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.

Patty & Bun, Old Compton Street, Soho

Huge, tasty, juicy burger; a little rare and a lot caramelised oniony. Eccentric sides.

Burger source:

Another one from the stable of ‘pop-up done good’, founder and chef Joe Grossman reportedly fell in love with the burger scene in NYC and, when he met business partner Mark Jankel and started the P&B story over here, decided he wanted to build on the craze here. More on the origins of P&B here. The hype for P&B I heard was stupendous, possibly second only to how people rave about Honest Burger, so I was both curious and excited as my Burger Crew friends and I gathered for a semi-spontaneous mid-week visit.

The order

I went for the ‘Smokey Robinson’ – largely by mistake and, for my tastebuds – it did prove to be something of an error. It’s loaded with ‘mounds’ of caremelised onions – which I love – but seriously, MOUNDS.

P&B burger

They are not exaggerating. We also had the much-vaunted chicken-skin fries, confit chicken wings (“Winger winger chicken dinner”), Rosemary fries, and some rather eccentric chicken thighs – possibly the ‘Thunder thighs’ – which seem different in my memory from those on the current menu at the Soho branch, but I suspect my memory is playing tricks. Also confit’d I think, and coated with a strong flavoured marinade, apparently Urfa chilli.

The meat of it:

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The meat is coarsely ground, loosely packed and cooked very medium – verging on rare. So much so there was almost that smell of raw meat as you bit into it. A bit too rare for my liking, to be honest. But it is an immense burger – easily 8 oz of meat and fat that’s otherwise well seasoned and luscious for anyone whose tastebuds are that way inclined. The caramelised onions, for me, overpowered the gentle juiciness of the beef; the sweetness took over and I was waiting for a salty bite to recover it. I should have had the Ari Gold burger with bacon, I think, for my tastebuds, but if you like a sweeter burger, it’s a good choice. The demi-brioche bun really struggled under the weight and juiciness of the meat (unlike TomTom Mess Hall, these guys have an excellent meat/fat ratio) and added further (unnecessary to my mind) sweetness to the experience. That said, the overall impact wasn’t bad at all – just not to my slightly more savoury tastes. A bad choice on my part.

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The chicken skin fries were an interesting novelty and reminded me of the Orange Walkers’ Crisps packets from the mid-90s (I know you can still get them, but… who does?). Nothing extraordinary but well fried, crisp, and a good counterpoint to the burger; despite doubtless being natural flavouring, the flavour can’t help but feel slightly artificial as your only other frame of reference is a 60p bag of crisps! The confit nature of both the thighs and the wings added a satisfying crunch but, for me the flavours were too strong – you could barely taste the chicken for the marinade. The fact that the sauce on the wings was cloyingly sweet (and I was having a sweet burger!) and the sourness of the chilli of the thighs was slightly odd (I guessed the spice was tamarind before double checking the menu). On their own, I can understand why everyone raves about the Rosemary fries; but in the context of this mess of a tasting meal, they were lost. Next time; Ari Gold burger with bacon, Rosemary fries, and I’m done.

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I also had a very delicious cocktail – the Would I Lychee You (Kudos, Bob’s Burgers) – which was refreshingly sweet and punchy. And this time, sweet was what I wanted.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 3.5/5
Taste –  3.5/5
Sides – 3.5/5
Value – 4/5

Burger rating – 4/5 – I blame my poor taste experience entirely on my own error of judgement in ordering the wrong burger. I think everything about P&B is good that should be, even if I haven’t acquired a taste for the more eccentric sides yet.

The deets

P&B is seemingly everywhere, with branches in Liverpool Street, Old Compton Street, James’ Street and beyond. Check out the list of locations here for your most convenient stopover.

Bonus pic with the decor:

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