Burger & Lobster, Oxford Circus, London

Not as good as I remember it; overpriced and underwhelming, this burger disappoints.

Burger source

Four schoolmates, apparently, had the idea to open a restaurant (chain) that specialized on just one or two ingredients. They went for beef… and lobster, back in 2011 and seem to have done pretty well now, with multiple locations open across London and beyond.

Turf and surf. Not wholly original as combinations go, but the conceit – an extremely limited menu, designed for simplicity, with (originally) flat pricing for burger, lobster or lobster roll (there are a few more variants on offer now, and varied pricing), was intriguing, and I enjoyed a visit I made there back in 2012.

This time, I was there for a group event, and once again, chose turf…

The order

The “original burger” is 10oz of “Lettuce, tomato, house made pickles and B&L’s secret burger sauce served with chips and salad.” For a place that ‘specialises’ in two ingredients, they don’t make much of the beef’s progeny, but that’s what it is. I topped it with cheese and bacon (standard).

As it was a group event, some starters were pre-ordered, including a spicy bean and feta dip, some arancini (which don’t appear on the standard menu and might have been a Christmas special) and calamari.

The meat of it

Let’s start with the starters.

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The spicy bean dip was spicy as promised – served with a warm, soft flatbread. Nice, if simple.

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The arancini was a crispy ball of cheesey indulgence. I’m not a huge fan of arancini in general, so was somewhat underwhelmed; it was neither risotto ball nor deep fried cheese puff, so, well, meh. I don’t think it was the best exemplar of the category but it wasn’t bad.

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The calamari was extremely moreish; crisp but tender, well cooked. However the batter was loose and flaking off, as you can see in the picture, and the overall greasiness was too high. I suspect this was a slight victim of having to serve a partyload of people. The aioli was excellent; the tomato based sauce bland. But perhaps deliberately so. And the lemon took the edge of the grease…

And now the burger.

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It’s a behemoth. That picture! As much as I love burgers, 10oz is a little more than anybody needs.

Regardless; look at the stack. Absolutely perfect superficially. Lettuce protecting the lower half of the bun, a perfect melt on the cheese coating the burger, bacon, onions, pickle on top. Burger sauce on either side. Good crisp char on the bacon too. And the bun – an elaborate unsweetened white roll with seeds for texture – seemed to be holding up well.

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It’s limitations start to become apparent in cross section. The beef is overcooked (perhaps another victim of mass-catering), resulting in a dry, mealy texture. It is too hard-packed, adding unnecessary bite. The burger sauce turns the whole thing into a slippery loaded gun – burger wants to shoot out everywhere. The bun, untouched by burger juice, is actually too dry. the pickle, whilst good, is totally outclassed by the vast quantity of meat, so the sweet contrast is left wanting. You can barely taste the bacon for the rest of it. The salad was fine, but the net impact was one of eating a bit of a hot mess.

That said, there were some redeeming qualities; it was well seasoned. The cheese melt was good and bound the burger together. The burger sauce was tasty… just outmatched by the vastness of the beef.  I ended up giving away a quarter of my burger and not missing it.

All in all, the burger didn’t quite work. I’d like to go back in a smaller group and see if they can do better.

The fries? Less complicated to review; they were unseasoned, uncrispy, there was no salt on the table, and tbh I left the vast majority. I didn’t even take a pic, it turns out. Sorry!

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 2.5/5
Taste –  2.5/5
Sides – 2.5/5 – the fries were bad. But the starters had some redeeming qualities
Value – 2/5 – £16 for burger and fries; starters were £7-8.50. I was there for a group event where I didn’t foot the bill, but if I had… I would have felt overcharged.

Burger rating – 2.5/5 – it wasn’t as good as I remembered it being. I don’t particularly like lobster but I was left wondering if I should have ordered that instead.

The deets

They seem to be all over the place – find your nearest branch here if you want to try it for yourself; I’m sure it’ll be better when they’re not crazy busy. This one was a four minute walk from Oxford Circus, on Little Portland Street.

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Cut & Grind Burgers, York Way, London Kings Cross

Fine crust, amazing meat, disciplined construction – one of the best burgers in London

Disclaimer: I was invited to a meat grinding ‘masterclass’ as a blogger. My food and drink for the evening was comped.

