Emmy Squared, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York

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

Burger source

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

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

The order

This was definitely a sharing meal.

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

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

The meat of it

Let’s take a look.

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

Next, the cross section.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the same category, the sides:

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

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

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 2/5

Build – 4/5 – little to fault here

Burger – 3/5

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

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

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

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

The deets

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

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

Lambs Club, 132 W 44th Street, Manhattan NYC

A fine burger; juicy, savoury, lightly overseasoned

Burger source

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

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

The order

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

The meat of it

Let’s take a closer look.

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

And the magical cross section look.

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

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

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

As to the fries.

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

Monkey finger rating

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

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

The deets

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

Yen Burger, London Bridge

A breathtaking burger experience

Burger source

Unlike many of the burgers I review here, discovered from word of mouth buzz or from other peoples’ top ten lists (or very occasionally, because I was pitched it by their PR folk), Yen Burger is a place that I just spotted, a short walk from my office, on the way to London Bridge. I was initially put off – Japan-spiced burger? What fresh hell of fascist-fusion cuisine was this? But a colleague was braver than I and passed on the recommendation when I was looking for a new local place to check out.

And so André and I decided to give it a go.

The burger’s origins start in the mind of food entrepreneur Yen Nguyen, who, apparently after success elsewhere in Germany and the UK (a Google search reveals little about her other than her association with Yen Burger), decided that the gap in London’s thriving burger scene was the Japanese twist. And so, Yen Burger was born.

Here’s the official spiel, from the website:

This brand new concept will offer premium Asian-influenced burgers. Starting with the ‘Yen Burger’ which features a 100% wagyu beef patty, fresh pickles, smoked turkey bacon, cheese and shiso leaf, it’s the ultimate fusion burger and a great introduction to Yen’s offerings. Other options include ‘The Finest Chick’ which combines coconut panko chicken breast and homemade slaw with the reviving shiso leaf and a zingy mango sauce…. Each burger is fresh made in-house from the highest quality Aberdeen Black Angus or Wagyu beef, 100% sustainable cod or vegetable alternatives.

The order

I went for the eponymous Yen Burger. 6oz of Wagyu beef, pickles, lettuce, red onion, ‘Yen sauce’, turkey bacon and shiso leaf. I don’t even know what a couple of those ingredients are, but I was excited.

We had ‘Dashi chips’ on the side (dusted with Paprika seasoning) and some chicken Gyoza because, why not?

The meat of it

Let’s take a moment to admire this.

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Ok, so it’s maybe not the most beautiful burger you’ve ever seen at this point. But let’s admire the components. Thick cut pickles. Coarse, crusty burger patty. Bright, fresh shiso and onion. Perfectly melted cheese. And this soft, white, unsweetened bun, inviting you in.

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In cross section, it becomes more special. The Yen sauce provides a sensuous coating. The meat is coarse ground, loosely packed and cooked to a perfect medium. The turkey bacon is there – subtle, but present. I coudn’t wait to taste this burger.

And OH. I was NOT disappointed. The Wagyu is so utterly, amazingly delicate it practically melts in your mouth. But not before you hit the crunch of the perfectly seasoned outer crust; the soft, plain bread providing structure but not flavour, complimenting the sweet/salty contrast of crust and rich, pink burger inner. The Yen sauce lubricates, a sweet/savoury glue. The cheese adds further umami, subtly, whilst the hint of smoke and crispiness is added by the turkey bacon; less powerful than the traditional pork variants. Additional sharp sweetness from the delicious pickles and crunch from the red onion. WOW. I had to slow myself down – I wanted to devour this and order another.

The Asian ‘spices’ – subtle. A hint of something of Japan in the background of the flavour profile. Nothing overt or tacky – this is a traditional burger with Japanese accents. Cooked to perfection, in perfect harmony with itself. Outstanding.

The dashi fries need comment. They look good, right? But seasoned fries can go wrong, I hear you say. They can be overwhelmingly flavoured and over-salted.

