Byron Waterloo, 41-45 The Cut, Southwark

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

Burger source

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

 

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

The order

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

The meat of it

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

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

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

As to the sides…

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

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

Monkey finger rating

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

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

The deets

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

25 degrees, 7000 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles

 

Damp. Sloppy. Messy. But more good than bad in his Hollywood burger…

Burger source

Here’s the name, explaining the point of difference for the burger chefs at 25 degrees:

“Named after the precise temperature difference between a raw and well-done hamburger, 25 Degrees introduces a sophisticated twist on the traditional American burger bar. At 25 Degrees, we not only emphasize the importance of quality hamburgers, but we also serve up an unrivaled experience- complete with chic décor, playful servers and a stream of funky tunes.”

The beef burger meat is apparently ground sirloin, though turkey, tuna and veggie burgers were also on offer alongside a variety of other bits of SoCal Americana, including Grilled Cheese and Kale salads.

The order

There are only four ‘pre-assembled’ beef burgers on the menu – names one through four – though you can have any combination of toppings you want custom assembled.

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That is one big burger

I went for number 1 – gorgonzola cheese, thousand island sauce, grilled onions and crispy bacon, as it was the closest to my more or less reviewer’s standard of a bacon cheeseburger, and I figured it’d give an authentic experience of how the chefs here like to see their burgers assembled. I was asked how I wanted it done, and opted for medium rare as that seems to be the going standard in this part of the world.

The meat of it

The 8oz behemoth makes an impression. This is a BIG BURGER. It has to be coaxed out of the wrapping, and then it flopped onto the plate, trailing juice and thousand island sauce that had come away with moisture from the resting meat. The bottom half of the brioche bun was completely sodden and the burger was practically unhandlable. The thousand island sauce also made the burgery slippery, and it fought for freedom as I sliced it in half.

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Juicy

The cross section cut showed the problem. Whilst the loosely packed, coarse ground patty (with what must have been at least a 25% fat ratio) had been cooked to perfection, the meat/bread ratio was far off sensible. And the saucey toppings took things further out of control; a surfeit of gorgonzola cheese bled onto the plate and grilled onions were flying out with every bite. The bacon, not as generously delivered as the onions or cheese, fails to deliver textural contrast throughout the burger – it just doesn’t have enough coverage. And the arugula (rocket for the uninitiated) adds very little to the overall impact of the burger.

That said, the burger taste itself was not bad – the meat was well seasoned and had a dry-aged funkiness to it that only high quality meat does. The bacon – when it was present – added a delicious salty crunch. The bun and onions contributed a sweetish undertone to what would otherwise have been a very salty burger. The burger’s moistness played really well for mouthfeel. It would just have been better a couple of ounces lighter and the toppings could have been better thought through.

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Magic onion rings, oh yeah.

As for the sides… we ordered a half-n-half onion-ring / fries combo for $7.50. The onion rings were extraordinary. Well seasoned with a light heat, the first bite delivered a wonderful savory crunch… soon followed by a sweet aftertaste as you chewed the onion. The fries were just OK – rosemary and salt on thin cut McDonald’s style fried that weren’t all as fully cooked as they should have been.

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Chipotle sauce vs. Spicy Aioli – spot the difference

$2 bought a selection of sauces; we chose BBQ (American BBQ is sweeter than its British counterpart, and this lacked any other personality to speak of), Chipotle and spicy Aioli.  We honestly couldn’t tell the last two apart, both tasted like mildly spicy mayonnaise. But they were good.

FYI – my brother had a grilled cheese  ((over-thick brad and under-melted cheese) and soup, and his wife had a salad. We did a good amount of sharing to get through it all.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3/5
Build – 3/5
Burger – 3.5/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 4/5
Value – 3/5 – $17 for a burger with no fries is excessive, even for the standards of the West Coast..

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – Like many here, this burger is more than the sum of its parts.

The deets

This restaurant is in the base of the Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles. You can’t miss it -we walked in on a busy Saturday afternoon and got a booth to ourselves.

Wesburger N’ More, Mission Street, San Francisco

 

An outstanding burger; hefty and delicious.

Burger source

Wesburger was tipped as one of the better burgers in SFO, and whilst they make little fuss about the origins of its burger meat, it’s all clearly of the highest order and promoted under the marketing tagline “because burgers are fun.” I literally couldn’t agree more.

The destination following a drinks evening with my company’s US team; this place was a treat.

