche but eggwashed starchy white roll) is barely challenged by the burger.

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Other toppings were presented in good order; duly melty cheese, bacon with good bite and saltiness, and with ketchup added manually to meet sweet/savoury contrast needs. No salad had to face off against the cadet burger.

Tom Tom Mess Hall onion rings

The chips were good, solid chunky chips – crispy and tasty – and the onion rings, whilst well-cooked, were slightly underseasoned.

Monkey finger rating

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

Burger rating – 3/5 – lowered by the appalling service and the dry burger. 40 minutes for a burger took a lot of the, ahem, relish out of it for us.

The deets

Find TomTom Mess Hall at 114 Ebury Street, ‘Belgravia’ (near Victoria Coach Station). And come when you’re not that hungry, so you can stomach the wait.

Tommi’s burger joint, Battersea – Deliveroo review

An impressive burger, given it was delivered. But what is with that (lack of) sauce? And HOW much, you say?

Burger source:

An Icelandic import, the Eponymous Tommi has a 30+ year history of burger restauranting, and has clearly been a success, expanding across Europe in that time. Due to open his third restaurant in London, it is clearly doing well on these shores as well. Little is said about his culinary ambitions for the burger itself, but it is clearly high quality meat. The rest is shrouded in mystery – at least, until I actually go to a restaurant and ask someone about it.

The reason we discovered Tommi’s Burger Joint is simple: having used Deliveroo a couple of times, I got hit with an e-marketing email from them promoting the new Deliveroo only restaurant in Battersea – in range of our office in Victoria on a chance Thursday. And so Friday lunch was booked in. Unlike previous reviews, therefore, this one wasn’t enjoyed with my usual Burger crew, but rather in the company of my sporadic co-blogger, Richard.

The order

We knew little of Tommi’s. The menu is simplicity itself, variations on burger, with options of cheese and bacon.  So, inevitably, we all went for the (somewhat overstated) “Special Offer of the Century with Cheese and Bacon” weighing in at £13.90 apiece, inclusive of a healthy portion of fries and a drink.

The meat of it:

This is a well constructed burger; there’s absolutely no doubting that. Even without discounting for the fact it was delivered, the (wax-wrapped then boxed) packaging meant restaurant-style presentation in a takeaway parcel. A perfect stack.

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The bun seems an egg-washed roll, holding up well to the rest of the burger with brioche-like glisten but none of the sweetness. The cheese was well-melted over a perfect medium burger, the lettuce was crisp despite the bike transport to us from Battersea, and the coarse-ground beef was loosely packed, juicy and well seasoned. The bacon was good, if not evenly distributed, and perhaps slightly ungenerously proportioned for the size of the (6oz?) patty. So far, so (mostly) great.

The letdown – and it’s possible this was my own fault for ignoring the extensive ‘sauce’ menu that makes the otherwise simple Tommi’s menu complex – was that the small amount of tomato sauce/relish (it’s not ketchup, it is red, and it’s not sweet) didn’t provide the necessary contrast to the juicy, savoury combination of bacon, burger and cheese. The mustard was sharp and felt a bit lonely without a companion sweet sauce. The result is a burger without the delightful contrast most burgers have of sweet and savoury, and left me feeling somewhat unsatisfied.

The sides: the fries (and having to discount for delivery here) were excellent, surviving the travel well. They were still significantly crisp and were well seasoned and tasty, but obviously wouldn’t stand up to  comparison to any decent fries had in store. They are definitely fries and not chips, like someone had turbo-charged McDonald’s french fries, but again… should have ordered sauce. And if I’m being harsh, other than they travelled well, there really wasn’t anything noteworthy about them at all. The sweet potato fries didn’t travel as well, had oddly intermittent chilli spicing, and (as sweet potato fries sometimes do) somewhat lacked the crisp moreishness of the regular fries.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 4/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste – 3.5/5
Sides – 3.5/5
Value – 3/5. £20 – £13.90 for the ‘offer of the century’ felt a lot, especially as the burger feels incomplete without sauce – a further pound.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – I’d definitely have Tommi’s again, but the next time I Deliveroo, it’ll be for Dirty Burger.

Bonus delivery review

Deliveroo is a challenging proposition. A delivery service, with connections with its restaurants but limited ability to provide service guarantees that I can think of. I’ve had orders from them before arrive significantly late and all they can do is offer vouchers (which, full disclosure, we used to reduce the cost of the offer of the century to about £8 a head). This time around, the delivery arrived within 10 minutes of the forecast window and the service (calls to confirm the order had been collected from the restaurant, and a further call when the delivery driver arrived at our secure building so we could pop down to collect it) was excellent. If they have a restaurant whose food you want to sample in range, I’d recommend it; even if their drivers can’t always be punctual, their excellent service goes a long way to mitigating any bad feeling you have about it.

The deets

Restaurants are plentiful in Iceland, but in London you need the Kings Road or Mayfair branches if you’re not in range of the Battersea Park Deliveroo store.

Surfin’ BIRD – BIRD Restaurant, Camden

One of the greatest pleasures in a week night activity like a gig is the chance to roll up one’s sleeves and unashamedly indulge in a new greasy restaurant experience.

So it was when Little Comets performed at Dingwalls in London, prompting my housemate and I to roam Camden in search of some pre-gig warmth and fatty food. The many restaurants of Chalk Farm Road appear particularly toasty and enticing in the evening at this time of the year, and none more so than the orange shades of BIRD.

