Fuel Shack, Food Court, Suria KLCC, Malaysia

A high quality burger that is still somehow reminiscent for the Ramly burger tradition

Burger source

The founders of Fuel Shack write in their story of their determination to end the binary choice faced by Malaysian diners – of mass-market, low-quality, chain fast-food, vs., pretentious, expensive, upmarket high end burgers beyond the reach of most people. They wanted, they said, to end this with the introduction of accessible but high quality burgers served in a setting anyone could access. KLCC may be an expensive mall, but anyone can eat at the food court on level six, and anyone can get there easily enough.

The question: have they succeeded?

The order

I had the standard classic cheeseburger. Salad, mayo, 1/3rd lb grass-fed Australian beef patty, American cheese and a standard bun, with fries. RM16.80 or thereabouts for the privilege, with a drink. Or about £3. Certainly accessible by the standards of Malaysian high-end fast food, though a little more pricey than your Maccy D’s.

The meat of it

Whilst superficially this is good presentation, I have a few notes for fuel shack.

  1. Salad goes under the burger. It’s got to protect the bun from the meat juices.
  2. Cheese needs to be melted in. That slice of American cheese is practically solid.
  3. Easy on the mayo. More on this shortly

That said…

None of this hurts the burger too much. There’s a lovely crust from a hot griddle that gives a nice bite to the burger; the bun is soft but holds up well. There’s a saltiness from the cheese and an umami from the seasoning that reminds me – distantly, but in a good way – of the cheap (horrific) roadside Ramly burgers you get all over the country.

The cross section makes most of this clearer.

The interior of the burger is overcooked, but it’s not bad in spite of this – the meat is high quality and coarse ground, if somewhat compacted. The copious amounts of mayonnaise is applied with a kind of playdough applicator – with dozens of holes. There’s probably two full tablespoons of mayo in a single burger. Which is a lot. But it provides fake juiciness for the slightly overdone meat. The sweet/savoury balance isn’t bad, though the mayo overwhelms at times and I added a little ketchup to take the edge off. All in all, I’d say that Fuel Shack achieves its mission – this is a good burger at a reasonable price, distinct from fast-food, mainstream offerings as well as the high end offer, yet somehow something new in its own right.

As to the fries?

More or less unremarkable. Well seasoned, they cool quickly in the air conditioned environment and quickly achieve cardboard texture. That said, there’s a distinct potato flavour in there and they’re served in a sensible portion that doesn’t overwhelm. Crisp and tasty when hot, in a more potatoey- McD’s style. Completely adequate.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 4/5
Build – 2/5
Burger – 3.5/5
Taste – 3.5/5
Sides – 3/5
Value – 4/5 – £3 for burger and side, ish, is value even in local terms for what it is

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – would go again and make some customisation requests – less mayo, less overdone meat, meltier cheese, salad underneath.

The deets

There’s an outlet on the sixth floor of KLCC, in the Food Court. There may be others… check the website.

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Chillis, Bangsar Shopping Centre, KL, Malaysia

Surprisingly good, albeit messy and flawed

Burger source

Truly, we’d meant to go to Dome. At least it was semi-authentically Malaysian, rather than a local branch of the global Texan chain. But it was a Sunday evening and they were out of everything, and we wanted to go somewhere quick where our egg-allergic three year old would be able to get something she’d eat, like a hot dog. So Chillis it was.

Founded in 1975 as a casual dining, Tex-Mex themed restaurant, this place is all Americana – oversized burgers, quesadillas, hot dogs and the rest. They don’t have a presence in the UK but there are 1,500 of them around the world, including a plethora in KL and PJ.

The order

I had the Ultimate (Beef) Bacon Burger, because it’s Malaysia and they don’t serve pork in mass market casual dining restaurants in major malls for fear of alienating the majority Muslim population.

Here’s what’s in it: Double beef bacon, aged cheddar cheese, pickles, leaf lettuce, red onions, tomato, jalapeños aioli, spicy Buffalo wing sauce & Honey-Chipotle sauce.

The meat of it

Pleasingly, and somewhat unexpectedly, my waiter asked me how I’d like it done. I opted for medium, suspecting that it’d be somewhat overdone.

You can see what it looked like on arrival, and expectations were low.

There’s a curious light brown colour that looks washed out around the edges of the oversized burger (guessing 8oz). The beef bacon is heavily loaded; there’s nothing aged looking about the cheddar (it’s basically American cheese, though that’s no bad thing). The sauce is everywhere and it looks like it’s going to be MESSY.

