Haché Burgers, High Holborn, London

A near perfect burger, marred only by a dense brioche and average sides

Burger source

There’s little about the burger itself origins, other than the fact that the original owners set out to create ‘gourmet bugers, with nothing but the best ingredients.’ Bought out by Hush in 2016, the restaraunt has expanded from its original site in Camden and now has locations all London; this one was on High Holborn, a short walk from the tube. The new owners wanted to ‘reclaim burgers for grown-ups’ (so far, so clichéd), so Haché Burger Social expanded.

I must admit, the name put me off slightly – have never been a fan of Steak Haché, but Debs at work has been evangelising it to me for some time so I thought to give it a try!

The order

I ordered the ‘Steak le Fumé’ – £12.95 of caramelised onions, smoked bacon, Gruyère & house coleslaw, rather joyfully presented in a smoke-filled dome. It was close enough to my standard ‘cheese and bacon’ standard to be indicative for the review, I felt, but had added panache and drama, which was, y’know, ridiculous but fun. Damian and I shared standard fries (frites, natch) and onion rings (disappointingly not rondelles d’oignon panées). And I broke and ordered the banofé pie for pudding. Drank a raspberry mojito thanks to happy hour.

Let’s get into it.

The meat of it

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The drama was as entertaining as needless as you’d expect. The smokiness was gentle, though, this isn’t a charcoal-grilled burger, a light woody, smokey aroma just infuses everything.

The stack was good, which is clearer still in the cross section. Whilst all burgers default to medium well, they recommend them medium rare and that’s what I went for. The meed has a good crust and a thick band of pinky-red running through the centre.

First bite, moment of truth.

The brioche (we had a choice of ciabatta, but that, for me, would not have been a proper burger) was dense. It lacked the pliancy you’d expect and indeed want froma burger bun; it’s too chewy and it’s extremely sweet. Unnecessarily so in a burger which had its own sweet caramelised onions, sweet coleslaw and sweet, sweet meat already.

Everything else, however: pitch perfect. Cheese was melty and bound the burger well; the bacon was exquisite; whilst not as crisp as American style streaky, it had a rich, salty, pancetta-y quality that was in perfect contrast to the sweet, pink ground beef. The beef is a star attraction, coarse ground and juicy, lightly smoked, a thick, crunchy, well-seasoned crust holding it all together; it’s melt-in-your-mouth luscious, and thankfully lacks the gaminess some dry-aged bef has. The onions and coleslaw provide a sweet finish (no ketchup needed at all), the meat melts in your mouth, and the overall experience was just… great. Even with the bready bun.

The sides… the fries are partially skin on, thin cut frites, crisp on the outside and well seasoned. Solid but standard. There were variants on offer and perhaps we should have tried those, but they were very pricey and seemed unnecessary to me.

The onion rings, whilst making use good thick chunks of fresh, sweet onion, were coated in an ordinary batter and slightly underseasoned. So they were just OK.

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Pudding… let me start by saying that banoffee pie is one my kryptonite dishes; no matter how determined I am not to pudding, if a banoffee pie or a sticky toffee pudding is on the menu, I will struggle. And I’ve never had a bad banoffee pie – after all – it is simplicity itself; biscuit base, caramel, banana, cream, chocolate. Nothing else to it.

Unless, of course, you get carried away and put on 3 inches of cream. Which is what Haché has done, sadly making an extraordinary pudding… ordinary. Every ingredient is high quality and tasty on its own, but this enormous slab of pud just has too much bland cream atop it.

The Raspberry mojito wasn’t bad, if you’re into sweet cocktails. Minty, fresh with a good soda fizz on top, appropriately limey as well.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 2.5/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste – 4.5/5
Sides – 3/5 -bump for the onion fries
Value – 3.5/5 – £13 for the burger, £3-£6 for sides, £6 for puddings. Not cheap; even with 2-4-£10 happy hour cocktails.