The order

We encountered Ramon as we walked in and he recommended the ‘Hot Wes’ to us, a 6oz patty topped with jalapenos, onion rings and queso. I naturally added bacon. Was medium rare ok? Hells yeah!

Because I was feeling greedy post a stop off at Branch and Bourbon, I threw in an order for a couple of rounds of tater tots and some fried chicken. A colleague wanted the Mac & Cheese so that was added to the pile too.

We also popped in to the Den next door (‘the smallest bar in SFO’) and got some ‘punch’ (Vodka, coconut, and stuff on this occasion).

The meat of it

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The burger was delicious. Whilst it looks like a hot mess, it held really well; the bun slipped on top and the queso helped it together. The meat was course ground, loosely packed and perfectly pink. The queso bound the onion rings and bacon into the burger and the bun held up against the juices admirably. The salty hit was contrasted with sweet and crunchy onion rings and a slightly sweet bun, all complimented by the tart crispness and light spice of the pickled jalapeno. I’d say this is possibly one of the best burgers I’ve ever had – up there with Dip & Flip and Bleecker Street (though less refined, more raw than either – and that’s not a bad thing). Such a shame it’s such a long way from home!

The sides: the tater tots were crisp and savory on the outside, squidgy in the middle. Delicious with a little sriracha, and the portion served with cheese was outstanding. The fried chicken was billed as ‘extra crispy’ and it didn’t disappoint, but was a little dry (the order got confused and it arrived plain in a bun instead of with sides – I forgot to fuss). I tried a little of the Mac & Cheese and whilst I’m generally not a fan, this is clearly a whole order of magnitude better than the varieties I’ve sampled across the Atlantic.

The punch was fine; an sweet side to complement a salt-tastic feast.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  5/5
Build – 4.5/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste –  5/5
Sides – 5/5
Value – 4.5/5 – $40 per head including drinks and slightly too many sides, in San Francisco, is actually pretty amazing.

Burger rating – 5/5 – This really is one of the best burgers I’ve ever had; the service was excellent, and there was little to fault. I’d head back in a heartbeat, if only it didn’t require a transatlantic flight.

The deets

2240 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94110, 415-745-9371. Find them at http://www.wesburgernmore.com/, or, y’know, just get an Uber.

 

Marlowe, 500 Brannan Street, San Francisco

 

Outstanding burger in lovely restaurant in SoMA.

Burger source

My first night in SFO (ever) for a business trip, and US colleague Rene booked us into Marlowe – also on the top three favourite restaurant list of my AirBNB host. Awesome start.

Other than billing the burger as one of the most popular in the city (well marketed by my French bartender), there’s little detail on the meat’s origins, burger style, etc. on the menu. An enigma! Exciting.

The order

Whilst there was a Sunday special that swapped bacon for porcini mushrooms and added gem lettuce and pickles for crunch and tang… I opted for the standard Marlowe burger for the experience. It comes with caramelized onions, cheddar, bacon, horseradish aioli and what looked like fresh cut herb fries. The burger itself – my charming French waiter repeatedly advised – was cooked medium rare… and was I OK with that? Heck, yeah.

The meat of it

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The burger is a ~6oz affair, with a soft-ish white roll well coated with horseradish aioli, and with the patty topped with the onions, crisp fresh lettuce, mega-crispy streaky bacon and super melty cheddar. The “medium rare” looked somewhat medium to me, but no complaints there. The lean/fat ratio was 80/20 according to my French gourmand, so it wasn’t overly juicy but moist enough. The aioli made it somewhat slippery in the stack, and it was somewhat hard to handle. That said; the meat was coarse ground and loosely packed, making for a tender bite and an amazing amount of umami. The crisp bacon and lettuce adds a nice textural contrast and the aioli adds to the meat’s juiciness to take the edge off a slightly too-firm-for-my-taste burger bun. The onions added a little sweetness to the whole thing. The overall impact was excellent, although I must admit, I ate the second half with my cutlery rather than by hand…

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The fries are exceptional; herby, salty, crispy with a soft centre. The side of horseradish aioli was more than I needed; a little ketchup to take the edge off was a better fit for my palate.

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Drinks-wise; an excellent selection of Bourbon had me sample an Elijah Craig small batch, followed by a Templeton Rye Old Fashioned – utterly delicious and unexpectedly sweet for a Rye. I liked it!

