Emmy Squared, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York

Expensive, somewhat overcooked but ok Big Mac tribute; amazing pizza

Burger source

Whilst staying in New York for our Jagged Little Pill jaunt, my brother told us legend of a place that was famous both for its burgers AND its pizza. Such a thing could surely not be – a unicorn, a thing of legend, surely never to be seen in reality?

Founded in Williamsburg but growing across a few locations, this independent chain is the lovechild of entrepreneur Emma Hyland and Executive Chef Matthew Hyland. It’s primarily a pizza joint, serving Detroit-style pizzas, but the burger has received many plaudits. So we were excited!

The order

This was definitely a sharing meal.

We had the garlic cheesey sticks (so new to the menu it’s not even online), the Caesar salad, a ‘Colony’ pizza and Le Big Matt – the $25 burger – a set of double-stack Pat Lafrieda grass fed beef patties, American cheese, greens, pickles, Sammy Sauce served with waffle fries, all wrapped in a Pretzel bun.

The colony pizza sounded exciting too – pepperoni, pickled jalapeños and honey – of all things.

The meat of it

Let’s take a look.

On first impression, there’s a lot to like. There’s a good melt on the cheese; the burger sauce is generous and interestingly orange. The Pretzel bun looks sturdy (though possibly a little too sturdy?). The salad looks bright and fresh, the burgers seem to have a good crust. We’d been offered it cooked medium or well done and had naturally chosen medium.

Next, the cross section.

OK I was sharing this one with two siblings, so it’s not quite a cross but you get the general sense here. It’s two, 4oz patties – hefty – but not at all medium. This was overcooked. You can also note that – despite the fact its been sitting for a few minutes, despite the weight of 8oz of beef, toppings, etc., despite being cut like a Mercedes logo – the bun is barely compressed at all. It is a dense bread.

On first taste, I’m a little underwhelmed. The burger sauce is very reminiscent of the Big Mac, sweet and savoury together, but no crunch from tiny pickle, no texture to note. There’s an unexpected heat from some hidden hot peppers (perhaps that’s what greens are in Brooklyn?) – which add a lot to the flavour profile of the burger and make it interesting, The crust of the burger is a little soft, the meat is a little dry and could have used a little more seasoning. The umami is not quite where it should be. The beef is coarse ground but has been somewhat compacted in the cooking process so is a little dense; and perhaps the biggest crime for me is the large, cold pretzel bun is so firm as to feel almost stale. The burger is too dry to soften it up, and it wasn’t toasted or warmed that I could tell.

To be clear, at no point did I think of leaving my third of a burger unfinished. The meat is good, the toppings are good, the spice was interesting and the burger sauce binds it well. But a mediocre bun, overcooked meat and not quite enough seasoning let it down for me.

As to the waffle fries – crisp, tasty, a little underseasoned again (no salt not he table), but nice with a little marinara sauce and the home made ketchup provided. Better with a little mayo.

On to the pizza…. and I’m aware this is a burger blog but if you’ll allow a brief diversion.

It’s utterly glorious. The skirt is crisp without being burnt, bubbled and crispy with oil or butter. The pepperoni is delightfully crunchy, and the generous helping of both pepperoni and jalapeños leaves you searching for the browned, stretchy, generously spread cheese beneath.

And the taste does’t let you down. The pizza sauce is layered on thick, the cheese pulls and falls like its being filmed for an advert, the jalapeños are soft, sour and slightly spicy to contrast with the crisp crunch of the buttered crust and the perfect pepperoni. The honey tempers the umami bomb and helps the sauce cut through. It’s an utter delight. I never wanted to stop eating this. This is my new desert island pizza.

In the same category, the sides:

This delightful jenga stack of cheesey garlic bread sticks was a joy. Using the same base as the pizza, it seems, is a good call. Detroit style garlic cheese sticks served with a rich helping of garlicky, sweet and savoury marinara sauce – utterly wonderful. At $6, it’s one of the best value items on the menu and we were informed it’s been selling like hot cakes.

The Caesar salad was served with crushed croutons and a generous amount of pecorino as well as anchovies and Caesar dressing. Every bit of the crisp, fresh romaine lettuce was a a crisp unctuous pleasure, with creamy crunchiness contrasting with the sweet, sweet salad. I’ve almost never wanted to order a second salad in any context, but here… well, we had enough food, but the thought definitely occurred.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 2/5

Build – 4/5 – little to fault here

Burger – 3/5

Taste – 3/5 – spicy peppers make up for the overcooked, underseasoned meat and the dry bun

Sides – 5/5 – the pizza here is >>>> the burger

Value – 2/5 – This is not a $25 burger and fries, despite the generosity of the waffle fries portion. It is, however, a $20 pizza, and then some.

Burger rating – 3/5 – whilst I probably wouldn’t order the burger again, I’d have the pizza any time. And I’m tempted to buy the cookbook for it!

The deets

There are a few locations across New York and the continental United States. Check out the website to find them in Brooklyn, the East Village, Nashville and Philadelphia.