On cross section, I’m more hopeful. The meat’s actually pink. The salad is well layered, protecting the bun. The bacon is well proportioned. The bun has a useful density to it holding it together. And most of the mess was slightly overzealous application of sauce; the fat ratio isn’t out of control.

Onto the tasting…

It’s actually not bad. Whilst the pickles are awful and have to be picked out (you can see their unhealthy faded green colour in the first picture – there are some on the side as well as some embedded in the burger), the burger itself is extremely juicy and reasonably well cooked. The crust isn’t as crisp as I’d like it to be, but with a burger this thick an over hot grill would probably result in a raw centre. The seasoning is good but not excessive and the cheese – whilst under melted – has a decent saltiness to it.

The beef bacon is disappointing in the way beef bacon always is, in that it’s not actual bacon so isn’t crisp, is overchewy, and flaps around in oversized bits when you’re trying to eat this enormous monstrosity of a burger. BUT it’s actually well seasoned and adds to the overall flavour.

The sauce is confused, but again this works in favour of the overall experience. All the umami from burger, bacon and cheese is evened out by the brioche bun and a BBQ-esque sauce. The confusion is because clearly the ‘honey-chipotle’ sauce combined with the ‘buffalo sauce’ somehow evens out as generic sweet BBQ sauce without a momentary hint of actual spice-induced heat. Not bad, just not quite what was advertised.

So, whilst it wasn’t what was billed, the overall experience was OK, if messy. The burger, cheese and bacon contrasted well with the bun and sauce, the patty itself is coarse ground, loose packed and well seasoned, and the combination more or less works. The primary failing, other than just being about 30% too big, was the lack of textural contrast within the burger – it’s all a bit mushy. The absence of real bacon, the soft crust on the meat, the horrific pickles, means that the overall experience is a bit like eating a large mush-burger. And the fact it slides all over the place meant I gave up and ate the second half with cutlery.

As to the sides, it comes with seasoned fries:

You don’t need many of these, the burger’s so large. But they’re not bad; thicker than your McD’s fry, there’s a little real potato heft to them. The dusting of salt, pepper and a little paprika (if I’m not mistaken) makes them taste interesting, with or without ketchup. There’s a reasonable crispness to them, though not quite as much as you might guess from the picture. No greasiness, no sogginess.

All in all, a pleasant surprise.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 4/5

Build – 2/5 – slippery beastt

Burger – 3/5

Taste – 3.5/5

Sides – 4/5 – I would have enjoyed these if I’d had enough appetite for them after the burger

Value – 4/5 – It’s hard to gauge if RM32.50 for the burger and fries is good value in a country where you can get a full meal in another kind of restaurant for RM5 or less, but relative to British standards, at about £6 (plus kids eat free), this is pretty good value.

Burger rating – 3/5 – I’m not itching to go back, but that’s mainly the cholesterol. The burger wasn’t bad. Amanda’s mushroom burger was apparently good too.

The deets

These restaurants are all over the place. Find your nearest (in Malaysia) on the local website here.

Gordon Ramsay Plane Food Restaurant, Terminal 5, Heathrow

Confusing, overpriced, under-seasoned, overcooked burger that doesn’t deliver

Burger source

Gordon Ramsay is, by every objective measure, a spectacular chef. Restaurants around the world, TV series and Masterclasses; even a burger specialty restaurant in Vegas.  I’ve watched both his Masterclasses and really enjoyed them. And it turns out his airport restaurant has a short-rib cheeseburger on the menu, so I thought I’d give it a try.

The order

It’s the only burger on the menu; short-rib Monterey Jack cheeseburger with chimchurri mayo, served on a brioche bun with fresh salad and pickles.

The meat of it

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The burger looks good. There seems to be a good crust on the exterior, the Jack cheese is gloriously melted, the whole thing is perfectly assembled and presented on a piece of wax paper, enclosed in a toasted, shiny brioche bun.

Things aren’t dramatically wrong in cross section, either. Yes, the burger is overcooked – not a glimmer of pink anywhere – but the salad is protecting the bun, the tomato looks bright and fresh, the pickle is fragrant and the chimcurri mayo and beef fat are oozing delightfully out the edges of the burger. The beef is coarse ground and loosely packed, so I’m holding on to hope.

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On the first bite, however, things start to go wrong.

First, despite the overcooked centre, the char on the crust isn’t as crisp and satisfying as it looked. Worse, it’s under seasoned. Even with the cheese, the salty taste barely comes through.