No, say I. Not in this case. The paprika seasoning adds flavour, sure, and these are well salted fries. But the exceptional richness of the potato flavour was unexpected – these are tasty fries – as is the perfect crisp exterior, and the soft, lush, fluffy interior. In absolutely perfect balance. Not a hint of greasiness, light, crisp and delicious. And, when the salt got a little much, Heinz came to the rescue.

The only dish that mildly disappointed was the chicken gyoza. Over-greasy from the fryer, the minced chicken within was dry and lacking in flavour. The soy sauce was strong and the balance felt out. Perhaps it was an indulgence too far.

Overall, an utterly extraordinary and unexpected experience. André reported that the Asian spiced burger was also excellent, and the £15 a head tab felt like good value for the feast (we shared Gyoza and fries between us).

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 5/5
Build – 4.5/5 – looked messy but flawless
Burger – 5/5
Taste – 5/5
Sides – 4.5/5 – docking half a point for the gyoza, but the fries were perfect
Value – 5/5 – £15 for burger and side, ish.

Burger rating – 5/5 – absolutely one of the best burgers (and fries) I’ve ever had. Would return without hesitation.

The deets

At the start of Southwark Street, just by London Bridge, you’ll find this nestled to other burger joints; Honest Burgers and Breakfast Club, as well as Borough Market’s own Roast to Go. All are within a potato’s throw of here.

But go here. In the words of Keanu Reeves, it’s breathtaking.

Wahlburgers, James Street, Covent Garden

Including Transformers: The Last Knight, this is the worst thing Mark Wahlberg has ever done

Burger source

Wahlburgers is a chain of growing notoriety. 10 seasons of reality TV, 30+ outlets in the US, a high-profile arrival in Covent Garden and of course – the Wahlberg family – made me curious. And a mixed barrage of reviews (bad from critics, more positive – it seemed – from punters) made me even moreso. Averaging four stars on Tripadvisor and Google Reviews, it surely merited investigation, yes? Not so much, it turns out. But spoilers…

The “fresh Scottish beef” is, apparently, a “signature blend of brisket, short rib and chuck.” Should be good, right? I mean, that’s some tasty cuts right there.

The order

“The brothers each have a favourite,” the menu acclaims. Well, they were all 4oz burgers and we were hungry, so we went for the 1/2 pound “O.F.D” – “Originally from Dorchestah”, featuring a 6oz patty, swiss cheese, bacon, sautéed mushrooms and a ‘housemade tomato jam.’

There were a few of us, so we tried a lot of sides – Mac & Cheese, cola wings, hummus [sic] and tortillas, sweet potato and regular fries, thin and crispy onion rings.

I drank the Wahlbrewski, an American Pale Ale served on tap.

The meat of it

The summary kind of gives it away. This is a terrible, terrible burger. A crime against burgers. Daylight robbery at £12 for the burger alone. Let’s look at it.

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Barely melted swiss cheese. The bun is cold, though inoffensive. The patty is small relative to everything else.

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In cross section: you see mealy, finely ground, tightly packed meat. The pale red tomato jam has a strange consistency. The bacon is flaccid and the mushrooms are an odd inclusion.

First bite. No seasoning. The meat tastes like its from a cow that has been unbundled from mummification prior to butchering and preparation. Dry, tasteless meat is not salvaged my limpid bacon and tasteless cheese. The bun holds up and provides sweetness and body – but that’s about all that’s redeeming about this burger.

Four of us ordered it, and none of us were willing to waste the calories to finish it. Nearly two full burgers’ worth of detritus went back. In my few years of burger reviewing, this is the first time I refused to finish the meal.

The waitstaff were extremely courteous and apologetic. They tried to explain away our dislike for the burger. “I don’t like Swiss cheese either….” The cheese was a small part of the problem. “Our meat blend is very unusual, a lot of people won’t love it, it’s the brisket…” The meat blend, in theory, is fine. Brisket is a little unusual and would have reduced the overall fat content, but shouldn’t have dried it out completely. “Try our double burger, you’ll love it.” We declined to buy any more of the horrific burgers, but in an attempt to win us round the manager brought one anyway, on the house, split five ways for us to try.

