Mac & Wild, Great Titchfield Street, Fitzrovia

 

Intriguing but ultimately unsatisfying venison & beef burger

Burger source

Hailed as home to one of the best burgers of London (in fact, winning that accolade last year from one of the various awards bodies who judge such things), the Scottish-themed steak and burger restaurant serves up a ‘Veni-Moo’ burger – a venison patty on top of a beef patty. Whilst I (surprisingly) don’t always subscribe to the notion that more meats = better (unless one of those meats is bacon, which categorically improves everything), I was curious, and we headed down for our irregular burger meet-up.

The order

The Veni-Moo burger is topped with bearnaise, cheese and caramelised onions on a brioche bun. We added Portmahock candied bacon (all around, except for Matt, who is clearly an inferior human being). We sampled the haggis pos with ‘red jon’ for a starter, and massively over-ordered sides – fries, wilderness fries (served with pork and BBQ sauce), onion rings and even a mac & cheese turned up.

The meat of it

So, in chronological order.

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The panko breaded haggis pops were crispy on the outside and haggisy on the inside. I’m not a Haggis fan, so whilst the crispy crunchiness was pleasant enough, the Offaly funk was not to my liking. The ‘red jon’ sauce they came with was great, though, a sweet, slightly vinegary BBQ sauce variant.

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Hard to see in the low lighting, but these burgers are well done. And not in a good way. NOte the relative lack of meat jus!

The burger, the main event. Looked great… but was ultimately underwhelming. The meats were both overcooked and under seasoned, and whilst the beef burger by itself might have held up, the venison was dryer, less flavoursome, and – on balance – completely unnecessary. The bacon – which looked amazing – could have done with a little more crispness, and still didn’t contribute enough salty crunch to make up for the lack of flavour elsewhere. The bun lacked the normal sweetness of brioche and was too chewy for the burgers (probably wouldn’t have been if the burgers had been cooked medium instead of well done, but there it was). So ultimately the overall flavour experience was, well, somewhat bland. Not bad, just not great, and certainly not living up to the hype.

The sides were mixed bag. The fries were solid – again slightly under seasoned, but high quality potatoes, well fried, crisp on the outside and squidgy in the middle. Perfect. The onion rings, on the other hand, were some of the most deceptively mediocre onion rings I’ve had – beautifully coated and fried… but lacking any seasoning or somehow even the natural sweetness of onion, it was just like eating fried, flavourless, batter. Which is a  bit like eating crispy grease. So, yeah, not good. The wildenerness fries, however, were AMAZING. I’m not a fan of chilli fries because chilli tends to make everything soggy… but the BBQ pork here just added a sweet, chewy, porky chewiness to crispy, crunchy on the outside-squidgy-on-the-inside chips. Outstanding.

We had puddings too (sorry no pic); I had most of a sticky-toffee-pudding with ice cream which was amongst the best I’ve ever had. Nima ordered a millionaire’s shortbread ‘mess’, which was apparently great also.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3.5/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 3/5
Taste –  3/5
Sides – 4/5 – would be higher if not for the woeful onion rings
Value – 4/5 – £34 a head for burger, starters, ample sides, and 2x drinks apiece seemed fair if not cheap.

Burger rating – 3/5 –  as much as I loved the sides and pudding, I’m just not in a hurry to have another one of these burgers, so can’t justify a higher rating.

The deets

Locations on Great Tictchfield Street and Devonshire Square. Find out more, and book here.

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Bottle of Sauce, Ambrose Street, Cheltenham

One of the best burgers in Britain

Burger source

A group of friends were going away for a weekend; naturally, with me as one of them, we googled for the best burgers in town. And Google told us about the Bottle of Sauce. Just over a year old, the pub/restaurant is clearly gaining a cult following – it was packed, with everyone from people on dates to large groups of friends who had it pegged as the perfect location to start their night out.

There’s not much information about the pub, or the ‘Dodo family’ it’s part of on its website, but the parent site tells us that it is part of a small independent chain of social-centric pubs called the Dodo Pub company. Founded 8 years ago, the owners seem to be on a mission to reinvent dilapidated pubs as community hubs, with great food and booze:

Our mission is to set up unique neighbourhood pubs for local communities, all the while continuing to develop our interest in good food, good drink and good design and sharing this passion with our wonderful and loyal customers.

