Black Bear Burger, Exmouth Market, London

Every bit worth the hype

Burger source 

It’s a lovely start-up story – from flipping burgers at the weekend to multiple restaurants and a pop-up across London, Black Bear’s popularity has been blooming over the last couple of years. My attention was drawn to it, because I’m either trendy or just a sucker for good marketing (depending on how you look at it), as I’ve noticed a wave of Tik Tok reviews for the joint, including a very complimentary one from Jon the Food Don.

Anyway, lengthy origin story on their website. Some excerpts focussed on the burgers themselves:

EACH DAY OUR BAKERY DELIVERS OUR BESPOKE BUNS FRESH IN THE MORNING AND OUR BUTCHER MAKES OUR BURGERS TO OUR SPEC. ASIDE FROM THAT, WE MAKE EVERYTHING ELSE IN HOUSE FRESH EVERY DAY.

AT BLACK BEAR BURGER WE ARE COMMITTED TO USING HIGH WELFARE, HIGH QUALITY BRITISH MEAT AND BELIEVE THIS IS WHAT MAKES OUR BURGERS TASTE SO SPECIAL. STEW’S FAMILY RUN A SMALL BEEF FARM IN DEVON AND HE IS PASSIONATE ABOUT ANIMAL WELFARE; HOW ANIMALS ARE LOOKED AFTER AND PREPARED IS SO IMPORTANT AND THIS MAKES A HUGE DIFFERENCE WITH HOW YOUR MEAT TASTES! THIS IS WHY WE SOURCE OUR MEAT FROM OUR AWARD WINNING BUTCHER WHO HAS THE SAME ETHOS AS US.

Black Bear website

Ok then.

The order 

Right, I went for the Miso burger (dry aged beef, cheese, smoked bacon, miso honey butter mayo, onions) and fries (hand cut, skin on). I also shared some brisket spring rolls (fried wonton with 12 hr brisket, cheese, & smoked bacon, with garlic mayo and pickles) and wings with bourbon BBQ & maple sauce. A *lot* of food, accompanied by a Maple [Syrup] Old Fashioned.

The meat of it 

Well, it’s a pretty thing, isn’t it? toasted bun, love the sesame seeds, glorious melt on the cheese, crisp bacon peeking out the edges, miso mayo coating generous but not ridiculous. How does it weigh up in cross section?

Well, it’s messy. The mayo splurges over everything, but the texture is fab, the bun soft but sturdy, the meat tender and not overly greasy despite what must be an (un)healthy fat/lean ratio.

First taste: amazing umami – crisp, crunchy bacon adds brilliant texture; the meat, coarse ground, loose packed and perfectly cooked, is juicy and rich, with the mildest dry-age funk adding complexity but without undue fuss. The miso mayo adds an edgey depth of flavour, boosting the umami even further, and the soft bun holds it all together beautifully. Mildest of criticisms; the bun: meat ratio was a little high in the bun’s favour but only marginally, and the crust on the burger was ever so slightly soft – a harder sear, or a shorter steam to melt the cheese perhaps? Don’t know. But really very little to fault; this is a burger you can inhale if you’re not careful – I had to pace myself and savour it.

As to the sides…

The fries were decent; not universally crisp, but well seasoned and full of potato flavour. The brisket spring roll tasted authentically of a cheeseburger but – despite being a savoury fiend in general – I thought it was overpowering. Too much salt – cheese, brisket, and bacon – in a crispy, salty shell, with only mayo and pickles to temper it? There’s a very credible cheeseburger flavour in there which I think I’d have mellowed out with a burger relish or something else to cut the salt just a smidge. Texture is spot on – crisp shell, melty, tender meat, gooey cheese (though I admit – other than the salt impact, I didn’t feel the crunch of the bacon with this one). The home made pickles were lush – sweet, sour and crisp. The wings – I thought were disappointing, though Simon enjoyed them – they were over fried and a little burnt around the edges, dark brown instead of a golden colour, and the BBQ sauce was a bit thin and sickly for my liking.

We were given a teeny tiny soft serve scoop to finish the meal, which was a lovely touch, and it was a welcome relief from the salt bomb of the evening.

Monkey finger rating  

Bun –  4.5/5
Build – 5/5 
Burger – 5/5 
Taste –  5/5  
Sides – 4/5 – 2.5 for the wings. Everything else was good!   
Value – 4/5 – It was pricey – £14.50 for burger and fries, then more for the sides, but so delicious  

Burger rating – 5/5 – one of the best I’ve had in London 

The deets 

Multiple locations, in Brixton, Shoreditch Box Park, Exmouth Market, Canary Wharf etc., – find your nearest here. Walking back from Exmouth Market to Farringdon, check out the views, man. Love London in the Summertime.