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It was marginally better, in the way that a slap to the face is better than a gutpunch. i.e. Both terrible. In practical terms, a more substantial, Big-Mac-esque burger sauce, and a more melty cheese added moisture and umami. But the meat was the same rubbery, leathery awfulness we’d experienced previously.

My first ever nul points. I would not eat this burger again if you paid me its price. Misters Wahlberg, you should be ASHAMED, to lend your family name to this horror, this caloric vacuum of flavour, this insult to burgers, to cows, to your customers.

A rapid fire set of reviews for the sides:

  • The tortilla/hummus [sic] combo was fine but uninspired. You could have been eating Doritos and Tesco houmous.
  • The Mac & Cheese – was flagrant misrepresentation in that it was neither mac nor cheese, but rather standard penne in a mild, garlicky white sauce. Most of this went uneaten.
  • The cola wings – were great. Really crisp, sweet with a hint of heat, juicy meat that fell off the bone. A highlight.
  • The fries and sweet potato fries – were fine. Well cooked, lightly seasoned, good structure and body though not really notable.
  • The fried pickles – were well fried and tasted ok – but the pickle flavour was very light. The slices are too thin and the pickles too weak to hold up to the batter and deep frying.
  • The thin and crispy onion rings – were extremely moreish. Heavily seasoned, they were salty, sweet, crispy and delicious.

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The Wahlbrewski – a light, refreshing, citrusy American Pale Ale – was really nice (to my craft-beer loving palate). A strong partnership with an American brewery, a sweetness takes the edge off the bitterness of the ale, and its light and well carbonated. A good partner for the food, such it was.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 2/5
Build – 2/5
Burger – 0/5
Taste – 0/5
Sides – 3/5 – the onion rings would get 5 on their own, the wings 4, the fries 3.5.
Value – 1/5 – £30 for burger, sides, drink and shared starters for food of this quality in that environment was just too much

Burger rating – 0/5 – all the points Wahlburgers gets – for the service, for the sides, for the beer – it loses to the appalling travesty it claims is a burger.

The deets

Please don’t go there for the burgers. But it’s opposite Covent Garden tube if you want a quiet American Pale Ale and a basket of onion rings, brilliant service and a brightly-lit fast food environment. And I’d definitely recommend it for that.

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.

Refuel @ Soho Hotel, Soho, London

Tasty but messy beef and chicken burgers

Burger source

A seasonal special, the Soho Hotel has let its chefs go wild and create their burgery delights for the Summer. Only available until 30th September! Here’s the blurb:

This August, the talented chefs at Refuel Bar & Restaurant have each created their own ultimate burger inspired by flavours from around the world.

Try Renaldo’s ‘Greek Island Paradise Burger’, a lamb burger with rosemary, lemon, oregano, feta, tomato and grilled onion with pickle and cucumber tzatziki or ‘Shannon’s Dirty Burger’, a twist on the classic created with a double beef patty, Applewood smoked cheese, golden onions, smoked bacon and topped with a blue cheese dip.  Each of the specially created summer burgers are paired with a refreshing Asahi beer.

More at the website.

We were curious and needed a new burger place to try in Soho, so thought, why not?

The order

Jimjamjebobo and I shared SAM’S EIFFEL TOWER BURGER (Buttermilk chicken, streaky bacon, caramelised onion with smoked paprika mayonnaise and crispy onion rings) and SHANNON’S DIRTY BURGER

(Double beef patty, Applewood smoked cheese, golden onions, smoked bacon, blue cheese dip). Sides of truffle Parmesan polenta chips, french fries and ‘hand cut chips’ were shared. Asahi came bundled with the burger.

The meat of it

To each burger in turn, then the sides.

Shannon, let’s talk.

I mean, what do you even call this stack? The double burgers are SIDE BY SIDe instead of on top of each other, bottoming (tomato, salad) cause the burger to slide around further, the toppings are literally falling out the side – it’s presentationally a mess. But… that bacon, onion, melty cheese, fresh salad – all looks good. What lies within?