They are onto something good… with their burgers made from dry-aged prime cuts of beef, ground in-house and served pink by default and… well, wait for the meat of it.

The order

Simples – we’d already been out for a few hours, so couldn’t deal with overcomplicated ordering. 6 ‘Big D’ burgers, 5 fries, 3 portions of buffalo wings and one portion of buffalo fries between the six of us. The Big D burger has a seeded bun, the beef, crispy bacon, cheddar, dodo burger mayo, caramelised onions, lettuce. Simples.

The meat of it

HOLY CRAP. This was unexpected. We’re in a pub in Cheltenham, but somehow the medium rare bite of this burger is one of the best balanced, juiciest and, frankly, most gloriously sumptuous burger eating experiences of my life.

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I’ll wind back. Delivering burgers on a tray as they did mean the presentation impact isn’t about an elegant plate but more a ‘wall of meat’ experience. It was an imposing delivery; we weren’t complaining. The stack was fine – no issues with construction, though the juiciness of the meat was combining with dodo sauce to drip onto the tray. A good sign, on reflection. The bacon, two long, crisp strips of perfectly flat, is arranged in a cross hatch. The rest of the toppings are underneath the burger. The bun is seeded, non-brioche.

And the taste…. Whilst, being extremely critical, I would argue that the patties could have done with marginally more seasoning, this is some of the finest meat I’ve ever had in a burger. Coarse ground, loose packed, perfectly pink and with a high fat ratio (I’d guess 70/30), melty cheese and crisp, crunchy bacon, every mouthful is a delight. The caramelised onions and salad, melded seamlessly in with the dodo sauce, provide a sweet counterpoint, and the sturdy seeded bun holds up admirably. I practically inhaled the burger.

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The sides; the fries (Rosemary sea salt fries, sorry!) are crisp on the outside, squidgy on the inside. Thicker than regular fries, I won’t pretend I noticed the rosemary taste (milder than Honest Burger’s take on this), but really very well done. The Buffalo fries were extraordinary; unlike chilli fries the buffalo sauce doesn’t make them too soggy, but the slick, spicy tang of buffalo sauce melded beautifully with those near-perfect fries.

The wings were good too – nothing extraordinary, I’d have liked a bit more crunch to them under the sauce, but the sauce was perfect, and the blue-cheese dip was fine too. The chicken was high quality, juicy but not too fatty, and perfectly cooked.

Wow. Go to Cheltenham *just* so you can spend a few hours in this pub. As a bonus, the atmosphere was jumping, the staff were friendly, and the drinks (we had a house Bourbon cocktail) weren’t bad at all.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  5/5 – held up admirably
Build – 5/5 – beautifully constructed
Burger – 5/5 – possibly tied with Dip & Flip and marginally ahead of Bleecker Street  my mind
Taste –  5/5 – better than the some of its parts
Sides – 4.5/5 – buffalo fries FTW!
Value – 4/5 – Sides are pricey but good, cocktails are cheap, burgers are average by London standards.  But it’s probably expensive for Cheltenham – about £25 for burger, sides and a drink a piece

Burger rating – 5/5 – Just amazing.

The deets

Ambrose Street is fairly central in Cheltenham. If you’re a group of more than 8 people, you can book a table, otherwise just turn up. We got there around 8pm on a Saturday and had little problem finding a space (though we were sat in the outdoor courtyard area). Book your trip now!

Foxlow, 69-73 St John Street, Clerkenwell

Simple, great value, delicious burger from the founders of Hawksmoor.

Burger source

The founders of Hawksmoor were clearly up for another challenge, and the Foxlow chain of independent restaurants is the result. As with many modern British eateries, the focus is on high quality local produce, cooked simply but well, to serve a range of tastes – from the healthy to the indulgent. We went there after an evening of pool, so guess where we ended up on that scale?

The order

Tuesday night is ‘BYO’ night, so I ordered the menu’s sole burger (cheese and bacon, nice) (CHECK). It came with a side of french fries, and my colleague Tim furnished us with a bottle of red from a nearby Tesco (the local Sainsbury’s stops serving alcohol at 8pm due to its proximity to Fabric, which was interesting, if weird).