Then, there’s the confusion of the chimchurri. It’s a sharp, fragrant flavour – made from parsley, vinegar, olive oil and other bits. It works well in butter on a steak – but in a burger, the flavours are confusing. There’s the salt of the cheese, possibly some salt from the seasoning on the burger (but this is lost), the sugary brioche, the bright crisp sweetness of the pickle and salad… well, it’s totally confounded by the sharp, tart, creaminess – ?? – of the chimchurri mayonnaise. In breadier bites, the bun was too sweet. When eaten with a mouthful of burger and mayo and salad – you have no idea what you’re tasting. It’s utterly perplexing, and not really in a good way.

The overcooked meat starts to wear, too. The burger feels relentless – and to be fair, whilst I finished it, I just very rarely leave food. That’s my bad. I should have left it. It wasn’t good. Unlike many of my burger experiences, the combination of the good individual parts somehow lessened the total experience. I can only explain this by guessing that….

  1. I was victim of an overzealous grill chef, and it would have worked better with a juicier medium patty
  2. I think more likely, someone who doesn’t have the same view of what a good burger should taste like was responsible for creating what, for me, was a Frankenstein’s monster of a burger

It’s a shame. There was definite potential. Swap out the chimchurri mayo for garlic aioli (or maybe red onion aioli – is that a thing?), get the burger cooked to medium, a tad more salt and a tad more heat on the grill – and this would have been a fine burger indeed. As it was, I had to dose the burger with over sweet ketchup to give it some kind of flavour coherence.

Sides wise, I wasn’t hungry enough (or feeling wealthy enough) to order a portion of £5 triple cooked fries to myself, so I relied on the ages-old tradition of eating leftover food off my kids plates. Zoe and Emily both had fish and “chips” – the same triple cooked fries on the menu as a side.  So I had a couple of theirs.

And whilst they’re not bad – they have the standard thick, crisp crust of anything that’s been triple cooked, and an appropriately floury centre – they’re not chips. They’re between a quarter and a sixth of a large potato EACH. So they’re alright (if you like triple cooked potatoes), but calling them chips doesn’t make sense.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3/5 – sweet? Not sweet enough?
Build – 5/5
Burger – 2/5
Taste –  1.5/5
Sides – 3/5 – calling them triple cooked fries is misrepresentation
Value – 1/5 – £14 for the burger, a ludicrous £4.50 if I wanted to add bacon, and £5 if I’d wanted a portion of fries. Daylight robbery, even with kids eating free.

Burger rating – 1.5/5 – everything else everyone else was eating looked like it tasted better. Mind you, mine LOOKED like it should have tasted better. Maybe the whole restaurant is an exercise in form over function? Style over substance? Chimchurri over common sense?

The deets

It’s one of the main restaurants in T5. I’m sure there are others dotted around. If you go, don’t have the burger.

Prairie Fire BBQ, Mercato Metropolitano, Elephant & Castle, London

Excellent, messy, juicy double patty smash burger

Burger source

Mercato Metropolitano London is a sustainable community market; in practical terms, this means it’s a massive half in/half outdoor food court, filled with a myriad of wonderful food stalls including at least three places that serve burgers. And none of the cutlery is single use plastic, hurrah!

Prairie Fire BBQ serves ‘Kansas style BBQ’  founded in 2013 by American Expat in London Michael Gratz; his job titles include ‘founder’, ‘chef’, and ‘Pit Master.’ The philosophy is Kansas style, sauce heavy, smoked meat, or in their own words: the “…slow smoked, sauce heavy Kansas City Style is the apex of the ancient art of cooking with wood. The rub, the char, the smoke ring, the tenderness, the umami, the sauce, the smile and well used napkin define Prairie Fire and the future of European BBQ.”

The order

I have had the PFQ, their signature burger, which is: “two seasoned chuck & rib tip steak patties smashed into diced onion on flattop. Served with melty American cheese, crisp lettuce, tomato, onion & BBQ aioli.”

I had seasoned fries on the side.

The meat of it

The Mercato eating environment is a lot of fun. Noisy, half indoors, half outdoors, all smell, sounds and raucous laughter.

Food is served in paper baskets; the ordering system ‘texted’ me to collect the prepared food hot off the grill and fryer.

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It’s hard to photograph, but there was nothing bad about the appearance. That said, the incredible amounts of sauce meant it was a slippery burger, whilst perfectly stacked, had this been on a plate it would probably have collapsed in moments.

The pickle, to the side, was crisp, sweet and fresh. Very mild on vinegar, it’s a palate cleanser for the main meal.

In cross section…

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Here’s where you can see the structural limitations of the burger; the sauce is so heavy that the burger is slipping apart even as I hold it up for its glamour shot.

