Wahlburgers, James Street, Covent Garden

Including Transformers: The Last Knight, this is the worst thing Mark Wahlberg has ever done

Burger source

Wahlburgers is a chain of growing notoriety. 10 seasons of reality TV, 30+ outlets in the US, a high-profile arrival in Covent Garden and of course – the Wahlberg family – made me curious. And a mixed barrage of reviews (bad from critics, more positive – it seemed – from punters) made me even moreso. Averaging four stars on Tripadvisor and Google Reviews, it surely merited investigation, yes? Not so much, it turns out. But spoilers…

The “fresh Scottish beef” is, apparently, a “signature blend of brisket, short rib and chuck.” Should be good, right? I mean, that’s some tasty cuts right there.

The order

“The brothers each have a favourite,” the menu acclaims. Well, they were all 4oz burgers and we were hungry, so we went for the 1/2 pound “O.F.D” – “Originally from Dorchestah”, featuring a 6oz patty, swiss cheese, bacon, sautéed mushrooms and a ‘housemade tomato jam.’

There were a few of us, so we tried a lot of sides – Mac & Cheese, cola wings, hummus [sic] and tortillas, sweet potato and regular fries, thin and crispy onion rings.

I drank the Wahlbrewski, an American Pale Ale served on tap.

The meat of it

The summary kind of gives it away. This is a terrible, terrible burger. A crime against burgers. Daylight robbery at £12 for the burger alone. Let’s look at it.

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Barely melted swiss cheese. The bun is cold, though inoffensive. The patty is small relative to everything else.

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In cross section: you see mealy, finely ground, tightly packed meat. The pale red tomato jam has a strange consistency. The bacon is flaccid and the mushrooms are an odd inclusion.

First bite. No seasoning. The meat tastes like its from a cow that has been unbundled from mummification prior to butchering and preparation. Dry, tasteless meat is not salvaged my limpid bacon and tasteless cheese. The bun holds up and provides sweetness and body – but that’s about all that’s redeeming about this burger.

Four of us ordered it, and none of us were willing to waste the calories to finish it. Nearly two full burgers’ worth of detritus went back. In my few years of burger reviewing, this is the first time I refused to finish the meal.

The waitstaff were extremely courteous and apologetic. They tried to explain away our dislike for the burger. “I don’t like Swiss cheese either….” The cheese was a small part of the problem. “Our meat blend is very unusual, a lot of people won’t love it, it’s the brisket…” The meat blend, in theory, is fine. Brisket is a little unusual and would have reduced the overall fat content, but shouldn’t have dried it out completely. “Try our double burger, you’ll love it.” We declined to buy any more of the horrific burgers, but in an attempt to win us round the manager brought one anyway, on the house, split five ways for us to try.

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It was marginally better, in the way that a slap to the face is better than a gutpunch. i.e. Both terrible. In practical terms, a more substantial, Big-Mac-esque burger sauce, and a more melty cheese added moisture and umami. But the meat was the same rubbery, leathery awfulness we’d experienced previously.

My first ever nul points. I would not eat this burger again if you paid me its price. Misters Wahlberg, you should be ASHAMED, to lend your family name to this horror, this caloric vacuum of flavour, this insult to burgers, to cows, to your customers.

A rapid fire set of reviews for the sides:

  • The tortilla/hummus [sic] combo was fine but uninspired. You could have been eating Doritos and Tesco houmous.
  • The Mac & Cheese – was flagrant misrepresentation in that it was neither mac nor cheese, but rather standard penne in a mild, garlicky white sauce. Most of this went uneaten.
  • The cola wings – were great. Really crisp, sweet with a hint of heat, juicy meat that fell off the bone. A highlight.
  • The fries and sweet potato fries – were fine. Well cooked, lightly seasoned, good structure and body though not really notable.
  • The fried pickles – were well fried and tasted ok – but the pickle flavour was very light. The slices are too thin and the pickles too weak to hold up to the batter and deep frying.
  • The thin and crispy onion rings – were extremely moreish. Heavily seasoned, they were salty, sweet, crispy and delicious.

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The Wahlbrewski – a light, refreshing, citrusy American Pale Ale – was really nice (to my craft-beer loving palate). A strong partnership with an American brewery, a sweetness takes the edge off the bitterness of the ale, and its light and well carbonated. A good partner for the food, such it was.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 2/5
Build – 2/5
Burger – 0/5
Taste – 0/5
Sides – 3/5 – the onion rings would get 5 on their own, the wings 4, the fries 3.5.
Value – 1/5 – £30 for burger, sides, drink and shared starters for food of this quality in that environment was just too much

Burger rating – 0/5 – all the points Wahlburgers gets – for the service, for the sides, for the beer – it loses to the appalling travesty it claims is a burger.