Burger rating – 4.5/5 – the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Desite the bready bread, the ordinary sides and the disappointing pudding, I would put this in my top five burgers in London easily (alongside Dip & Flip, Cut & Grind, Bleecker Street, and Lucky Chip).

The deets

There are branches all over; online booking is easy. Check the website here.

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Steam Engine, Waterloo, London

Vigorously indulgent burger; great, edging on brilliant

Burger source

I was looking for somewhere near Waterloo to meet an old family friend; the Steam Engine showed as having a permanent residency from Burger Craft; apparently a partnership with the Publove pubs. It’s not entirely clear from how the relationship with Publove works, but Burger Craft’s mission is clear:

Our craft is burgers: The finest ingredients, wonderful flavours, slow cooked meats, hand cut chips and homemade sauces brought together to create unforgettable burgers. Smashed, grilled and steamed to perfection by our team of chefs to create the tastiest, juiciest burgers around. That’s Burger Craft! Come see us in PubLove  all over London.

Simple enough. The website, whilst somewhat circumspect about who these people are, does go on in beautiful detail about what they’re trying to achieve, how and with who:

Our wonderful dry aged beef (and the rest of our delicious meats) comes from the multiple awards winning Walter Rose & Son’s fantastic farm in Wiltshire. Used by non-other than Tom Kerridge we’ve since discovered.

Our “Springy” & sensational demi-brioche buns come from the master craftsmen & women at The Bread Factory. London’s leading artisan bakery.

We source every ingredient from equally outstanding and dedicated suppliers and continuously work with them to maintain our quality. “Taste, taste and taste again”

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Welcome to the Steam Engine.

The order

Let’s put it to the test, then. A ‘Bacon Dude’ duly ordered – American cheese, streaky bacon – atop the six-ish oz smashburger patty, served in a fresh, soft demi-brioche with hand-cut fries. All for about a tenner; even with my half of Meantime and Andreas’ coke the bill was only £12.25 a head. Reasonable for this part of town.

The meat of it

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I’m not going to lie, the plating isn’t great; the burger itself looks fantastic, but that sad sprawl of fries doesn’t inspire confidence. However, the second you touch the bun you can feel that this burger is something beyond the ordinary; it’s unbelievably soft, the stack is perfect with the burger sat atop a thin spread of what seems to be BBQ sauce, a slim slice of tomato and then coated with a lush, bright yellow melt of proper American processed cheese and a healthy wodge of nicely browned, lightly smoked bacon. Touch is the right word; this burger is an unashamed multi-sensory experience. You taste, touch, sell, feel all in one go.

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The cross section doesn’t look as pink as many other high-end burgers in London but it is a patty smash-and-steam job – the meat is pressed down on the grill to get extra crispness on the patty and steamed under cover to get a good cheese melt, so this finish is expected. The meat is coarsely ground and even with the smash retains a loose-packed finish. It looks good.

A first bite shows the impact this cooking method delivers; the super-soft bun is wrapped around completely melty cheese, a thick smokey bite of bacon, soft – and if I’m brutally honest, slightly over-soft and slightly undersasoned – melty meat, and somewhat indistinct salad. That said, the cheese and bacon compensated for the slight underseasoning of the burger, and the meat itself is clearly top-notch, with that a light touch of that gamey flavour you get when meat has been dry-aged; fat oozes out of it and drips out of the soft, slightly sweet bun. The bacon was slightly flaccid, like it had been under a heat lamp and lost some of its crispness; and so the only real problem with the burger as a whole is textural. The limitations compound, but are minor. The overall experience is gluttunous, voluminous, glossy and pliant. The burger is tender, juicy and plump.

The fries – were underwhelming IMHO. Some of them were fine; crisp and well-seasoned, happily married with a dollop of ketchup. Others – were limp, sorry excuses for a french fry – not quite underdone but somehow structurally incapable of holding the crisp finish their most impressive peers did. They are well seasoned, though, and tasty enough – it was just a bit of a mixed, visually underwhelming bag; an unfair pairing for an otherwise superlative burger.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4.5/5 – really high quality
Build – 4.5/5 – the veg was slightly over-done and there could have been a smidge more sauce
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 2.5/5
Value – 4/5 – £11 for burger and side, ish. Pretty good for something in view of Waterloo station.