A reasonably coarse grind but very little pink (oddly, Jimbo’s half looked better). It’s still sliding all over the place but we’re ready to taste now…

And gosh, it comes together. The meat is uncomplex but well seasoned and with a good crust. The moisture from the sweet bun, the cheese and the fresh salad makes up for the slightly overcooked burger. The cheese is extremely gooey and adds a lovely mouthfeel. The bacon is ultra-crisp streaky and adds a delightful crunch to each bite. Shannon, it may have looked a mess and been difficult to eat (at one point, I just flung the tomato out), but it was delicious. That said, I could do nothing with the blue cheese sauce. It was too thick to dip, too solid to spread, and it added nothing to the burger. It came on the side and was left on the side.

Now, for Sam’s turn.

In contrast, Sam’s stack is rather more elegant. Look at that cheese! Look at that bacon! Plated beautifully, well done. Look at that crisp breaded chicken, topped with crispy bacon… mmm…

So, to the tasting:

The chicken has a crisp, if somewhat uninspired breading – buttermilk chicken in my head has associations of the Deep South of America, but instead this is (as the name would suggest) a rather more elegant, continental breading. The meat is unbelievably moist, perfectly cooked. The cheese is a delight, gooey and luscious, binding the flavours rather beautifully. The bacon is hard to detect; it’s sparse and can’t compete with the other flavours, so was probably surplus to requirements. The burger did need the paprika mayonnaise that came on the side (it was just a bit too much salt without it) but I found that rather strong flavoured and so went without. Really a very credible effort.

As to the sides… A few to mention.

The coleslaw – which came with the burgers – was a bit too mayo-heavy for me and didn’t really add to the experience.

The pickle (aka Pickle Rick, because it was enormous and we like Rick and Morty): was great; fresh, crisp, and, well, big. Eaten on the side, I would have preferred pickle slices in the Dirty burger, I think. But I enjoyed it nonetheless.

The polenta fries… were grim. But that’s because I don’t like polenta fries. They were crisp, the Parmesan topping added a salty tang, but I don’t like truffle and I don’t like polenta. They are just a poor imitation of a thick cut chip and they should stop making them.

The regular fries… were just ok. Well seasoned but not universally crisp, and some of them were a little overcooked.

The hand cut fries… were too significant fractions of a potato for me to enjoy. Hand cut just a little bit thinner next time, I didn’t want roast potato size wedges with a burger then, and I never will.

And last, but definitely not least – the onion rings. Possibly the best onion rings I’ve ever had. A thick round of sweet onion encased in a crisp, extremely well seasoned batter. A lovely contrast of freshness and decadence. It came with Sam’s Eiffel Tower burger, so wasn’t an orderable side, but it should be.

Monkey finger rating

To each in turn…

Shannon:

Bun – 4/5
Build – 1/5
Burger – 3/5
Taste – 4/5

And Sam:

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

Sides – 3.5/5 – even the delightful onion rings can’t redeem the other chips
Value – 3.5/5 – £22.50 for burger, sides, and an Asahi.

Burger rating – 4/5 – overall, really a good experience. The Soho Hotel is a nice place to eat, there was a good vibe (even on a Tuesday), the service was great and the burgers were interesting. Try it out whilst the offer is on, and you will walk away happy and (very) full.

The deets

Just off Dean Street in Soho, look for Richmond Mews. You can book online.

Temper, Covent Garden, London

Exquisite if slightly over-complex burger

Burger source

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Temper describes itself as a ‘whole animal barbecue restaraunt in London’ – they buy animals whole, butcher them in house, and have a zero-waste policy that means fewer animals are slaughtered to provide the meat required to serve their covers every week.

Brainchild of celebrity chef Neil Rankin, I’d heard lots about how amazing this place was and was excited to go when a theatre night with my sister provided an opportunity to stop in for pre-show supper.