Rare bonus pic: cross section in progress. I like to think of myself as a master craftsman instead of an annoying git in these contexts:

Lambs Club, 132 W 44th Street, Manhattan NYC

A fine burger; juicy, savoury, lightly overseasoned

Burger source

Chef Zakarian, one of the partners of the Lambs’ Club, is clearly a passionate foodie.  A serial entrepreneur, the Lambs Club is his latest venture and there are a wide range of menus available to cater for all tastes.

We were eating off the main bar menu, following a triumphant viewing of my brother’s new musical – JAGGED LITTLE PILL – at the Broadhurst theatre on Broadway.

The order

The sole burger, is TLC Burger (The Lambs’ Club Burger, natch), which features Cabot Sharp Cheese, special sauce and the optional Applewood Smoked Bacon.

The meat of it

Let’s take a closer look.

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You can see the spectacular melt on the cheese, covering the burgers in their entirety. The bacon is super crisp, poking out of a toasted crusty roll. Unusual in this day of brioche.

And the magical cross section look.

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Whilst the stack is a little uneven, the burgers are cooked to a perfect medium, despite the thin patties. A good fat ratio means they are juicy and ooze concentrated flavour onto the plate. The salad provides some meagre protection for the bun, but the sheer juiciness of the meat is almost too much – it barely holds up.

On first tasting, the bacon shatters under bite. It’s cooked to a complete crisp, which is possibly – even to my tastes – a little too far. The coarse ground burger is juicy and luscious but too heavily seasoned; coupled with the sharp cheddar and shards of crispy bacon, it’s a bit much. Almost; it does work. But is calling out for a little sweetness. The burger sauce is barely evident, the crispy salad lost in the melange of savoury flavour, and the side-pickle – too pallid and lacking in sweetness or sharpness to add a great deal.

All that said, the overall experience is brilliant. The crusty roll holds up – just – and adds a good contrast to the intense umami of the burger. The sharpness of the cheese cuts through the flavour profile, adding whilst lifting the overall experience. The melt binds the burger, and even though it’s a little too far – the crunchy shards of bacon add excellent textural contrast. It’s a joyous burger.

As to the fries.

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They look kind of amazing; heavily seasoned in ‘pastrami spices’ – probably pepper, salt, sugar, paprika and a couple of other unknowable things, they seemed crisp and inviting… but were in fact a little underdone, and whilst unquestionably tasty, would have benefited from a little more frying for crunch. A lovely compliment to the burger, though, soaking up juices on the plate and adding yet more umami and partnering beautifully with the home made ketchup for a little sweet contrast.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 3/5
Burger – 4.5/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 3.5/5
Value – 3/5 – $35 for burger and fries at full price is toppy, however discounts kick in for members of the club

Burger rating – 4/5 – a really very special burger, you won’t be disappointed

The deets

The Lambs Club is in the heart of theatreland in Broadway, a few minutes stroll from Times’ Square. More here.

The Armoury, Shrewsbury, Shropshire

A very respectable pub burger

Burger source

This wasn’t a burger of any great conceit. Simply billed as a ‘steak burger,’ it sat in the middle of a menu replete with every Roast dinner you can imagine, and some you probably wouldn’t (mixed beef and pork roast is a thing, apparently, and weird as it sounds… it actually looked kind of tempting. Turf and hoof?).

I was in the area for a close friend’s birthday and couldn’t resist ordering the burger, as it’d been a while since I tried a new one.

The order

I ordered the sole burger – a steak burger topped with grilled bacon and Cheddar, served with coleslaw and chips.

I tried to order it cooked to medium, but was told it came as it came – the beef wasn’t minced on site.

The meat of it

This looked decent on the plate. Let’s look again.

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Glistening bun, solid melt on the cheese, bright, crisp-looking veg and a pot of home made relish? Very tempting. You can see and sense the crunch on those chips, and whilst the coleslaw is a little unremarkable, you reserve judgement. The overall impression is good.

In the vital cross-section:

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A few things to note.

First, the meat is pink. They’ve cooked this burger perfectly. And the meat is coarse ground and loosely packed, just as I like it.

Second, it’s not a brioche. A standard bread, it is surprisingly dry. Which means in turn that the meat isn’t desperately juicy. Which is perhaps slightly unsurprising, if this is a burger made of a single cut of beef, steak mince no less, with a relatively low fat ratio.

Third, the salad is hefty. I’ve already removed the sweet, fresh tomato – I prefer that on the side than in the burger. Also out of shot is a thick slice of pickle – too much for the burger, really, a thinner option would have been welcome.

On to the taste.

The meat is light on seasoning and the crust is soft – perhaps their griddle wasn’t hot enough to get a really good sear on it. The cheese is a bit on the mild side – a bit more sharpness would have been welcome, or the savoury goo of American cheese – but the bite is firm and the bacon adds good flavour, making up for the low-salt elsewhere. The relish adds a sweetness – unremarkable but necessary given the relative dryness of both bun and burger. It doesn’t quite make up for the low fat ratio – mayonnaise would have been a welcome friend. But the overall impression is more than serviceable; the flavours come together well, the crisp, fresh crunch of the vegetables, the salt from the bacon, the heft of the meat.