That said… looks aren’t everything, and on first bite you get an immediate understanding of the splendour of this burger.

The patties are thin and crisp – 2.5-3oz each, at a guess, the patty smash on a hot (though not the hottest) plate lets them char in their own fat, developing a wonderful texture and flavour – though I didn’t notice the onions they’d apparently been cooked in. Cheese is melted in on the grill, though it’s hard to detect under the BBQ aioli. The salad, too, is somewhat token, lost in the sauce. But none of this is a bad thing.

The incredible umami of the burger, with a faint hint of dry-aged, quality beef funk, is complemented perfectly by the runny sweet aioli, a mild peppery heat, and something like the memory of cheese. The salad is present but provides little more than textural background noise. The bun is soft and pliant, with a lovely crumb but thankfully little sweetness.

It’s pretty glorious, if messy, in all. My only criticism, and it’s a marginal one, is that a hotter grill would have provided even more crunch to the patties (which would have been welcome), and the aioli was just fractionally too heavily laid on.

The fries are ‘seasoned’ fries – a sweet smoked paprika, basically, heavily dusted over salted, thin cut fries. There’s nothing bad about these, though nothing exceptional either; thicker cut potatoes might have provided more natural potato flavour but it wasn’t necessary. The additional BBQ aioli they are served with was possibly a perfect condiment in the context of the meal.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 3/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 4/5
Value – 3.5/5 – £12.50 for burger and side – felt a bit toppy in a food market setting, but everything at Mercato is a little pricey.

Burger rating – 4/5 – really good patty smash option. Next time will add bacon for a bit more crunch and request they leave it on the grill a little longer than normal.

The deets

Mercato Metropolitano is a 5 minute walk from Elephant & Castle tube, and 15 minutes from my office in Southwark. Recommended for anyone in the neighbourhood. Find more info on PFQ here.

Honest Burgers, Southwark Street, London: Plant Burger review

The Beyond Burger powered Plant Burger is totes amazeballs

Burger source

I reviewed Honest Burgers a couple of years’ back and the formula hasn’t changed a great deal. But thanks to a successful trial at its home restaraunt in Kings Cross, and the relentless march of Veganism, the Plant Burger is now a staple at its restaraunts everywhere. A collaboration with Beyond Meat (a company whose tagline is ‘the future of protein’), this promised the real ‘fake burger’ experience.

The order

So that’s what we had. We’d been told it would pass a blind taste test as “real” meat and I was curious. Plus, it never hurts to eat less dead cow. So away we went: here’s what came with: a vegan burger from Beyond Meat with vegan smoked Gouda, Rubies in the Rubble Chipotle ‘Mayo’, mustard, red onion, pickles, lettuce.

But Jme ordered wings to go with it, because WINGS. Also, no buffaloes were harmed in their production.

The meat of it

There is nothing in the superficial appearance of this burger that screams ‘vegan.’ It’s really very artfully crafted. Though it doesn’t really resemble the official glamour shot, that’s standard for the industry.

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The cross section would tell more, I was sure, not least if that bun was as hard as it looked. Spoiler: it wasn’t:

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The bun gave way easily, but the salad took some slicing; a mustard heavy coating covering a thick, thick sliced bed of salad, pickle and red onion. There’s something slightly off about the bun/topping/salad ratio; the burger is smaller than you’d expect, the salad bigger. But these aren’t major offenses.

Then the taste. The texture of the burger is softer than you’d expect and you don’t make out the grind in quite the same was as with a beef burger, but the flavour is remarkable. It doesn’t have the funkiness of dry-aged beef but, in a blind test, you’d be hard-pressed to tell it wasn’t real, and I’ve tasted a LOT of burgers. That said, there’s limited discernable ‘crust’ on the burger, and it’s not quite as juicy as a medium-cooked beef patty. But the overall experience really isn’t far off.

The complimentary flavours and textures meld well; the vegan gouda doesn’t taste a lot like gouda but is a brilliant, salty, melty cheese – better than any vegan cheese I’ve ever tried and without any soy-aftertaste. We speculated – not seriously – that it might be fake-fake cheese – i.e. real. The bun is soft and plain; a good contrast to the heavily savoury burger and cheese that holds up to the mustard and salad; the beyond burger doesn’t trail fat like its meat counterparts. The heavy mustard coating on the salad is actually fine in contrast with the rest of the burger and the overall umami experience is excellent. A little relish or ketchum helps take the edge off all the salt, actually, which is slightly overdone without a mayo- or aioli-based condiment or brioche bun to take the edge off – the mustard doesn’t quite cut it.