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3.5/5
Build – 3.5/5 – slippery, off centre
Burger – 5/5
Taste –  5/5
Sides – 5/5
Value – 3/5 – $34 for the burger and sides – which I think is reasonable for San Francisco – and about $1m for the drinks. This city is EXPENSIVE. Subject to review once I’ve eaten anywhere else and know how this stacks up against anywhere else.

Burger rating – 4.5/5 – you have to be pretty nitpicky to fault the flavour combinations here, and the overall experience is amazing and more than makes up for the minor shortcomings. Hugely recommend it.

The deets

Marlowe is in SoMA in San Francisco, 500 Brannan Street, San Francisco, CA 94107. You can make a booking via 415-777-1413 or online at OpenTable. It was busy on a Sunday night – most other places were shut – so do book!

Big Fernand, Issy-les-Molyneaux, Paris

A juicy Gallic smashburger (smashburgé?), worth travelling for.

Burger source

Ok, I’ll freely admit – I googled ‘burger restaurant’ near the hotel we were staying at for a business trip and Big Fernand jumped out. I liked the pictures so we headed down.

However, having Google translated the copy on the webpage for this review, I’m SO pleased we went as would TOTALLY travelled for this even if it hadn’t been convenient:

“In the middle of a small Parisian street, at the end of a restaurant of district embalmed with the smell of herbs and fresh bread. A band of mustachus is busy at the rhythm of the sizzling meat just chopped to revisit a dish known by all: the hamburger. Their Hamburgs caress the sweet dream of seducing the most refractory skeptics and offer a second romance to the lovers convinced of the burger. This is how Big Fernand was born: a mixture of popular culture of a dish that brings together people from all backgrounds and products gleaned throughout France.”

There’s only one right reaction to this: wow.

The burgers are cooked as ‘smash’ burgers -a healthy portion of the mince is rolled into a ball and squished down onto the grill with a heavy spatula, cooked in its own fat until crispy, scraped off the grill, flipped for a lesser version of the same treatment before being topped and stacked on the bun, then wrapped in grease-proof paper to serve. By coincidence, my favourite food blogger/scientist Kenji Lopez-Alt has just released a video on the art of a smashburger which explains this technique in a bit more detail (although Big Fernand use MUCH bigger patties and manage to carry it off).

The order

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Pat and I both had the Bartholome, Beef, Swiss Raclette, bacon (lots of bacon), caramelised onions and chives, topped with Big Fernand’s own BBQ sauce. I admit, I ‘doubled up’ for €4, having only had a salad for lunch, which added a second patty, more bacon, cheese and an entire (totally unnecessary) portion of fries. Pat opted for ‘herb fries’ and I went for Paprika fries. All that for €14 (€18 for my double) – with our choice of soft drink. We were offered a choice of how we wanted the burgers cooked and both opted for medium.

The meat of it

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Holy moley. This was a monster. The slightly floppy, very simple seeded white burger bun barely stood up to the heft of a single patty, much less my double. The raclette was copious and melty, and the bacon in plentiful supply, providing a salty chew. The BBQ sauce provided a necessary sweetness, cutting back on the incredible umami from the rest of the burger. Whilst Pat detected a hint of sweetness from the onions, they were lost in my behemoth of a burger. Not a terrible thing given the general deliciousness of the burger as a gestalt.

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The meat itself was a cooked a bit over medium (unusual for France, where the colour ratings on meat are usually one down on what we order in the UK – i.e. medium is usually medium rare etc)., but the high fat ratio of the beef (essential in a smash burger) meant it was no less juicy for it, and the cheese, bacon and BBQ sauce complimented it beautifully. I think they could improve the bun – a sturdier potato roll or even a brioche bun might have stood up to the burger slightly better – but this is really a very minor concern in what was an otherwise magnificent mound of meat (and stuff).

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The fries… were slightly chewier than I’d expect for ‘freshly’ cooked fries (perhaps our batch wasn’t that fresh), and Pat’s herb fries were reminiscent of Honest Burger’s rosemary fries. But the seasoning was nice. They were served with a garlic aioli which was unnecessary (chips needed sweetness, not further saltiness!). Not bad as a combo at all!

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste –  4.5/5
Sides – 4/5
Value – 4/5 – €14/€18 translates to around £12-£15  for the burger, side and drink, and that’s definitely not bad, but probably a little on the high side vs. the very good value burgers you get in London these days. That said, this includes the ‘Brexit’ depreciation tax, given the value of the pound now vs June 22nd 2016…

Burger rating – 4.5/5 – I am totally going back the next opportunity I have to be in range. Fresh, delicious burgers, great service with amusing, interested staff happy to practice their English with us… and lots more to try.

