Humble Pie Co’s Humble Burger, Section 17, PJ, Malaysia

This is one of those slightly odd non-reviews that comes about when I’m travelling and poorly equipped to give a critical analysis of the burgers in question. In this case, the Humble Pie Co‘s Humble burger, eaten as a takeaway meal whilst on holiday in Malaysia visiting my folks.

I’ll freely admit, the HPC wasn’t my target takeaway – the neighbouring “Grind Burger Bar” was my intended goal, described by a cousin as “The Best Burger in the Klang Valley.” We were looking forward to it, but when I got there… the chef had taken an unscheduled hour off to do… something… just before peak dinner service. So, having braced a tropical storm to get there, I stormed off…

…and was relieved to find that the Humble Pie Co next door did, indeed, have a burger on the menu, and what’s more, its humble burger sounded intriguing.

Here’s how it bills itself: “House marinated ground topside minced beef, purple cabbage coleslaw, roasted onion, tomato, mild cheddar on house-made light brioche buns, potato wedges and garlic mayo.” As a bonus, it’s served with a Belacan sauce. For the uninitiated, belacan is a spicy shrimp paste made, extremely pungent and with a serious chilli kick when done well. Read more here.

Weighing in at RM 18 ++ (about £3.50) this is pretty bargainous for a gourmet-style burger, though probably pricey in the land of Ramly Burgers (cheap, unspecified meat-burgers wrapped in egg – see pic below!).

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Anyway, back to the Humbleburger.

It was good meat, no question, in a very fine bun – a not-particularly-sweet brioche. The burger was slightly overdone for my liking (no pink to it at all), but it was coarse ground, well-seasoned and juicy. The salad was crisp and a strong supporting cast member (red cabbage… inspired)… but the belacan… well, I wasn’t too impressed. It wasn’t spicy enough to be interesting, salty enough to provide umami in place of more conventional cheese and bacon, and not belacan-y enough to make it feel like a worthwhile local flavour. The net result is a whole that is somehow slightly less than the some of its parts.

The supporting sides; thick cut chips, basically, with mayo (not wedges) – lost something in takeaway translation, but were well cooked and tasty nonetheless.

On balance, it was a good effort. Here’s to exploring Malaysia’s burger bar scene a little more the next time I visit my family there.

Burger &  Shake, Marchmont Street, London

Good all rounder, over-ordered like crazy as a result. Hard shakes are ftw.

Burger Source

Having eaten our way through many of the mainstays of London burgerness, we are having to hunt harder for top shops to feed our (well, mostly my) burger habit. Friends wanted to meet near Holborn, so Burger & Shake it was to be. The other mooted venue was a Hoxton Burger, but I also wanted my first experience of the famous Hoxton Grill to be in Hoxton, rather than in the more generalist restaurant that supports the Hoxton Hotel in Holborn, so I vetoed it…

To call the website minimalist would be overstating things, but the menu does tell us this much: “Our 100% beef patty is made up of cuts from Aberdeen angus and charolais cattle, that graze in Ayrshire Scotland. We cook our beef burgers medium rare as standard…”

So far, so good.

The order

The friends who wanted to meet in the area (and who worked locally) were late. So we kicked off with some wings and some chilli fries. I kicked in for a “Bourbontun” hard shake, feat. Vanilla, peanut butter and bourbon… because obviously. Then came the main order; Jimjamjebobo and I split the House Burger (“180g beef patty, lettuce, tomato, pickle, American cheese and sweet cured bacon with our mustard and horseradish ketchup sauce”) and the New Yorker (“180g beef patty, lettuce, French’s mustard, Monterey Jack Cheese, pickle and fried onion. Served in our potato bun that is cooked with the patty under a cloche on the grill.”)

That’s when things started to go wrong (in terms of how much we ordered).  And I’ll take a lot of responsibility for this – I’d been ill for a few weeks and this was a first outing with friends in a while, so I was celebrating/commiserating the bloc of time out of commission with food.

And so we ALSO ordered onion rings. More chilli fries. A further double portion of wings. Mac & Cheese with bacon.  AND sweet potato fries. Even between five of us, this was WAY too much food.

The meat of it

Both the burgers we ordered looked great – fresh, glazed potato roll, well stacked with a healthy six ounce patty that was clearly well cooked (if perhaps more the medium side of medium rare than the rare side). Grind, pack and fat ratio was good (I like my burgers like I like my women… coarse ground and loosely packed*), meat was juicy but not dripping, the build was excellent on first impression.

