Harvest, Brattle Street, Harvard, Boston

A beautiful burger that doesn’t quite live up to appearances

Burger source

I was in Boston for work and my brother happened to be in town to launch the phenomenal Jagged Little Pill musical at the American Repertory Theater. So, we met beforehand and shared a burger and a lobster roll at this popular eatery in the centre of the Harvard campus.

The order

Arvind had the lobster roll; I took on the menu’s sole burger, served with skin on hand cut fries; gratifyingly I was given the option of having it cooked medium, which I took. We shared a cold-cuts and cheese platter to begin with, and a deconstructed Boston cream pie for pudding. Seeing as it was my first trip to Boston, and I was being a tourist, I also had a Sam Adams.

The meat of it

As you can see from the photo, the presentation of this burger is glorious; it’s a perfect stack, a glorious melt on the cheese, fresh, bright salad in call caught between a perfect, lightly seeded roll – I think a non-enriched potato roll rather than a brioche.

The cross section promises even more; the meat’s a perfect pink the whole way through, no graying at the edges and what looks like a decent char on the meat. The grind is coarse and its juicy without soaking the bun. So far, so brilliant. Pickle on the side, tomato, onion and lettuce leaves piled on top of the cheese.

And then the taste; this is where it lets itself down a bit. It’s every bit as juicy as it looks, but the char isn’t quite there so the whole impact is a little soft; in essence, not the best mouthfeel. This could have been addressed with some crispy bacon, or a slightly hotter griddle and a little more seasoning. The meat was good but with this finish they should probably mix up their meat blend – it tasted a little bland; wonder if they overdid the chuck and could have done with some rump in there. But I’m a meat blend amateur here, so could easily be wrong. The salad was as fresh and crisp as it looked; the cheese was a little gungey and bland, and the roll, whilst sturdy, did little to balance out the burger. A brioche might actually have helped with sweet/savoury contrast, as might some burger relish (ketchup is a necessary condiment here). Net impact: it’s tasty but not interesting, sadly. Which is a real shame as so many elements were done really well.

The fries – were slightly limp. They would have benefited from a second, or third, fry. That said, these are high grade potatoes, the seasoning was great, and they tasted good. The portion was the size of my head so they remained largely unfinished.

The cold cuts and cheese were delicious – sorry I didn’t grab a pic. We had a triple-cream soft cheese, like a soft extra salty brie, served with small whole meal toast triangles, prosciutto di parma, cornichons and a sort of beetroot puree. $12 well spent between us.

The Boston Cream pie was really nice, but I have no frame of reference. I understand it’s normally a traditional sponge with cream and chocolate sauce; this deconstructed variant makes me really want to have the original; soft, airy sponge, thick sweet butter frosting/icing, crunchy chocolate pieces and sweet chocolate sauce – what’s not to like?

Sam Adams – is a solid American lager, and tastes exactly the same as it does when you get it on import in the UK. I, worryingly, seem to be acquiring a taste for interesting lagers these days.

I traded a bit of burger with Arvind for a bit of his lobster roll – I’m not a huge lobster roll fan, as find the flavour of the lobster to be too rich for my liking. But you could tell this was special; the bread is a heavily buttered and crisp brioche, kind of like a luxury grilled cheese texture; the lobster was fresh and utterly free of the fishy flakiness you get when you’re not in the lobster roll capital of the world. There was, if anything, too much lobster for the roll!

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 4/5

Build – 5/5

Burger – 3.5/5

Taste – 3.5/5

Sides – 4.5/5

Value – ??/5 – A friend picked up the tab but the pricing looked reasonable, even allowing for the ludicrous 20% service that’s more or less standard in the US. $16 for the burger and fries.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – It’s good, but not great. I think if I asked for it medium well and with bacon, it’d probably jump up quite a bit – and perhaps even more if I switched the cheese. So try that if you go!