The deets

Please don’t go there for the burgers. But it’s opposite Covent Garden tube if you want a quiet American Pale Ale and a basket of onion rings, brilliant service and a brightly-lit fast food environment. And I’d definitely recommend it for that.

Harrild & Sons, Farringdon, London

Good burger spoiled by overcooking

Burger source

Harrild & Sons is a bar and restaurant (really a pub that serves food and cocktails) on Farrindgon Street, sometimes known as the ‘dullest street in the Square Mile.’ It’s a lovely space with a high-end but down to earth feel, lots of exposed wood and interesting design touches, tonnes of real-ale and beer options, an extensive cocktail menu and… a burger. One that looked like it took itself seriously on the menu.

The place is named for a manufacturer of printing presses that had facilities in the area. Nice design touches signal this everywhere.

The order

The Harrild Burger, natch. The meat is from London’s famed Ginger Pig butcher, the burger itself is topped with melty Swiss cheese, bacon, relish, lettuce , red onion & served with fries – all for £13.50. I was drinking one of my favourite beers – a Kona Big Wave Hawaiian ale. On tap.

The meat of it

It looks good, doesn’t it.

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Lovely melt on the cheese. Fresh looking vegetables. Sturdy bun – not a brioche, I think, despite its shiny appearance. Or at least, not a sweetened one.

Let’s check the cross.

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Lovely coarse grind. Flecks of pink in the meat. The bun is holding up, the salad is bright and fresh. Crisp bacon lies temptingly on top of the melty cheese.

First taste. Crunch – excellent crus- wait, no. It’s burnt. It’s definitely burnt. Not just-a-good-char burnt, but fully-taste-the-ashes burnt. Whoops. Also a little underseasoned – although possibly the bitterness of the char is just masking the taste of salt. Either way, it’s not the best first impression.

But it grows on you. It’s not completely charred and the unburned meat contrasts well with a tangy relish, and the crisp vegetables. Some sweet pickles make and appearance and the bacon – thin, round slices of back bacon – are crisp, crunchy and delicious. The textural contrast and overall umami make up somewhat for the burnt taste. A little mayo takes the edge off and it’s enjoyable, on the whole. Such a shame – this burger was maybe a minute or two from greatness.

As to the fries:

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Crisp and grease free. But underseasoned and low on flavour – with mayo these are alright. But I actually left some, which I never do, so they were empirically proven to be less than compelling.

The beer was great. It’s Kona Big Wave. Always reliable.

Overall, not bad for a £13.50 pub burger on a busy Friday night.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 3/5
Taste –  3.5/5
Sides – 3.5/5

Value – 4/5 – £13.50 – for burger and fries is OK in this part of town.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – has it been less overdone, this would have been an easy 4. Lots of potential here.

The deets

Just a few minutes up Farringdon Street, you can’t miss it. And apparently you can book tables! Website here.

Refuel @ Soho Hotel, Soho, London

Tasty but messy beef and chicken burgers

Burger source

A seasonal special, the Soho Hotel has let its chefs go wild and create their burgery delights for the Summer. Only available until 30th September! Here’s the blurb:

This August, the talented chefs at Refuel Bar & Restaurant have each created their own ultimate burger inspired by flavours from around the world.

Try Renaldo’s ‘Greek Island Paradise Burger’, a lamb burger with rosemary, lemon, oregano, feta, tomato and grilled onion with pickle and cucumber tzatziki or ‘Shannon’s Dirty Burger’, a twist on the classic created with a double beef patty, Applewood smoked cheese, golden onions, smoked bacon and topped with a blue cheese dip.  Each of the specially created summer burgers are paired with a refreshing Asahi beer.

More at the website.

We were curious and needed a new burger place to try in Soho, so thought, why not?

The order

Jimjamjebobo and I shared SAM’S EIFFEL TOWER BURGER (Buttermilk chicken, streaky bacon, caramelised onion with smoked paprika mayonnaise and crispy onion rings) and SHANNON’S DIRTY BURGER

(Double beef patty, Applewood smoked cheese, golden onions, smoked bacon, blue cheese dip). Sides of truffle Parmesan polenta chips, french fries and ‘hand cut chips’ were shared. Asahi came bundled with the burger.

The meat of it

To each burger in turn, then the sides.

Shannon, let’s talk.