Then to the taste…

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The House burger was good, if perhaps lacking in the bangin’ beats the name and description promise. There wasn’t a hint of horesradish in the horseradish ketchup and, if I’m being critical, the patty was a little underseasoned. The bacon was good but not crunchy enough to provide textural contrast, and not enough saltiness. The bun and other fillings held up well, but there wasn’t quite enough umami in this one for me. Could be better.

The New Yorker came up trumps, though (no pun intended). The onions and pickle provided a lovely crisp, sweet finish, the monterey jack cheese added a salty oomph to the thing, and the whole was greater than the sum of its parts… although the burger did slide around on the onions something chronic.

If I’d had to choose between them from the descriptions alone, I’d have backed the House burger for the top job (everyone else ordered it), but the New Yorker came up from behind to win it all. Impressive work. Even if it’s less effective an analogy for the 2016 presidential raced than it initially seemed it might be.

As to the sides:

  • the wings were lush, substantial, crispy and perfectly coated with the uncle Frank’s hot sauce/butter combination that is Buffalo.
  • The chilli fries – weren’t seasoned before the addition of chilli (WHY, OH WHY?) so they were a bit bland and soggy, but the chilli was good as those things go. Depth of flavour and lovely hint of heat, rich meat and bean sauce in plentiful supply.  Regular fries would have been better in my view, but I think I’m perhaps the kind of guy who likes fries AND likes chilli, but doesn’t love them together.
  • The onion rings were disappointing for me; the batter hadn’t stuck, and the onions were glistening through like an exposed femur on an animated corpse. The flecks of pepper in the batter felt like false advertising; there was little flavour to them. That said, the onions were sweet and the batter crisp… just a few (major) minuses holding it back from excellence.
  • The first bowl of sweet potato fries were sent back as they were undercooked. The second batch were cooked but still somewhat limp and lifeless, and needed seasoning to oomph up.
  • The mac & bacon (no pic, soz) was fine but bland as I always find mac & cheese variants. Probably a reasonable example of the genre, if you were someone that had tried it enough times to care to differentiate between one bold of cheese mush and another.

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The bourbontun… OMG, this was delicious. Mostly a vanillla shake, the occasional glugs of peanut butter you get are like winning a mini lottery, and the bourbon gives a background hint that you’re not just indulging five year old you (ok, mostly you still are… but totes worth it). Definitely want to have this again, and I’m lactose intolerant!

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 3.5/5 – slight losses for chilli fries and sweet potato shenanigans
Value – 4/5 – £23 a head for burger, a tonne of sides & drink, & tip – not cheap but reasonable value for the quality and quntity o the food.

Burger rating – 4/5 – only really suffering from a minor umami docking and some mediocrity around the sides. It’s a good place.

The deets

The small, diner-style restaurant is halfway down Marchmont Street. Full details: Burger & Shake, 47 Marchmont Street, London WC1N 1AP Tel: 020 7837 7718  info@burgerandshake.co.uk

* This is an Eddie Izzard reference… not a weird fetish.

The Bistrot, Seminyak, Bali

Welcome to the second in an occasional series of guest posts from travelling friends of ours, this one courtesy of none other than DJ Will MC Campbell….

One of the UK’s most beloved chefs once quirked “Food is for eating, and to be enjoyed… I think food is, actually, very beautiful in itself.” And what could be greater than the sight of a truly world-class burger arriving at your table, as others look on in envy?

Truth be told I tried to do my first burger review while in Japan – the home of Wagyu and Kobe beef, incredible cuts of meat from incredible cattle… but it wasn’t really served in true burger form, so couldn’t legitimately count it as one.

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Which is why, having left the incredible but cold shores of Japan, on arriving in Bali I headed to The Bistrot for my first evening out. An impressive wooden yet high ceilinged open space, upon entering you immediately feel reminded of a New York loft/factory space with a distinct industrial feel.

And there it was, centre of the menu, I couldn’t look away, the Bistrot Burger – 180g of beef from Australia’s finest cattle.

Burger Source

There are variations of the same burger – but the house special came with the trimmings I was looking for, onion rings (always a challenge to get right), Red Cheddar (?), Cognac Sauce, Tomato, Lettuce served in a lightly toasted sesame seed bun.

The Meat of It

I’m an absolute stickler for having the meat cooked to the way I like it – and I opt for medium rare (controversial for some I know), as it actually requires more attention than any other form of cooking a burger IMHO. It needs to be perfectly brown on the outside but I want to see the colours and juices coming through the middle.

I wasn’t disappointed. The meat was cooked to perfection. Perfectly seasoned, perfectly presented. I was excited I’d hit a home run on my first night in Bali. The Cognac sauced seemed to work really well, yet bizarrely added a somewhat BBQ flavour to the burger. Could it be a term lost in translation? I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt as the combo was immediately impressive.