The deets

It’s just off Brattle, a five minute walk from the Harvard metro station, near the American Repertory theater. If you’re in the area, I would definitely recommend it — good food, a lovely buzz (though it was graduation week so everything was busy!) and all the food looked great. Portions are big – bring your appetite. Website here for more info.

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Pool-Pub, Rentemestervej, Copenhagen

Surprisingly tasty fayre at this sports bar; amazing curly fries

Burger source

So we’re on a stag do. We go to a pool bar where we play a veritable Olympiad (technically a pentathlon) of indoor sporting events. I have zero expectations for the food… but then the chef engages me in a conversation about it. “We grind them on site, of course. We cook them to medium, naturally! We have a high fat ratio, yes, 7-15%!” Only in Denmark is a ‘high’ fat ratio less than half what a modest fat ratio would be elsewhere in the world. But nonetheless, they earned my attention.

The order

There were three burgers on offer; we went for the Mr Cheesey (their house burger featured boiled egg, which, y’know, weird). This featured, as Google Translate would put it: “Chopped beef, cheddar, iceberg, tomato, cucumber, red onion and ketchup! Bun lubricated with mayonnaise.”

Mmm. Tasty, tasty lubricant.

All the burgers are served with curly fries.

The meat of it

The stack looked good. A thick bed of chopped iceberg lettuce, cucumber (!) and tomato, followed by a healthy looking patty with an excellent melt of cheese on top fo it. The potato roll gleamed with a light toasting and probable enrichment of some kind.

The cross section disappointed somewhat. This was not a medium cooked burger. But it was a good coarse grind and there were pink hints to it so on we went…

And it was pretty good – good charred exterior, nicely seasoned, and despite the overcooking the burger was relatively juicy – a little more fat would not have been a bad thing – but the mayo and the cheese held it all together very well indeed. The texture was good – I think bacon would have helped a little, but then I always do – as would a relish for contrast. I was dipping the whole burger in ketchup!

The curly fries were amazing – highly seasoned, crisp on the outside and squidgy in the middle, super moreish. I sometimes wonder why they bother with straight cut fries.

A reasonable burger experience overall; an extraordinary one for a sports pub. Highly recommended.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 4/5

Build – 4/5

Burger – 3.5/5

Taste – 3.5/5

Sides – 5/5 – curly fries ftw

Value – 4/5 – I’ve no idea what we paid for anything, probably about a million kroner, because that’s how much everything costs in Copenhagen. But it was definitively better value than anything else we did/paid for in that city, wonderful as it is!

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – go for the pool. Stay for the burger. It’s too out of the way to be a burger destination and as I say – in relative terms it was a good burger. In absolute ones? Above average, but unexceptional.

The deets

I have no idea. Not that central in Copenhagen; we got cabs. It was a stag do. I’m not even sure I was there. Check the website.

Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Festival Place, Basingstoke

A contender once again; GBK got good

Burger source

GBK was the original gourmet burger in London, more than half a decade ahead of Byron in landing in the UK, it introduced us to a burger that wasn’t chargrilled to death in a pub or a freeze-dried hockey-puck, like Maccy D’s. But I wasn’t a huge fan at the time; in the early 2000s, the burgers seemed oversized, mealy, over complex and, well, nothing special. Even without a frame of reference, it wasn’t a favoured destination.

But the chain has changed ownership three times, from the original Kiwi founders through two separate restaurant holding groups. It’s look, feel and theme hasn’t changed significantly but the menu – less eccentric than it once was – and the food quality, have both improved significantly, it seems.

What they tell you about the beef? “100% British prime beef patties using selected cuts from grass reared cattle on independent farms. We cook to medium but tell us how you like it.” –> reviewing the menu, you can see they experiment with different beef blends. I need to go back to try more, now I know they do a good burger…

The order

I had a GBK cheese & bacon (standard), whilst Amanda had a Avocado Bacon – a throwback to the early days of GBK, when a pineapple ring ALSO featured as a burger topping. Side of chunky fries, and that was it.