Truffle Burger, Bateman Street, Soho 

An almost perfect burger… if you like truffle

Burger source 

Truffle Burger has started emerging on a variety of ‘best burger’ lists in recent months, and I even sent a colleague and her husband there on other people’s recommendations, so when a chance cancellation left me briefly without evening plans on a night I was in London,  it felt like a good moment to try it. The Elizabeth Line even made zipping into Soho of a Tuesday evening relatively easy, so we carpe diemed and headed on in. 

Their backstory is fairly standard as these things go:

TRUFFLE BURGER STARTED AS A STREET FOOD OPERATION. WE TRADED WITH LONDONS BEST STREET FOOD ORGANISATIONS AND MARKETS WHICH HELPED US PROPEL OUR BRAND TO A BIGGER STAGE…

When Truffle Burger was started in 2018, the goal was to bring a luxury product to the masses in an affordable and accessible way. All the food features truffle in one way or another and the idea came from the love of the ingredient by the founder, Tom.

The mission is to cook for as many people as possible, to show there is more to grab and go food than a quick fix, create a destination meal in a simple and affordable way.

Truffle Burger website

The order 

I had a Truffle Butter burger and my friend Pob ordered the eponymous Truffle Burger. The former a more or less standard burger, but generously doused in truffle butter, melty raclette and caramelised onions, the latter a bacon and beef patty topped with truffle mayo, raclette, fig jam and crispy onions. We shared sides of truffle Parmesan fries and some BBQ chicken bites. 

The meat of it 

The melty raclette caused the top bun to slide around a bit but the burger – arriving on a side plate – otherwise looked perfect. The bun was gloriously soft yet somehow standing up to a hefty 6oz ish patty, other toppings glistening slightly in the burger drippings.  The fries are peppered with Parmesan nubs and heavily scented with truffle, presumably fresh from a truffle oil deep fry, and the nuggets present an alluring invitation to chomp and crunch. More on that shortly. 

Butter burger on left, Truffle burger on right

The cross section is reassuring. A bright pink, perfect medium burger. A splash of meaty burger juice lands on the plate as the coarse ground, loose packed patty is revealed in all its glory. The bun continues to impress, holding up to the juiciness of the burger without being unnecessarily dense or firm; pillowy softness holding up the meaty lusciousness of the patty.  

Then the bite. Amazing texture – a firm, crisp crust masking soft, tender, perfectly cooked beef underneath. Perhaps slightly light on the seasoning, the truffle flavour – in the butter burger at least – is delicate, subtle, it draws you in to the wider experience of the burger. The caramelised onions add light sweetness and the beef and butter provides all the moisture needed for balance, although perhaps – it was a smidge too greasy. On the whole, however, a delight.  

The Truffle Burger provides a slightly different experience. The truffle mayo is slightly too generously applied and the truffle flavour is more in-your-face. The bacon woven into the patty adds a pleasant boost of umami, in unexpected and delightful pockets. The crispy onions add bonus texture (I would – and do – add these to a wide variety of meals, they’re a phenomenal condiment). Still great, but not as good (to my mind, at least) as the butter burger. Both, I think, would have been improved by a sharp cheddar versus the beautifully melty but slightly inspid raclette, which adds lots of texture but little flavour. 

As to the sides… I was not a huge fan of the Parmesan fries. The truffle flavour adds too persistent, too lingering, a funk. Despite being perfectly seasoned (via the medium of Parmesan), the flavour wasn’t entirely pleasant. And whilst I do love Parmesan, and Parmesan fries, the way in which these fries are prepared means its only barely distinguishable from salt. So, slightly, what’s the point. I also felt that the fries themselves weren’t entirely fresh – there was an ever-so-slight staleness to them. So OK, tasty, probably brilliant if you like Truffle, but not my favourite. 

The BBQ chicken bites… looked glorious, and were texturally perfect. Crispy on the outside, accented with fresh spring onion and more crispy onions, juicy, tender meat underneath that crunchy bite. But… they were slightly underseasoned – no heat or spice or even enough savoury salt to them – and the BBQ sauce was slightly cloying and insipid. A dousing in Uncle Frank’s hot sauce I think would have been a far better choice. Though it was a relief to have something that wasn’t completely infused with truffle funk after the overload of the burger and fries. 