I mean, what do you even call this stack? The double burgers are SIDE BY SIDe instead of on top of each other, bottoming (tomato, salad) cause the burger to slide around further, the toppings are literally falling out the side – it’s presentationally a mess. But… that bacon, onion, melty cheese, fresh salad – all looks good. What lies within?

A reasonably coarse grind but very little pink (oddly, Jimbo’s half looked better). It’s still sliding all over the place but we’re ready to taste now…

And gosh, it comes together. The meat is uncomplex but well seasoned and with a good crust. The moisture from the sweet bun, the cheese and the fresh salad makes up for the slightly overcooked burger. The cheese is extremely gooey and adds a lovely mouthfeel. The bacon is ultra-crisp streaky and adds a delightful crunch to each bite. Shannon, it may have looked a mess and been difficult to eat (at one point, I just flung the tomato out), but it was delicious. That said, I could do nothing with the blue cheese sauce. It was too thick to dip, too solid to spread, and it added nothing to the burger. It came on the side and was left on the side.

Now, for Sam’s turn.

In contrast, Sam’s stack is rather more elegant. Look at that cheese! Look at that bacon! Plated beautifully, well done. Look at that crisp breaded chicken, topped with crispy bacon… mmm…

So, to the tasting:

The chicken has a crisp, if somewhat uninspired breading – buttermilk chicken in my head has associations of the Deep South of America, but instead this is (as the name would suggest) a rather more elegant, continental breading. The meat is unbelievably moist, perfectly cooked. The cheese is a delight, gooey and luscious, binding the flavours rather beautifully. The bacon is hard to detect; it’s sparse and can’t compete with the other flavours, so was probably surplus to requirements. The burger did need the paprika mayonnaise that came on the side (it was just a bit too much salt without it) but I found that rather strong flavoured and so went without. Really a very credible effort.

As to the sides… A few to mention.

The coleslaw – which came with the burgers – was a bit too mayo-heavy for me and didn’t really add to the experience.

The pickle (aka Pickle Rick, because it was enormous and we like Rick and Morty): was great; fresh, crisp, and, well, big. Eaten on the side, I would have preferred pickle slices in the Dirty burger, I think. But I enjoyed it nonetheless.

The polenta fries… were grim. But that’s because I don’t like polenta fries. They were crisp, the Parmesan topping added a salty tang, but I don’t like truffle and I don’t like polenta. They are just a poor imitation of a thick cut chip and they should stop making them.

The regular fries… were just ok. Well seasoned but not universally crisp, and some of them were a little overcooked.

The hand cut fries… were too significant fractions of a potato for me to enjoy. Hand cut just a little bit thinner next time, I didn’t want roast potato size wedges with a burger then, and I never will.

And last, but definitely not least – the onion rings. Possibly the best onion rings I’ve ever had. A thick round of sweet onion encased in a crisp, extremely well seasoned batter. A lovely contrast of freshness and decadence. It came with Sam’s Eiffel Tower burger, so wasn’t an orderable side, but it should be.

Monkey finger rating

To each in turn…

Shannon:

Bun – 4/5
Build – 1/5
Burger – 3/5
Taste – 4/5

And Sam:

Bun – 4/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste – 4/5

Sides – 3.5/5 – even the delightful onion rings can’t redeem the other chips
Value – 3.5/5 – £22.50 for burger, sides, and an Asahi.

Burger rating – 4/5 – overall, really a good experience. The Soho Hotel is a nice place to eat, there was a good vibe (even on a Tuesday), the service was great and the burgers were interesting. Try it out whilst the offer is on, and you will walk away happy and (very) full.

The deets

Just off Dean Street in Soho, look for Richmond Mews. You can book online.

Brewdog, Clerkenwell, London

Convincing vegan burger; actual meat let down by overcooking/packing

Burger source

I’ve been an “Equity Punk” since 2015 – holding a very small number of shares in the crowdfunded Brewdog empire – but I’ve never taken advantage of it. So we corrected that this weekend and stopped in for a burger and beer at the Brewdog bar in Clerkenwell.

Brewdog bigs up the burger origins a little in its menu: “Our bespoke mix of chuck, rib cap and brisket beef comes solely from British farms including our friends at Alec Jarrett Farm & Foxham Farm.” And its buns too: “Our burger buns are baked exclusively for us at Wrights Bakery, independent and family run since 1867.”