The meat of it

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Like Beef & Brew, the burgers here are bought in and not ground on site, so again they would serve it medium at best… fortunately, its best was pretty good – a good, broad band of pink ran through the cross section of the ~6oz burger on arrival.  Again like Beef & Brew, it is a slightly dry burger, with perhaps slightly too heavy a bread ratio… however…

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It is brilliantly seasoned, with a wonderfully crisp exterior and a soft, rich centre. The meat’s excellent quality (dry-aged rib) and melded perfectly with toppings (melty Ogleshield cheese plus salad) to give a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts. The fresh vegetables add some moisture – unusually for me, I left the tomato in – and the fresh, sour tang of the pickles added another fresh, crisp component to the bite. The salt/sweet contrast is just right, with the brioche and veg taking the edge off the salty burger, even without relish or sauce.

The fries were extraordinary – crisp on the outside, with a soft (not a hollow) centre, richly seasoned with salt and pepper. Utterly delicious.

For £12, this is extraordinary value.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 4.5/5
Taste –  4.5/5
Sides – 5/5 – pepper ftw

Value – 5/5 – £12 for burger and fries! A steak frites option was also on the menu at the same price!? How are these the Hawksmoor guys, who charge £17 for a not very good burger

Burger rating – 4.5/5 – if they’d ground this on site and perhaps had a slightly higher fat ratio, this would have been princely.

The deets

There are four Foxlow’s across London, this one is a few minutes from Farringdon tube station on St John Street; it’s an excellent location for meateries, given its proximity to Smithfields Market. Find a local one and try it out, especially if you’re having an unusually large Tuesday night out.

Beef & Brew, 323 Kentish Town Road

OK burger, interesting sides.

Burger source

Beef and Brew tells you little about itself on its website (in fact, the site was down when I visited, though it has since returned). But the concept is simple; a small, cosy North London eatery featuring copious amounts of meats and beer. The burger lacks ceremony in its description but is unusual in that it is served with bearnaise rather than cheese, but also with bacon.

The order

The only burger on the menu, without the optional cheese. I was curious about the bearnaise. Sides-wise, we went for wedges and gnocchi to share. I had an old fashioned to drink, give as I’m not a beer-fan.

The meat of it

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The burgers are bought-in, not ground on site, so arrive medium well. Which is a shame, as the well-constructed burger carries a decent complement of savoury-ness, a good bite, a well-balanced ratio of meat/bread/cheese. That said, it is slightly dry (a medium rare finish might have helped that), and the fat ratio was perhaps a little light.

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The bearnaise added savouriness but not as much moisture as you’d expect, and the layer of salad was fresh and crisp. The bun was too sturdy for a dry burger and lent a bit more starchiness to it all than I’d like. The meat was good but perhaps slightly too lightly seasoned for my liking (go to TOWN with that salt and pepper, y’all); wherever they bought the burgers in from, freshness/fat ratio notwithstanding, knows their meat; it had a richness to the flavour that’s common with dry-aged beef. The tomato jam provides the right amount of sweet contrast to the rest of the burger.

The overall impression is solid, if not extraordinary. Room to improve!

The sides… whilst I’m not a huge fan of wedges (give me fries any day), the creamy potato-ness of these, coupled with a crisp exterior and healthy seasoning, makes them a worthwhile order. The Gnocchi, however, was extraordinary – like the richest, smoothest Mac & Cheese you’ll ever have, but with a delightfully substantial bite to it. And I don’t even particularly like Mac & cheese, generally finding it a bland and bloaty accompiment to my favourite meat fests, so the fact I liked this is saying something.

The Old Fashioned was well constructed – the right balance of sweetness to bourbon with a zesty citrus finish and a hint of bitters.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 3.5/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 4/5 – the gnocchi is good
Value – 3.5/5 – £25 for burger and sides, including the cocktail. Even without the drink, the cost of the sides – £3.50 for wedges and £5 for the gnocchi seems a little steep.

Burger rating – 4/5 – I considered knocking it down a half point more for the low ‘value’ score, but the truth is, it’s a nice place to sit and it’s a burger I’d have again, so kudos to you, Beef & Brew.