To drink… I had an amaretto and (diet) cherryade cocktail drink from their ‘cocktails’ list. Overpriced and you’d expect it to be overpoweringly sweet, it ends up as a sort of delicious, alcoholic ice cream soda. A perfect contrast to the salt-bomb of the meal. 

Overall, this was a brilliant experience. If you love truffle, this is probably the best burger you can find in London. If, like me, it’s a pleasant novelty, you might not rush back. But do go if you haven’t. It is super. 

Monkey finger rating  

Bun –  5/5  
Build – 4.5/5 
Burger – 4.5/5 
Taste –  4.5/5  
Sides – 3.5/5 – deductions for weird fries and underseasoned chicken   
Value – 3.5/5 – £14.50 for burger and fries, plus £9 cocktails – this is not a cheap eat 

Burger rating – 4/5 – really very strong option 

The deets 

There are a few of these around – in Soho, Seven Dials and the South Bank. Find it here

Burger & Beyond, Shoreditch, London

Excellent dry-aged burger with little to fault

Burger source

From Essex to London, these folk are pretty serious about their burgers. Their backstory:

We’re known for bringing some of the best burgers to the capital, using freshly ground dry aged beef made from choice cuts of meat. We first gained a fanbase trading from a Citroen H van, before opening sites at street food markets Kerb and Street Feast – and finally launching our very own restaurant in E1. Alongside the top chef-quality burgers that gave us our name, we serve American-style sides including Dirty Tots or Fries with bone marrow gravy, plus sauces such as our signature Burnt Butter Mayo, and a drinks list of cocktails, craft beers and wine.

For my part? I had been working late and wanted a treat, near(ish) the office. So I went in search…

The order

I had the burnt butter burger – a dry aged beef patty, double american cheese, crispy pancetta bacon, burnt butter mayo & onion. Side of (regular) fries, and a ‘piece of mind’ lychee based Prosecco cocktail (it had been a long day).

The meat of it

The burger makes for impressive viewing. The juices on the plate – a little messy, but titillating. The melt on the cheese – exquisite. The bacon – streaky. The burnt butter mayo – oozing out the side. The bun – a glorious shine. We’ll come to the fries.

In cross section, the coarse ground, loose packed approx 5oz patty shows off a pink core. The onion and mayo spills out .The melt on the cheese becomes yet more apparent. The bun – is a little cold and stodgy, which is a shame as everything else looks glorious. The fragrance of dry aged meat, coupled with the mayo, is like nothing else I’ve experienced in a burger.

First taste… brilliant. A good crust on the burger, brilliantly seasoned. A light, dry-aged funk comes across that’s quite hard to place, as does the bonus umami from the bacon, cheese AND the very distinctive flavour from the mayo… wow. The mouthfeel is brilliant, as you’d hope for given the grind and pack of the meat in the patty. The raw onions give a light big-mac-esque texture (only the good things about it, not the bad). The only – minor – downside, as expected from cutting the cross section – is the bun. Too big, too cold, too bready for a single patty. And the mayo sliding out of it did make it slightly too messy to eat by hand, so this was a cutlery burger.

Onto the fries… these are exquisite. Some of the best fries I’ve ever had – crispy on the outside but not so much so that they become crisps, with a fluffy, hot potatoey interior. They are perfectly seasoned, the tin cup holds heat without inducing sogginess – just lush. I paired them with some ketchup and mayo dips, which did help mellow out the saltiness. But that’s not a complaint.

This was disappointing – the piece of mind, a cocktail that I assumed would meet my hankering for something sweet and refreshing… but the lime was undetectable, as was the agave and the lychee. It tasted largely of spiked, watered-down Prosecco, which was a weird consequence of the combination of ingredients (Vodka, Lychee Liqueur, Agave, Lime, Prosecco). A lot of money for a meh drink.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 3/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste – 4.5/5 – minor deduction for the bun
Sides – 5/5 – glorious fries
Value – 4/5 – £28 for burger, side & cocktail, which felt a little steep (inc service)

Burger rating – 4.5/5 – I’d be tempted by a double next time, and a more conventional drink. But otherwise grand.

The deets

A short walk East from Shoreditch High Street, the restaraunt was small but cozy, with efficient service and a good atmosphere. Recommended. Find details and other locations here.

Morty & Bobs, Coal Drops Yard, Kings Cross

Good burger, excellent cocktails, lovely atmosphere

Burger source 

Kings Cross is a pretty convenient location for a few of us to meet up, and the redevelopment North of St Pancras is… well, pretty wonderful. Wide, open, modern, highly stylised – it’s absolutely buzzing, even on a Wednesday night.