Next up was the red cheese and the onion rings, where my initial doubts were realised. The onion rings were solid, but not great. A little too soft from the outside and not enough texture from the onion. I want to feel like I’m biting into an actual onion rather than just a lump of fried batter. The red cheese really let it down, as it felt processed and slabbed on – a little too perfectly square.

It’s always interesting trying bread from other countries, particularly when you walk into a supermarket and aren’t exposed to the 90+ variations we have in the UK. So it wasn’t a great surprise to find the bun good but not exceptional. It was toasted well, crispy when you bite into it, but soft through the middle.

All in all, I was impressed. The meat was ideally cooked, the sauce complimented the flavour really well… and did I really expect the onion rings and cheese to be of the same quality? Well let’s say I’d have been disappointed with the experience if it had been the other way round (or I’d be posting this on the wrong blog).

Would I go again? Probably. Would I recommend to others? Absolutely.

For a total of £8, it would be hard to find many places in the UK that would serve that level of quality food in such a place that makes you feel like you’ve been transported 12,000 miles across continents.

Monkey finger rating

Bun  – 3/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste – 4/5
Sides – N/A
Value – 4/5

I think our beloved chef might have been onto something when she made that remark about food – but I’d argue just adding the word good as a prefix would be about right. And this place was certainly good.

If you’re ever in Bali, I’d highly recommend popping in  – you can find them at Jl. Kayu Aya No.117, Seminyak, Badung, Kabupaten Badun. You can reserve a table, and if you’re there Friday or Saturday night I’d recommend doing so.

Atomic Burger, Cowley Road, Oxford

Decent burger in poor bun; amazing sides.

Burger Source

When Oxford was identified as a destination for a “lads’ weekend” away, one of the first things I did was Google ‘the best burger in Oxford’… and up came Atomic Burger. Clearly an exercise in effective SEO as much as a in burger design and innovation, the restaurant claims “the highest quality meat”, “burgers made by hand daily”, “food cooked to order”, “secret recipes” and “local suppliers”… so we were duly sold on it. As it happens, having a drink across the road at the Big Society, the staff tried to sell us on eating a less… unconventional burger in their establishment, but at this stage we were committed.

The order

The menu is extensive; dozens of standard and eccentric burger combinations. Most of us went for the fairly conventional and hard to argue with ‘Dead Elvis’ – crispy bacon, American cheese & fried onions listed as the key ingredients. We were reassured by the waiter that not only were the burgers cooked medium as standard but they’d happily do them medium rare for us. So far so exciting.

A side came with each burger, and we split onion rings and regular fries between us so we’d get to try it all. We also got in an order of ‘Trailer Park Fries’ which we were assured were awesome – fries topped with pulled pork, cheese sauce and barbecue sauce. Yeah, I know. Had to be done.

The meat of it

To start with the bun of it; the bun on this burger is poor. A slightly stale, dry-looking, powdery white bun that seems simultaneously too large and too porous to hold itself up to anything. The top half was immediately discarded as dead weight.

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The patty itself; surprisingly thin, not cooked to  medium rare (a healthy medium though), a decent slice of melted-in American cheese and not quite crisp streaky bacon topped it; there was salad in but you’d have to look closely. The sides – onion rings that were breadcrumbed, but vegan (rolled in beer, flour and breadcrumbs, no egg) – were crisp and golden brown. The standard fries were reasonably thin cut from whole potatoes, partial skin on, and crisply fried. The Trailer park fries, as a separate full-sized side order, were a sight. Laden with meat and sauce, this was a side fit for a main. Drink-wise, I went for a ‘Hobo mojo’ – Bourbon, lemon & lime & maple syrup shaken over ice and served in a paper bag.

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As to how everything tasted: the sides were the star of the show. The trailer park fries were incredibly moreish; the cheese sauce somehow not as chemical-tasting as you’d expect bottle-style squeezey cheddar to be; the pork moist and savoury and the sweet barbecue sauce binding it together beautifully. The chips were crisp enough not to be soggy throughout – often a challenge for this type of dish. Delicious. The standard fries were good but a pale candle to these; not quite enough starchy bite to them. The onion rings were amazing; large, sweet slices of Spanish onion rolled in flour, Peroni and possibly a panko breadcrumb, they were crisp, sweet and savoury in one, and delicious. The Cajun ones were particularly good, with a light hint of heat underpinning them. There were some other fairly non-descript sides on the plate – middle-of-the-road pickles and bottom-of-the-road oversweet, over-mayo’d coleslaw.