The deets

Head left out of Kentish Town tube, and it’s across the road, a few tens of metres away. You can’t miss it. We didn’t book (it was a Monday night) but it’s probably a good idea to do so, via the website or on 020 7998 1511.

Bodean’s BBQ, 10 Poland Street, Soho

Competent, if unexceptional, burger

Burger source

Privately held Bodean’s was founded by Canadian Andre Blais, who, mysteriously, had a dream of bringing Kansas city style BBQ to London. An obvious dream for a Canadian, some might say, whilst others wonder what that’s all aboot, eh? Regardless, the arrival of Bodean’s at its first site on Poland Street in 2002 was a watershed moment for American food in London, one that I remember rejoicing in at the time. It’s where I was introduced to pulled pork, ribs and burnt ends in a more significant way, and its chipotle buttered steak was something I was very fond of. Whilst I’ve not always had a consistent experience there in the fifteen years since it launched, I was curious as to what its burger had to offer. And the burger’s description isn’t overly complicated: “100% Prime Beef Burger Topped with Tomato, Lettuce, Red Onions and Pickles on a Toasted Sesame Seed Bun. Served with Fries.”

Alrighty then.

The order

I just ordered the burger, but topped it with Monterey Jack cheese and streaky bacon.

The meat of it

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On arrival, the scale of this burger took a while to process. There’s too much salad – a thick slice of tomato and lettuce was too much for the stack, so were duly extracted and consumed (fresh, crisp, sweet). The remaining burger, an 8oz behemoth, was topped with well melted-jack, slightly underdone bacon for my taste (chewy, not crispy) and crisp red onions and pickles. The sesame bun is not a brioche, a novelty these days, and the sauces need to be applied yourself – a basket of BBQ sauces, ketchup and mustard adorns every table.

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The cross section shot shows a slightly over medium finish (they wouldn’t do it medium rare for me). As such, the burger’s a little dry and overpacked for my liking, but extremely well seasoned, which leads to umami-filled mouthfuls. Sauceless, this burger is too dry and too salty – in the absence of a relish, some appropriately applied hickory-smoked BBQ sauce took the edge off it. Ironically, a brioche would have actually served a purpose here. But the sauce wasn’t bad and balanced the burger out. The cheese and bacon may have been what took the saltiness over the edge, though despite being slightly chewy the latter was at least a welcome contrast to the meat and cheese.

The fries looked crisp but were underseasoned and undercooked, which was a bit disappointing. That was it for sides for me. To drink, I had a Maple Syrup old fashioned, which they made with Jim Beam.

I really don’t like Jim Beam. It’s a sorry excuse for a bourbon.

On balance, the overall experience was fine, if somewhat unremarkable. I think the next time I go to a smokehouse, I’ll have to accept the possibility that the ribs and the pulled pork is what I should be going for.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3.5/5 – not a bad bun, but not well suited to the burger. Possibly my fault for salty toppings
Build – 3.5/5 – too big! No sauce!
Burger – 3.5/5 – been better with a coarser grind, looser pack and slightly smaller patty
Taste –  3.5/5 – fine, not extraordinary
Sides – 2/5 – fries were unexciting
Value – 2.5/5 – £15 for burger, two toppings and fries. Honest gives you a better version of the same thing for £10.95.

Burger rating – 3/5 – don’t go to Bodean’s for the burger – get the ribs.

The deets

Poland Street, but in seven other spots across London.  Locations via the website. Drink at the Blind Pig and go singing at Lucky Voice after, though, it’s probably my favourite bit of street in Soho!

Byron Waterloo, 41-45 The Cut, Southwark

Byron started the gourmet burger revolution for me. Does it live up to my memory of it?

Burger source

Byron was founded by Tom Byng, who, according to its website, spent many a night in the US eating burgers he couldn’t find in the London of 2007… and so he set up. In my mind, this man, and this chain (now owned by a private equity firm with upwards of 60 locations Nationwide) kick-started the burger renaissance London is currently undergoing and showed GBK – then the only ones with a claim to the gourmet burger – that it had no idea what it was doing.*  In my memory, their ‘pure cuts of British beef’ were always cooked to a perfect medium, delivered with super-melty cheese in a soft brioche, and were just plain delicious. They even have their own cheese for extra meltiness – Freddar, a cheddar hybrid named after one of their chefs!

