Lord Wargrave, Nr Edgware Road, London

Possibly the best smash burger in London

Burger source

A friend with excellent taste in both bourbon and BBQ suggested we meet at this pub for a couple of drinks and dinner, and – seeing a double smash burger alongside a variety of ribs options, I felt confident that good things would follow.

The pub has high standards – from its menu:

ALL SMOKE – NO MIRRORS – we’re all about authentic London barbecue, with influences from around the world. Our meat is dry-rubbed, smoked in-house, low and slow, over British hickory logs. Our meat and poultry is ethically sourced, free range, and from local farms wherever possible, and our fish comes from day boats off the south coast of the UK, and is delivered to us daily.

Well. Expectations, much.

The order

We shared a half dozen crispy BBQ wings (my friend couldn’t cope with buffalo spice option), and naturally I had the Smash burger: double beef, double cheese, onions & pickles. I added bacon too, because… greed. To drink? House red, and I may have had an unusual bourbon because it’s a whisky bar too.

And I was tempted by a pudding. I’ll come to that.

The meat of it

Decent presentation

Take a look at that. That’s nice. Shiny bun, beautiful char on the meat and melt on the cheese, well balanced with the pickles and onions.

Let’s take a look at the cross section and see what we’re really dealing with here. I received a groan from my friend when I did this (as I often do).

Holy moly

I can’t explain this. It’s a smash burger – at most, two slender, three ounce patties. And yet there’s a clear and evident pink, uniform through the centre. First bite and you are hit with a wall of savoury – coarse ground, amazingly seasoned meat provides bite… and then soft, tender chew. the flavour is smoky, with depth but none of the funk that comes with dry-aged beef. The cheese binds and adds yet more umami; the bacon almost pushes it over the top, but the sweet pickle and onion tempers it. The bun is soft and holds together against the surprising heft of the burger. I force myself to take slow, thoughtful bites. Savouring each mouthful as the full extent of this creation – this masterpiece – of a burger works its way over my palate. Simon is jeering at me as a reverent look passes over my face; each bite surprises, delights and astounds me. This burger is glorious, I have zero notes. Not one. It is unimprovable.

So. Wow. Breathe. And then the sides.

The fries are – as you can probably see on close inspection – crisp on the outside, thick cut by the standard of American fries but thin for English chips. They are substantial enough that they taste of actual hot, fluffy potato; they are beautifully seasoned with salt and pepper, crisp without being greasy. Possible the archetype of what chips should be, could be, when they grow up. Without the ostentation of rosemary of any of that fancy stuff – simple, uncomplicated, perfect.

The wings are presented beautifully – I love the slim, angled slices of spring onion scatted over the – evenly coated but not dripping – BBQ wings. The sauce is smoky and sweet, but not overwhelming, nor particularly distinctive. The wings crunch as you bite into them, and the meat comes off clean – but is a little tough and chewy. Enjoyable, but I’d probably go for the buffalo if I went back, and hope that they would be more generous in the saucing process, with a meatier and more tender wing. Good but not great.

I was pretty full from the meal, but as regular readers may know, my kryptonite is sticky toffee pudding. It is the ‘BEYOND GODLIKE’ of dessert options for me and – generally – even a mediocre pud is a thing of joy. This time – it presented SO beautifully after being pitched to me by the waitress (it’s excellent, she said)… but then proceeded to have the texture and flavour of a mouldering brick. The waitress acknowledged that a knife should not be required to break a STP apart and graciously took it back, and off the bill. I’ll discount it from my scoring; suspect I got unlucky.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 5/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste – 5/5
Sides – 4/5 – minor deduction for tough, slightly undersauced wings. Fries were a 5.
Value – 5/5 – it wasn’t cheap but it was WORTH it

Burger rating – 5/5 – genuinely one of the best burgers I’ve ever had.

The deets

You can find the Lord Wargrave pub a five minute walk from Edgware Road station, tucked unassumingly behind the main thoroughfare down to Marble Arch from the Marylebone Road. The extensive selection of whisky, beer and wine is another reason to go back. Simon had ribs, which also looked glorious. Atmosphere and service, great.

More on the website here.

Anchor Inn, Lower Froyle, Hampshire

Amazingly well put together, if overcooked

Burger source

I was so keen, on the occasion of this date night, to order something that wasn’t a burger. After all, I have burgers so often when I go out – who needed another burger? But then… I don’t go out often. And there it was, on the menu; promising a single cut of meat in the burger (suggesting it is made in-house), slaw, and a variety of other things that sounded great. So I gave in.

The order

The British brisket burger featured cheese, ruby slaw, baby gem, fries, onion relish. According to the menu. I opted for the bacon for an extra pound.