The main event; the burger? Well-seasoned, loosely ground meat – but the patty was too thin and the bread too big, so the flavour was somewhat lost (even with a discarded top half). The American cheese gave savoury goo to it all and again helped mask the meat flavour, and the bacon wasn’t crisp enough for crunch, so just added a sort of stretchy chewiness. The onions seemed sparse and added little sweetness. This was one of those situations where a brioche might have done some good. We had an extensive conversation with the waiter about the buns – apparently the owner knows they need changing but hasn’t got around to it yet. Best of luck to him, and hope he prioritises it soon.

And finally, the Hobo Mojo – it’s a fancy name for bourbon with 7-up and maple syrup, but it’s a HECK of a combination and I’ll be making this one at home at some point soon. Maybe minus the paper bag. Delicious.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  1/5
Build – 3/5
Burger – 3/5
Taste –  3/5
Sides – 4.5/5
Value – 4/5 – £20 a head for burger, sides & cocktail, & tip – valuelicious. But I guess that’s what happens when you’re not in London.

Burger rating – 3/5 – Let down by a bun that poorly complemented the fillings, sadly, and a pale shadow of things like Dip & Flip’s equivalent burger. Next time we do Oxford, we’ll have to try a Big Society burger…

The deets

247 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1XG was the branch we visited, though we gather the owner has a Pizza place elsewhere in Oxford and another burger venue in Bristol. Check them out over here and make a booking for the Trailer Park fries and the Hobo mojo alone, if needs be.

Side note: the geek kitsch around the place was phenomenal; a wall full of starships, a few intriguing sculptures and lots more. It’s a fun place.

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The Refinery, Southwark

 

Uninspired Wagyu burger with raw chips.

Burger Source

My new office is a 10 minute walk from Borough market, but it being the Christmas season, finding a lunchtime venue that isn’t heaving is slightly more complicated an undertaking than it should be. So the Refinery; a cavernous, uber-local bar/restaurant that bills on its menu once again – two burgers. A standard, and a Wagyu. I was curious and had planned to have lunch with a colleague so we popped down.

Part of the Drake & Morgan group, all the insight I got into the burger’s provenance was the simple word ‘Wagyu’ and having had a good experience at the Falcon, I thought – why not?

The order

It was a working day and I was lunching with a gym buddy so the order was restricted to the burger and a portion of ‘Cowboy fries’ – fries cooked with honey, chilli and garlic somehow – to share. We were reassured the burgers were cooked medium when we ordered; water was the only drink we needed.

The meat of it

When the food arrived, initial impressions were good. The brioche bun held a sizeable patty with nicely melted blue cheese, a sensible amount of salad, well stacked and well presented. The chips – well, they got the order wrong (delivering a portion each), and the honey/chilli/garlic combo resulted in a sticky mess in a tin cup. Not sure what we were expecting, I suppose… but we were expecting them to be cooked, which they weren’t. One bite was enough to dismiss the lot, and the restaurant staff were so busy we eventually sent them back rather than attempting to get a cooked batch delivered.

The burger itself… was a little disappointing. To list the things that weren’t quite right…

  1. it was swimming in a pool of mayo, making it slippery and unhandlable,
  2. the blue cheese was ok but didn’t add a huge amount to the burger
  3. the beef wasn’t cooked medium but was well-done (the photo below is slightly misleading; that pink is more lighting than meat-colour)
  4. there was nothing special about the taste of this ‘wagyu’ – nice but totally unspectacular
  5. the lean/fat ratio seemed a bit off; the burger wasn’t particularly juicy.

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On the plus side; the meat was coarse ground, loosely packed and well-seasoned. The blue cheese didn’t detract from it (if it didn’t particularly add to it), and, whilst slightly dry, the flavour profile was such that it didn’t particularly need any sauce – this was down to a good contrast between a very sweet brioche bun and an ultra savoury patty. The salad in the burger was crisp, juicy and fresh. The pickles were somewhat crisp but a little uninspiring – like they’d been sat on a plate a bit too long – and were served on the side.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3.5/5
Build – 2.5/5
Burger – 3/5
Taste –  3/5
Sides – 0/5
Value – 2/5 – £13.95 for a burger that’s just ‘meh’ at best with no sides is a lot.

Burger rating – 3/5 – Very mid-table in the rankings, the burger isn’t offensive but it definitely isn’t spectacular either.

The deets

The Refinery Bankside is in the base of the Bluefin building, about 7 minutes’ walk from Southwark tube, behind the Tate Modern. More detail here.