Burger source

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Pas Loucaides strikes you as an obsessive. In a good way; the passion with which the man has pursued excellence in his burgers is clear in everything he has to say about them. From the choice of cuts that make up the burger blend, to the 4mm  drilled plate he uses in the meat grinder proudly displayed in a cabinet at the centre of his open, airy restaurant in the rapidly redeveloping Kings X neighbourhood, to the passion with which he speaks of C&G’s ‘home made’ ketchup.

Other details are evident in conversation; he’s friends with James George of the butchers Turner and George, who supply C&G’s meat (and Hawksmoor’s, Richard Turner’s restaurant); he makes his pickles in house, once a week; he’s bought in a ludicrously expensive, very hot griddle pan to ensure a good sear on the meat; he’s got a special method of treating the meat so that he can cook his burgers medium rare if customers so desire; he double grinds meat if it’s too lean and needs a finer texture. He even hangs the meat used in the daily grind up on display in the centre of the restaurant. For such a burger fan as me, it was truly an enjoyable experience to meet a like-minded soul (as well as some of the other bloggers and ‘influencers’ in attendance).

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The meat cuts and blend varies each day; today it was a mix of dry-aged rib cap (fatty), chuck (substance) and rump (prime flavour). I even got to grind the chuck myself – surprisingly satisfying! We tried mini patties of each individual cut before we got to the burger, from the unctuousness of the rib cap (my fave) to the prime flavour of the rump to the beautiful textured filler of the chuck. He mixes them using an expert eye for the proportions, aiming for a 70% lean/ 30% fat ratio, prior to simple seasoning (salt and pepper) and a sear on the griddle pan. A lid over the burgers on the griddle helps melt any cheese toppings on and a temperature probe checks they hit the magic medium mark.

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The order

My friend Matt was my plus one for the influencer event, and we each ordered differently and agreed to share. Matt had the rotating special – today, a dry-aged rump burger topped with truffle mayonnaise, crispy fried shallots and that’s about it. Mine was the ‘House’ – a bacon burger with ‘bearnaise’ with added capers and pickle – basically a posh burger sauce, by Pas’ own admission – to which I somewhat unnecessarily added cheddar cheese. The burgers come on a demi-brioche bun, with a side of truffle fries, and were served medium.

The meat of it

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I tried the special first. The dry aged rib is rich, but without the funk you sometimes get with aged meat. It’s incredibly soft and juicy – slightly too soft, texturally, for my liking, perhaps due to the coarse ground/loose pack, perhaps due to losing structural integrity under a weight of truffle mayo. The richness of the truffle mayo is somewhat overwhelming, but if you like truffles, you’ll love it. The crispy shallots provide a delightful crunch in the messyness of this burger, a lovely bit of balance in savouriness too, against the sweet notes of the beef and the demi-brioche bun, which holds up well to the burger. A very good combination, if not to entirely to my personal tastes.

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The house, though, was something else. The bearnaise-burger sauce is used more sparingly than the truffle mayo, and is under the burger so is a more subtle influence. The cheese is beautifully melted on and a blackened (but not burned), crisp, thick slice of dry-aged bacon sits atop a heavily charred patty. Fresh, sweet, crisp salad is there in the right proportions and the burger oozes flavour, whilst holding a better texture than the rump special did. The sweet tomato slice – normally something I dispose of – provided a nice sweet contrast to the extreme seasoned crust of the juicy patty, the bacon added crisp chew and the cheese a further umami glue. The burger sauce was somewhat lost – I debated moving it to the top of the burger with Pas – but the sweet, home-made pickles were in evidence. They’re an interesting contrast to normal pickles; sweeter and less crunchy, with less of the trademark vinegar tang – but interesting for that. On balance, I probably prefer a more conventional gherkin, but I’m nitpicking here…

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Special on the left, House on the right

This is a very, very special burger indeed. Pas will tell you that he prefers it ‘bare’ – no bearnaise-burger-sauce, no mayo, no cheese, – burger, pickle and salad alone. And having had it, it’s easy to see why: the beef really is the star of this show.