Burger rating – 4/5 – really rather good., in spite of the fries

The deets

There are a few Publoves scattered around London; this one is pretty much down the road from Waterloo, right by Lambeth North tube. Check the website for other locations.

Guest pic: Andreas, my Norwegian brother from another mother.

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Harvest, Brattle Street, Harvard, Boston

A beautiful burger that doesn’t quite live up to appearances

Burger source

I was in Boston for work and my brother happened to be in town to launch the phenomenal Jagged Little Pill musical at the American Repertory Theater. So, we met beforehand and shared a burger and a lobster roll at this popular eatery in the centre of the Harvard campus.

The order

Arvind had the lobster roll; I took on the menu’s sole burger, served with skin on hand cut fries; gratifyingly I was given the option of having it cooked medium, which I took. We shared a cold-cuts and cheese platter to begin with, and a deconstructed Boston cream pie for pudding. Seeing as it was my first trip to Boston, and I was being a tourist, I also had a Sam Adams.

The meat of it

As you can see from the photo, the presentation of this burger is glorious; it’s a perfect stack, a glorious melt on the cheese, fresh, bright salad in call caught between a perfect, lightly seeded roll – I think a non-enriched potato roll rather than a brioche.

The cross section promises even more; the meat’s a perfect pink the whole way through, no graying at the edges and what looks like a decent char on the meat. The grind is coarse and its juicy without soaking the bun. So far, so brilliant. Pickle on the side, tomato, onion and lettuce leaves piled on top of the cheese.

And then the taste; this is where it lets itself down a bit. It’s every bit as juicy as it looks, but the char isn’t quite there so the whole impact is a little soft; in essence, not the best mouthfeel. This could have been addressed with some crispy bacon, or a slightly hotter griddle and a little more seasoning. The meat was good but with this finish they should probably mix up their meat blend – it tasted a little bland; wonder if they overdid the chuck and could have done with some rump in there. But I’m a meat blend amateur here, so could easily be wrong. The salad was as fresh and crisp as it looked; the cheese was a little gungey and bland, and the roll, whilst sturdy, did little to balance out the burger. A brioche might actually have helped with sweet/savoury contrast, as might some burger relish (ketchup is a necessary condiment here). Net impact: it’s tasty but not interesting, sadly. Which is a real shame as so many elements were done really well.

The fries – were slightly limp. They would have benefited from a second, or third, fry. That said, these are high grade potatoes, the seasoning was great, and they tasted good. The portion was the size of my head so they remained largely unfinished.

The cold cuts and cheese were delicious – sorry I didn’t grab a pic. We had a triple-cream soft cheese, like a soft extra salty brie, served with small whole meal toast triangles, prosciutto di parma, cornichons and a sort of beetroot puree. $12 well spent between us.

The Boston Cream pie was really nice, but I have no frame of reference. I understand it’s normally a traditional sponge with cream and chocolate sauce; this deconstructed variant makes me really want to have the original; soft, airy sponge, thick sweet butter frosting/icing, crunchy chocolate pieces and sweet chocolate sauce – what’s not to like?

Sam Adams – is a solid American lager, and tastes exactly the same as it does when you get it on import in the UK. I, worryingly, seem to be acquiring a taste for interesting lagers these days.

I traded a bit of burger with Arvind for a bit of his lobster roll – I’m not a huge lobster roll fan, as find the flavour of the lobster to be too rich for my liking. But you could tell this was special; the bread is a heavily buttered and crisp brioche, kind of like a luxury grilled cheese texture; the lobster was fresh and utterly free of the fishy flakiness you get when you’re not in the lobster roll capital of the world. There was, if anything, too much lobster for the roll!