The deets

Big Fernand has lots of locations, but the one we went to was here:  30 rue Ernest Renan, 92130 Issy-Les-Moulineaux. +33 1 41 90 72 55.

There’s even one in London if you can’t wait for the next Paris trip!  12 Percy Street W1T 1DY Londres, +44 207 81 32 586.

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.

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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

Humble Pie Co’s Humble Burger, Section 17, PJ, Malaysia

This is one of those slightly odd non-reviews that comes about when I’m travelling and poorly equipped to give a critical analysis of the burgers in question. In this case, the Humble Pie Co‘s Humble burger, eaten as a takeaway meal whilst on holiday in Malaysia visiting my folks.

I’ll freely admit, the HPC wasn’t my target takeaway – the neighbouring “Grind Burger Bar” was my intended goal, described by a cousin as “The Best Burger in the Klang Valley.” We were looking forward to it, but when I got there… the chef had taken an unscheduled hour off to do… something… just before peak dinner service. So, having braced a tropical storm to get there, I stormed off…

…and was relieved to find that the Humble Pie Co next door did, indeed, have a burger on the menu, and what’s more, its humble burger sounded intriguing.

Here’s how it bills itself: “House marinated ground topside minced beef, purple cabbage coleslaw, roasted onion, tomato, mild cheddar on house-made light brioche buns, potato wedges and garlic mayo.” As a bonus, it’s served with a Belacan sauce. For the uninitiated, belacan is a spicy shrimp paste made, extremely pungent and with a serious chilli kick when done well. Read more here.

Weighing in at RM 18 ++ (about £3.50) this is pretty bargainous for a gourmet-style burger, though probably pricey in the land of Ramly Burgers (cheap, unspecified meat-burgers wrapped in egg – see pic below!).

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Anyway, back to the Humbleburger.

It was good meat, no question, in a very fine bun – a not-particularly-sweet brioche. The burger was slightly overdone for my liking (no pink to it at all), but it was coarse ground, well-seasoned and juicy. The salad was crisp and a strong supporting cast member (red cabbage… inspired)… but the belacan… well, I wasn’t too impressed. It wasn’t spicy enough to be interesting, salty enough to provide umami in place of more conventional cheese and bacon, and not belacan-y enough to make it feel like a worthwhile local flavour. The net result is a whole that is somehow slightly less than the some of its parts.

The supporting sides; thick cut chips, basically, with mayo (not wedges) – lost something in takeaway translation, but were well cooked and tasty nonetheless.

On balance, it was a good effort. Here’s to exploring Malaysia’s burger bar scene a little more the next time I visit my family there.

The Bistrot, Seminyak, Bali

Welcome to the second in an occasional series of guest posts from travelling friends of ours, this one courtesy of none other than DJ Will MC Campbell….

One of the UK’s most beloved chefs once quirked “Food is for eating, and to be enjoyed… I think food is, actually, very beautiful in itself.” And what could be greater than the sight of a truly world-class burger arriving at your table, as others look on in envy?

Truth be told I tried to do my first burger review while in Japan – the home of Wagyu and Kobe beef, incredible cuts of meat from incredible cattle… but it wasn’t really served in true burger form, so couldn’t legitimately count it as one.

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Which is why, having left the incredible but cold shores of Japan, on arriving in Bali I headed to The Bistrot for my first evening out. An impressive wooden yet high ceilinged open space, upon entering you immediately feel reminded of a New York loft/factory space with a distinct industrial feel.

And there it was, centre of the menu, I couldn’t look away, the Bistrot Burger – 180g of beef from Australia’s finest cattle.

Burger Source

There are variations of the same burger – but the house special came with the trimmings I was looking for, onion rings (always a challenge to get right), Red Cheddar (?), Cognac Sauce, Tomato, Lettuce served in a lightly toasted sesame seed bun.

The Meat of It

I’m an absolute stickler for having the meat cooked to the way I like it – and I opt for medium rare (controversial for some I know), as it actually requires more attention than any other form of cooking a burger IMHO. It needs to be perfectly brown on the outside but I want to see the colours and juices coming through the middle.