The meat of it

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The presentation was solid, for both burger and fries; a relatively clean plate, a good stack with nicely melted cheese, a soft-appearing seeded bun, and well-proportioned; not at all what I remembered from my early 2000s experience of it at all. Hope blossomed.

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The cross section provided additional cause for celebration; this burger was juicy, there was a reasonable melt to the cheese, the bacon, whilst perhaps not overly generous, was crispy, and the promise of a medium cook was upheld. More than this; a coarse grind, and, on tasting… a hefty crust surrounded a juicy interior. The toppings compliment it well and the pickles provide the sweet counterpoint necessary for all the savoury goodness as well. The bun is a simple soft roll, the sesame seeds provide a nice accent and it holds up to the burger juices well enough. No sweetness in the bread, though, that was provided by the pickles and some completely non-memorable BBQ sauce. I would have preferred a chunky relish with this one, I think.

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The fries, however… despite positive initial appearance, there’s something very suspect about these. Whilst they look like thick-cut, skin on chips, the interior tastes of processed mash. The crisp skin basically surrenders to it when you take a bite and you’re left feeling bewildered and slightly cheated. This still felt a better option than the skinny fries many of the other patrons were eating, which looked less like shoestrings and more like carbon nanotubes impersonating a French fry.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 4/5 – bit more melt on the cheese would have been good
Burger – 4.5/5 – really very good
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 2/5 – weird chips
Value – 3.5/5 – £13+ for burger and side, ish. And given the fries weren’t good…

Burger rating – 4/5 – pleasantly surprised.

The deets

There are over 60 of these around the country; mine was in Festival Place, Basingstoke. Amanda and I then went to see the Greatest Showman, and if this was a film blog, I’d be raving about it here. SO GOOD. Although I guess if this was a history blog, I’d be ranting about its inaccuracy…  You can’t please everyone all the time!

Big Tasty, McDonald’s UK, Oldham

Big Tasty with Bacon – McDonald’s

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The Rustlers experience from McDonald’s. Yes, that is an actual plate.

Burger Source 

Conceived in the meeting rooms of an office on the edge of Belgravia, this burger blog usually covers whatever edgy opulence London’s trendiest burger joints are churning out. Today, however, we’re going back to basics and shifting the focus somewhere a little more down to Earth: McDonald’s (in Oldham). Specifically, we’re here to sample a regular ‘guest’ burger I’ve been avoiding for years: The Big Boring (I mean Big Tasty) with Bacon.

It seems to me that the Big Tasty is kind of like the Liberal Democrats of McDonald’s menu items. Never trusted enough to be considered worthy of a full time position on the menu, yet fostering enough support to hang around in the background and trot out in public from time to time. This is usually whenever there’s a dearth in the planning team’s creativity in between more interesting limited edition burgers and promotions.

This has been the case since it first appeared on these shores back in 2003, and I’ve always avoided it on the menu. Perhaps it’s simply because it takes up precious promotional space on the menu where something a little more exotic could be trialled (hello, Pico Guacamole burger at McDonald’s USA), but I’ve slightly resented this burger for a while without actually trying it.

Sure enough, I cast my eyes skyward when I recently saw that the Big Tasty would once again be returning for the couple of months, in between the festive menu and whatever actual promotion is coming up next. Come on guys, isn’t January dull enough? But then I realised that it was probably worth, y’know, trying the damned thing before knocking it completely. So here we are.

The order

Upon entering my local branch, I immediately marched straight towards the shiny (or greasy… depending on how closely you’re looking) new touchscreen self-ordering kiosks.

If, like me, you’re a terrifyingly anxious OCD-driven control freak then the customisation option provided by these kiosks is an absolute godsend. Gone are the days of awkwardly approaching your server (aggressively eyeballing you over the till and bidding you to just hurry up pick something simple off the menu and order right now) to ask if you could possibly please have a burger without any gherkins, if it’s not too much trouble.