Overall, tremendous. I see no reason why I wouldn’t have a beyond burger in place of a regular meat burger anywhere it’s on offer. This is the thing sci-fi has been missing – why would we eat Soy-Protein rubbish in space, when the future is Beyond Meat?

Sides wise…

 

The wings were great if a little mild and on the small side; excellent crunch, smooth if not-super-spicy buffalo sauce. Go heavier on the Frank’s next time! The spring onion garnish was functional as it was aesthetically pleasing.

The rosemary fries are as good as rosemary fries get. Which is to say, pretty good, although a little heavy on the, erm, rosemary for me. Crisp, full of potato flavour, well seasoned, and excellent with a dollop of ketch and mayo.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 4/5 -is its unweighted score as a burger. As a vegan burger, it’s 6/5. Best I’ve ever had. Noting that I’ve not yet tried the impossible burger and my veggie/vegan burger reppertoire has been relatively limited.
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 4/5
Value – 4/5 – £11.5 for burger and fries.

Burger rating – 4/5 – I would happily have this on any repeat visit to Honest, in place of a meat burger, and not just to be good to the environment.

The deets

Honest Burgers is prolifertaing. Find your nearest here.

Dirty Bones, Kingly Court, Carnaby Street

Decent (but pricey) mustard soaked thin patty double cheeseburger, meaty vegan burger, enormous crispy fried chicken burger and intriguing sides

Burger source
I auctioned off a guided burger tasting evening as a way of raising funds for Byte Night / Action for Children, a charity we support at work that does very worthwhile work with children in vulnerable circumstances. Naturally, it was bought by a vegan (and an omnivore).

So that meant we needed to find a burger place I hadn’t been to – so we could review it – and one that had vegan options. And actually, in #Veganuary, that wasn’t that hard.

Dirty Bones seeks to bring American comfort food, NYC style, to London. It’s the lovechild of two friends who liked what they saw in NYC and decided to bring it to London. Little about the origins of the burger, but we know it’s dry-aged steak and brisket… So let’s see…

The order
I had the “Classic” – double brisket & dry aged steak burger with American cheese, red onion, gherkins and dijonnaise on seeded brioche. Ed, our vegan, had the Vegan classic: Moving Mountains® plant-based burger with vegan cheese, red onion, gherkin and veganaise on a soft seeded bun. Saad had the free-range crispy fried chicken burger with baby gem, chipotle aioli and sweet chilli sauce on seeded brioche.

In addition, Saad and I shared the cheeseburger dumplings (housemade gyoza dumplings stuffed with burger mince and melted cheese. Served with our signature burger sauce), Ed had the Padron peppers (sprinkled with Madron salt) and a Fordham Gypsy Lager.

The meat of it
You can see this is a well plated burger.

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Pickles, thick cut red onions and an extremely healthy of dijonnaise provider a slippery base, and the well melted american cheese gloops over the two crispy 3-4oz patties. The glossy seeded bun looks solid, yet pliant.

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In cross section, a slight pinkness shows through – the Kingly Court restaurant is small, I doubt they have the space to grind and prep their own meat on site, which means they are limited on cooking the meat truly pink. And it’s not really necessary for this style of cheeseburger, so I’m not concerned. The dijonnaise is really slathered on thick; onions slide out of the base as I cut through for the cross section pic, and half the stack threatens collapse.

The first bite – is all crisp, crunch, sweet onion, and the hot rasp of mustard cutting through the sweet mayonnaise. The bun is soft, holding up well against the sauce and the burger, and – appropriately – not enriched. No need for brioche here, the dijonnaise, pickles and onion provide the sweet counterpoint. As to the meat itself? The grind is tight and packed in hard, but it is good meat, so it’s not chewy. There’s a light crust on the patty, but a hotter griddle and more seasoning would have helped this along, even if it meant a more cooked centre. The fat ratio seems slightly too low – it’s quite a lean burger and the only drippings are dijonnaise, not beef juice. But the overall impression is not bad at all; the heat from the mustard in the dijonnaise is moreish and its ample quantity makes up for the slight dryness of the meat; the bun is perfect, the cheese makes up for some of the underseasoning. It all works, albeit messily.

I have only pictures of Ed and Saad sampling the Vegan Classic and the Spicy Chicken, but I’m told they were good. In fact, Ed had to double check it was actually vegan (having been led down the garden path before), and was provided with a list of ingredients.

As to the sides? The cheesburger gyoza are just plain WEIRD.