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The fries? Pas tells me he drew some inspiration from the Honest Burger rosemary fries – his are thicker cut, crispier, but still cut from chosen potatoes in-store and fried to a remarkable finish. If I’m honest, I was a little wiped out by all the meat so I had just a few fries on the side. The crunch is good but they could be fluffier on the inside; the ‘truffle oil’ is indistinct next to the  truffle mayo in the special burger but that’s just as well for me. They are well seasoned and tasty.

The home-made ketchup, I hear you ask? Whilst it’s texturally perfect – less chemically oozing than a bottle of Heinz, fresh and pungent – it is a little sickly to my taste. Between the pickles and the ketchup, Pas clearly has a sweet tooth!

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Pas kindly brought a couple of paired beers for us to try – I’m not a huge beer fan and the bitterness of the Belgian blonde followed by the tartness of the sour-cherry beer were not to my taste, but they did complement the burger surprisingly well – you can’t fault the man’s palate at all.

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Nothing remained

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4.5/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste –  4.5/5
Sides – 4/5
Value – 5/5 – £10 for burger and side, ish. Affordable wine, beer and beyond adorns the menu too.

Burger rating – 5/5 – whilst there were imperfections, they are in the upper realms of subjective. Every burger lover knows that the perfect burger is unattainable; the journey is where the joy is. Well, a journey to Cut & Grind will bring you much joy. And it is easily one of the best journeys you can make in London.

The deets

About 10 minutes’ walk from King’s Cross, this place is a destination filled with delight. Go, eat, drink and be merry. And Tell Pas I said hi.

BFI Bar & Kitchen (Benugo), South Bank, Waterloo

Gorgonzola-y goodness at the British Film Institute

Burger source

The BFI’s Bar & Kitchen has an eclectic modern European menu, and the burger sounded an interesting take on the convention. It was also the only burger on the menu, and of course they make little of its provenance, so I was fully prepared that this would be a mediocre attempt at best. I was pleasantly surprised… but… spoilers.

The restaurant itself is a delight – light and airy, completely calm at lunchtime on a Friday. I’m sure it’s busy at the weekends… but the service and ambiance today was perfect. I know from past experience that they have an excellent cocktail menu too.

The order

Bread, oil and balsamico to start followed by the burger – the BFI 6 oz beef burger, served with Gorgonzola, radicchio and red onion, on a butter milk bun. Accompanied by ‘fries’ (again, little send-up, though truffle fries were also on the menu).

The meat of it

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The presentation was good, and the burger delivered medium well (I was promised medium). That aside, the meat was juicy – a coarsely ground, loosely packed patty. Any seasoning of the meat itself vanished in the face of the punchy gorgonzola – an absolute umame-packed salt-fest coupling beautifully with the juicy meat.

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The enriched bun holds up well, but further interest comes from the red onion/radicchio (leafy Italian salady thing) combo, which provides a slightly sour, slightly sweet, slightly crisp topping to the burger. As the only substantive flavour contrast to the savoury, the buttermilk bun doesn’t quite provide the necessary counterpoint – I think some sweet relish or gourmet Italian ketchup would have slightly tempered the saltiness of the dish and perhaps have rounded it out without tainting its Italian stylings – but it’s not bad. Good crumb, airy but sturdy, with a soft bite to it. Really quite enjoyable on the whole.

The fries – there’s something special about these. They’re more chips than fries in the American sense – thicker cut, skin-on. They have a delightful exterior, light and almost flakey, crisp with a delightful crunch. The inside – soft and floury, a perfect contrast. I didn’t even ask for ketchup – that’s how good they were. Perfectly seasoned.

The bread starter –  which is really neither here nor there as it’s a burger review, but what the hey – lovely hefty brown slices, lightly grilled and served with a pot of rich olive oil and thick balsamic glaze. Very tasty!

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 5/5 – very special fries
Value – 4/5 –  expensive but reasonable for the area – £14 for burger and fries, £4 for bread, central London drinks prices etc., plus service – £55 for two

Burger rating – 4/5 – you’re unlikely to be disappointed. An interesting twist on the convention.

The deets

The BFI’s next to the National Threatre on the South Bank. The Bar & Kitchen bit is round the back, on Belvedere Road. But you can cut through the main BFI from the South Bank itself! More here.

 

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.

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…

Byron_cross_section

…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.