Miller & Carter, Winchester Road, Basingstoke

This burger tastes better than it has any right to

Burger source

I was arranging to meet a client who happens to live locally for one of my first face to face meetings in about six months. He happened to like burgers, was sympathetic to my fondness for them, so I looked for a novel burger place – and to my surprise, discovered a local steakhouse I’d never heard of. So we went. First Monday of indoor eating in months. V exciting.

The order

Ordinarily my baseline review is a bacon cheeseburger – standardising the reviews somewhat. But the trademark burger was jumping out at me – the Miller’s Dirty Burger. And you can see why:

Tender fillet tails cooked to your liking, aged Cheddar cheese sauce, pulled beef barbacoa bearnaise, smoked streaky bacon, Monterey Jack, chorizo, special recipe burger sauce

Wawaweewah. It had to be done.

The meat of it

Other than the disproportionate height, the plating’s not bad. Clean plate, artful portion of what is (I promise, sorry for the soft focus) some nice, crisp, fresh coleslaw that’s not too heavy, standard posh chips in a tin-cup presentation and a burger that is well stacked. Lovely glossy bun, lettuce shielding the bottom half from the heft of meat, sauce, and toppings. I was given a choice of how I wanted the fillet tails done (medium rare), but the burger had to be cooked well done. This is par for the course in any restaurant that doesn’t grind its patties on site, but was nonetheless a shame in a place that prides itself on its meat.

Anyway, the cross section…

Somewhat predictably, the polish isn’t so evident in cross section. The burger is kind of a mess. The lower bun immediately gives way to the mass of everything, you can see the burger patty is cooked to a pale grey pallor, and is so tightly packed there’s almost no moisture left in it. The burger is so filled with toppings (I made those fillet tails out as medium, but that’s fine) so as to be impossible to eat as a sandwich, so I resort to cutlery and give it a taste.

And… against all expectations at this point… I really like it. The burger beef is well seasoned and has a good crust, and whilst its dry and dense as you’d expect, the fillet tails are soft and dreamy, the bearnaise, burger sauce and melty montery jack cheese (indulgent, much?) coalesce into a savoury, moist, gooey, bright yellow joy. There’s also the occasional spark of spice from the chorizo, and the fresh, sweet salad adds a clean crispness. But it’s not really a burger – I end up eating it in two halves, unable to get the mountain into edible bits without this drastic step. The fillet tails – tender, moist, luscious pieces of steak – are delicious in their own right, the bread is firmer than it appeared, holding up well… though I think the bacon was probably just a dead mound of calories, lost in all the other flavour. So yeah. Not bad, if not quite a burger. And working despite my understanding of what makes a good burger by almost every other measure.

The fries… are just slightly under-seasoned, under-cooked and a little shy of hot. But not terrible – good potato flavour, just on the tolerable side of cooked enough; a good stodgy compliment to the richness of the burger.

It being lunchtime on a Monday, the drink was a lime & soda, but we did have coffee and a ‘mini’ pud – I went for an Eton Mess.

It wasn’t particularly mini. And it was divine – light, crispy meringue, rich, sweet cream, sweet and sharp passionfruit laced throughout it… I inhaled it. I’m not an eton mess connoisseur, but after this, I kind of wanted to be. The shortbread was a waste of space, though – what use does anyone have for unsweetened shortbread? Perhaps I was meant to use it as a spoon for the mess…

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3.5/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 3/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 3/5 -bump for the onion fries 
Value – 3/5 – £30 for burger and pud and drink – a little steep.

Burger rating – 4/5 – perhaps slightly generous, but I enjoyed it in spite of its flaws.

The deets

Apparently Miller & Carter is a National chain. Who knew? Find your local here. Maybe have the steak. We had brilliant service and a good experience of it, can recommend.

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.

Palm Brasserie, Deane, Nr Basingstoke

Well seasoned, tasty, but an ultimately dry & underwhelming burger

Burger source

Ok, it’s been six months, people. SIX MONTHS since I’ve had a burger out. Even though the beautiful Palm Brasserie restaurant in Deane is a trendy, high-end eatery with a delightful seasonal menu, tinged with Asian fusion elements, I was always going to have the burger. Always.

I’m just going to briefly wax lyrical about the restaurant. Located in Deane, a village about 10 minutes drive from Basingstoke, this converted pub is a delight. It’s been modernised elegantly – bright and airy, beautifully laid out – even in these Covid secure times – and with a charming blend of modern and traditional decor (Jane Austen posters in sharp, modern frames surround the lounge area, where we had an aperitif).

Service was crisp and polite; servers seemed happy to see us despite a chaotic month of feeding Eat out to Help out diners, and on a Friday in mid-September on what feels like the verge of a second lockdown – the restaurant remained ‘full’ in its socially distanced set-up, making for a nice vibe without the sensation of being crammed in. Despite our slightly unglamorous table position by the kitchen doors.

The order

I had the ‘signature beef burger’ on the summer menu, a 6oz beef burger, topped with house pickles, tomato, sriracha relish, paired with a brioche bun. I had the optional halloumi topping… and we shared some halloumi fries on the side, because… why not?

I was designated driver, so whilst Amanda had a refreshing-looking mojito and a glass of pinot grigio, I restrained myself to a fresh drawn half pint of Atlantic Pale Ale. Very nice.

The meat of it

Let’s look at the stack again.

You can see some immediate things that are odd about this…

First, the burger patty is too small. I suspect it was tightly packed, thick instead of wide, and as a result you get that problem of poor bun/burger ratio. The thick slices of halloumi are attention grabbing. The vegetables are bright and fresh.

