Harrild & Sons, Farringdon, London

Good burger spoiled by overcooking

Burger source

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

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

The order

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

The meat of it

It looks good, doesn’t it.

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

Let’s check the cross.

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

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

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

As to the fries:

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

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

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

Monkey finger rating

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

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

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

The deets

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

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Brewdog, Clerkenwell, London

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

Burger source

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

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

The order

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

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

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

The meat of it

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

Let’s start with the Patriot burger.

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

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

In contrast, the Beyond Meat burger…

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

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

As to the sides…

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

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

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

Monkey finger rating

To each burger in turn

Patriot Burger

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

Beyond Burger

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

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

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

The deets

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

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.

Thirsty Bear, Stamford Street, London

Exceptional pub fayre

Burger source

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The Thirsty Bear positions itself as the “pub revolutionised” and in many ways it is. iPads adorn many of the tables, which also have beer taps attached, allowing you to order (and pour!) your drinks at the table, get food sent to you, call a waiter for help and so on. It’s a small but effective gimmick, cutting down queue/wait time and certainly makes things work differently.

The burgers are the staple of the pub’s American-themed menu, which also features wings, ribs, slaws, soft tacos and beyond. All we know is about the burger origins is that  “All burgers are a whopping 6oz of prime rib-eye, fillet and sirloin patty.”

The order

I ordered a ‘BBQ bacon’, and colleagues had various eccentric variations; one featuring pulled pork, one peanut butter. The BBQ bacon featured 6 oz beef patty, crispy smoked bacon, Monterey jack, lettuce, tomato, red onion, BBQ glaze, bun. Side of Cajun fries, and we had some wings and ribs too.

The meat of it

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Appearances can be confusing. In the darkness of the pub, what was clear was that this burger appeared to have a rather flaccid bun; there was ample (perhaps excessive) salad poking around the side. The burger was topped with thin-mandolined pickled cucumber. BBQ sauce was dripping around the bun. The cheese had an excellent melt and was glooping around the side. A stray red onion loop makes its presence felt.

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The cross section reveals a fine grind, densely packed. Not sure how this is going to go.

Then the first bite. The crunch from the uber-crispy bacon reports like a rifle shot. The taste is instant; the salt and crunch of the bacon; the slight resistance from the well-charred burger exterior. The juicy drip of its interior – drier than it could have been, but better than many. A smokiness and sweetness, from the meat and the BBQ sauce, peels through each mouthful. There’s a light bonus crispness and sweetness from the salad; tomato and onion, mild lettuce, perfect pickle. The meat blend makes every mouthful tasty, despite the fact that the burger is a little too dense and too chewy, and the lettuce portion is unnecessarily generous…  the overall impression is one of lush, well balanced flavour. This is an excellent pub burger.

Sides were fun: the Cajun fries (and the regular, and sweet potato fries colleagues ordered) were truly excellent. Crisp and well seasoned on the outside, squidgy in the middle, without being unduly salty. Cajun seasoning adds a (very) mild spice flavour.

We also tried some buffalo wings and ribs. The ribs were dry and tougher than they should have been; the sauce a little meanly applied though not without flavour. Overall, a solid meh. The wings, on the other hand, had a good crunch, decent heat coming through the hot sauce, and only a smidge too little sauce. The meat was juicy and not overdone. Definitely moreish, though, and recommended.

The colleagues I was eating with enjoyed theirs as much as I did mine, so verdict verified.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5 – soft but surprisingly sturdy
Build – 4/5 – may not look like much but really very well contained
Burger – 3.5/5 – could have been a shade or two rarer without hurting anyone
Taste –  4/5 – very solid flavour, if a little dense and less juicy than it could have been
Sides – 4/5 – excellent fries, good wings, middling ribs
Value – 4/5 – £12 for burger and side, ish. Plus £5.50 for a pint, and £12 to share a jumbo starter.

Burger rating – 4/5 – really very good overall.

The deets

Just off Southwark Street, about 8 minutes down the road from Waterloo Station. Worth the diversion for supper and a pint. Limited Vegan options available.

Steam Engine, Waterloo, London

Vigorously indulgent burger; great, edging on brilliant

Burger source

I was looking for somewhere near Waterloo to meet an old family friend; the Steam Engine showed as having a permanent residency from Burger Craft; apparently a partnership with the Publove pubs. It’s not entirely clear from how the relationship with Publove works, but Burger Craft’s mission is clear:

Our craft is burgers: The finest ingredients, wonderful flavours, slow cooked meats, hand cut chips and homemade sauces brought together to create unforgettable burgers. Smashed, grilled and steamed to perfection by our team of chefs to create the tastiest, juiciest burgers around. That’s Burger Craft! Come see us in PubLove  all over London.

Simple enough. The website, whilst somewhat circumspect about who these people are, does go on in beautiful detail about what they’re trying to achieve, how and with who:

Our wonderful dry aged beef (and the rest of our delicious meats) comes from the multiple awards winning Walter Rose & Son’s fantastic farm in Wiltshire. Used by non-other than Tom Kerridge we’ve since discovered.