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 4/5

Build – 5/5

Burger – 3.5/5

Taste – 3.5/5

Sides – 4.5/5

Value – ??/5 – A friend picked up the tab but the pricing looked reasonable, even allowing for the ludicrous 20% service that’s more or less standard in the US. $16 for the burger and fries.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – It’s good, but not great. I think if I asked for it medium well and with bacon, it’d probably jump up quite a bit – and perhaps even more if I switched the cheese. So try that if you go!

The deets

It’s just off Brattle, a five minute walk from the Harvard metro station, near the American Repertory theater. If you’re in the area, I would definitely recommend it — good food, a lovely buzz (though it was graduation week so everything was busy!) and all the food looked great. Portions are big – bring your appetite. Website here for more info.

Pool-Pub, Rentemestervej, Copenhagen

Surprisingly tasty fayre at this sports bar; amazing curly fries

Burger source

So we’re on a stag do. We go to a pool bar where we play a veritable Olympiad (technically a pentathlon) of indoor sporting events. I have zero expectations for the food… but then the chef engages me in a conversation about it. “We grind them on site, of course. We cook them to medium, naturally! We have a high fat ratio, yes, 7-15%!” Only in Denmark is a ‘high’ fat ratio less than half what a modest fat ratio would be elsewhere in the world. But nonetheless, they earned my attention.

The order

There were three burgers on offer; we went for the Mr Cheesey (their house burger featured boiled egg, which, y’know, weird). This featured, as Google Translate would put it: “Chopped beef, cheddar, iceberg, tomato, cucumber, red onion and ketchup! Bun lubricated with mayonnaise.”

Mmm. Tasty, tasty lubricant.

All the burgers are served with curly fries.

The meat of it

The stack looked good. A thick bed of chopped iceberg lettuce, cucumber (!) and tomato, followed by a healthy looking patty with an excellent melt of cheese on top fo it. The potato roll gleamed with a light toasting and probable enrichment of some kind.

The cross section disappointed somewhat. This was not a medium cooked burger. But it was a good coarse grind and there were pink hints to it so on we went…

And it was pretty good – good charred exterior, nicely seasoned, and despite the overcooking the burger was relatively juicy – a little more fat would not have been a bad thing – but the mayo and the cheese held it all together very well indeed. The texture was good – I think bacon would have helped a little, but then I always do – as would a relish for contrast. I was dipping the whole burger in ketchup!

The curly fries were amazing – highly seasoned, crisp on the outside and squidgy in the middle, super moreish. I sometimes wonder why they bother with straight cut fries.

A reasonable burger experience overall; an extraordinary one for a sports pub. Highly recommended.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 4/5

Build – 4/5

Burger – 3.5/5

Taste – 3.5/5

Sides – 5/5 – curly fries ftw

Value – 4/5 – I’ve no idea what we paid for anything, probably about a million kroner, because that’s how much everything costs in Copenhagen. But it was definitively better value than anything else we did/paid for in that city, wonderful as it is!

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – go for the pool. Stay for the burger. It’s too out of the way to be a burger destination and as I say – in relative terms it was a good burger. In absolute ones? Above average, but unexceptional.

The deets

I have no idea. Not that central in Copenhagen; we got cabs. It was a stag do. I’m not even sure I was there. Check the website.

Bob’s Cafe, 77 Salusbury Road, Queens Park

A very strong contender from this neighbourhood diner

Burger source

Bob’s Café is a modest looking neighbourhood diner with eccentric décor; upside down plants suspended above the tables, slow-turning ceiling fans spinning gently against the warmth of an early Spring day, rustic exposed brickwork roughly painted, sat alongside wooden booths and furniture. Truth be told, it hadn’t been my intent to go for the burger, but when I saw it listed on the menu of this Franco-American diner (“100%  prime beef, traditionally reared, grass and grain-fed), as well as the native toppings on the burger itself (“gherkins, pickled red onion, tomato, lettuce, house sauce”) I was like, “DONE.”

The order

Naturally I had the burger with fries, with extra toppings of aged cheddar and crispy bacon. Amanda had a pasta dish, which I’m told was nice. The chicken schnitzel burger sounded tempting too!