Now it’s all in your hands, and you can discard any ingredients you want (although I note actually adding a different ingredient seems to be totally out of the question, which would appear to jar with the idea of true customisation… but that’s a thought for another day).

That’s why I opted to remove the standard two slides of tomato when ordering my Big Tasty with Bacon. I understand these are here to add a little moisture and possibly present more of a premium option, but I just feel like tomatoes have no business being inside a burger (or sandwich). Their watery complexion and usually weak flavour can ruin a decent burgery bite, so out they went.

Convention requires that I must state that I also ordered a bag of Cheddar Melts, the current moreish cheesy bite side option available at McDonald’s.

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New simple packaging. I quite like it. No tomato.

The meat of it:

What they say: “What makes our Big Tasty so tasty? 100% British & Irish beef with cheese made with emmental, sliced tomato, lettuce, onion, and – of course – that Big Tasty sauce.”

The first thing that struck me was that McDonald’s have recently refreshed their product packaging with a stripped-down, slightly old-school based on white boxes with large, colourful text. This replaces the previous long-serving design with little illustrations of fresh ingredients and some vaguely whimsical copy to while away the time for lonely diners. But you probably don’t care about that. What’s inside?

Let’s be honest, nobody expects a piece of artwork from a McDonald’s burger. While my Big Tasty had more of a backseat Rustlers look than something you’d be served in Hawksmoor, I’ve definitely seen much, much worse. There was none of the dreaded topping slide, everything was distributed fairly well and – yes – my tomato removal request had been honoured.

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Lost in the box

The first thing that jumps out about this burger (when you’ve taken it out of the box) is the size. It’s big – much bigger than the other regular burgers at McDonald’s, but still just as flat. The result is a slightly awkward eating experience that requires you to balance the burger with two hands (well, if you have freakishly small hooks like me anyway).

Biting in, it’s a hefty beef flavour that hits you first. That might sound pretty obvious from a burger, but this seems to pack more of a pure ‘BEEF’ punch than, say, a Big Mac. Afterwards, the salty, slightly smoky taste of the bacon kicks in. I’m not a huge fan of the bacon at McDonald’s, which is usually a little rubbery, but this was fine and definitely adds to the experience. The bun is pretty unremarkable by design – nothing to see here.

Now let’s talk about *that* Big Tasty sauce, since it’s present in every bite. There’s no official description of what’s actually in this, and the ingredients list just contains a bewildering array of preservatives, so I was guided by my taste buds. I picked up a little garlic, some smokiness and some generic ‘background spices’. The overall effect is pleasant, without leaving the same kind of impression of the similarly cryptic Big Mac sauce. It’s nice, but largely forgettable. A bit like the Big Tasty itself, really.

It’s definitely worth having a good mix of sides and plenty to drink with this, because my word, the Big Tasty’s sheer size means that this burger takes a while to tackle. The flipside is that after a while, it all becomes a bit samey and you’re just chowing on for the sake of it.

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Under the hood: a very consistent spread

That’s why it’s pleasing that the Cheddar Bites on the side are a reliably solid effort. Simultaneously crunchy and chewy and featuring a very decent cheesy flavour, they’re great value for money. It’s a shame the staff forgot to throw in the accompanying pot of rich tomato dip, but I got over this with some ketchup.

Monkey finger rating

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

Burger rating – 3/5 As a recurring guest star on the McDonald’s UK menu, the Big Tasty needs to have mass appeal, and that’s why it’s all very safe and generic. I’m glad I tried it, but (particularly in light of increasingly creative promotional offerings from KFC) I’m much more interested to see what other, more interesting limited edition burgers McDonald’s has in store for 2018 and beyond.

Bottle of Sauce, Ambrose Street, Cheltenham

One of the best burgers in Britain

Burger source

A group of friends were going away for a weekend; naturally, with me as one of them, we googled for the best burgers in town. And Google told us about the Bottle of Sauce. Just over a year old, the pub/restaurant is clearly gaining a cult following – it was packed, with everyone from people on dates to large groups of friends who had it pegged as the perfect location to start their night out.