The order

Matt and I split a ‘Patriot burger’ – 7oz beef patty, smoked bacon, cheddar, pickles, onion, baby gem & bbq sauce in a sesame and poppy seeded brioche bun – and a ‘Beyond meat’ burger – beyond meat patty, vegan chipotle slaw, vegan gouda cheese, roasted red peppers, baby gem & pickles in a beetroot brioche bun. Disclaimer: I have a tiny shareholding in Beyond Meat too, following its IPO.

On the side, we shared some wings, fries and sweet potato fries.

We each had a ‘beer flight’ as well – four one third pint glasses of different Brewdog beers. We had Instamatic (wheat ale – v unusual), Elvis Juice (famous Brewdog IPA), East Coast IPA and Clockwork Tangerine. The fruitier IPAs, because I was ordering and I like that kind of thing.

The meat of it

So, as I tried two burgers, each in turn.

Let’s start with the Patriot burger.

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Ok, this has been brutalised by the cross section but you can see from this and the feature picture that this has not been well stacked. Without the ceremonial knife holding it together, the meat is sliding all over the place, the salad is spilling out the sides; pickles undernearth basically created an icerink for the burger. People who read my blog regularly will also know that I’m about to be unimpressed with the meat – overcooked (no pink at all, that’s not just the lighting), packed solid, finely ground. All terrible errors. And because the meat turns up on site as mince, they have little choice – food safety regulations mean they have to cook it medium well. Total shame, as the meat was good quality and well seasoned, although somewhat lacking in crust (hotter griddle needed). And a quick word on the bacon: it was a bit insipid and floppy. I wish more burger places would either take the Americans lead and make crispy bacon REALLY crispy, or use thicker cut/more flavourful bacon if they’re going to cook it like they did here.

Almost everything else about the burger was actually pretty good; the seasoning was great, sweet BBQ sauce, crisp pickle and melty, salty cheddar was actually really well held by the brioche – which felt like a standard white bun, much less sweet than you’d expect of a brioche. It was soft, but served untoasted – actually totally fine in context. Such a shame that the texture of the meat had that slightly rubbery consistency that overcooked, overpacked burgers do.

In contrast, the Beyond Meat burger…

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The stack here was a little more controlled but the ‘bottomings’ cause the same problem. Messy build. The Beyond Burger is texturally consistent though, so no problems there, though probably needs a smaller bun or bigger patty. How did this all come together?

Pretty impressively, actually. The chipotle slaw adds a lovely, savoury crunch (almost bacony), the pickles and beetroot bun provide sweetness, that vegan gouda – why can’t I buy that in a grocery store?? – amazingly convincing, salty, gooey goodness. The Beyond Burger is as good as it always is – not quite fooling you into thinking its beef, but really very close. The overall package was great, and I’d probably have this over the Patriot burger on a return visit.

As to the sides…

The wings weren’t standard buffalo wings – buttermilk batter meant they were super crispy – great – but the addition of a honey glaze substantially tempered the hot sauce. Basically, they were barely spicy. But they were crisp and tasty nonetheless. Without the heat, the blue cheese sauce was surplus to requirements.

The fries were pretty delightful, especially the sweet potato fries. They arrive unseasoned, but once that’s corrected, they are crisp, full of OG potato flavour, and not at all greasy. Really very good work.

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I’m not going to attempt to review the beers. The bartender that served us was – at least apparently, I have no way of knowing – incredibly expert. He guided us on flavour profiles, food pairings (“the esters in the wheat beer will give it a cooling effect for the spice in the buffalo wings, but the Elvis Juice will kick it up a notch”), and more. But it was consistently good as Brewdog always is, and some interesting variations. Nice to have it on tap instead of bottled/canned, too.

Monkey finger rating

To each burger in turn

Patriot Burger

Bun –  5/5
Build – 2/5
Burger – 2/5
Taste –  3/5

Beyond Burger

Bun – 4/5
Build – 3/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste – 4/5

Sides – 4/5 -would have been higher had there been more hot sauce in the buffalo wings, the fries are really excellent
Value – 4/5 – £22 per head for burger, sides, beer per head – with a 10% Equity Punk discount. Pretty good even without.

Overall rating – 4/5 – the experience was fun and the Beyond Burger was really very good. I’d go back, and probably try even more different beers. Or maybe – controversially – the chicken burger.

The deets

There are Brewdog bars all over the place now – find your nearest here.

Chillis, Bangsar Shopping Centre, KL, Malaysia

Surprisingly good, albeit messy and flawed

Burger source

Truly, we’d meant to go to Dome. At least it was semi-authentically Malaysian, rather than a local branch of the global Texan chain. But it was a Sunday evening and they were out of everything, and we wanted to go somewhere quick where our egg-allergic three year old would be able to get something she’d eat, like a hot dog. So Chillis it was.