I wasn’t disappointed. The meat was cooked to perfection. Perfectly seasoned, perfectly presented. I was excited I’d hit a home run on my first night in Bali. The Cognac sauced seemed to work really well, yet bizarrely added a somewhat BBQ flavour to the burger. Could it be a term lost in translation? I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt as the combo was immediately impressive.

Next up was the red cheese and the onion rings, where my initial doubts were realised. The onion rings were solid, but not great. A little too soft from the outside and not enough texture from the onion. I want to feel like I’m biting into an actual onion rather than just a lump of fried batter. The red cheese really let it down, as it felt processed and slabbed on – a little too perfectly square.

It’s always interesting trying bread from other countries, particularly when you walk into a supermarket and aren’t exposed to the 90+ variations we have in the UK. So it wasn’t a great surprise to find the bun good but not exceptional. It was toasted well, crispy when you bite into it, but soft through the middle.

All in all, I was impressed. The meat was ideally cooked, the sauce complimented the flavour really well… and did I really expect the onion rings and cheese to be of the same quality? Well let’s say I’d have been disappointed with the experience if it had been the other way round (or I’d be posting this on the wrong blog).

Would I go again? Probably. Would I recommend to others? Absolutely.

For a total of £8, it would be hard to find many places in the UK that would serve that level of quality food in such a place that makes you feel like you’ve been transported 12,000 miles across continents.

Monkey finger rating

Bun  – 3/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste – 4/5
Sides – N/A
Value – 4/5

I think our beloved chef might have been onto something when she made that remark about food – but I’d argue just adding the word good as a prefix would be about right. And this place was certainly good.

If you’re ever in Bali, I’d highly recommend popping in  – you can find them at Jl. Kayu Aya No.117, Seminyak, Badung, Kabupaten Badun. You can reserve a table, and if you’re there Friday or Saturday night I’d recommend doing so.

Atomic Burger, Cowley Road, Oxford

Decent burger in poor bun; amazing sides.

Burger Source

When Oxford was identified as a destination for a “lads’ weekend” away, one of the first things I did was Google ‘the best burger in Oxford’… and up came Atomic Burger. Clearly an exercise in effective SEO as much as a in burger design and innovation, the restaurant claims “the highest quality meat”, “burgers made by hand daily”, “food cooked to order”, “secret recipes” and “local suppliers”… so we were duly sold on it. As it happens, having a drink across the road at the Big Society, the staff tried to sell us on eating a less… unconventional burger in their establishment, but at this stage we were committed.

The order

The menu is extensive; dozens of standard and eccentric burger combinations. Most of us went for the fairly conventional and hard to argue with ‘Dead Elvis’ – crispy bacon, American cheese & fried onions listed as the key ingredients. We were reassured by the waiter that not only were the burgers cooked medium as standard but they’d happily do them medium rare for us. So far so exciting.

A side came with each burger, and we split onion rings and regular fries between us so we’d get to try it all. We also got in an order of ‘Trailer Park Fries’ which we were assured were awesome – fries topped with pulled pork, cheese sauce and barbecue sauce. Yeah, I know. Had to be done.

The meat of it

To start with the bun of it; the bun on this burger is poor. A slightly stale, dry-looking, powdery white bun that seems simultaneously too large and too porous to hold itself up to anything. The top half was immediately discarded as dead weight.

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The patty itself; surprisingly thin, not cooked to  medium rare (a healthy medium though), a decent slice of melted-in American cheese and not quite crisp streaky bacon topped it; there was salad in but you’d have to look closely. The sides – onion rings that were breadcrumbed, but vegan (rolled in beer, flour and breadcrumbs, no egg) – were crisp and golden brown. The standard fries were reasonably thin cut from whole potatoes, partial skin on, and crisply fried. The Trailer park fries, as a separate full-sized side order, were a sight. Laden with meat and sauce, this was a side fit for a main. Drink-wise, I went for a ‘Hobo mojo’ – Bourbon, lemon & lime & maple syrup shaken over ice and served in a paper bag.

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As to how everything tasted: the sides were the star of the show. The trailer park fries were incredibly moreish; the cheese sauce somehow not as chemical-tasting as you’d expect bottle-style squeezey cheddar to be; the pork moist and savoury and the sweet barbecue sauce binding it together beautifully. The chips were crisp enough not to be soggy throughout – often a challenge for this type of dish. Delicious. The standard fries were good but a pale candle to these; not quite enough starchy bite to them. The onion rings were amazing; large, sweet slices of Spanish onion rolled in flour, Peroni and possibly a panko breadcrumb, they were crisp, sweet and savoury in one, and delicious. The Cajun ones were particularly good, with a light hint of heat underpinning them. There were some other fairly non-descript sides on the plate – middle-of-the-road pickles and bottom-of-the-road oversweet, over-mayo’d coleslaw.