The Falcon, Rotherwick

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

Burger Source

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

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

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

The order

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

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

The meat of it

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

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

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

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

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

Monkey finger rating

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

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

The deets

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

Fat Hippo Jesmond, Newcastle

Fat Hippo Jesmond – St George’s Terrace, Newcastle

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Burger Source 

A small disclaimer before we begin. Fat Hippo Jesmond is located a mere stone’s throw from my family home, and while I haven’t lived in the city permanently since the place first opened its doors back in 2010, I have been quietly admiring its prosperity from afar. Everyone loves to have a successful home grown neighbourhood restaurant on their doorstep, after all. At a time when NIMBYs still have a disturbing level of influence in blocking anything remotely interesting from setting up shop in this part of town, small restaurants like Fat Hippo are a great example of how good Jesmond can be away from the Osborne Road strip – when they’re allowed to launch.

I’d also been told by a reliable and well-travelled ‘sauce’ that Fat Hippo serves the best burgers in Newcastle, and popular local opinion seemed to support this. It is worth noting, of course, that a sizeable proportion of the Fat Hippo’s regular clientele are the guffawing students with more money than sense that have long colonised this corner of Jesmond. So, do the burgers stand up to the reputation?

The order

I’ve developed a fairly terrible habit of fully poring over menus online hours (if not days) before I arrive at booked restaurants recently, which does dampen the whole eating out experience somewhat. This was no exception – a full five days before I returned to Newcastle, I’d already scoured the Fat Hippo’s menu from my desk at work. There’s plenty on offer here, and pleasingly the menu balances the fine line between offering safe and basic items and the over-the-top ridiculousness that many burger places are adopting, as they desperately chase ‘innovation’ and the novelty factor.

For me, the choice was clear. The Ranch: double 4oz patties topped with cheese, chorizo and garlic mayo. I’m an absolute sucker for anything food–related that says Ranch on it. ‘Ranch’ as a sauce concept has taken its time becoming a menu staple in the UK, but like its classic US junk-food cousin Buffalo Wings, most places over here that claim to serve it can still only offer a pale imitation of the real deal. So what was in store here? Rich and creamy goodness slathered liberally around the sandwich, or a teaspoon of Hellmann’s with the ghost of some garlic hidden amongst the cheese? Make no bones about it, this was a big test.

As I’m rarely satisfied with a simple order of plain ol’ chipped potatoes these days, I opted for a side of the ‘Dirty Fries’ (topped with bacon pieces and Fat Hippo sauce). Well, everyone needs a break from onion rings once in a while. As if this wasn’t enough to clog my arteries for the evening, I also kicked proceedings off with a starter of mac n’ cheese balls.

The meat of it:

Let’s begin with the starters and get this out of the way. The mac n’ cheese balls were far and away the most disappointing part of this meal. I was absolutely ravenous by the time they arrived and couldn’t wait to get stuck into what would surely be a few dead-cert globules of comfort food splendour.

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The mac n’cheese balls (apologies for blurry image – my hands were shaking with anticipation)

My anticipation took a slight hit when they arrived – although the breadcrumbs were a pleasant golden colour, the balls had simply been lumped on top of a couple of plain lettuce leaves, served with a side of Alabama White BBQ sauce. Given that we’re talking about indulging in a beige feast here, a little bit of colour wouldn’t have gone amiss (you know, something like brown – like conventional BBQ sauce?). Sorry Fat Hippo, but to me this whiffs a little bit too much of another hipster joint trying anything to be different.

Mac ‘n cheese balls aren’t exactly gourmet cuisine: all I was really hoping for were gooey, cheesy bits of pasta encased in a crispy breadcrumb shell. Hell, isn’t that all anyone ever wants? Instead, once I’d cut into them I was faced with a stodgy, clumped up mess.  Across four balls, I only found a couple of bits of what was discernibly macaroni. The rest was just a sort of half-baked mulch, all too dry and stodgy with no real flavour. A shame.

I should point out that most of my fellow diners started with ‘Freddie’s Fingers’ (southern fried chicken strips with buffalo hot sauce), which looked fantastic and seemed to go down a treat.

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Freddie’s Fingers

Fortunately, it’s also better news for the main event. Fat Hippo’s Ranch is a well-packaged, no BS burger. It doesn’t have time for any pretence, like a token salad. It just does exactly what it promises: two patties, cheese, chorizo and garlic mayo.

To the bite – and what a bite it was. I’m not normally too fussed about burger buns (unless they’re too big or the patty-to-bun ratio is off) but my, this was a good bun. Soft, fluffy yet sturdy, with just the right kind of sweetness and a precise fit for the contents. Bun perfection has been achieved.

Onto the patties themselves, which were simply delightful. They were nicely cooked throughout, wonderfully juicy with a good thickness. The flavour was solid without being outstanding. This was packaged up with an (un)healthy smothering of melted cheese that was similarly succulent and warm without just being dried out.