Founded in 1975 as a casual dining, Tex-Mex themed restaurant, this place is all Americana – oversized burgers, quesadillas, hot dogs and the rest. They don’t have a presence in the UK but there are 1,500 of them around the world, including a plethora in KL and PJ.

The order

I had the Ultimate (Beef) Bacon Burger, because it’s Malaysia and they don’t serve pork in mass market casual dining restaurants in major malls for fear of alienating the majority Muslim population.

Here’s what’s in it: Double beef bacon, aged cheddar cheese, pickles, leaf lettuce, red onions, tomato, jalapeños aioli, spicy Buffalo wing sauce & Honey-Chipotle sauce.

The meat of it

Pleasingly, and somewhat unexpectedly, my waiter asked me how I’d like it done. I opted for medium, suspecting that it’d be somewhat overdone.

You can see what it looked like on arrival, and expectations were low.

There’s a curious light brown colour that looks washed out around the edges of the oversized burger (guessing 8oz). The beef bacon is heavily loaded; there’s nothing aged looking about the cheddar (it’s basically American cheese, though that’s no bad thing). The sauce is everywhere and it looks like it’s going to be MESSY.

On cross section, I’m more hopeful. The meat’s actually pink. The salad is well layered, protecting the bun. The bacon is well proportioned. The bun has a useful density to it holding it together. And most of the mess was slightly overzealous application of sauce; the fat ratio isn’t out of control.

Onto the tasting…

It’s actually not bad. Whilst the pickles are awful and have to be picked out (you can see their unhealthy faded green colour in the first picture – there are some on the side as well as some embedded in the burger), the burger itself is extremely juicy and reasonably well cooked. The crust isn’t as crisp as I’d like it to be, but with a burger this thick an over hot grill would probably result in a raw centre. The seasoning is good but not excessive and the cheese – whilst under melted – has a decent saltiness to it.

The beef bacon is disappointing in the way beef bacon always is, in that it’s not actual bacon so isn’t crisp, is overchewy, and flaps around in oversized bits when you’re trying to eat this enormous monstrosity of a burger. BUT it’s actually well seasoned and adds to the overall flavour.

The sauce is confused, but again this works in favour of the overall experience. All the umami from burger, bacon and cheese is evened out by the brioche bun and a BBQ-esque sauce. The confusion is because clearly the ‘honey-chipotle’ sauce combined with the ‘buffalo sauce’ somehow evens out as generic sweet BBQ sauce without a momentary hint of actual spice-induced heat. Not bad, just not quite what was advertised.

So, whilst it wasn’t what was billed, the overall experience was OK, if messy. The burger, cheese and bacon contrasted well with the bun and sauce, the patty itself is coarse ground, loose packed and well seasoned, and the combination more or less works. The primary failing, other than just being about 30% too big, was the lack of textural contrast within the burger – it’s all a bit mushy. The absence of real bacon, the soft crust on the meat, the horrific pickles, means that the overall experience is a bit like eating a large mush-burger. And the fact it slides all over the place meant I gave up and ate the second half with cutlery.

As to the sides, it comes with seasoned fries:

You don’t need many of these, the burger’s so large. But they’re not bad; thicker than your McD’s fry, there’s a little real potato heft to them. The dusting of salt, pepper and a little paprika (if I’m not mistaken) makes them taste interesting, with or without ketchup. There’s a reasonable crispness to them, though not quite as much as you might guess from the picture. No greasiness, no sogginess.

All in all, a pleasant surprise.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 4/5

Build – 2/5 – slippery beastt

Burger – 3/5

Taste – 3.5/5

Sides – 4/5 – I would have enjoyed these if I’d had enough appetite for them after the burger

Value – 4/5 – It’s hard to gauge if RM32.50 for the burger and fries is good value in a country where you can get a full meal in another kind of restaurant for RM5 or less, but relative to British standards, at about £6 (plus kids eat free), this is pretty good value.

Burger rating – 3/5 – I’m not itching to go back, but that’s mainly the cholesterol. The burger wasn’t bad. Amanda’s mushroom burger was apparently good too.

The deets

These restaurants are all over the place. Find your nearest (in Malaysia) on the local website here.

The Beagle, Barlow Moor Road, Manchester

Very serviceable Mancs Deliveroo burger, with decent skin on chips and craft beer

Burger source

The Beagle seems to be one of that new breed of gastropub; handmade burgers, an excellent craft beer selection, burritos and more.