Celebrating a friends birthday, we chanced upon Morty & Bob’s, and it happened to have a burger on the menu, so…

The order 

Bob’s burger [sic] & fries features an aged prime patty, garlic mayo, lettuce, tomato, pickles and a brioche bun. I also had a glass of wine, and a cocktail (their take on an old fashioned). Pudding… I was pitched a pear compote cheesecake. Let’s see..

The meat of it

First impressions, pretty good. Those fries look crisp and well seasoned (they are, though a smidge… stale?). The burger’s bun is glossy, there’s strong melt on the cheese, the salad looks bright, crisp and fresh, the bacon looks thick but crispy… Let’s take a closer look.

The bun – dense and possibly slightly oversized. The salad – over thick slices of tomato destabilise the stack. The meat – coarse ground, cooked to a perfect medium. Excitement… To the taste.

The meat is lovely – beautiful texture, lovely exterior crust, soft and juicy interior, with that light funk from the dry ageing. Lovely mouthfeel, but ever so slightly underseasoned. The bacon is a joy, and with the cheese (collectively adding an additional £3.50 on an already £14 burger and fries) provide the necessary umami to partially compensate for the patty, so I was glad of the indulgence. The mayo adds a smooth, velvety tang from the garlic that’s welcome; a crisp crunch comes from the salad and the hint of sweet sharpness from the pickles is well distributed. The bun… is cold, and slightly out of proportion. Too much bread, and what there was should have been toasted. But it works together surprisingly well and makes up for its shortcomings via the overall experience. It’s a good burger, and a pleasure to eat it.

The fries, as I’ve said, were solid. They seemed slightly stale, like they’d been left out too long between dips in the fryer, but they were well seasoned, suitably potatoey, and lovely dunked in a pot of mayo or ketchup.

As to the cocktails? Really interesting takes on traditional cocktails on the menu. Served fast, in a lovely atmosphere, with attentive waitstaff. A great overall experience.

Pudding? There were a few options and I had a cheesecake that was recommended to me. It was… fine. But not the right pudding to follow the burger. I was envious of my friends chowing down on a flourless brownie with ice cream.

Monkey finger rating  

Bun –  3/5  
Build – 4/5 
Burger – 4/5 
Taste –  4/5  
Sides – 4/5
Value – 3.5/5 – £17 for a bacon cheese burger, plus service, plus pudding, plus drinks – this was not a cheap evening. But it was good.  

Burger rating – 4/5 – a great overall experience.

The deets 

A seven minute stroll from Kings X station. Find Morty & Bob’s here.

Lord Wargrave, Nr Edgware Road, London

Possibly the best smash burger in London

Burger source

A friend with excellent taste in both bourbon and BBQ suggested we meet at this pub for a couple of drinks and dinner, and – seeing a double smash burger alongside a variety of ribs options, I felt confident that good things would follow.

The pub has high standards – from its menu:

ALL SMOKE – NO MIRRORS – we’re all about authentic London barbecue, with influences from around the world. Our meat is dry-rubbed, smoked in-house, low and slow, over British hickory logs. Our meat and poultry is ethically sourced, free range, and from local farms wherever possible, and our fish comes from day boats off the south coast of the UK, and is delivered to us daily.

Well. Expectations, much.

The order

We shared a half dozen crispy BBQ wings (my friend couldn’t cope with buffalo spice option), and naturally I had the Smash burger: double beef, double cheese, onions & pickles. I added bacon too, because… greed. To drink? House red, and I may have had an unusual bourbon because it’s a whisky bar too.

And I was tempted by a pudding. I’ll come to that.

The meat of it

Decent presentation

Take a look at that. That’s nice. Shiny bun, beautiful char on the meat and melt on the cheese, well balanced with the pickles and onions.

Let’s take a look at the cross section and see what we’re really dealing with here. I received a groan from my friend when I did this (as I often do).

Holy moly

I can’t explain this. It’s a smash burger – at most, two slender, three ounce patties. And yet there’s a clear and evident pink, uniform through the centre. First bite and you are hit with a wall of savoury – coarse ground, amazingly seasoned meat provides bite… and then soft, tender chew. the flavour is smoky, with depth but none of the funk that comes with dry-aged beef. The cheese binds and adds yet more umami; the bacon almost pushes it over the top, but the sweet pickle and onion tempers it. The bun is soft and holds together against the surprising heft of the burger. I force myself to take slow, thoughtful bites. Savouring each mouthful as the full extent of this creation – this masterpiece – of a burger works its way over my palate. Simon is jeering at me as a reverent look passes over my face; each bite surprises, delights and astounds me. This burger is glorious, I have zero notes. Not one. It is unimprovable.