As to the sides; the coleslaw added some of the necessary fat to complement the burger, which was great. The chips were as they seemed – crunchy on the outside and squidgy in the middle. Absolutely perfect once salted. The pickle was excessively sour; not to my taste. I prefer a sweet gherkin, this one was more than a little sharp.

Overall, a good combination. If the chefs at the Armoury want to stick with a single cut of meat, they could spark it up by offering an aged cut, and adding a bit more fat to the sandwich via mayo or some other mechanism. A touch more seasoning and a touch more heat on the grill, and a good burger would become a great burger.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3.5/5
Build – 3.5/5
Burger – 3.5/5
Taste –  3.5/5
Sides – 4/5 – great chips
Value – 4/5 – £13.75 for a large portion seemed reasonable, though I don’t know how to gauge value in this part of the country!

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – in the upper echelons of pub burgers.

The deets

The Armoury is on Victoria Quay, in Shrewsbury, Shropshire. If you’re in the neighbourhood, it’s a lovely place to eat and drink. Be tempted by the mixed roast; I was.

The Beagle, Barlow Moor Road, Manchester

Very serviceable Mancs Deliveroo burger, with decent skin on chips and craft beer

Burger source

The Beagle seems to be one of that new breed of gastropub; handmade burgers, an excellent craft beer selection, burritos and more.

The menu is relatively low fuss; no indication of the heritage of the burgers or any such stuff; no hand-fed cows on the salt-marshes of Northern Ireland or anything. Picking the order off Deliveroo, you’d be hard pressed (but for the booze selection, and the absence of kebabs) to identify the difference between this place and a kebab shop that also did burgers.

But the ratings were high (90%+) and I thought it’d be nice to have a Northern burger whilst visiting Manchester, so I did. Looking up the website of the pub, it’s clearly the kind of craft burger/beer hipster hangout I love, so next time – who knows – maybe I’ll make it in. But this time I was housebound with the kids, so ’twas not to be.

The order

I went relatively simple – the Maple Bacon Burger, a 6oz patty, chipotle mayo, crispy streaky maple cured bacon, and cheese, on a brioche bun. With salad and skin-on chips.

I had them deliver a craft beer too – a High Wire Grapefruit (Grapefruit Pale Ale is apparently a thing).

The meat of it

The stack is messy; a huge slice of tomato and salad coated in copious chipotle mayo, bacon and burger both spilling out of the side of the apparently undersized brioche, and the burger blackened and flattened to the point I imagined I might need to skip the review – so mediocre was it likely to be.

But looks can be deceiving. Whilst the stack was indeed messy, delivery may account for some of the sliding, and the cross section reveals a coarse ground patty that has decent amount of pink visible. The bacon cuts with an audible snap when I prepped for the cross section shot, which adds drama and excitement – bacon was made to be fried crisp, IMHO.

On first taste, I’m confused. There’s salt from the extremely melty cheese and the bacon, adding to the bite of the burger (simple salt/pepper seasoning on that, and not too much of it). The sweet hint in the bacon couples with the sweet salad and sweet brioche and is countered by the mild but obvious heat from the – very flavourful – chipotle mayo. Of which there is slightly too much, but which adds more than it detracts.

The bun starts to fall apart in my hands as I eat; though the burger lacks real juiciness, the mayonnaise and salad is taking its toll on even the egg-and-sugar enriched bun. The combination is certainly more than the sum of its parts, though; a good bite to the meat, a crisp, salty, gooey texture from the cheese and bacon, the sweetness from the bun and salad and the texture and heat added by the mayo gel extremely effectively, even after being in a takeaway box for 10 minutes. The pros outweigh the cons (slightly overdone, dry meat, slight under seasoning, messy stack, inadequate bun), and the overall experience was very satisfying.

The fries; held up very well. Medium-cut, skin on chips, these taste of real potato, are crisp without being greasy, and are well-seasoned without being salty. Even without ketchup they are enjoyable, which is a good sign.

The beer; I will not attempt to review too comprehensively. My taste in beer is unusual; I favour sweeter drinks with a hint of beeriness and prior to the current craft beer renaissance we seem to be going through, I’d only ever order a beer if there was Hoegarden on tap. This beer is the lovechild of a fairly standard craft IPA (think: Beavertown Neck Oil) and a can of Lilt. It’s not overtly sugary but the hint of sweetness cuts back the bitterness of the IPA to leave a very smooth overall experience. The Grapefruit flavour isn’t overly chemical. I’d have it again, but I suspect most real beer lovers wouldn’t.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 3.5/5

Build – 3/5

Burger – 3.5/5

Taste – 4/5

Sides – 4/5

Value – 4/5 – £10 for burger and side, plus £5 for the beer (!!) with 10% off the lot.

Burger rating – 4/5 – really a very good experience overall

The deets

You can find the Beagle on Deliveroo, or at 458 Barlow Moor Road, Manchester, M20 0BQ. The pub’s website is here.

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.

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.