The meat of it

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The burger presents well – stacked apparently beautifully, toppings edged out the lid of the bun, crisp bacon sat on a perfect, modest cheddar melt; pickles on top and salad underneath, coated in a light house-made burger sauce. Almost like having a lettuce-heavy coleslaw on the underside. I didn’t even notice the tomatoes, if they were there, which for me is generally an upside.

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On cross section, I had a slight concern. Whilst everything still generally looked good, part of the patty had begun to grey out (not the “pink” the promised when I ordered), and it also looked very densely packed. Would this burger be mealy, grey and overcooked like so many frozen burgers from “gastropubs” around the country? Some of the burger looked perfectly medium, so I was reserving judgement… even as the stack collapsed as the burger slipped off the pile of burger-sauce lubed up salad on its base.

First bite, moment of truth….

…and I was pleasantly surprised. There’s a lovely, well-seasoned (straight salt and pepper job, no eccentric herbs and spices), slightly charred crunch to the burger and whilst the meat isn’t as juicy as you might hope, the burger sauce and fresh, sweet salad more than compensated. The bacon is a welcome crisp and savoury addition, though I’ll admit I didn’t notice the cheddar as a discrete entity. Perhaps that’s a sign of how well the burger comes together, as many places overdo the cheddar IMO. The burger sauce makes up for the slightly dry meat, and whilst the burger is slightly dense, it comes apart beautifully as you eat it and seems to be made of high quality albeit non-aged beef with a decent fat ratio. The pickles are glorious; the crisp, sweet/sour tang of both the gherkins and the pickled onions contrasting with the crunch of the bacon and the chew of the meat. The bun (a semi-brioche? Not overly sweet) holds up well and despite the somewhat slippery mess of a stack, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. An excellent neighbourhood burger.

The fries, on the other hand, were slightly uninspired. Giving the impression of freezer fries, they aren’t quite crisp enough and are a little underseasoned; the coarse ground table salt doesn’t coat them well and they get cold and limp relatively rapidly. But they’re not terrible.

Drinks-wise, the wine selection here is not extensive but is clearly well chosen. I had a very drinkable Shiraz with the meal.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 3/5 – wobbly, slidey burger in spite of excellent initial appearance
Burger – 4/5 – really tasty despite dryness
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 3/5 – there are better fries, but there are worse ones too.
Value – 3/5 – £14 for burger and sides, after cheese and bacon added. £6 per glass of wine! Pricey, although I gather there are routine discounts for living in the neighbourhood.

Burger rating – 4/5 – a great neighbourhood find.

The deets

Next to Gail’s in Queen’s Park, Bob’s Café is unassuming, unpretentious, and a wonderful find. There are apparently a few other branches; find them all here.

The Table Café, 83 Southwark Street, London

An extremely well put together burger let down by the meat

Burger source

The Table Café is characteristic of the Southwark neighbourhood; independent, owner-managed, distinctive, generally innovative and relatively unconventional. It’s not a burger house but does feature an interesting one on the lunch menu which I thought I’d sample, given the reputed quality of the rest of the cooking. More of the backstory of the restaurant here; worth a read.

The order

I went for the Cheeseburger, red onion relish & triple cooked chips, resisting the urge to add bacon for £2.50!

The meat of it

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The burger is well if simply presented. The bun has some gloss but is not a brioche; there’s a light dripping of unidentifiable burger sauce spilling out the side, the stack looks well assembled. The triple cooked chips on the side are golden with crunch evident before you even pick one up, much less bite into it. So far, so promising.

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The cross section improves and detracts in equal measure. It’s a perfect stack; a thick layer of the red onion relish, a good melt on the cheese, a good amount of pickle, a sturdy but pliant bun, and a good ratio of everything involved. BUT you can see the meat is overdone – it’s grey in the middle and soft the whole way through, no real juiciness at all.