They fail as both gyoza and cheeseburgers, but as a thing in their own right? Delicious; crisp gyoza skin, a hollow centre (where the burger meat has shrunk) and a core of slightly slimey, cheesey burger meat. Dipped in the slightly vinegar heavy, ketchup-based burger sauce (topped with spring onions and sesame seeds – a nice accent), you could eat plate after plate of these. Were it not for the £8.50 price tag…

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The fries are skin-on skinny fries. There’s nothing bad about them – but nothing inherently interesting either. Perfectly capable, well seasoned, well cooked fries.

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I really liked the Gypsy Lager. New world hops, a hint of hony-mead sweetness, all in all, a very smooth beer going down.

Monkey finger rating
Bun –  5/5
Build – 3.5/5
Burger – 3.5/5 (beef)
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 4/5 – I don’t know how to judge them but those gyoza are an experience.

Value – 3/5 – £13 for burger and fries, £8.50 for gyoza – not a cheap meal out.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – really completely capable, upper-mid table burger. With a few tweaks it could be top class; with the fries bundled it would even be good value… as it is, it’s a pricey novelty.

The deets
Dirty Bones started in West London, near Kensington, but has spread to Soho, Shoreditch, and Oxford. Find your nearest location here.

The Laughing Gravy, 154 Blackfriars Road, London

Extraordinarily tasty burger with somewhat ordinary chips and even more exceptional pud

Burger source

This is a restaraunt with really a very high calibre of food across the board. So the burger doesn’t feature centrally, and gets just modest billing on the menu. Nonetheless; I expected from the reputation the restaraunt had acquired that this would be no “pub” burger.

The order

I had the Aberdeen Angus cheese burger with hand cut chips, with added smoked bacon for an additional £2. Portobello mushrooms and fried onions were also available as an alternative topping.

No starters, though I did share a pudding with an old friend. More on the 3-way salted caramel to follow.

The meat of it

This burger tastes extraordinary. Let’s look at it a little more closely.

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You can instantly see a good crust on the meat. The bun looks sturdy – perhaps excessively so? That rather depends on the meat, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The gammon-like bacon is thick, and covered with a good amount of very melty cheddar. A small drizzle of grease has escaped the otherwise perfect plating and speaks to a juicy feast to follow.

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The grease is explained. The coarse ground meat is cooked to a perfect medium, and whilst it looks and seems dry in the first pic, you can see here that the bun only just holds up to the meat juice. The bacon portion is ludicrously generous, and there’s a little red of relish in there of some description. You can see the cheese melting off to the side, a forgotten spider web of dairy deliciousness.

On first bite, you’re overwhelmed with umani. Whislt I ordinarily don’t love non-crispy  bacon in a burger, this thick cut smoked meat adds a delicious taste on top of the already well-seasoned beef. The beef itself is high grade, aged Aberdeen Angus, with a little of the delightful funk you get with dry-aging. It’s not overpowering though; this is not a complex burger, simply a very well constructed one. The melty cheddar binds without overwhelming the burger but the overall impact is very salty; the little relish is overpowered and the burger would have benefited from a sweet contrast. Perhaps my own fault for adding bacon but not ketchup.

I ate this burger slowly; it’s very rich and deserved savouring. They’ve made something wonderful here.

To the sides; the small side salad had a sweetish dressing and was a nice, if token, gesture in the direction of health. The chips were thick-cut, chip-shop style chips and were inconsistent – some soggy, others crisp to the point of shattering. A happy medium would have delivred a better experience throughout.

The pudding, of which I have no picture I’m afraid, was extraordinary. Brownie in multiple forms, a lush salted caramel gelato, cruchy bits in a sweet caramel goo, plus gooey salt caramel and chocolate embedded in a crisp brownie. There were peanut pieces surrounding the salted caramel gelato adding both salt and crunch. Wonderful. We shared it – at £9.70 and with three different grades of indulgence scattered across a large plate, it’s best shared between two!

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste –  4.5/5 – – more relish, or some sweet pickle and this would be up there
Sides – 3/5
Value – 3.5/5 – £16 for burger and sides, ish, with added bacon, and best part of £5 for the pudding (SHARED!) – this place is definitely more £££ than ££. But it is that kind of place.

Burger rating – 4/5 – despite the price and middling chips, this is a very special burger indeed.

The deets

Just up from Southwark Tube, it was quiet on a Friday lunchtime. It’s a well kept secret indeed, but definitely deserving of wider recognition!