So. Wow. Breathe. And then the sides.

The fries are – as you can probably see on close inspection – crisp on the outside, thick cut by the standard of American fries but thin for English chips. They are substantial enough that they taste of actual hot, fluffy potato; they are beautifully seasoned with salt and pepper, crisp without being greasy. Possible the archetype of what chips should be, could be, when they grow up. Without the ostentation of rosemary of any of that fancy stuff – simple, uncomplicated, perfect.

The wings are presented beautifully – I love the slim, angled slices of spring onion scatted over the – evenly coated but not dripping – BBQ wings. The sauce is smoky and sweet, but not overwhelming, nor particularly distinctive. The wings crunch as you bite into them, and the meat comes off clean – but is a little tough and chewy. Enjoyable, but I’d probably go for the buffalo if I went back, and hope that they would be more generous in the saucing process, with a meatier and more tender wing. Good but not great.

I was pretty full from the meal, but as regular readers may know, my kryptonite is sticky toffee pudding. It is the ‘BEYOND GODLIKE’ of dessert options for me and – generally – even a mediocre pud is a thing of joy. This time – it presented SO beautifully after being pitched to me by the waitress (it’s excellent, she said)… but then proceeded to have the texture and flavour of a mouldering brick. The waitress acknowledged that a knife should not be required to break a STP apart and graciously took it back, and off the bill. I’ll discount it from my scoring; suspect I got unlucky.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 5/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste – 5/5
Sides – 4/5 – minor deduction for tough, slightly undersauced wings. Fries were a 5.
Value – 5/5 – it wasn’t cheap but it was WORTH it

Burger rating – 5/5 – genuinely one of the best burgers I’ve ever had.

The deets

You can find the Lord Wargrave pub a five minute walk from Edgware Road station, tucked unassumingly behind the main thoroughfare down to Marble Arch from the Marylebone Road. The extensive selection of whisky, beer and wine is another reason to go back. Simon had ribs, which also looked glorious. Atmosphere and service, great.

More on the website here.

Anchor Inn, Lower Froyle, Hampshire

Amazingly well put together, if overcooked

Burger source

I was so keen, on the occasion of this date night, to order something that wasn’t a burger. After all, I have burgers so often when I go out – who needed another burger? But then… I don’t go out often. And there it was, on the menu; promising a single cut of meat in the burger (suggesting it is made in-house), slaw, and a variety of other things that sounded great. So I gave in.

The order

The British brisket burger featured cheese, ruby slaw, baby gem, fries, onion relish. According to the menu. I opted for the bacon for an extra pound.

The meat of it

There are some unspecified extras on the burger. You can see, in the featured image above, a generous slice of tomato, three dill pickles, and a very moreish burger sauce. Curiously, the burger patty – in the deconstructed plating – is on the top bun. A quick merge, and you get…

Look at the melt on that cheese! The shine on the bun! the colour on the slaw! Hopes were duly raised…

…and lowered a bit in cross section. Whilst the bun continues to look glorious, as indeed do the toppings (and bottomings?), the burger is too densely packed and is cooked to grey.

First taste – sweet, applewood (?) smoked bacon adds bite and an additional savoury boost, the burger has a hard, well seasoned crust – but the meat is a little rubbery, to be expected given how it was cooked. The quietly sweet brioche bun, slaw, sweet gem and tomato and pickles cut into the savoury explosion somewhat, tempering it, smoothing it out. The mouthfeel is… good, the bun is fantastic, the burger sauce is adding moisture where the beef has lost it, the balance is… surprising. And whilst the beef’s texture is off, the flavour is not bad. Not great in and of itself – but not bad.

The build doesn’t hold together well, the patty is sliding all over the place, so whilst the flavours combine well, it is hard to eat in its intended form.

So I have the second half deconstructed, eating each bit separately. It confirms – excellent bun, sauce, thick-cut streaky bacon and slaw. The burger is almost burnt on the outside – the chef must have gone overboard with the sear, and (I’m guessing) squashed the burger on the grill to “help” it cook through. The single cut of beef leads to a very uniform texture but perhaps not the most inspiring flavour – other cuts add this, I seem to remember from the burger masterclass at Cut & Grind.