On tasting it – the red onion relish brings a wonderful sourness to every bite, contrasted by the crisp sweetness of the pickle and the savoury nature of the rest of it. The burger meat is well seasoned but the lack of a distinctive crust and the dryness of the overcooked meat detracts from the overall experience, despite the best efforts of the mildly spicy mustard-filled burger sauce elsewhere in the stack. The meat isn’t terrible, but it is far less special than the rest of the burger, which really pulls together very well.

The fries -whilst underseasoned – live up to the first impression. Crisp crunch, but cut thick enough for a fluffy interior despite the triple cooking. The ketchup that was on the table – a brand I didn’t recognise – was somewhat eccentric. I suspect the consequence of buying posh, locally sourced, organic stuff. I’d have preferred Heinz, tbh!

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 4/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 2.5/5
Taste – 3/5 – let down by meat despite how good everything else is
Sides – 4/5 – good chips
Value – 3.5/5 – £12.75 for burger and fries, which is pretty reasonable for the restaraunt. The bacon was too much extra though!

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – could have been better had it been better cooked.

The deets

This is one of our locals on Southwark Street, near the Tate Modern and five minutes’ walk from Blackfriars. If I go back I’ll ask them to cook it medium explicitly and see what happens.

The Grove, 83 Hammersmith Grove, Hammersmith

Very high quality pub burger; slightly uninspired wedges

Burger source

I was meeting a client in the area, and she had the pub recommended by colleagues. They specifically advised her it had a good burger, but it doesn’t have any particular billing on its otherwise conventionally unconventional gastropub menu.

The order

The burger has no fanfare in its send-up: “Grilled Aberdeen Angus Beef Burger (8oz), Cheddar, Pickle, Salsa, Onion Ring, Salad & Chips.” We shared a sticky toffee pudding for pudding, because Celine had never had one despite living in the UK for years and I felt she had to be educated.

The meat of it

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The burger arrived fairly promptly and was well assembled and well laid out; the thick slab of cheddar looked like an over-heavy coating and it worried me that this burger was going to be more hefty than tasty, but those fears proved unfounded. The stack is otherwise perfect; pickle, tomato and cheddar atop the beef, which was laid directly on a toasted brioche.

The “chips” were extremely thick seasoned wedges and a light pleasant salad with a garlicky white dressing centred the plate.

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The cross section revealed a perfect pink medium finish; a coarse ground patty, the bun just holding up to the juiciness, that perfect melt and a thick, crisp, sweet slice of tomato (I’m getting used to these!) and chunky pickle slice adding a vinegary tang. The relish was on the side, and it added a necessary, mildly spicy sweetness to the melty mouthfuls of really very well-seasoned and tasty meat, which had an impressive crust and the even pink finish – very good cooking indeed. It was topped with a solitary onion ring, which I ate separately. The onion ring was fine, but nothing special!

The chunky chips – are not my favourite. I’m sure they were good exemplars of their kind, but it’s like having a burger with a side of jacket potato, really. Doesn’t go, in my opinion.

The salad – was not bad at all. But it’s a salad. So that’s all I got.

The sticky toffee pudding – was OK, but a bit light on the caramel, and a bit dry in the sponge. It either needed a lot more caramel or a nice scoop (or, y’know, quenelle) of vanilla ice cream to moisten things up. Still hard for me to turn down but I kind of regretted not going for the banoffee pie. I love a banoffee pie.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4.5/5
Build – 4.5/5
Burger – 4.5/5 – a different meat blend might have added a tad more flavour but very little to complain about
Taste –  4.5/5
Sides – 3/5 – bump down for the chips and pud
Value – 4.5/5 – £12.50 for burger and side, ish. £50 for two with coffee and dessert – not bad.

Burger rating – 4.5/5 – one of the best pub burgers I’ve had. Just sub out the fries.

The deets

About five minutes’ walk from Hammersmith Tube; very quiet on a Tuesday lunchtime, this feels like more of a neighbourhood pub than a lunchtime place, but recommended wholeheartedly nonetheless. Find it here, online.