There’s not much information about the pub, or the ‘Dodo family’ it’s part of on its website, but the parent site tells us that it is part of a small independent chain of social-centric pubs called the Dodo Pub company. Founded 8 years ago, the owners seem to be on a mission to reinvent dilapidated pubs as community hubs, with great food and booze:

Our mission is to set up unique neighbourhood pubs for local communities, all the while continuing to develop our interest in good food, good drink and good design and sharing this passion with our wonderful and loyal customers.

They are onto something good… with their burgers made from dry-aged prime cuts of beef, ground in-house and served pink by default and… well, wait for the meat of it.

The order

Simples – we’d already been out for a few hours, so couldn’t deal with overcomplicated ordering. 6 ‘Big D’ burgers, 5 fries, 3 portions of buffalo wings and one portion of buffalo fries between the six of us. The Big D burger has a seeded bun, the beef, crispy bacon, cheddar, dodo burger mayo, caramelised onions, lettuce. Simples.

The meat of it

HOLY CRAP. This was unexpected. We’re in a pub in Cheltenham, but somehow the medium rare bite of this burger is one of the best balanced, juiciest and, frankly, most gloriously sumptuous burger eating experiences of my life.

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I’ll wind back. Delivering burgers on a tray as they did mean the presentation impact isn’t about an elegant plate but more a ‘wall of meat’ experience. It was an imposing delivery; we weren’t complaining. The stack was fine – no issues with construction, though the juiciness of the meat was combining with dodo sauce to drip onto the tray. A good sign, on reflection. The bacon, two long, crisp strips of perfectly flat, is arranged in a cross hatch. The rest of the toppings are underneath the burger. The bun is seeded, non-brioche.

And the taste…. Whilst, being extremely critical, I would argue that the patties could have done with marginally more seasoning, this is some of the finest meat I’ve ever had in a burger. Coarse ground, loose packed, perfectly pink and with a high fat ratio (I’d guess 70/30), melty cheese and crisp, crunchy bacon, every mouthful is a delight. The caramelised onions and salad, melded seamlessly in with the dodo sauce, provide a sweet counterpoint, and the sturdy seeded bun holds up admirably. I practically inhaled the burger.

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The sides; the fries (Rosemary sea salt fries, sorry!) are crisp on the outside, squidgy on the inside. Thicker than regular fries, I won’t pretend I noticed the rosemary taste (milder than Honest Burger’s take on this), but really very well done. The Buffalo fries were extraordinary; unlike chilli fries the buffalo sauce doesn’t make them too soggy, but the slick, spicy tang of buffalo sauce melded beautifully with those near-perfect fries.

The wings were good too – nothing extraordinary, I’d have liked a bit more crunch to them under the sauce, but the sauce was perfect, and the blue-cheese dip was fine too. The chicken was high quality, juicy but not too fatty, and perfectly cooked.

Wow. Go to Cheltenham *just* so you can spend a few hours in this pub. As a bonus, the atmosphere was jumping, the staff were friendly, and the drinks (we had a house Bourbon cocktail) weren’t bad at all.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  5/5 – held up admirably
Build – 5/5 – beautifully constructed
Burger – 5/5 – possibly tied with Dip & Flip and marginally ahead of Bleecker Street  my mind
Taste –  5/5 – better than the some of its parts
Sides – 4.5/5 – buffalo fries FTW!
Value – 4/5 – Sides are pricey but good, cocktails are cheap, burgers are average by London standards.  But it’s probably expensive for Cheltenham – about £25 for burger, sides and a drink a piece

Burger rating – 5/5 – Just amazing.

The deets

Ambrose Street is fairly central in Cheltenham. If you’re a group of more than 8 people, you can book a table, otherwise just turn up. We got there around 8pm on a Saturday and had little problem finding a space (though we were sat in the outdoor courtyard area). Book your trip now!

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.