Little specifically is said about the burger, except of course that it comes from the same meat source as everything else.  When you walk in, the smell of fresh and aged meat is in the air – in a good way, it’s not overpowering, but its not for the faint of heart. There is a meat fridge, a wall of dry-aging meat, in the centre of the restaraunt.

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The order

A two-course pre-theatre menu for £16 got me the Temper cheeseburger (Aged beef patty, ogleshield cheese, pickles, salami) and dorito fried fish tacos as a starter. We shared fries (an extra £4) whilst Sheila had the burger too.

Allergies, and our ability to cope with the burger cooked medium rare, were checked. Excitement.

The meat of it

This burger is beautiful. I mean, look at it.

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The plating and construction is absolutely flawless. Perfect structure, clean plate, wonderfully melty cheese, elegance in the toppings, nothing in excess, nothing out of proportion. It looks great, though I was briefly worried that the bun might be over-toasted.

Then the cross section.

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Again, little to worry about here. Perfect medium rare, bun holding up to the juices, somewhat protected by the salad, uinform thin layer of pickle, cheese and salami. The dry-aged beef is less pink than fresh beef, and less juicy, leading to less mess and a different aroma – the soft funk of aged meat.

Then to the taste…

Wow. This burger is perfectly constructed. The bun wasn’t overtoasted, it was just right to hold up to the burger sauces and juice. The mustard and burger sauce perfectly compliment the meat – which, as you can see is coarse ground, loosely packed and perfectly cooked. The crust on the patty is good – a healthy sear – and the seasoning is excellent. The pickles are sweet and crisp and the cheese lends a wonderful umami and texture to the bite (I didn’t know what Ogleshield cheese was but do now – melty, brined cheese from the West Country). The salami is hard to detect, though, adding little texture or flavour next to everything else. And the one challenge eating the burger is that it slides around the bun a little – not sure why as the build looked perfect. Perhaps the layers of mustard and burger sauce on each bun? Or the sheer heft of the patty.

The dry-aged beef, however, is probably not to everyone’s taste. I enjoyed it but found it very hard to benchmark against my other favourite burgers (things like Bleecker, Dip & Flip, Lucky Chip & others). The dry-aging means the meat is less juicy than another medium rare burger – indeed, there are few drippings whilst eating this burger at all. But critically, the funk of dry-aged meat is prevalent. And whilst it is absolutely enjoyable, it makes the whole thing feel a little ‘fancy’ and complex, and imagine not everyone will enjoy the experience equally. It does fit Temper’s profile as a high-end barbecue restaraunt perfectly, and I would certainly have it again with no hesitation. Although I do want to try their pizzas next time…

As to the sides…

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The fries are pretty much perfect. Perfectly crisp, not greasy in any way, not too thick but not too thin (crispy on the outside and squidgy in the middle, much like Armadillos) and very well seasoned. Great on their own or with ketchup and mayo.

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The Dorito fish tacos looked pretty amazing… but were a little disappointing. There’s good crunch to the ‘breading’ (dorito-ing?) but nothing that screams the savoury goodness of Doritos. There’s too much fish – the ratios in the tacos are off – so you lose the sauce, chilli, lime, even the taco – which disappears behind a substantial wall, soft white fish. That said, it’s perfectly cooked and you get hints of brilliance against the background of protein-stodge; a flash of heat from the chilli, creaminess from sauce, and bright clean sharpness from the lime.

A fantastic experience, if some of it was a bit unfamiliar and some things a little off. Temper is on the list of favourite places to go.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4.5/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 4.5/5 – subjective docking of half a point because I’m not sure how I feel about aged meat burgers
Taste –  4.5/5
Sides – 5/5 – really just scoring the fries here. The Fish tacos were technically a starter.
Value – 4/5 – £16 for burger and fries is toppy, but worth it.

Burger rating – 4.5/5 – really very good

The deets

Temper has three locations now, in Covent Garden, the City and Soho. Go, go soon, take your friends. I’m very tempted by the mid-week all-you-can-eat-pizza-and-wine-for-£20 combo.

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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.

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.