In cross section….

No sign of pink

You can see the burger is packed tight, and overcooked, and the bun/burger ratio problem becomes more evident. There’s no juice spilling out onto the plate, but burger and pickles are both falling out of the bun. As to the bun – it looks beautiful, soft and shiny but… is slightly dry and stale. I didn’t finish it.

As to the taste… I ate one of the pickles that had fallen out. It was insipid; no bite, no sharpness, just a mild, inoffensive sweetness.

This isn’t going well, is it?

But… surprisingly, on first bite of the burger proper, it kind of comes together. The sriracha mayo is under-sriracha-d (virtually no heat) but it provides much needed moisture for the burger. The meat is beautifully seasoned to compliment the halloumi, which is soft and rich and creamy, adding a delightful umami to the burger. The bun, whilst dry, is soft and provides a subtle sweet counterbalance to the intense saltiness of the burger + halloumi. The vegetables are fresh and provide some sweetness too. I think the lean/fat ratio was too low for the burger, but the halloumi and mayo help compensate somewhat.

Whilst imperfect in many, many ways, there’s promise here. The chefs understand flavour, and the flavours are good. But the burger construction left me wanting, the burger was overcooked, the bun dry and uninspired, the pickles disappointing for house-made… there’s lots of room for improvement.

As to the fries… they were well seasoned and crisp despite their pale complexion, but undercooked on the inside. You could feel the bite of slightly uncooked potato. I suspect they were not par boiled or needed a second fry.

The coleslaw was sickly and limp; tasted like something industrial served from a large plastic tub. Nothing exciting there, also left unfinished with the fries.

And the halloumi fries?

An indulgent portion

They were literally immense; the halloumi in the burger seemed soft, but these golden, deep fried beasts – were dried out somewhat, and needed both the chilli drizzle on them and the sriracha to make up for it. But even average halloumi is still halloumi, so this was mostly demolished between us.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  2/5
Build – 2/5
Burger – 3/5
Taste –  3.5/5
Sides – 2/5 -bump for the halloumi fries, else would have been a 1, sadly
Value – 3.5/5 – £30 for a head with drinks and a side, or £14 alone for the burger and fries in a place this nice seemed fine.

Burger rating – 2.5/5 – I probably won’t have it again – everything else looked so much better, I had cross-table food envy. But it had promise, so if they revise the recipe… then I may be tempted.

The deets

The (beautiful) restaraunt is West of Basingstoke, near Oakley, on the road out to Overton. It’s worth the drive if you’re in the area, a lovely experience. More details on the website here.

Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Festival Place, Basingstoke

A contender once again; GBK got good

Burger source

GBK was the original gourmet burger in London, more than half a decade ahead of Byron in landing in the UK, it introduced us to a burger that wasn’t chargrilled to death in a pub or a freeze-dried hockey-puck, like Maccy D’s. But I wasn’t a huge fan at the time; in the early 2000s, the burgers seemed oversized, mealy, over complex and, well, nothing special. Even without a frame of reference, it wasn’t a favoured destination.

But the chain has changed ownership three times, from the original Kiwi founders through two separate restaurant holding groups. It’s look, feel and theme hasn’t changed significantly but the menu – less eccentric than it once was – and the food quality, have both improved significantly, it seems.

What they tell you about the beef? “100% British prime beef patties using selected cuts from grass reared cattle on independent farms. We cook to medium but tell us how you like it.” –> reviewing the menu, you can see they experiment with different beef blends. I need to go back to try more, now I know they do a good burger…

The order

I had a GBK cheese & bacon (standard), whilst Amanda had a Avocado Bacon – a throwback to the early days of GBK, when a pineapple ring ALSO featured as a burger topping. Side of chunky fries, and that was it.

The meat of it

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The presentation was solid, for both burger and fries; a relatively clean plate, a good stack with nicely melted cheese, a soft-appearing seeded bun, and well-proportioned; not at all what I remembered from my early 2000s experience of it at all. Hope blossomed.

IMG_20180210_195140

The cross section provided additional cause for celebration; this burger was juicy, there was a reasonable melt to the cheese, the bacon, whilst perhaps not overly generous, was crispy, and the promise of a medium cook was upheld. More than this; a coarse grind, and, on tasting… a hefty crust surrounded a juicy interior. The toppings compliment it well and the pickles provide the sweet counterpoint necessary for all the savoury goodness as well. The bun is a simple soft roll, the sesame seeds provide a nice accent and it holds up to the burger juices well enough. No sweetness in the bread, though, that was provided by the pickles and some completely non-memorable BBQ sauce. I would have preferred a chunky relish with this one, I think.

IMG_20180210_195044

The fries, however… despite positive initial appearance, there’s something very suspect about these. Whilst they look like thick-cut, skin on chips, the interior tastes of processed mash. The crisp skin basically surrenders to it when you take a bite and you’re left feeling bewildered and slightly cheated. This still felt a better option than the skinny fries many of the other patrons were eating, which looked less like shoestrings and more like carbon nanotubes impersonating a French fry.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 4/5 – bit more melt on the cheese would have been good
Burger – 4.5/5 – really very good
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 2/5 – weird chips
Value – 3.5/5 – £13+ for burger and side, ish. And given the fries weren’t good…

Burger rating – 4/5 – pleasantly surprised.

The deets

There are over 60 of these around the country; mine was in Festival Place, Basingstoke. Amanda and I then went to see the Greatest Showman, and if this was a film blog, I’d be raving about it here. SO GOOD. Although I guess if this was a history blog, I’d be ranting about its inaccuracy…  You can’t please everyone all the time!