It was hard to gauge how I felt about this burger. The pub is so good – amazing atmosphere, roaring fire, a gentle susurration from the happy clientele all around us, good Covid protocol that we could see, fast moving and attentive wait staff. I had an excellent glass of Italian red to sip alongside the burger (a Cento Cavali Nero d’Avola). I was celebrating 15 years of dating my wife. Maybe the mood took me, but damn, I enjoyed this burger in spite of its limitations.

And the fries? Perfection. Crisp, soft centred, good potato flavour, well seasoned without being mouth-wrinklingly salty, delicious dunked in a bit of ketchup or mayo.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  5/5
Build – 3.5/5 – weird reverse assembly, slidey in the bun
Burger – 2.5/5 – taste is ok behind the terrible texture and oversear
Taste –  4/5 – the sauce and trimmings make it up
Sides – 5/5 – calling the fries ‘sides’ is generous, but they were perfect
Value – 3.5/5 – £16 for the burger and fries. The glass of wine was pricey too

Burger rating – 4/5 – surprising myself with this score. It may not objectively have been good, but it was a brilliant experience, and I enjoyed the burger in spite of its limitations.

The deets

The Anchor Inn is in the middle of nowhere in North Hampshire. On a cold winter night, expect dark roads, blind turns, the occasional deer in your path. In other words, a perfect country pub. Find out more at the link.

Burgsy’s, Castlegate, York

Juicy, tasty blue-cheese burger

Burger source

The (self-proclaimed?) ‘best burger in York’ was always going to be on the list for a visit to the town, so we were excited. The small, family run place gave us lots to look forward to.

The order

I normally try to order the closest thing to a cheese and bacon burger on the menu to provide a baseline – in this case, I went for the Blue Jack – which featured ‘stinky’ stilton and smoked bacon, alongside rocket and a balsamic reduction on a brioche bun. I was allowed to request it medium, which was a joy – it speaks to meat ground on site and hopefully a juicy bite and outstanding mouthfeel. I upgraded the side of fries to ‘lumberjack’ fries, which upgraded the fries with mushrooms, caramelised onions, streaky bacon, mayo and BBQ sauce. What could go wrong?

I had a glass of merlot to drink with it all.

The meat of it

So far, so good. Presentation is great – you can see the blue cheese dripping off the burger, the smoked bacon is crisp and generous, the rocket is bright and fresh. The lumberjack fries… are fully loaded.

To the cross section…

This is pretty close to a perfect cross section for me – coarse ground, pink, juicy meat. A bun that holds up to the burger. Well proportioned toppings (though the rocket should perhaps have been under the burger to protect the bun a little more from the juices). Look at that melty stilton! Amazing.

As to taste… the stilton is a little… overpowering. You can’t tell how well seasoned the meat is because the flavour from the cheese is so strong (a bit too strong). But the meat is high quality and well cooked, the mouthfeel is fantastic, and the rocket – which I was sceptical off – actually provides a realy good contrast to the super-savoury, super funky stilton. The bacon and the balsamico adds a sweet contrast and the whole thing works better than I’d expected. A really enjoyable burger.

That said – my friends said that their more conventional burgers were underseasoned – to the point of tastelessness – so wonder if I got lucky with my choice!

As to the fries… well, these are literally a hot mess. The caramelised onions were cloyingly sweet, they were incredibly overseasoned – to almost the point of being inedible – and the excess of sauces and toppings made it hard to detect or enjoy any particular flavour. They were well cooked, hot, fresh shoestring fries though, which are never that bad.

The merlot was excellent, as was the service and general ambience.

On balance, massively recommend Burgsy’s, but perhaps ask to salt your own fries, and ask them to make sure the burger is well seasoned before it hits the griddle. I would go back, and order a little differently, if I return to York with a hankering for a good burger.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4.5/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 4.5/5
Taste –  4/5 – the stilton was a bit too much for me but think others would love it
Sides – 2.5/5 – lost points for excess seasoning and a hot mess of toppings
Value – 4/5 – it’s pricey-ish for the city but not bad.

Burger rating – 4/5 – really very good.

The deets

Surrounded by wine bars, Castlegate is a nice, quiet street, a little way away from the chaos of York’s Christmas crowds. Find more deets and book online to visit here.

Hunworth Bell, Hunworth, Norfolk

Enjoyable despite its limitations

Burger source

The Hunny Bell is a local favourite, in the middle of nowhere in rural Norfolk. Rated highly on Tripadvisor, and by locals we know, it was a fun family meal out.