Our “Springy” & sensational demi-brioche buns come from the master craftsmen & women at The Bread Factory. London’s leading artisan bakery.

We source every ingredient from equally outstanding and dedicated suppliers and continuously work with them to maintain our quality. “Taste, taste and taste again”

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Welcome to the Steam Engine.

The order

Let’s put it to the test, then. A ‘Bacon Dude’ duly ordered – American cheese, streaky bacon – atop the six-ish oz smashburger patty, served in a fresh, soft demi-brioche with hand-cut fries. All for about a tenner; even with my half of Meantime and Andreas’ coke the bill was only £12.25 a head. Reasonable for this part of town.

The meat of it

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I’m not going to lie, the plating isn’t great; the burger itself looks fantastic, but that sad sprawl of fries doesn’t inspire confidence. However, the second you touch the bun you can feel that this burger is something beyond the ordinary; it’s unbelievably soft, the stack is perfect with the burger sat atop a thin spread of what seems to be BBQ sauce, a slim slice of tomato and then coated with a lush, bright yellow melt of proper American processed cheese and a healthy wodge of nicely browned, lightly smoked bacon. Touch is the right word; this burger is an unashamed multi-sensory experience. You taste, touch, sell, feel all in one go.

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The cross section doesn’t look as pink as many other high-end burgers in London but it is a patty smash-and-steam job – the meat is pressed down on the grill to get extra crispness on the patty and steamed under cover to get a good cheese melt, so this finish is expected. The meat is coarsely ground and even with the smash retains a loose-packed finish. It looks good.

A first bite shows the impact this cooking method delivers; the super-soft bun is wrapped around completely melty cheese, a thick smokey bite of bacon, soft – and if I’m brutally honest, slightly over-soft and slightly undersasoned – melty meat, and somewhat indistinct salad. That said, the cheese and bacon compensated for the slight underseasoning of the burger, and the meat itself is clearly top-notch, with that a light touch of that gamey flavour you get when meat has been dry-aged; fat oozes out of it and drips out of the soft, slightly sweet bun. The bacon was slightly flaccid, like it had been under a heat lamp and lost some of its crispness; and so the only real problem with the burger as a whole is textural. The limitations compound, but are minor. The overall experience is gluttunous, voluminous, glossy and pliant. The burger is tender, juicy and plump.

The fries – were underwhelming IMHO. Some of them were fine; crisp and well-seasoned, happily married with a dollop of ketchup. Others – were limp, sorry excuses for a french fry – not quite underdone but somehow structurally incapable of holding the crisp finish their most impressive peers did. They are well seasoned, though, and tasty enough – it was just a bit of a mixed, visually underwhelming bag; an unfair pairing for an otherwise superlative burger.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4.5/5 – really high quality
Build – 4.5/5 – the veg was slightly over-done and there could have been a smidge more sauce
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 2.5/5
Value – 4/5 – £11 for burger and side, ish. Pretty good for something in view of Waterloo station.

Burger rating – 4/5 – really rather good., in spite of the fries

The deets

There are a few Publoves scattered around London; this one is pretty much down the road from Waterloo, right by Lambeth North tube. Check the website for other locations.

Guest pic: Andreas, my Norwegian brother from another mother.

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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.

The Grove, 83 Hammersmith Grove, Hammersmith

Very high quality pub burger; slightly uninspired wedges

Burger source

I was meeting a client in the area, and she had the pub recommended by colleagues. They specifically advised her it had a good burger, but it doesn’t have any particular billing on its otherwise conventionally unconventional gastropub menu.

The order

The burger has no fanfare in its send-up: “Grilled Aberdeen Angus Beef Burger (8oz), Cheddar, Pickle, Salsa, Onion Ring, Salad & Chips.” We shared a sticky toffee pudding for pudding, because Celine had never had one despite living in the UK for years and I felt she had to be educated.

The meat of it

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The burger arrived fairly promptly and was well assembled and well laid out; the thick slab of cheddar looked like an over-heavy coating and it worried me that this burger was going to be more hefty than tasty, but those fears proved unfounded. The stack is otherwise perfect; pickle, tomato and cheddar atop the beef, which was laid directly on a toasted brioche.

The “chips” were extremely thick seasoned wedges and a light pleasant salad with a garlicky white dressing centred the plate.

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The cross section revealed a perfect pink medium finish; a coarse ground patty, the bun just holding up to the juiciness, that perfect melt and a thick, crisp, sweet slice of tomato (I’m getting used to these!) and chunky pickle slice adding a vinegary tang. The relish was on the side, and it added a necessary, mildly spicy sweetness to the melty mouthfuls of really very well-seasoned and tasty meat, which had an impressive crust and the even pink finish – very good cooking indeed. It was topped with a solitary onion ring, which I ate separately. The onion ring was fine, but nothing special!

The chunky chips – are not my favourite. I’m sure they were good exemplars of their kind, but it’s like having a burger with a side of jacket potato, really. Doesn’t go, in my opinion.