Despite being this particular burger’s main event, the chorizo was just so-so – it added a little extra texture and a smoky flavour, but I could honestly take it or leave it. We’re talking about the thin-sliced, wide slivers of cured pork here (that most people simply accepted as ‘pepperoni’ for the last 30+ years until the foodie revolution insisted on rebranding every food item to appeal to pseudo-hipsters) rather than the small, fat garlic-infused oily chunks of meat that I regularly fantasise about when someone mentions chorizo. But that’s probably just my fault really for having unrealistic expectations.

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And what about those dirty fries? Perhaps I’ve been spoilt by the genuinely outstanding ‘bacon bacon’ fries at Almost Famous in Manchester, with their bacon mayo and ‘bacon rain’, but I found these to be a bit weak. The chips were a little underdone and definitely under seasoned, while the thin shavings of bacon were chewy and lukewarm, rather than hot and crispy. The tangy fat hippo sauce redeems these a little, but overall this was an average side.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 5/5

Build – 4/5

Burger – 4/5

Taste – 4/5

Sides – 2/5

Value – 4/5.

Burger rating – 4/5 A good all-round burger, slightly let down with a few small issues on the side. At just under £19 for the whole lot though (excluding drinks), this is certainly good value.

The deets

Fat Hippo is a genuine North East institution, with three restaurants across Newcastle and Durham.

The Jesmond restaurant is right in the heart of things, just off Acorn Road in part of a converted house. Upon entry, it’s possible to immediately tick off a good number of hipster joint clichés: exposed brickwork, low-hanging mason bulbs, deliberately mismatched ‘old’ furniture and food served on novelty trays are all part and parcel of the experience. However, the Fat Hippo is infinitely more interesting than any of the predecessors on site that I can remember since moving to Jesmond in 2000, so ignore me.

In addition to the generous range of burgers and sides on offer, the menu also features a good selection of beers from the local Allendale Brewery. In a prime case of ultimate hipsterdom, these include the Fat Hippo IPA and Fat Hippo Hillbilly (both brewed exclusively for Fat Hippo’s restaurants) but again, I’ll get over this since they were pretty tasty.

Hawksmoor, Knightsbridge

Beautifully cooked, beautifully assembled, averagely seasoned.

Burger Source

For many, the notion of going to a Hawksmoor and ordering a burger is sacrilege. It’d be like making a stir fry with foie gras; the restaurant’s beef is famed for its quality and not to be minced and mashed into a burger. Yet it consistently makes the ‘top burger in London’ listicles, and I was keen to try it. The beef is made from “British grass-fed, dry-aged beef from the Ginger Pig”  and gets put into two burger variants; the Hawksmoor burger (served with your choice of cheese, pink or well done) and the Kimchi burger – which is what it sounds like. Both can be served with triple cooked chips or salad.

The order

My friend James and I both went for the Hawksmoor burger; pink (obviously), with cheddar, with triple cooked chips, served in a metal mini bucket (hipsters!) on the side.

The meat of it

This is an astonishingly beautiful burger. The 5oz patty is relatively thin yet coarsely ground, loosely packed, perfectly shaped, with a brilliant crisp finish and an evenly pink centre. I’ve no idea how they did this without drying out the burger, which remains tender and juicy and with the lovely aromatics you get with dry-aged beef. Sous vide with a grill finish? Who knows. It’s stacked on some lettuce, a crisp sweet pickle and a thin layer of mustard (spread-on, not fried-in, as far as I could tell), topped with a thick slice of well melted cheese and a large slice of beef tomato in a sizeable and airy brioche. The fries were crisp and looked inviting.

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Isn’t it beautiful?

Sounds amazing? Almost perfect, but not quite. Here’s what went wrong: the brioche is overly sweet, getting the flavour balance wrong whenever there’s too much bread in the bite. The burger itself, whilst perfectly tender, richly beefy and well cooked – was underseasoned. This turns the cheese from an umami-fest on top of a good burger into necessary seasoning; a necessary addition to make it feel like you’re eating something other than a sweet bread roll. You barely notice it as a result. Whilst the lettuce and tomato were amazing – fresh, crisp, amazingly complementary to the rest of the burger – the mustard spread is uneven. In most mouthfuls you can’t taste it, in others it’s a spike of unexpected heat. I much prefer the Dirty Burger / In&Out practice of frying mustard into the burger on the grill, which gives a richer, more even flavour IMHO. If I’m being picky – the burger wasn’t crisp enough not to need some textural contrast (from, say, a crisp piece of streaky bacon) – it’s all softness and squidge.

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Tin cup! Who needs chips in a tin cup? Give me a basket any day.