 

*mind you, I haven’t been to a GBK in years!

The order

We were there for a work related do, so shared a variety of starters (buffalo wings, nuggets served with BBQ sauce and nachos topped with sour cream, salsa, guac and melted cheese) and sides (fries, courgette fries). For my burger, I went for the B-Rex, medium rare (more common now than I thought it was in London!) – which is a bacon cheese burger with jalapenos, pickles, onion rings, BBQ sauce and mayonnaise. What’s there not to love?

The meat of it

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The burger looked perfect. I mean, look at it! A perfect stack, layered up as you’d expect it. The patty looked a bit tooperfect, holding together in a slightly suspicious way and I feared it might have been overcooked…

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…but look at that cross section! A perfect medium rare! Strong melt to the cheese, brioche holding up admirably against the sauces and one would assume burger juice.

Then a bite. The meat’s slightly underseasoned, or at least struggling to cope with the sweetness of BBQ sauce, onion and brioche. It’s also slightly low on the fat ratio (I’d guess an 80/20 lean/fat at best), which means it’s not as juicy as you’d hope. The grind is good, though, the texture melt-in-your-mouth perfect, the cheese glorious, the japalenos and pickles a sweet, crisp counterpoint to the crunchy onion ring. The bacon gets somewhat lost in all of this, but it’s adding salt to the hot sweet mess of this burger, so isn’t without purpose. The jalapenos are reasonably non-descript, adding the faintest hint of heat. Unfortunately… whilst all these elements are coming together well, the overall balance of this burger is a bit off – too much sweetness, not enough umami. Add to this the fact that the beef is just fine – unexceptional if good quality ground beef – and there’s no longer any specialness about this Byron burger. A serviceable output of a decent chain… but little to write home about.

As to the sides…

  • The wings are good. On the mild side of standard buffalo, suspect either they weren’t using Frank’s hot sauce but some poor imitator, or overdid the butter. Crisp and tender, though, and not bad for London.
  • The fries were fine – a small portion for the money (£3 for a portion about the same size as a small fries at McD’s), crisp french-fry style, well-seasoned.
  • The courgette fries are great – sweet, crispy and salty all in one go. Don’t even pretend they’re healthy, but they are delicious!
  • The chicken nuggets and nachos – meh. Chain fayre, nothing exceptional, except for the BBQ sauce which seems eccentric and different to standard, mostly in a good way.

Drinks-wise I was having Woodford reserve off its decent bourbon list. Burgers and bourbon – a killer combination. Or you can have craft beer if you prefer…

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 4.5/5
Burger – 3.5/5
Taste –  3.5/5
Sides – 4/5 – courgette fries bump it up half a point
Value – 3.5/5 – £9, £3 sides, expensive drinks… a little overpriced for standard fayre.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – it’s either gone downhill to ‘average’ or I’ve been spoiled by everything else that’s cropped up since 2007!

The deets

Everywhere in London (and some beyond), but this particular one was on the Cut, which runs from Southwark to Waterloo. Nearer the Southwark end. Find your own here.

Marks Bar @ Hixter Bankside, Great Guildford Street, London SE1

Sumptuous, meaty glory

Burger source

The “rib steak” burger (it’s rib-eye cut, according to Wikipedia, unless Mr Hix puts ground up bone in there) and fries announces itself with little ceremony on the menu. Mark Hix’s reputation as a chef and restaurateur promised an ‘upscale’ experience, but I really didn’t know what to expect.

The order

So, eating with the effervescent Mr Sullivan is an experience as, whilst we were offered blue cheese and bacon as toppings, once he established that customisation was possible, a world of opportunity was unlocked. Namely; the option of mushrooms and of regular cheddar. I went for the latter and bacon, and we ordered some sides to top up the table – onion rings, chicken popcorn and chicken skins. Just to see! And of course the burger came with fries. As a surprising bonus, our waiter allowed us to order the burgers medium rare (often disallowed in London, presumably for food safety reasons), so that was exciting.

The meat of it

So this burger doesn’t look that special on arrival. I mean, it looked good, but not extraordinary.