The main event; the burger? Well-seasoned, loosely ground meat – but the patty was too thin and the bread too big, so the flavour was somewhat lost (even with a discarded top half). The American cheese gave savoury goo to it all and again helped mask the meat flavour, and the bacon wasn’t crisp enough for crunch, so just added a sort of stretchy chewiness. The onions seemed sparse and added little sweetness. This was one of those situations where a brioche might have done some good. We had an extensive conversation with the waiter about the buns – apparently the owner knows they need changing but hasn’t got around to it yet. Best of luck to him, and hope he prioritises it soon.

And finally, the Hobo Mojo – it’s a fancy name for bourbon with 7-up and maple syrup, but it’s a HECK of a combination and I’ll be making this one at home at some point soon. Maybe minus the paper bag. Delicious.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  1/5
Build – 3/5
Burger – 3/5
Taste –  3/5
Sides – 4.5/5
Value – 4/5 – £20 a head for burger, sides & cocktail, & tip – valuelicious. But I guess that’s what happens when you’re not in London.

Burger rating – 3/5 – Let down by a bun that poorly complemented the fillings, sadly, and a pale shadow of things like Dip & Flip’s equivalent burger. Next time we do Oxford, we’ll have to try a Big Society burger…

The deets

247 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1XG was the branch we visited, though we gather the owner has a Pizza place elsewhere in Oxford and another burger venue in Bristol. Check them out over here and make a booking for the Trailer Park fries and the Hobo mojo alone, if needs be.

Side note: the geek kitsch around the place was phenomenal; a wall full of starships, a few intriguing sculptures and lots more. It’s a fun place.

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Fat Hippo Jesmond, Newcastle

Fat Hippo Jesmond – St George’s Terrace, Newcastle

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Burger Source 

A small disclaimer before we begin. Fat Hippo Jesmond is located a mere stone’s throw from my family home, and while I haven’t lived in the city permanently since the place first opened its doors back in 2010, I have been quietly admiring its prosperity from afar. Everyone loves to have a successful home grown neighbourhood restaurant on their doorstep, after all. At a time when NIMBYs still have a disturbing level of influence in blocking anything remotely interesting from setting up shop in this part of town, small restaurants like Fat Hippo are a great example of how good Jesmond can be away from the Osborne Road strip – when they’re allowed to launch.

I’d also been told by a reliable and well-travelled ‘sauce’ that Fat Hippo serves the best burgers in Newcastle, and popular local opinion seemed to support this. It is worth noting, of course, that a sizeable proportion of the Fat Hippo’s regular clientele are the guffawing students with more money than sense that have long colonised this corner of Jesmond. So, do the burgers stand up to the reputation?

The order

I’ve developed a fairly terrible habit of fully poring over menus online hours (if not days) before I arrive at booked restaurants recently, which does dampen the whole eating out experience somewhat. This was no exception – a full five days before I returned to Newcastle, I’d already scoured the Fat Hippo’s menu from my desk at work. There’s plenty on offer here, and pleasingly the menu balances the fine line between offering safe and basic items and the over-the-top ridiculousness that many burger places are adopting, as they desperately chase ‘innovation’ and the novelty factor.

For me, the choice was clear. The Ranch: double 4oz patties topped with cheese, chorizo and garlic mayo. I’m an absolute sucker for anything food–related that says Ranch on it. ‘Ranch’ as a sauce concept has taken its time becoming a menu staple in the UK, but like its classic US junk-food cousin Buffalo Wings, most places over here that claim to serve it can still only offer a pale imitation of the real deal. So what was in store here? Rich and creamy goodness slathered liberally around the sandwich, or a teaspoon of Hellmann’s with the ghost of some garlic hidden amongst the cheese? Make no bones about it, this was a big test.

As I’m rarely satisfied with a simple order of plain ol’ chipped potatoes these days, I opted for a side of the ‘Dirty Fries’ (topped with bacon pieces and Fat Hippo sauce). Well, everyone needs a break from onion rings once in a while. As if this wasn’t enough to clog my arteries for the evening, I also kicked proceedings off with a starter of mac n’ cheese balls.