The fancy ketchup – unnecessary for the burger due to the cloyingly sweet brioche – is some strange, slightly spiced, watery version (like a hybrid ketchup / sweet chilli sauce) – and it wasn’t a great help for the chips either, sadly. We both agreed Heinz would have been preferable. The tin cup made it challenging to salt the chips evenly (they were also underseasoned). Pouring them out would have cooled them down rapidly, of course…

All that said, it was still a good burger; it just doesn’t stack [sic] up against my current top rankings; Hawksmoor chefs, please embrace salt!

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Eagle Rare!

Drinkswise, we both opted for a very nice Eagle Rare bourbon from the menu’s extensive, expensive selection. Served with rocks on the side, it has a smooth, sweet finish and amazing aromatics.

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I resisted pudding, it would have been spoiling me too much.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  3.5/5
Sides – 4/5
Value – 3.5/5 – £56 for two including a single shot of bourbon and service for two – the burger and chips by themselves list at £16. Hawksmoor has proven its worth its premium pricing for its steaks – not so sure about its burger.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 -It’s a good burger, but is expensive and underseasoned. Dip & Flip trounces it on many counts.

The deets

There are many Hawksmoors, but make sure the one you visit has a bar menu, as that’s the menu with the burger on it. The Knightsbridge branch is just off the Brompton road, an 8 minute walk from Knightsbridge tube. 3 Yeomans Row,

London, SW3 2AL. 020 7590 9290 for bookings and general steak chat.

Shoulder of Mutton, Hartley Wintney

Country gastropub vs. London mainstream – a different burger experience.

Burger Source

The Shoulder of Mutton is a classic country pub, upgraded to Gastropub cuisine standard with the accompanying reviews and crowded tables you’d expect of an excellent pub. The burger seemed to feature reasonably prominently on its menu, and I thought – why not, this place has amazing reviews, the burger should be interesting.

And it was interesting, if a completely different experience from the London scene, for a number of reasons which I’ll get into in this review.

It’s also 15 minutes drive from me, so a perfect location for a night out with Amanda; thanks to Sophie for the recommendation.

The order

The ‘home made beef burger’ is billed as: “fresh minced beef infused with our blend of herbs & spices, tomato, lettuce on a grilled bun served with baby leaf salad and hand cut chips.”

The critical point here is the ‘blend of herbs’ – most burgers these days seem to emphasize salt and pepper over all other herbing and spicing, something I don’t tend to argue with. But I was interested in the treatment this pub would give it…

The meat of it

The preparation and the presentation made for an interesting display. The burger sat atop a bed of thick cut, likely double fried (and duly crispy) chunky chips. The soft white roll was warmed (possibly grilled as promised?), making for a soft yet surprisingly capable foil to the 6oz burger patty. The thick cut bacon sat on top of the meat, coated in a thick layer of cheddar which had not simply been melted on but also crisped up under a broiler, giving a good crust and crunch to the cheese, which was unexpected. The burger itself had a good crust, made of coarse ground, loosely packed beef (my fave), with a pink medium-well shade to it (I like them slightly rarer, but it wasn’t bad at all).

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Such a thing as too much cheese?

The meat was relatively lean (which explains why the standard white bun survived) and unadorned by further sauce or relish. For some reason the promised tomato and lettuce wasn’t in there and I didn’t notice at the time so didn’t make a point of it.

The taste? Well, it was definitely herby, which was an interesting change of pace. Tasty; though my palate couldn’t figure out what was involved but I suspect parsley featured centrally (it was scattered liberally around the plate too). The lean meat (or possibly the broiling?) meant the burger wasn’t as juicy as it should have been but it was still pretty tender. The cheese was somewhat overdone, and the bacon could/should have been crisper in my book, but they were all quality ingredients.

The chips were outstanding, though an excessively large portion. The salad was unnecessarily dressed with a thick squirt of salad cream, which should have been applied more sparingly.

The overall impact? Not as good as it should have been. The burger needed pickle or relish, and – for my mind – a different sort of flavouring. The herbs alone make it taste slightly medicinal (or at least, more meatloaf than burger) and the lack of sweetness in relish or salad or pickle within the burger itself made it overwhelming salty – too much cheese and bacon, a phrase I never thought I’d say, much less write. A better fat/lean ratio would have improved the taste of the burger as well.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 3/5
Taste –  3.5/5
Sides – 4/5
Value – 4/5 – £50 for two including pudding and a round of drinks, incl service. Pretty good.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – It’s really not a bad burger, but the peculiarity of the flavouring and the slightly unsatisfactory toppings mean it’s only maybe something I’d order again. I think maybe the steak next time; the service and atmosphere is outstanding so it’s definitely worth a return visit.