The order

I hadn’t intended to have a second burger in our holiday week, but the description of the HB double cheeseburger, topped with Emmental, served with onion rings, slaw, on a brioche and smoked bacon… well, it just sounded great. So I had to give it a go. We shared a carafe of Sea Change Negroamaro, a red wine whose billing features environmetnal activism, with a proportion of profits going to dealing with ocean plastics. Sold.

The meat of it

Let’s look at the main picture again.

The plating is tidy but a close inspection will show – a burnt brioche, unnecessary onion rings and a burnt edging on the bacon that bodes poorly… but it looks well assembled, and I’m intrigued.

In cross section, the errors compound themselves. These are thick patties, but cooked well done. They are far too big for the burger. The emmental is well melted and there’s an intriguing layer of sauce on the bottom bun… so, on to the taste.

Well, the burger is well seasoned. The crisp bacon adds excellent umami. The vegetables are crisp, fresh and sweet. The patties are a little dry, but the spicy mayo adds the required moisture and a lovely depth of flavour. There’s a wonderful smokiness to the whole thing.

Then… the whole thing kind of slides off the romaine slice and tomatoes at the base… leaving, in short, a mess:

The rest of it had to be eaten with cutlery, in two halves, split top and bottom. Ketchup helped balance the half without the spicy mayo, and yet somehow, the whole thing kept me wanting more. Despite almost everything going wrong with it, I still kind of enjoyed it. Though I think next time, the belly pork Amanda had is more likely to be on my order card.

The sides? The fries were well seasoned, standard french fries, but slightly undercooked. The slaw was soft – lacking all freshness and crispness – the mayo / dressing was just too heavy. But the onion rings were near-paragons of the form – lovely, crisp, well seasoned batter, sweet onion within… if they were a little greasy.

Giving notes on the whole dish:

  1. Don’t burn the bun
  2. Shrink the patties – 3oz each is plenty, 4oz each was too much
  3. Switch to a patty smash. higher fat ratio, melt cheese on each half as part of the build
  4. Go heavier on the delicious, animal-style sauce, consider adding some chopped pickle into it too for a bright, sweet crunch amidst it all
  5. Shred lettuce for a more stable base – the single leaf of romaine is pretty in theory, but irritating in practice
  6. Swap out the emmental for a sharp local cheddar
  7. Double fry the chips
  8. Find a new slaw recipe. It was bad.
  9. More onion rings. Because why not?

And the wine? Delicious. In both form and function. Highly recommend.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  2.5/5
Burger – 3.5/5
Taste –  3.5/5
Sides – 3/5 – the onion rings and wine redeem the fries and slaw somewhat 
Value – 3/5 – £14.50 for burger and fries. Wine and other dishes reasonable.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – really much more enjoyable than it should have been

The deets

The food, service, ambience etc., at the Hunny Bell were all brilliant. The burger isn’t the best but everything else comes highly recommended. Visit if you’re in the region of Holt in Norfolk at any point.

Sands Restaraunt, Wells-on-the-Sea, Norfolk

Pretty good burger with well-flavoured meat

Burger source

After a four hour journey, we were happy to have arrived in the coastal town of Wells for our first ever visit to Norfolk. I should probably have gone for seafood on the menu, but the burger had an impressive billing, and eating out post-pandemic is still something of a rarity, leaving this blog neglected, so…

The order

The “Sands of time” burger featured:

6oz Prime Beef Burger. Cheese, Smoked Bacon, Onion Rings, Beef Tomato on a Bed of Mixed Leaves in a Brioche Bun, served with Fries and Burger Relish.

Which sounded pretty good to me.

The meat of it

The rather ludicrous plating was fun. Unnecessary knife literally embedded into the board, totally hilariously large onion rings adding unmanageable height to the stack… and of course, fun bougie basket of fries and pot of relish on the side.

In cross section… it has a little more going for it.

You can see pink, coarse ground, loosely packed meat making up a beautiful patty. You can see thick bacon and melty cheese – the bacon, whilst back, was crispy around the edges. The salad is bright and fresh. The bun – so far – is holding up. Toasted but soft – though not that warm, unfortunately. The onion rings – left the building. Fun, but a side, not a central part of this burger’s flavour profile or structure.

First bite – bitter edge from slightly too much salad (rocket? spinach? not standard lettuce), crisp umami from the bacon and melty cheddar, and tasty, slightly undersalted but otherwise well flavoured beef. The meat carries a slight funk, like it’s been dry-aged and was juicy with good mouthfeel. The relish added light sweetness without the vinegary effect you can get with ketchup. It was firmly not bad, but, beyond the choice of salad leaves, a couple of minor notes to the chef… heavier on the salt would not have hurt this burger. The strong flavour of the meat needed its savoury edge. And a hotter griddle for the crust would have added textural depth… one this burger needed, as by the time I got to the second half, the juice had completely soaked the lower bun, which was dissolving. That said, the bun was soft and tasty, so points where its due.