The meat of it

There are some unspecified extras on the burger. You can see, in the featured image above, a generous slice of tomato, three dill pickles, and a very moreish burger sauce. Curiously, the burger patty – in the deconstructed plating – is on the top bun. A quick merge, and you get…

Look at the melt on that cheese! The shine on the bun! the colour on the slaw! Hopes were duly raised…

…and lowered a bit in cross section. Whilst the bun continues to look glorious, as indeed do the toppings (and bottomings?), the burger is too densely packed and is cooked to grey.

First taste – sweet, applewood (?) smoked bacon adds bite and an additional savoury boost, the burger has a hard, well seasoned crust – but the meat is a little rubbery, to be expected given how it was cooked. The quietly sweet brioche bun, slaw, sweet gem and tomato and pickles cut into the savoury explosion somewhat, tempering it, smoothing it out. The mouthfeel is… good, the bun is fantastic, the burger sauce is adding moisture where the beef has lost it, the balance is… surprising. And whilst the beef’s texture is off, the flavour is not bad. Not great in and of itself – but not bad.

The build doesn’t hold together well, the patty is sliding all over the place, so whilst the flavours combine well, it is hard to eat in its intended form.

So I have the second half deconstructed, eating each bit separately. It confirms – excellent bun, sauce, thick-cut streaky bacon and slaw. The burger is almost burnt on the outside – the chef must have gone overboard with the sear, and (I’m guessing) squashed the burger on the grill to “help” it cook through. The single cut of beef leads to a very uniform texture but perhaps not the most inspiring flavour – other cuts add this, I seem to remember from the burger masterclass at Cut & Grind.

It was hard to gauge how I felt about this burger. The pub is so good – amazing atmosphere, roaring fire, a gentle susurration from the happy clientele all around us, good Covid protocol that we could see, fast moving and attentive wait staff. I had an excellent glass of Italian red to sip alongside the burger (a Cento Cavali Nero d’Avola). I was celebrating 15 years of dating my wife. Maybe the mood took me, but damn, I enjoyed this burger in spite of its limitations.

And the fries? Perfection. Crisp, soft centred, good potato flavour, well seasoned without being mouth-wrinklingly salty, delicious dunked in a bit of ketchup or mayo.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  5/5
Build – 3.5/5 – weird reverse assembly, slidey in the bun
Burger – 2.5/5 – taste is ok behind the terrible texture and oversear
Taste –  4/5 – the sauce and trimmings make it up
Sides – 5/5 – calling the fries ‘sides’ is generous, but they were perfect
Value – 3.5/5 – £16 for the burger and fries. The glass of wine was pricey too

Burger rating – 4/5 – surprising myself with this score. It may not objectively have been good, but it was a brilliant experience, and I enjoyed the burger in spite of its limitations.

The deets

The Anchor Inn is in the middle of nowhere in North Hampshire. On a cold winter night, expect dark roads, blind turns, the occasional deer in your path. In other words, a perfect country pub. Find out more at the link.

Hunworth Bell, Hunworth, Norfolk

Enjoyable despite its limitations

Burger source

The Hunny Bell is a local favourite, in the middle of nowhere in rural Norfolk. Rated highly on Tripadvisor, and by locals we know, it was a fun family meal out.

The order

I hadn’t intended to have a second burger in our holiday week, but the description of the HB double cheeseburger, topped with Emmental, served with onion rings, slaw, on a brioche and smoked bacon… well, it just sounded great. So I had to give it a go. We shared a carafe of Sea Change Negroamaro, a red wine whose billing features environmetnal activism, with a proportion of profits going to dealing with ocean plastics. Sold.

The meat of it

Let’s look at the main picture again.

The plating is tidy but a close inspection will show – a burnt brioche, unnecessary onion rings and a burnt edging on the bacon that bodes poorly… but it looks well assembled, and I’m intrigued.

In cross section, the errors compound themselves. These are thick patties, but cooked well done. They are far too big for the burger. The emmental is well melted and there’s an intriguing layer of sauce on the bottom bun… so, on to the taste.

Well, the burger is well seasoned. The crisp bacon adds excellent umami. The vegetables are crisp, fresh and sweet. The patties are a little dry, but the spicy mayo adds the required moisture and a lovely depth of flavour. There’s a wonderful smokiness to the whole thing.

Then… the whole thing kind of slides off the romaine slice and tomatoes at the base… leaving, in short, a mess:

The rest of it had to be eaten with cutlery, in two halves, split top and bottom. Ketchup helped balance the half without the spicy mayo, and yet somehow, the whole thing kept me wanting more. Despite almost everything going wrong with it, I still kind of enjoyed it. Though I think next time, the belly pork Amanda had is more likely to be on my order card.

The sides? The fries were well seasoned, standard french fries, but slightly undercooked. The slaw was soft – lacking all freshness and crispness – the mayo / dressing was just too heavy. But the onion rings were near-paragons of the form – lovely, crisp, well seasoned batter, sweet onion within… if they were a little greasy.