The deets

Whilst the Shoulder of Mutton claims to be part of Hartley Wintney, it’s clearly far closer to Heckfield, just off the A33 between Basingstoke and Reading. Full details: Hazeley Heath, Hartley Wintney, Hook, Hampshire RG27 8NB. Phone: 01189 326 272. Recommend booking – it was busy on a Saturday night.

Dip & Flip, Battersea Rise

Surprise contender for best burger in London?

Burger Source

I can find surprisingly little on the web on the genesis of this small, seemingly independent chain of burger restaurants. I can tell you what they say about their beef: “West country beef, forerib, chuck, and a little added fat make our 180g patties. They are then smashed onto our imported chrome griddle, which is super hot, sealing in the flavour and creating a wonderful crust, so no flavour is lost on our grill. Served in a soft brioche bun with French’s mustard, ketchup, American cheese, cabbage slaw and pickles.” And, crucially, given it’s a signature feature, what they say about their gravy: “We roast a selection of carefully sourced beef bones to a rich golden brown. Then we simmer them, with organic vegetables and herbs, for a long time. This bone broth is the heart and soul of our gravy. Roasting juices from the bottom of the pan are added to the broth along with a few other little secrets (All beef related) to make our delicious gravy which we serve with almost everything for dipping.”

It’s all pretty delicious.

A little bit of web investigation reveals that “Bob Francis Double Dip Limited”, the company that has registered the dipandflip.co.uk domain name, was founded in February 2013 (as far as Companies House knows), and has one director – presumably company founder – Timothy John Lees, whose past ventures include “Lees Library Consultancy Services Ltd” of Dundee, a company which was wound up in 2014.  Oddly, I was ignored on Twitter when I asked for someone to email some questions to about the company’s history…

Regardless, nothing to see here, so let’s get to the beef.

The order

I went for the bacon double cheeseburger, which was just greedy really. F&D’s 6oz patties are plenty for a single, so you probably don’t need more – I certainly didn’t, but that didn’t stop me finishing it.

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I wasn’t keen to try the actual dip & flip specials, which feature sliced roasted lamb or beef soaked in gravy on top of a burger bun – and felt validated by the choice. Whilst I’m sure it would have been good, I wanted the textural contrast the crispy bacon promised, and didn’t feel that I needed that much gravy. Sides featured regular fries and chilli, gravy, cheese and bacon fries.

The meat of it

Holy moley, this was totally unexpected. The beef patties had a rich, crispy  crust, which surprisingly held a deliciously juicy, perfectly medium patty. The coarsely ground, loosely packed beef was incredibly well seasoned and topped with gooey, delicious cheese. The bacon strips were curled and crispy and packed with salty flavour. Two crisp, large but thin pickle slices, supported by the promised cabbage slaw, protected the underside of the thick, sturdy brioche bun from the intensely beefy juices which dropped out of the burger with each bite, a gift of the burger’s sensibly high fat/lean ratio (I suspect 25%:75%). On initial cross bite, I was worried the burger might be overcooked, but it was just edge factor – the middle of the burger was a perfect medium pink. The (fairly) sweet brioche provided a necessary counterpoint to the umami fest that the rest of the burger represented. Wow. Just wow.

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The fries were crispy but slightly overseasoned. The chilli/gravy/bacon/cheese fries were, on the other hand, perfect. Not soggy till the very end, delicious cheese, a light kick from the chillis and a delicious crunch from the same bacon that topped the burger.

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Almost everything about this meal screamed ‘outstanding’.

But wait, I hear you ask, what about the dip, the gravy? Even the normal burgers come with the gravy which is, admittedly, excellent. Just not wholly necessary; I enjoyed it more with the fries than I did when dipping the burger in it; the burger just didn’t need any further savoury-ness. If anything, something beyond the salt and sweet of meat and bun – perhaps a little more mustard, in the fry (in the style of Dirty Burger) would have sorted it.

Drinks wise, friends had a couple of hard shakes (I had a taste – outstanding) but I stuck with bourbon – a nicely bitter taste to clear the palate in and amongst huge meaty mouthfuls.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  5/5 – even if you don’t normally like Brioche, it’s the perfect companion for this burger
Build – 5/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste –  5/5
Sides – 4.5/5
Value – 5/5 – £18 a head including tip between six of us, with drinks, felt reasonable

Burger rating – 5/5 – This is now in joint first place for best burger in London for me, alongside Bleecker Street and Lucky Chip (which may get a re-visit during its ‘Stranger Things’ month). Amazing.

The deets

There are a couple of Dips & flips around Southwest London, find the locations here. We ate at Battersea rise, 5 minutes walk from Clapham Junction station, by the Northcote pub.

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