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A single slice of back bacon (surprising in itself – usually streaky’s the choice for burgers) resting on well melted cheese, resting on the 6oz patty… whilst all veg and burger sauce lies deconstructed around it… some assembly required. In some ways I can understand this – I immediately dispensed with the tomato, it has no place in my burgers – whilst Craig left the red onion to one side, a judgement call I understand but don’t agree with.

Anyway, some light assembly later, tomato-based burger relish, onion and pickles manually inserted and bun topped, I went for the cross section.

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Wow. Look at that pinkness. The meat was practically melting just after the cut. The bun – which looked somewhat dry from a distance – is necessarily sturdy to withstand the juicyness of the meat.

And then the taste. Funky, meaty, juicy… melty texture… the crunch of the bacon was totally unexpected from back bacon, the crisp sweetness of the pickle a delightful contrast and even the tomato relish added to the overall gestalt. The bun withstood the onslaught of flavour and provided the necessary starchy contrast and you tasted the high quality beef with every mouthful as there was clearly some restraint in the burger’s seasoning – no doubt for this very reason. This is one of the best burgers in London, without a shadow of a doubt.

The sides – well, the fries were outstanding if conventional french fries. The dipping sauces – some kind of parsley aioli, a rich curry sauce and ketchup – helped cut the edge of the generous salting they’d had. The chicken skins – like ‘healthy’ pork scratchings, provided a delightful savoury crunch. The onion rings were a revelation; seasoned, crispy, spicy, flecked with pepper and running spicy and sweet as the seasonings contrasted with the natural flavour of the onion. The only disappointment is that “chicken popcorn” was, in fact, chicken flavoured popcorn… not popcorn-shaped chicken, as we’d mistakenly assumed. I didn’t even try it in protest at my own folly.

Oh and Craig and The Bond wanted mushrooms… they were special; garlicky, buttery, sweet and savoury.

Drinks wise – was mostly consuming Hixter’s Old Fashioneds. They were outstanding, and served with a hefty single block of ice to help them linger.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4.5/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 4.5/5
Taste –  5/5
Sides – 4.5/5
Value – 4/5 – £14.95 for the burger and fries, £10 for three sides  for the burger plus a share of delivery.  So it’s not a cheap burger.

Burger rating – 5/5 – the whole is really greater than the sum of its parts at Hixter. This is a very special burger indeed.

The deets

Marks Bar is in the basement of Hixter Bankside, tucked away on Great Guildford street just by Southwark Street. Lovely ambiance and home to a rather eccentric bar billiards game we utterly failed to understand despite quite clear instructions on how to play. Find it here.

Roast to Go, Borough Market, London

Amazing crust, juicy middle, delicious burger sauce. Simple burger well executed.

Burger source

The takeaway service of the very famous Borough Market institution, Roast, has a lot to live up to. I’ve not heard anyone experience Roast without singing its praises, though I’m yet to sample its wares in person… I will need to add it to the list. But, thanks to Uber Eats, it was an extremely efficient delivery option for a work burger lunch. The menu’s extremely limited, but Roast’s conceit is fine meat, finely prepared, finely cooked.

The order

The ‘Borough burger’ features a 30% fat 6oz meat patty, melted cheese, thick sliced pickle, tomato, lettuce and red onion on a semi-brioche bun.

The meat of it

Even delivered, this is a solid burger. Robust, yet somehow soft and inviting – a set of adjectives that only really makes sense when you’ve spent as much time thinking about burgers as I have.

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And on first bite – wow. A crisp shell on the patty gives way to a juicy, perfectly medium patty; still inviting after the journey over on the bike, but not threatening the bun at all with dripping – this is not a messy burger.

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The seasoning is savoury and inviting, the pickle sharp, sweet and a marvellous textural contrast. The salad accoutrements are a perfect, fresh complement to the savoury sensation the rest of the burger, and the semi-brioche adds a pliant hint of sweetness, not overwhelming, but holding the stack together perfectly. The burger sauce, largely mayonnaise, though clearly heavily accentuated, was sweet/salty perfection. It took an act of will not to eat this faster.