Giving notes on the whole dish:

  1. Don’t burn the bun
  2. Shrink the patties – 3oz each is plenty, 4oz each was too much
  3. Switch to a patty smash. higher fat ratio, melt cheese on each half as part of the build
  4. Go heavier on the delicious, animal-style sauce, consider adding some chopped pickle into it too for a bright, sweet crunch amidst it all
  5. Shred lettuce for a more stable base – the single leaf of romaine is pretty in theory, but irritating in practice
  6. Swap out the emmental for a sharp local cheddar
  7. Double fry the chips
  8. Find a new slaw recipe. It was bad.
  9. More onion rings. Because why not?

And the wine? Delicious. In both form and function. Highly recommend.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  2.5/5
Burger – 3.5/5
Taste –  3.5/5
Sides – 3/5 – the onion rings and wine redeem the fries and slaw somewhat 
Value – 3/5 – £14.50 for burger and fries. Wine and other dishes reasonable.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – really much more enjoyable than it should have been

The deets

The food, service, ambience etc., at the Hunny Bell were all brilliant. The burger isn’t the best but everything else comes highly recommended. Visit if you’re in the region of Holt in Norfolk at any point.

The Hoddington Arms, Upton Grey, Hampshire

A glorious pub burger, an appropriate post lockdown celebration

Burger source

I’m gonna be honest – it was my first meal out in six months. There was a chateaubriand on the menu. It didn’t matter; it was always going to be the burger. There was no ceremony in its description – it simply was the eponymous Hodd Cheese Burger, hopefully a staple of the menu…

The order

The Hodd Cheese and Bacon Burger featured mature cheddar, cured bacon, mustard mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, crispy onion ring and skinny fries. I had a pint of Shipton Pale ale as an aperitif and washed it down with a nice Sangiovese. Pudding was sticky toffee pudding (my kryptonite on any menu), and I was persuaded by my neighbour to have a Balvenie Scotch as a digestif (I’ve always been more a Bourbon fan and sceptical of single malts; the peat is too much for me, but this was great).

The meat of it

Well.

This was a happy-inducing cross section. A pub burger, with pink, coarse ground, loosely packed meat. With an ample coating of throughly melted aged cheddar. Salad on the bottom, protecting the bun. The bun itself, sturdy but not hard and dry. Pliable. Warm.

First bite. Moment of truth. Perfectly seasoned – good flavour, excellent sharpness from the cheese, enough moisture from the mustard mayo and salad. The meat’s a little too loose and fibrous – wonder if it was the way it was ground? There is perhaps not quite enough sturdiness to the crust, perhaps a hotter griddle would have pulled it all together. Regardless – the net impact is one of savoury goodness; I slow to take in each mouthful carefully, mindfully savouring the flavour. I must admit, I didn’t notice the bacon, but given the taste profile, it would have been adding subtle umami. Side note; whatever made the bun red didn’t noticeably add to the flavour, but it was good nonetheless – soft, seeded, fresh.

Onto the fries, for which I refer you to the featured image above. These were glorious; crisp on the outside, soft in the middle. Not exactly skinny fries, more svelte at best – perfectly seasoned, likely double if not triple fried – absolutely delicious. Dunked in mayo and ketchup for kicks but great on their own.

The onion rings were coated in a wonderful batter, crisp and non-greasy, with a thick, sweet ring of fresh onion at their core. They were slightly underseasoned and totally unnecessary within the stack, so I chucked on some salt and had them on their own. Very fine indeed.

Pudding was a medjool date sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream and was a paragon of its type. Just beautiful on the plate, warm and melty, a luscious island in a sea of warm, soupy, slowly thickening toffee sauce. The sponge was light and fluffy with dense pockets of date. A complete delight.

For a digestif – a Balvenie. Lightly smoky but sweeter and smoother than the few single malts I’ve ever had, this was a good return to scotch for the bourbon drinker that I am. Enjoyed it.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4.5/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 4.5/5 – just needed a harder sear, I reckon
Taste –  4.5/5
Sides – 5/5 -bump for the onion fries 

Value – 4/5 – £50 for burger, side, pud, pint, glass and a half of wine and double digestif. Not ridiculous but not every day eating.

Burger rating – 4.5/5 – didn’t live up to its erstwhile glory.

The deets

A wonderful pub in the idyllic North Hampshire village of Upton Grey, about 5 miles south of Basingstoke. Utter delight. 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.

IMG_20191124_133924

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:

IMG_20191124_134112

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.

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.

IMG_20190920_185607

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.

IMG_20190920_185636

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:

IMG_20190920_185558

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.

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…

IMG_20190810_194331

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.

IMG_20190810_192953

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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