Coin Laundry, 70 Exmouth Market, London

A tremendous disappointment of a burger; dry, overcooked, underseasoned, under-topped

Burger source

So when looking for new burgers, I routinely Google other people’s ‘best burgers’ list and this one came up number two on Esquire.com. The review is extraordinary, the photo lush. I mean, look at it:

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I’m reminded, in a movie reference that will show my age, of Michael Douglas in Falling Down.

There is something wrong with this picture.

Regardless, this is what Coin Laundry’s website has to say about it:

“Cheeseburger, hot smoked pork belly, red onion, kohlrabi pickle, fried potatoes.” There’s no real clue as to the origin of the burger itself, other than the restaraunts own claims that it uses: “ingredients … from the best local suppliers…. Our meat and veg are organic where possible.”

So, there’s that.

The order

I was there for a birthday meal with my sister and some friends and, whilst Sheila joined me on the burger the others ordered a selection of sharing plates from the menu. I’m not going to get into the small plates except in passing; so the order was really just the burger for me. I’d asked about the potatoes; generally I’m more of a fries guy but was sold on them by the waitress: “they’re, like small roast potato chunks,” sounded good at the time.

The meat of it

So, the burger. First impressions, not positive:

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The stack is lopsided. The plate is unnecessarily small and potatoes are literally falling off the edge. They look ok, though, so I’m reserving judgement. Cross section next.

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Perhaps the clue should have come when they didn’t ask me how I wanted the burger cooked, because it’s well done (not ideal). Worse, there’s little evidence of the ‘hot pork belly’ – ample red onion, and plenty of the pickle… but the pork belly had such promise!

Down to the taste. The bun is incredibly soft and is tragically the highlight of the burger; sweet and sturdy enough for this burger. The meat? Is underseasoned; the crust is soft, there’s no tang whatsoever from the kohlrabi, you can’t taste any cheese (or much salt at all, to be honest). The grind is  coarse enough but the meat is packed in hard and the overall impression is chewy hockey-puck like. The red onion is not unpleasant but despite the lack of salt, the dryness of the burger forced me to condiments; ketchup and mayonnaise help a little. It’s just unworthy of a seeding in any ‘best burger’ ranking and belongs in the kitchen of a mediocre pub, frankly. It was sad.

The potatoes? Not as crispy as they looked. Underseasoned and hard to season (too thick; had these been cubed roasted potatoes I’d have enjoyed the variation, otherwise I should have gone with the fries option). All in all, a solid ‘meh’.

As to other things; had a fried chicken dish (soaked in a mildly spicey sauce and served with a sour cream-esque side) which was nice, tasted a rather delicious courgette fritter (think: bhaji) and enjoyed the totally ungarlicky garlic fries. They definitely can cook here, just… not a burger.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 1/5
Burger – 2/5
Taste –  2/5
Sides – 4/5 – not really sides so much as small plates of other things, but good on the whole
Value – 2/5 – £13.50 for burger and potatoes, £6-7 for the small plates. Overall the meal wasn’t expensive but it was so disappointing.

Burger rating – 2.5/5 – go for the food, beer and atmosphere. Don’t have a burger.

The deets

Coin Laundry is up on Exmouth Market and is full of charm and atmosphere; the service is friendly and most of the food is good. Just don’t order the burger. You can book online via the website.

Popsons, 998 Market Street, San Francisco

A salt-tastic melty smashburger, but not the best SFO has to offer

Burger source

Chef Adam Rosenblum, a respected chef with an number of different restaurant ventures, decided to add to the morass of upper-mid-range burger joints in town, like Super Duper burgers, with a smash burger. Ground on site, the fresh, well-seasoned patties are cooked to order;  the patties are squashed down on a hot grill, crisp up in their own fat, topped with cheese which is then melted both into the burger and the bun before assembly.

The website tells more about the burgers (fresh hormone-free beef sourced from Five dot Ranch and ground on site) and the bread (baked exclusively for Popsons by San Francisco bakery Petit Pain).

They sound and look great.

The order

I went for a double cheese burger with bacon, and a naked fries $17 with service.

The meat of it

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This is not a tidy burger. The stack is wobbling and sliding around, but really the issues there are all cosmetic. Once you pick it up and right what was lost in the assembly, the burger doesn’t suffer for it.

First bite and you’re hit with a salt explosion; the bacon was totally unnecessary as the super-salty, super-melty, super-plentiful American cheese slams your palate like a speedboat filled with salt racing through the Dead Sea. My fault for adding it but… the bacon is thick, chewy and crisp -perfect, really – and the salad, whilst fresh, is completely overwhelmed. There’s a smear of burger sauce under the patties; it drips out slowly with the excess grease from the burger. Remarkably, the petit pain bun holds up; it has a sturdiness to it, and good supporting flavour – love a seeded bun. There’s something gloriously indulgent about this.