The menu is relatively low fuss; no indication of the heritage of the burgers or any such stuff; no hand-fed cows on the salt-marshes of Northern Ireland or anything. Picking the order off Deliveroo, you’d be hard pressed (but for the booze selection, and the absence of kebabs) to identify the difference between this place and a kebab shop that also did burgers.

But the ratings were high (90%+) and I thought it’d be nice to have a Northern burger whilst visiting Manchester, so I did. Looking up the website of the pub, it’s clearly the kind of craft burger/beer hipster hangout I love, so next time – who knows – maybe I’ll make it in. But this time I was housebound with the kids, so ’twas not to be.

The order

I went relatively simple – the Maple Bacon Burger, a 6oz patty, chipotle mayo, crispy streaky maple cured bacon, and cheese, on a brioche bun. With salad and skin-on chips.

I had them deliver a craft beer too – a High Wire Grapefruit (Grapefruit Pale Ale is apparently a thing).

The meat of it

The stack is messy; a huge slice of tomato and salad coated in copious chipotle mayo, bacon and burger both spilling out of the side of the apparently undersized brioche, and the burger blackened and flattened to the point I imagined I might need to skip the review – so mediocre was it likely to be.

But looks can be deceiving. Whilst the stack was indeed messy, delivery may account for some of the sliding, and the cross section reveals a coarse ground patty that has decent amount of pink visible. The bacon cuts with an audible snap when I prepped for the cross section shot, which adds drama and excitement – bacon was made to be fried crisp, IMHO.

On first taste, I’m confused. There’s salt from the extremely melty cheese and the bacon, adding to the bite of the burger (simple salt/pepper seasoning on that, and not too much of it). The sweet hint in the bacon couples with the sweet salad and sweet brioche and is countered by the mild but obvious heat from the – very flavourful – chipotle mayo. Of which there is slightly too much, but which adds more than it detracts.

The bun starts to fall apart in my hands as I eat; though the burger lacks real juiciness, the mayonnaise and salad is taking its toll on even the egg-and-sugar enriched bun. The combination is certainly more than the sum of its parts, though; a good bite to the meat, a crisp, salty, gooey texture from the cheese and bacon, the sweetness from the bun and salad and the texture and heat added by the mayo gel extremely effectively, even after being in a takeaway box for 10 minutes. The pros outweigh the cons (slightly overdone, dry meat, slight under seasoning, messy stack, inadequate bun), and the overall experience was very satisfying.

The fries; held up very well. Medium-cut, skin on chips, these taste of real potato, are crisp without being greasy, and are well-seasoned without being salty. Even without ketchup they are enjoyable, which is a good sign.

The beer; I will not attempt to review too comprehensively. My taste in beer is unusual; I favour sweeter drinks with a hint of beeriness and prior to the current craft beer renaissance we seem to be going through, I’d only ever order a beer if there was Hoegarden on tap. This beer is the lovechild of a fairly standard craft IPA (think: Beavertown Neck Oil) and a can of Lilt. It’s not overtly sugary but the hint of sweetness cuts back the bitterness of the IPA to leave a very smooth overall experience. The Grapefruit flavour isn’t overly chemical. I’d have it again, but I suspect most real beer lovers wouldn’t.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 3.5/5

Build – 3/5

Burger – 3.5/5

Taste – 4/5

Sides – 4/5

Value – 4/5 – £10 for burger and side, plus £5 for the beer (!!) with 10% off the lot.

Burger rating – 4/5 – really a very good experience overall

The deets

You can find the Beagle on Deliveroo, or at 458 Barlow Moor Road, Manchester, M20 0BQ. The pub’s website is here.

Thirsty Bear, Stamford Street, London

Exceptional pub fayre

Burger source

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The Thirsty Bear positions itself as the “pub revolutionised” and in many ways it is. iPads adorn many of the tables, which also have beer taps attached, allowing you to order (and pour!) your drinks at the table, get food sent to you, call a waiter for help and so on. It’s a small but effective gimmick, cutting down queue/wait time and certainly makes things work differently.

The burgers are the staple of the pub’s American-themed menu, which also features wings, ribs, slaws, soft tacos and beyond. All we know is about the burger origins is that  “All burgers are a whopping 6oz of prime rib-eye, fillet and sirloin patty.”

The order

I ordered a ‘BBQ bacon’, and colleagues had various eccentric variations; one featuring pulled pork, one peanut butter. The BBQ bacon featured 6 oz beef patty, crispy smoked bacon, Monterey jack, lettuce, tomato, red onion, BBQ glaze, bun. Side of Cajun fries, and we had some wings and ribs too.