The salad – was not bad at all. But it’s a salad. So that’s all I got.

The sticky toffee pudding – was OK, but a bit light on the caramel, and a bit dry in the sponge. It either needed a lot more caramel or a nice scoop (or, y’know, quenelle) of vanilla ice cream to moisten things up. Still hard for me to turn down but I kind of regretted not going for the banoffee pie. I love a banoffee pie.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4.5/5
Build – 4.5/5
Burger – 4.5/5 – a different meat blend might have added a tad more flavour but very little to complain about
Taste –  4.5/5
Sides – 3/5 – bump down for the chips and pud
Value – 4.5/5 – £12.50 for burger and side, ish. £50 for two with coffee and dessert – not bad.

Burger rating – 4.5/5 – one of the best pub burgers I’ve had. Just sub out the fries.

The deets

About five minutes’ walk from Hammersmith Tube; very quiet on a Tuesday lunchtime, this feels like more of a neighbourhood pub than a lunchtime place, but recommended wholeheartedly nonetheless. Find it here, online.

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!

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

The Falcon, Rotherwick

Well-cooked and assembled Wagyu beef burger for £15? In a pub? Yes please.

Burger Source

OK, it’s another pub burger. But when a pub boasts of Wagyu beef, and has it alongside a regular burger on the menu, I’m thinking this is worth a try. This is a pub that takes its burgers seriously.

In fact; it was incorrectly billed as Kobe Wagyu beef on the menu. For the uninitiated, Kobe beef is beef from a specific strain of ‘Wagyu’ cattle, raised in Hyogo prefecture in Japan. This is why it struck me as so incredibly unlikely that a pub – even a nice pub, like the Falcon, in a lovely village like Rotherwick in North Hampshire – would be selling it in burgers. It’s famed for its tenderness and marbled texture, and is not exported in vast quantities – in fact, there are only 3,000 Kobe cattle in Japan, according to Wikipedia’s (admittedly dated) version of events.

This would make the £14.95 price tag seem incredibly unlikely… and in fact, on correspondence with the manager, it transpires they have been slightly misled by a Wagyu beef supplier called ‘Kobe Cuisines’ so will be editing its menu accordingly. Still, Wagyu beef. Yum.

The order

We were celebrating my mother-in-law’s birthday and arriving late to lunch after an ice-rink expedition, so were all famished. Some bread tempered appetites, and a Jim Beam on the rocks furnished me with a drink (I’m still on this bourbon kick and the pub was lacking in alternatives, though it had a wide selection of Scotch).

The main meal was the burger alone; I was offered toppings (bacon, avocado, cheddar, blue cheese etc.; blue cheese and avocado were recommended), but went for the pure burger from a desire to actually taste this highly acclaimed meat. This seemed to impress the manager.

The meat of it

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You can see from the picture that this was not an imposing burger; substantial but not enormous. The pickle was nice but eaten separately given it’s pointless positioning atop the stack; the bun was eggwashed but not a brioche as far as I could tell. It was slightly too big for the burger, and so held up to the burger’s heft… but only just. Perhaps due to wagyu beef’s lower fat melting point, the burger was not as juicy as an equivalent burger made from a different beef?

It was accompanied with a nicely savoury mayo, deliciously crisp and fresh, sweet tomato and salad, and bacon jam – which is hard to describe, but more sweet than savoury and lacking in any kind of crisp bacon texture. Nice, though, and a good counterpoint to the well-seasoned patty, which was beautifully crisp but slightly too well done for my liking; a medium-well rather than a medium verging on medium rare. I’d guess 5-6oz for the patty; well seasoned, coarsely ground and loosely packed. Definitely winning on more levels than it’s losing.

The taste. The taste confounded me. Beef that well-done shouldn’t have been this juicy; there was a slight gaminess to the flavour and tonnes of umami from the seasoning, despite no bacon or cheese actually in the stack. The mayonnaise was clearly a good accompaniment and the bun didn’t distract whatsoever. Cheese would have been unnecessary, and believe me that’s not something I say lightly. Because, y’know, I love cheese.

The fries, thin, hand-cut, skin-on fries, were very well cooked and seasoned to perfection. They went beautifully with the bacon jam, in fact, and the fresh side salad was wonderful, alongside a slightly less inspiring but mildly pleasant, light coleslaw.

In all, it was an inspiring experience. Despite the beef being Kobe-style rather than Kobe, it’s instantly made it to the top of my pub burger league table and will motivate me to head back to Rotherwick for future lunches in the not-too-distant-future.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 4.5/5
Value – 4.5/5 – Wagyulicious: an outstanding burger for £15.

Burger rating – 4.5/5 – Top of my pub burger league table. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The deets

There are two pubs on Rotherwick’s main street and they both serve a burger, so make sure you make it to the Falcon if you want to try this one. You can find it here:  The Falcon, The Street, Rotherwick, Hook, Hampshire, RG27 9BL.