That said… the crust on the meat was disappointing on a smash burger – it was a little soft, suspect the grill plate just wasn’t hot enough to get the real char going – and I should probably have added some ketchup to cut the salt down a little. Or Popsons could have gone for a little pickle and/or relish and/or sweeter burger sauce to bring out the flavour contrast a bit.

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The fries are fairly unremarkable; better than bog-standard McD’s frozen fries, you can taste real potato in them – but naked, the seasoning is decent if unexceptional and there’s nothing to write home about regarding the flavour. Acceptable filling, but not even a guest-star in the show. The ketchup is (unnecessarily) fancy ‘Sir Kensington’ something or other. I’d rather have had Heinz.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 3.5/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 3/5 – nothing to see here
Value – 3.5/5 – $17 with a small tip and no drink – this place is more expensive than Super Duper, a (very) nearby Smashburger alternative.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – whilst there’s no question it’s a good burger, it doesn’t quite deliver on the promise and for the money, I’d probably rather have a Super Duper burger (and a drink).

The deets

Near the junction of Market and 6th Street. You can’t miss it.

Super Duper Burgers, 721 Market Street, San Francisco

An excellent smashburger; crisp and greasy in all the right ways

Burger source

“Fresh, quality produce, meat, dairy and buns, sourced from partners located just miles from our restaurants, are the ingredients to making the perfect burger,” is the ethos of Super Duper Burgers. In practice, this means: “All our beef is Brandt Farms, humanely-raised, 100% vegetarian-fed, ground fresh daily, and sourced from a family-owned ranch.”

Fast food burgers with slow-food values, apparently. Founder Adrian Paganini feels passionately that ‘a burger shouldn’t cost $3’ and has structured the chain to offer the best combination of quality and value. This means a simple menu – few sides, few variants on the burgers – and prices in the mid-range for quality burgers. There was a queue when I popped in on a Sunday evening…

The order

I had a ‘super duper’ burger with cheese and bacon – two 4oz patties smashed and scraped off a hot griddle with a ‘sharp’ spatula. Cooked medium, you’re warned to expect grease, and the burger has the restaraunt’s proprietary ‘super sauce’ (think; lighter burger sauce) and a portion of fries. Together with a ‘fountain’ drink – unlimited refills from a soda machine – the meal came to about $16 as part of a combo order.

The meat of it

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This is a good burger; a fresh, soft bun (standard bun, non-brioche), fresh salad (red onion, lettuce, tomato), super-melty cheese and super crispy bacon, held together in paper that also holds back the grease and spillover super sauce. So far, so super.

On first bite… you get all the crisp, charred, salty wonder that you’d hope for in a smash burger – so called because patties are pressed down onto a hot griddle and crisp up as the fat melts out, and they’re then scraped off the griddle to capture all the crispy elements. The (American) cheese binds the whole thing together wonderfully and the faint hint of the super sauce in the background, alongside the tomato and lettuce, adds a slight sweetness to this glorious, greasy umami-fest.

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In cross section, you can see the glory of the smash; the melt on the cheese and the vivid freshness of the salad. The bacon is quality, thick, crispy streaky bacon. The bun has a good stability to it; it holds up to othe grease well but doesn’t interrupt the burger experience with unnecessary flavour. If anything’s wrong with this burger at all, for me, it’s on two minor counts. 1) I’d have liked more/thicker/richer/sweeter burger sauce to temper all the saltiness a tiny bit more and 2) I’d expected pinker meat in a 4oz patty smash. If they’d done the burger as a 2oz patty smash then there’s no room for pinkness in the middle; as it was I felt it was a smidge overdone. But just a smidge.

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The fries were good; well-seasoned, crisp on the outside and squidgy in the middle, and clearly made from a high grade of potato. But they need sauce, and I didn’t plump to spend the additional $1.50-2 for a variety of sauces and/or toppings. Next time I will make the investment!

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4.5/5
Build – 4.5/5
Burger – 4.5/5
Taste –  4.5/5
Sides – 4/5 -might have scored better with sauce
Value – 4/5 – $16 for a combo meal of a high grade burger in a fast food environment. Very good value for SFO but SFO is an expensive city!
Burger rating – 4.5/5 – a very, very good burger I’d be happy to have again.

The deets

Super Duper Burgers sells $30m of burgers a year around San Francisco and its environs. Find your nearest branch here.