Five Guys, Westfield, Shepherd’s Bush

Overpriced, but competent burger in sterile environment

Burger source

Five Guys is an American institution. Founded in Virgina in the mid 80s, it made its way to the UK a few years ago and has been spreading like wildfire.

Unlike McDonald’s style fast food, the food quality is high – Five Guys prides itself on freshness, not having freezers, sourcing meat well (in the UK, it’s grain finished Irish beef), and offering extremely simplicity in their menu – it’s basically just burgers, hot dogs and fries, though the ‘25,000 customisations’ on offer come in the form of swapping out salad, cheese, bacon, etc. and various other toppings on offer.

They also have Coca Cola vending machines with endless customisation on offer – any syrup, with any flavouring. For a caffeine-intolerant person that’s never been able to try vanilla Coke… well, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The order

I had the bacon cheeseburger – standard salad options – and shared a large fries with Matt and James. And a bottomless Coca Cola vending machine drink.

The meat of it

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The burger doesn’t look particularly special, though it’s clearly good meat and a capable bun, it is somewhat squished into its wrapper. There’s a reasonable melt on the cheese and the salad looks healthy and fresh. So far, so ok.

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The cross section reveals a burger that’s cooked to well done, rather than my preferred medium. Not inherently an issue, the two 4oz ish patties still seem to retain a reasonable amount of juice. A taste of a stray bit of bacon – a thin slice fo streaky – reveals a good crisp finish and good bacon flavour.

On first bite – the burger is juicy but could do with a little more moisture. The meat has good texture, is a coarse ground, high fat-ratio item but the overcooking has left it somewhat wanting. I’d have liked a smidge more seasoning, but the cheese compensates somewhat. The bun is a standard seeded white roll, so the sweetness comes from the vegetables; in a rare break with personal tradition I leave the tomato in place and eat it as is. The pickles are (too) mild, but the mayo helps bind the lot together. The whole is somehow better than the sum of its parts, which – whilst passable – are unexceptional. When you take into account the price – £8.50 for the burger, followed by a share of £5 for the fries and £3.50 for the drink… it feels somewhat overpriced.

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The ‘large’ portion of fries is enormous (MyFitnessPal tells me that a full portion weighs up at 1,368 calories, so definitely share it) – the above is just overspill, the majority of the pack is elsewhere. The chips are crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, fried in peanut oil (peanuts are a major feature of the Five Guys experience, left scattered around the restarunt in large sacks, making it totally unsuitable for allergy sufferers like my wife and nephew).

HOWEVER…. the seasoning is completely overdone. I’d have far preferred a simple salt finish. I should have customised their cajun seasoning right off them, would have dramatically improved it.

The final piece…

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I discovered in about 2000 that I was caffeine intolerant, and am now completely incapable of consuming it. I loved Coke, though, and ‘gold Coke’ – caffeine free Diet Coke – has been my only option if I wanted the flavour. I’ve watched all these novelty flavoured Cokes come and go and been unable to try them.

So I drank a lot of flavoured coke with my meal. Vanilla (YUM), lime (not bad!), raspberry (chemical!) – totally worth the £3.50 for me, though probably not for any normal person who is happy with a single large cup of carbonated (fake) sugar water.

The one critical thing worth noting about the Five Guys experience is that the restaraunt is really very simply adorned; it feels like sitting in a McD’s, complete with over-bright lighting, occasional mess on the floor, unkempt furniture and dazed and confused patrons. It’s not a pleasant place to eat, and given that the price compares with some of the best burger restaraunts in London… well, it loses points on that front.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3.5/5
Build – 3/5
Burger – 3.5/5
Taste –  3.5/5
Sides – 3/5 – 4.5 without the cajun seasoning
Value – 3/5 – £15 for a fast food eating experience with better quality food.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 –  passable quality burger, but not excited to have another one.

The deets

Five Guys is everywhere in the UK now. Find your nearest here. We were en route to the Star Wars VR experience (The Void) in Westfield, hence choosing that particular eatery. THAT was amazing. Definitely try that.

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.

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.