Burger source:

BIRD is the brainchild of Canadian husband and wife team Paul Hemings and Cara Ceppetelli. It opened its doors a couple of years ago, as the bargain bucket-shunning duo sought to reinvent the classic greasy-fingered fried chicken experience for a grown up London audience.

So, everyone knows that the bird is the word, but what do BIRD serve, in their own words? “The best free range fried chicken you’ve ever tasted.” A brave statement indeed for an establishment in Britain. I’ll be the judge of that, thank you…

The order

I opted for the Bacon & Cheese, which aside from the obvious ingredients, comes slavered in BBQ sauce & house kewpie mayo. Hold on, house what mayo? Call me ignorant, but I have to admit that I hadn’t come across this variant of mayonnaise before – and I was too busy drooling over the menu to investigate there and then. For the similarly uninitiated, Kewpie mayo is actually a wildly popular Japanese condiment, made with rice wine vinegar (rather than distilled). This results in a pathway to mayonnaise that some consider to be smoother, creamier and more flavoursome than your usual white stodge. Personally, there wasn’t enough here to reach a satisfactory judgement, but I’ll happily take it to the test again when I visit Japan in a couple of months – ideally in a quiet room with just a full jar, a spoon and a couple of idle hours.

But enough about the mayo. I’ve overlooked one of the critical selling points of BIRD’s Bacon & Cheese burger: it’s made with thigh meat, rather than breast. If you know your chicken, you’ll appreciate that thigh meat presents a significantly juicier bite than the average breast. On the flipside, this also results in a generally smaller, thinner cut of meat (more on that later).

I also opted for the Cheesy Korean fries on the side, along with a Coke and a healthy pot of buttermilk ranch sauce for dipping/swigging/downing (because somebody stop me).

The meat of it:

BIRD’s Camden venue is a recent addition to this growing chain, and the sheen was still evident even underneath the requisite thin layer of grease that you’d expect in such an establishment. Many of the standard British ‘hipstery’ small-chain paraphernalia were present: long wooden benches and stools, an excess of tiling and exposed brickwork, low-hung bare lighting… you’ve been here before, even if you haven’t. Putting personal prejudices to one side, however, the venue was undeniably tidy, warm and comfortable.

Despite warnings to the contrary from easily-offended TripAdvisor reviewers, we were quickly greeted and seated with a warm welcome. Orders followed swiftly, and all in all the food was with us in under twenty minutes. There was one heart-stopping moment when it appeared they may have forgotten to bring out the buttermilk ranch, but these fears were undone when a pot of the stuff was plonked on the bench shortly after the mains arrived. Otherwise, the staff were in that idyllic zone of appearing friendly and attentive – without being overbearing.BIRD 1

The main event arrived well presented, with BIRD’s decision to serve their mains on genuine plates being particularly well received. The brioche bun was a rather sturdy affair, which will undoubtedly please many but I found it to be unnecessary chunky (there was no beefy juice to soak up here) and a little dry, but not offensively so. The bacon was suitably hot and crispy and I was pleased to note that it had already combined well with the cheese (there’s nothing worse than still fridge-cold cheese ruining a burger). But what of the chicken itself? First, the coating. This isn’t your usual spicy breadcrumb or batter affair: the clearly Asian-influenced* approach to frying results in a pleasant and intriguing coating that was impressively crispy and flavourful. This gave way to the incredibly juicy and tender meat to produce some of the best fried chicken I’ve tasted. Unfortunately, as noted the thigh meat does mean that the burger felt smaller than it should have. Or perhaps I’m just greedy.

I have mixed feelings about the Cheesy Korean fries. The chips themselves were nothing particularly special, just your standard perfectly acceptable thin-cut crispy strips of potato. But no one ordering this dish came for the fries alone: it’s all about the topping. That said, the cheese sauce was fairly run of the mill while the gochujang glaze was really more of a spicy tomato paste. Altogether the result was certainly pleasing and fairly unique, but not enough to bring me back in itself. Marks have also been deducted for serving the fries in a mini frying pan.

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Finally, a word on the buttermilk ranch: this was disappointing. Perhaps I’ve become accustomed to the rich gooeyness of the likes of Newman’s Own Ranch, but I found this offering to be watery and strangely lacking in flavour. Given that BIRD offer a veritable smorgasbord of side sauces and glazes (including blue cheese – hello, blue cheese), I wouldn’t order this again.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 3/5

Build – 4/5

Burger – 4/5

Taste – 4/5

Sides – 3/5

Value – 3/5 – The burger, sides, sauce and soft drink came to a princely £18 (including tip). Personally, this is fairly de rigueur for this kind of restaurant but some may baulk at such a sum for what is essentially glorified fast food.

Burger rating – 3/5 A very solid fried chicken burger, in a world packed to the rafters with chicken burgers.

The deets

BIRD is expanding and now lays claim to three restaurants across London. I say across London, but somewhat predictably they’re located in Shoreditch, Islington and Camden. Influential folks at BIRD: if you’re reading this, we’d love to see you and your ilk south of the river too! Until then I’ll just stick with trusty old Sam’s, thanks.

They Tweet here, and if looking at glossy, overly filtered photos of fried chicken and doughnuts is your thing then you can follow them on Instagram too. Want some Facebook with that? Sure, they’ve got you covered.

*BIRD insist that its product is “not Southern fried chicken.  It’s not Korean fried chicken.  It’s BIRD Free Range & Fried.”