The meat of it:

Let’s begin with the starters and get this out of the way. The mac n’ cheese balls were far and away the most disappointing part of this meal. I was absolutely ravenous by the time they arrived and couldn’t wait to get stuck into what would surely be a few dead-cert globules of comfort food splendour.

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The mac n’cheese balls (apologies for blurry image – my hands were shaking with anticipation)

My anticipation took a slight hit when they arrived – although the breadcrumbs were a pleasant golden colour, the balls had simply been lumped on top of a couple of plain lettuce leaves, served with a side of Alabama White BBQ sauce. Given that we’re talking about indulging in a beige feast here, a little bit of colour wouldn’t have gone amiss (you know, something like brown – like conventional BBQ sauce?). Sorry Fat Hippo, but to me this whiffs a little bit too much of another hipster joint trying anything to be different.

Mac ‘n cheese balls aren’t exactly gourmet cuisine: all I was really hoping for were gooey, cheesy bits of pasta encased in a crispy breadcrumb shell. Hell, isn’t that all anyone ever wants? Instead, once I’d cut into them I was faced with a stodgy, clumped up mess.  Across four balls, I only found a couple of bits of what was discernibly macaroni. The rest was just a sort of half-baked mulch, all too dry and stodgy with no real flavour. A shame.

I should point out that most of my fellow diners started with ‘Freddie’s Fingers’ (southern fried chicken strips with buffalo hot sauce), which looked fantastic and seemed to go down a treat.

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Freddie’s Fingers

Fortunately, it’s also better news for the main event. Fat Hippo’s Ranch is a well-packaged, no BS burger. It doesn’t have time for any pretence, like a token salad. It just does exactly what it promises: two patties, cheese, chorizo and garlic mayo.

To the bite – and what a bite it was. I’m not normally too fussed about burger buns (unless they’re too big or the patty-to-bun ratio is off) but my, this was a good bun. Soft, fluffy yet sturdy, with just the right kind of sweetness and a precise fit for the contents. Bun perfection has been achieved.

Onto the patties themselves, which were simply delightful. They were nicely cooked throughout, wonderfully juicy with a good thickness. The flavour was solid without being outstanding. This was packaged up with an (un)healthy smothering of melted cheese that was similarly succulent and warm without just being dried out.

Despite being this particular burger’s main event, the chorizo was just so-so – it added a little extra texture and a smoky flavour, but I could honestly take it or leave it. We’re talking about the thin-sliced, wide slivers of cured pork here (that most people simply accepted as ‘pepperoni’ for the last 30+ years until the foodie revolution insisted on rebranding every food item to appeal to pseudo-hipsters) rather than the small, fat garlic-infused oily chunks of meat that I regularly fantasise about when someone mentions chorizo. But that’s probably just my fault really for having unrealistic expectations.

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And what about those dirty fries? Perhaps I’ve been spoilt by the genuinely outstanding ‘bacon bacon’ fries at Almost Famous in Manchester, with their bacon mayo and ‘bacon rain’, but I found these to be a bit weak. The chips were a little underdone and definitely under seasoned, while the thin shavings of bacon were chewy and lukewarm, rather than hot and crispy. The tangy fat hippo sauce redeems these a little, but overall this was an average side.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 5/5

Build – 4/5

Burger – 4/5

Taste – 4/5

Sides – 2/5

Value – 4/5.

Burger rating – 4/5 A good all-round burger, slightly let down with a few small issues on the side. At just under £19 for the whole lot though (excluding drinks), this is certainly good value.

The deets

Fat Hippo is a genuine North East institution, with three restaurants across Newcastle and Durham.

The Jesmond restaurant is right in the heart of things, just off Acorn Road in part of a converted house. Upon entry, it’s possible to immediately tick off a good number of hipster joint clichés: exposed brickwork, low-hanging mason bulbs, deliberately mismatched ‘old’ furniture and food served on novelty trays are all part and parcel of the experience. However, the Fat Hippo is infinitely more interesting than any of the predecessors on site that I can remember since moving to Jesmond in 2000, so ignore me.

In addition to the generous range of burgers and sides on offer, the menu also features a good selection of beers from the local Allendale Brewery. In a prime case of ultimate hipsterdom, these include the Fat Hippo IPA and Fat Hippo Hillbilly (both brewed exclusively for Fat Hippo’s restaurants) but again, I’ll get over this since they were pretty tasty.