The meat of it

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Appearances can be confusing. In the darkness of the pub, what was clear was that this burger appeared to have a rather flaccid bun; there was ample (perhaps excessive) salad poking around the side. The burger was topped with thin-mandolined pickled cucumber. BBQ sauce was dripping around the bun. The cheese had an excellent melt and was glooping around the side. A stray red onion loop makes its presence felt.

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The cross section reveals a fine grind, densely packed. Not sure how this is going to go.

Then the first bite. The crunch from the uber-crispy bacon reports like a rifle shot. The taste is instant; the salt and crunch of the bacon; the slight resistance from the well-charred burger exterior. The juicy drip of its interior – drier than it could have been, but better than many. A smokiness and sweetness, from the meat and the BBQ sauce, peels through each mouthful. There’s a light bonus crispness and sweetness from the salad; tomato and onion, mild lettuce, perfect pickle. The meat blend makes every mouthful tasty, despite the fact that the burger is a little too dense and too chewy, and the lettuce portion is unnecessarily generous…  the overall impression is one of lush, well balanced flavour. This is an excellent pub burger.

Sides were fun: the Cajun fries (and the regular, and sweet potato fries colleagues ordered) were truly excellent. Crisp and well seasoned on the outside, squidgy in the middle, without being unduly salty. Cajun seasoning adds a (very) mild spice flavour.

We also tried some buffalo wings and ribs. The ribs were dry and tougher than they should have been; the sauce a little meanly applied though not without flavour. Overall, a solid meh. The wings, on the other hand, had a good crunch, decent heat coming through the hot sauce, and only a smidge too little sauce. The meat was juicy and not overdone. Definitely moreish, though, and recommended.

The colleagues I was eating with enjoyed theirs as much as I did mine, so verdict verified.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5 – soft but surprisingly sturdy
Build – 4/5 – may not look like much but really very well contained
Burger – 3.5/5 – could have been a shade or two rarer without hurting anyone
Taste –  4/5 – very solid flavour, if a little dense and less juicy than it could have been
Sides – 4/5 – excellent fries, good wings, middling ribs
Value – 4/5 – £12 for burger and side, ish. Plus £5.50 for a pint, and £12 to share a jumbo starter.

Burger rating – 4/5 – really very good overall.

The deets

Just off Southwark Street, about 8 minutes down the road from Waterloo Station. Worth the diversion for supper and a pint. Limited Vegan options available.

The Laughing Gravy, 154 Blackfriars Road, London

Extraordinarily tasty burger with somewhat ordinary chips and even more exceptional pud

Burger source

This is a restaraunt with really a very high calibre of food across the board. So the burger doesn’t feature centrally, and gets just modest billing on the menu. Nonetheless; I expected from the reputation the restaraunt had acquired that this would be no “pub” burger.

The order

I had the Aberdeen Angus cheese burger with hand cut chips, with added smoked bacon for an additional £2. Portobello mushrooms and fried onions were also available as an alternative topping.

No starters, though I did share a pudding with an old friend. More on the 3-way salted caramel to follow.

The meat of it

This burger tastes extraordinary. Let’s look at it a little more closely.

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You can instantly see a good crust on the meat. The bun looks sturdy – perhaps excessively so? That rather depends on the meat, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The gammon-like bacon is thick, and covered with a good amount of very melty cheddar. A small drizzle of grease has escaped the otherwise perfect plating and speaks to a juicy feast to follow.

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The grease is explained. The coarse ground meat is cooked to a perfect medium, and whilst it looks and seems dry in the first pic, you can see here that the bun only just holds up to the meat juice. The bacon portion is ludicrously generous, and there’s a little red of relish in there of some description. You can see the cheese melting off to the side, a forgotten spider web of dairy deliciousness.

On first bite, you’re overwhelmed with umani. Whislt I ordinarily don’t love non-crispy  bacon in a burger, this thick cut smoked meat adds a delicious taste on top of the already well-seasoned beef. The beef itself is high grade, aged Aberdeen Angus, with a little of the delightful funk you get with dry-aging. It’s not overpowering though; this is not a complex burger, simply a very well constructed one. The melty cheddar binds without overwhelming the burger but the overall impact is very salty; the little relish is overpowered and the burger would have benefited from a sweet contrast. Perhaps my own fault for adding bacon but not ketchup.

I ate this burger slowly; it’s very rich and deserved savouring. They’ve made something wonderful here.