On the sides – I’ll treat the onion rings as sides. Despite thick slices of onion within the batter, there was little natural sweetness from the onion nor savoury bite from the batter – they were underseasoned, and I must have just gotten unlucky with the onion. The texture was otherwise crisp and on point.

The fries – were well fried and well seasoned, but seemed standard french-fry cut frozen chips. Nothing bad about them, but little to write home about.

£14.50 for the lot would have been reasonable in London, and I guess is the going rate in a Tourist-heavy town with ‘arguably the best view’ in Wells (it wasn’t bad).

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3.5/5
Burger – 3.5/5
Taste –  3.5/5
Sides – 3/5 
Value – 3.5/5

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – my hopes (and perhaps standards) aren’t high for burgers in restaurants that don’t specialise in them (or steak more generally), so this really wasn’t bad.

The deets

Stroll along the Quay in Wells and you’ll find Sands Restaurant upstairs at no. 13. Or visit the website here.

The Hoddington Arms, Upton Grey, Hampshire

A glorious pub burger, an appropriate post lockdown celebration

Burger source

I’m gonna be honest – it was my first meal out in six months. There was a chateaubriand on the menu. It didn’t matter; it was always going to be the burger. There was no ceremony in its description – it simply was the eponymous Hodd Cheese Burger, hopefully a staple of the menu…

The order

The Hodd Cheese and Bacon Burger featured mature cheddar, cured bacon, mustard mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, crispy onion ring and skinny fries. I had a pint of Shipton Pale ale as an aperitif and washed it down with a nice Sangiovese. Pudding was sticky toffee pudding (my kryptonite on any menu), and I was persuaded by my neighbour to have a Balvenie Scotch as a digestif (I’ve always been more a Bourbon fan and sceptical of single malts; the peat is too much for me, but this was great).

The meat of it

Well.

This was a happy-inducing cross section. A pub burger, with pink, coarse ground, loosely packed meat. With an ample coating of throughly melted aged cheddar. Salad on the bottom, protecting the bun. The bun itself, sturdy but not hard and dry. Pliable. Warm.

First bite. Moment of truth. Perfectly seasoned – good flavour, excellent sharpness from the cheese, enough moisture from the mustard mayo and salad. The meat’s a little too loose and fibrous – wonder if it was the way it was ground? There is perhaps not quite enough sturdiness to the crust, perhaps a hotter griddle would have pulled it all together. Regardless – the net impact is one of savoury goodness; I slow to take in each mouthful carefully, mindfully savouring the flavour. I must admit, I didn’t notice the bacon, but given the taste profile, it would have been adding subtle umami. Side note; whatever made the bun red didn’t noticeably add to the flavour, but it was good nonetheless – soft, seeded, fresh.

Onto the fries, for which I refer you to the featured image above. These were glorious; crisp on the outside, soft in the middle. Not exactly skinny fries, more svelte at best – perfectly seasoned, likely double if not triple fried – absolutely delicious. Dunked in mayo and ketchup for kicks but great on their own.

The onion rings were coated in a wonderful batter, crisp and non-greasy, with a thick, sweet ring of fresh onion at their core. They were slightly underseasoned and totally unnecessary within the stack, so I chucked on some salt and had them on their own. Very fine indeed.

Pudding was a medjool date sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream and was a paragon of its type. Just beautiful on the plate, warm and melty, a luscious island in a sea of warm, soupy, slowly thickening toffee sauce. The sponge was light and fluffy with dense pockets of date. A complete delight.

For a digestif – a Balvenie. Lightly smoky but sweeter and smoother than the few single malts I’ve ever had, this was a good return to scotch for the bourbon drinker that I am. Enjoyed it.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4.5/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 4.5/5 – just needed a harder sear, I reckon
Taste –  4.5/5
Sides – 5/5 -bump for the onion fries 

Value – 4/5 – £50 for burger, side, pud, pint, glass and a half of wine and double digestif. Not ridiculous but not every day eating.

Burger rating – 4.5/5 – didn’t live up to its erstwhile glory.

The deets

A wonderful pub in the idyllic North Hampshire village of Upton Grey, about 5 miles south of Basingstoke. Utter delight. More here.