My only criticism – and it is hunting for flaws – is that the burger could possibly have been even juicier. But I suspect this is a factor of it being a takeaway rather than a flaw in the preparation.

I spotted that the recipe for this burger was in the wild as part of the promo for the Roast cookbook, so try to make it at home if you’re so inclined.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4.5/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 4.5/5
Taste –  4.5/5
Sides – n/a
Value – 4.5/5 – £8.50  for the burger plus a share of delivery.

Burger rating – 4.5/5 – there’s really very little to fault in this marvellous burger specimen. I want to have it again in the restaurant!

The deets

Roast 2 Go is available via Uber Eats and Deliveroo in SE1, or pop down to Borough Market – The Floral Hall, Stoney Street,  London SE1 1TL.

All Star Lanes, Brick Lane, London

An underwhelming, overpriced burger

Burger source

The premise of the All Star Lanes experience is high-end bowling and American food & drink. It delivers on the bowling, and of course the drink side – its bourbon and US beer selection is pretty good for London. How does it fare on the food side of things? Well, the burger section of the menu at least is reasonably extensive. Not only do “bun” options include pulled pork, sliders and hot dogs, but the main burger options are interesting and the topping options are plentiful – everything from Monterey Jack cheese and treacle-cured bacon to chargrilled lobster tail, fried buttermilk chicken, kimchikraut, duck fried egg and many more. Including (for £6), a Wagyu beef patty being swapped in for the regular one.

The burger itself involves a patty made of “6oz steak and rib cap patty”, toasted brioche, lettuce, tomato, red onion, mayo, smoked tomato and mayo relish. So far, so good, right?

The order

I was rather excited about the food, so I went for the “King Pin” – a Classic burger with Monterey Jack and treacle cured bacon… but swapped out the regular patty for a Wagyu one! The burger came with fries… and naturally for a drink, it was an old fashioned – made with Woodford Reserve. I started with popcorn squid…

The meat of it

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The popcorn squid was served in an American style Chinese takeaway box with chopsticks and some tangy mayo. It was deep fried, and – with a squeeze of lemon and the mayo – utterly delicious. Crisp and tasty.

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The burger looked and smelled amazing – the classic funk of dry-aged Wagyu on a perfect stack; crisp lettuce, sweet tomato, perfectly melty jack on the patty and topped with stiff bacon with the promise of crisp crunch. Even the brioche was perfect.

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But the cross section began to reveal some flaws. The burger was overcooked -well done instead of the medium necessary for a juicy mouthfeel. The meat was overpacked – and, on tasting, slightly chewy in texture. It was also – to my palate – slightly underseasoned, and the Jack was mild to the point of flavourlessness. The bacon was chewy rather than crispy, and the relish and bun together were too sweet – a mustard mayo or garlic aioli would have been a better contrast.  Don’t get me wrong, the whole was greater than the sum of its parts (thankfully) and the burger was fine on the whole. But it was not worth the premium cost (£18!), nor one of the better examples of a gourmet burger in London.

The fries were straight out disappointing – cold at point of delivery, slightly underfried. Well-seasoned, and good quality potato, but not really worth the eating. They were mostly abandoned, a rarity for me.

To be fair – we were a party of 18 people , so it’s possible it was just too much to handle, and the food is better at its best.

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The drink… whilst my main tipple for the evening was a very fine, unfussy Old Fashioned – whilst we ate, as we were having a set meal – I had a rather more eccentric cocktail with the meal. The “Apple-ation” – “Jack Daniel’s No.7, Jack Daniel’s Honey, Maraschino liqueur, honey, apple juice and orange bitters. Served smoked for a BBQ taste.” This taught me a number of things – 1) I’m unimpressed by drinks turning up in a smoking jar, ready for self assembly, 2) Jack Daniel’s honey is horrific 3) this cocktail shouldn’t be drunk by anyone. It really tasted *bad*.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 4.5/5
Burger – 2.5/5
Taste –  3/5
Sides – 3.5/5 – boosted by squid, hit by fries
Value – 2/5 – £18  for the burger and fries! – plus the squid! Too much money.

Burger rating – 2.5/5 – for what sounded and looked like such a GREAT burger, I’m sadly not in a hurry to sample another All Star Lanes burger. Don’t get me wrong – I probably will, especially if I go as part of a smaller group – but it was disappointing to say the least.