To the sides; the small side salad had a sweetish dressing and was a nice, if token, gesture in the direction of health. The chips were thick-cut, chip-shop style chips and were inconsistent – some soggy, others crisp to the point of shattering. A happy medium would have delivred a better experience throughout.

The pudding, of which I have no picture I’m afraid, was extraordinary. Brownie in multiple forms, a lush salted caramel gelato, cruchy bits in a sweet caramel goo, plus gooey salt caramel and chocolate embedded in a crisp brownie. There were peanut pieces surrounding the salted caramel gelato adding both salt and crunch. Wonderful. We shared it – at £9.70 and with three different grades of indulgence scattered across a large plate, it’s best shared between two!

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste –  4.5/5 – – more relish, or some sweet pickle and this would be up there
Sides – 3/5
Value – 3.5/5 – £16 for burger and sides, ish, with added bacon, and best part of £5 for the pudding (SHARED!) – this place is definitely more £££ than ££. But it is that kind of place.

Burger rating – 4/5 – despite the price and middling chips, this is a very special burger indeed.

The deets

Just up from Southwark Tube, it was quiet on a Friday lunchtime. It’s a well kept secret indeed, but definitely deserving of wider recognition!

Super Duper Burgers, 721 Market Street, San Francisco

An excellent smashburger; crisp and greasy in all the right ways

Burger source

“Fresh, quality produce, meat, dairy and buns, sourced from partners located just miles from our restaurants, are the ingredients to making the perfect burger,” is the ethos of Super Duper Burgers. In practice, this means: “All our beef is Brandt Farms, humanely-raised, 100% vegetarian-fed, ground fresh daily, and sourced from a family-owned ranch.”

Fast food burgers with slow-food values, apparently. Founder Adrian Paganini feels passionately that ‘a burger shouldn’t cost $3’ and has structured the chain to offer the best combination of quality and value. This means a simple menu – few sides, few variants on the burgers – and prices in the mid-range for quality burgers. There was a queue when I popped in on a Sunday evening…

The order

I had a ‘super duper’ burger with cheese and bacon – two 4oz patties smashed and scraped off a hot griddle with a ‘sharp’ spatula. Cooked medium, you’re warned to expect grease, and the burger has the restaraunt’s proprietary ‘super sauce’ (think; lighter burger sauce) and a portion of fries. Together with a ‘fountain’ drink – unlimited refills from a soda machine – the meal came to about $16 as part of a combo order.

The meat of it

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This is a good burger; a fresh, soft bun (standard bun, non-brioche), fresh salad (red onion, lettuce, tomato), super-melty cheese and super crispy bacon, held together in paper that also holds back the grease and spillover super sauce. So far, so super.

On first bite… you get all the crisp, charred, salty wonder that you’d hope for in a smash burger – so called because patties are pressed down onto a hot griddle and crisp up as the fat melts out, and they’re then scraped off the griddle to capture all the crispy elements. The (American) cheese binds the whole thing together wonderfully and the faint hint of the super sauce in the background, alongside the tomato and lettuce, adds a slight sweetness to this glorious, greasy umami-fest.

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In cross section, you can see the glory of the smash; the melt on the cheese and the vivid freshness of the salad. The bacon is quality, thick, crispy streaky bacon. The bun has a good stability to it; it holds up to othe grease well but doesn’t interrupt the burger experience with unnecessary flavour. If anything’s wrong with this burger at all, for me, it’s on two minor counts. 1) I’d have liked more/thicker/richer/sweeter burger sauce to temper all the saltiness a tiny bit more and 2) I’d expected pinker meat in a 4oz patty smash. If they’d done the burger as a 2oz patty smash then there’s no room for pinkness in the middle; as it was I felt it was a smidge overdone. But just a smidge.

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The fries were good; well-seasoned, crisp on the outside and squidgy in the middle, and clearly made from a high grade of potato. But they need sauce, and I didn’t plump to spend the additional $1.50-2 for a variety of sauces and/or toppings. Next time I will make the investment!

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4.5/5
Build – 4.5/5
Burger – 4.5/5
Taste –  4.5/5
Sides – 4/5 -might have scored better with sauce
Value – 4/5 – $16 for a combo meal of a high grade burger in a fast food environment. Very good value for SFO but SFO is an expensive city!
Burger rating – 4.5/5 – a very, very good burger I’d be happy to have again.

The deets

Super Duper Burgers sells $30m of burgers a year around San Francisco and its environs. Find your nearest branch here.

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.