The deets

There are All Star Lanes around London and in Manchester now too… this one was at 95 Brick Lane, London, E1 6QL, or on 020 7426 9200 if you prefer that sort of thing. Definitely book for bowling.

Kua Aina, Carnaby Street, London

Juicy, lava-stone grilled deliciousness.

Burger source

“Legendary lava-grilled juicy hand-pressed 100% premium beef burgers since 1975,” and “a favourite of President Barack Obama.” They literally had to say no more, but they did:

“Our burgers are 100% beef, fresh from our butcher in Devon, made to our recipe from premium cuts of rib and hand-pressed in two sizes.  They contain no fillers, rusk or preservatives. We season our burgers and sandwich fillings with our homemade marinades and seasonings and cook everything to your order on our hot lava grills. Our semi-brioche seeded buns and artisan breads are freshly baked for us by a Michelin-starred chef seven days a week.”

And the story is fascinating: “Kua ‘Aina, or “Koo-a eye-na”, means “back country”, but is more often used to describe a country bumpkin in Hawaii. For native Hawaiians it can mean those who actively live Hawaiian culture and keep the spirit of the land alive.”

I was excited, and glad that it’s round the corner from Tom & Chris’ office, which made it convenient for a lunchtime burger.

The order

There was a lot on offer; I went for a near-standard cheese and bacon burger, unusual in that it  was served with a thick slice of grilled onion alongside the lettuce, tomato, burger, cheese and mayo, served on a seeded demi-brioche roll. It was offered in 1/3rd and 1/2 lb sizes; I went for the former – it was lunchtime – with a side of fries. In retrospect (next time!) I will try the huli-huli burger – a spice blend that sounded interesting and perhaps a little more distinctive (Tom had the huli-huli chicken sandwich.)

I was asked how I wanted it, and duly informed they weren’t allowed to serve it less than medium (I opt for medium rare where legal to do so!).

The meat of it

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Before I get into the food – the atmosphere in this place was fantastic. It helped that it was a warm day but there was an instant ‘tropical-ness’ (tropicality?) to the place; the staff seemed well-trained in whatever this version of the Hawaiian way looks like (open, friendly, engaging), the aromas from the lava-stone grill were amazing and the décor and vibe was ludicrously chilled for a spot 3 minutes’ walk from Oxford street in Central London. We didn’t even have to wait for a table! I hope that doesn’t bode poorly for the owners, but it was good for us.

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The food arrived promptly enough; the brioche clearly serves both the 1/3rd lb and the 1/2 lb burger and so was somewhat oversized for the smaller patty; however the flavour balance was excellent. A well-seasoned, coarse ground, medium packed patty was cooked perfectly to medium.

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The melt-on cheese added savoury gooeyness contasted marvelously with thick, slightly chewy, slightly crisp streaky bacon. The tomato, I ate separately (believing firmly it has no place in a burger).  The onion added a charred, satisfying crunch, the saltyness of the burger/cheese/bacon combo was countered by the semi-sweetness of the bun and the onion, the overall effect was really good. Splitting hairs – as I find myself having to – the slightly oversized bun wasn’t right for the smaller patty and so the ratio was just a tiny bit off. But that wouldn’t stop me from ordering it again.

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The fries were of the thin-cut, skin-on variety, a relative of those you might find in McDonald’s on its best day – paler than I’d expect but crisp and well-seasoned (perhaps even slightly over-seasoned, but again – hairsplitting). The portion was slightly small for the price, though.

Just had a water (lunchtime, working day, natch) – but would like to go back to try the hard shakes at some stage!

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste –  4.5/5
Sides – 4/5
Value – 4/5 – £14  for the burger and sides plus service – which would be fine if the side wasn’t so teeny. Not that you needed more… but it should perhaps have cost less!

Burger rating – 4.5/5 – really a wonderful experience;  delightful atmosphere, lovely food, great service, reasonably priced. If I’d manned up and ordered the 1/2 lb burger, doubtless it would have been perfect.

The deets

If you’re not going to Hawaii, you can find Kua Aina on Goodge Street and Carnaby Street. Details here.