Steam Engine, Waterloo, London

Vigorously indulgent burger; great, edging on brilliant

Burger source

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Welcome to the Steam Engine.

The order

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

The meat of it

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

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

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

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

Monkey finger rating

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

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

The deets

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

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

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Porky’s, 18 New Globe Walk, Bankside

Well cooked, well-constructed, slightly sweet burger in this meat-palace

Burger source

Independently owned by husband and wife team Simon and Joy Briggs, two road-tripping Brits who fell in love with Memphis, Porky’s is a full-on-rib shack. But they have a decent burger selection and were shortlisted for an award lately so we thought we’d give them a try. The burgers are 100% brisket mince, and to be honest I’m not sure what that’s meant to add to the burger (the brisket is a ‘primal cut’ of beef, featuring muscle and lots of connective tissue, classically braised or roasted – not sure if or how it has to be treated in a burger).

The order

A lunchtime visit so little extravagance; a ‘Beale Street Special’ and fries was the sum total of the order. The Beale Street special is a cheeseburger with onion rings, jalapenos and hot sauce. There wasn’t a ‘standard’ cheese and bacon, so I opted for this as the closest option on the menu!

The meat of it

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It’s a well presented burger, to be sure. Like Byron, it was a little too perfect, and I wondered what would happen on the cross-section…

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…but medium rare it was, juicy and perfectly cooked.

As to the taste… I was unsure about the hot sauce – have never been a fan in anything other than Buffalo wings. However it adds just a gentle heat to the backdrop of an extremely meaty burger. Perfect grind, well-seasoned, intensely flavoured (maybe it’s the brisket?), this is a burger that’s more than the sum of its part. Like the Byron B-Rex, the combination of jalapeno, onion and pickles – alongside a brioche bun – adds a lot of sweetness, and the burger probably could have used a little bacon to take the edge off it…. But on balance the taste was excellent. Juicy, high quality beef, wrapped in a stack of complementary ingredients, well prepared and presented.

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As to the fries… as you can see from the picture, they didn’t look like much. McD’s style thin cut fries, arriving in need of seasoning… but it’s a healthy portion for the money, and they are much more crisp than they appear, so on balance – a good thing. Colleagues had the sweet potato fries, which also looked good.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 3.5/5 – good but unexceptional
Value – 4/5 – £12 for burger and side, ish… but then 20% discount with a Bankside Buzzcard!

Burger rating – 4/5 – meaty goodness that would have benefited from a little more saltiness and chew amongst the sweet and spicy toppings.

The deets

Just round the corner from the Tate and the South Bank, this branch of Porky’s is super-convenient to my office. They have one in Camden, too, if you’re North, or Boxpark if you’re East. All locations here.

The Bistrot, Seminyak, Bali

Welcome to the second in an occasional series of guest posts from travelling friends of ours, this one courtesy of none other than DJ Will MC Campbell….

One of the UK’s most beloved chefs once quirked “Food is for eating, and to be enjoyed… I think food is, actually, very beautiful in itself.” And what could be greater than the sight of a truly world-class burger arriving at your table, as others look on in envy?

Truth be told I tried to do my first burger review while in Japan – the home of Wagyu and Kobe beef, incredible cuts of meat from incredible cattle… but it wasn’t really served in true burger form, so couldn’t legitimately count it as one.

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Which is why, having left the incredible but cold shores of Japan, on arriving in Bali I headed to The Bistrot for my first evening out. An impressive wooden yet high ceilinged open space, upon entering you immediately feel reminded of a New York loft/factory space with a distinct industrial feel.

And there it was, centre of the menu, I couldn’t look away, the Bistrot Burger – 180g of beef from Australia’s finest cattle.

Burger Source

There are variations of the same burger – but the house special came with the trimmings I was looking for, onion rings (always a challenge to get right), Red Cheddar (?), Cognac Sauce, Tomato, Lettuce served in a lightly toasted sesame seed bun.

The Meat of It

I’m an absolute stickler for having the meat cooked to the way I like it – and I opt for medium rare (controversial for some I know), as it actually requires more attention than any other form of cooking a burger IMHO. It needs to be perfectly brown on the outside but I want to see the colours and juices coming through the middle.

I wasn’t disappointed. The meat was cooked to perfection. Perfectly seasoned, perfectly presented. I was excited I’d hit a home run on my first night in Bali. The Cognac sauced seemed to work really well, yet bizarrely added a somewhat BBQ flavour to the burger. Could it be a term lost in translation? I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt as the combo was immediately impressive.

Next up was the red cheese and the onion rings, where my initial doubts were realised. The onion rings were solid, but not great. A little too soft from the outside and not enough texture from the onion. I want to feel like I’m biting into an actual onion rather than just a lump of fried batter. The red cheese really let it down, as it felt processed and slabbed on – a little too perfectly square.

It’s always interesting trying bread from other countries, particularly when you walk into a supermarket and aren’t exposed to the 90+ variations we have in the UK. So it wasn’t a great surprise to find the bun good but not exceptional. It was toasted well, crispy when you bite into it, but soft through the middle.

All in all, I was impressed. The meat was ideally cooked, the sauce complimented the flavour really well… and did I really expect the onion rings and cheese to be of the same quality? Well let’s say I’d have been disappointed with the experience if it had been the other way round (or I’d be posting this on the wrong blog).

Would I go again? Probably. Would I recommend to others? Absolutely.

For a total of £8, it would be hard to find many places in the UK that would serve that level of quality food in such a place that makes you feel like you’ve been transported 12,000 miles across continents.

Monkey finger rating

Bun  – 3/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste – 4/5
Sides – N/A
Value – 4/5

I think our beloved chef might have been onto something when she made that remark about food – but I’d argue just adding the word good as a prefix would be about right. And this place was certainly good.

If you’re ever in Bali, I’d highly recommend popping in  – you can find them at Jl. Kayu Aya No.117, Seminyak, Badung, Kabupaten Badun. You can reserve a table, and if you’re there Friday or Saturday night I’d recommend doing so.

Surfin’ BIRD – BIRD Restaurant, Camden

One of the greatest pleasures in a week night activity like a gig is the chance to roll up one’s sleeves and unashamedly indulge in a new greasy restaurant experience.

So it was when Little Comets performed at Dingwalls in London, prompting my housemate and I to roam Camden in search of some pre-gig warmth and fatty food. The many restaurants of Chalk Farm Road appear particularly toasty and enticing in the evening at this time of the year, and none more so than the orange shades of BIRD.

Burger source:

BIRD is the brainchild of Canadian husband and wife team Paul Hemings and Cara Ceppetelli. It opened its doors a couple of years ago, as the bargain bucket-shunning duo sought to reinvent the classic greasy-fingered fried chicken experience for a grown up London audience.

So, everyone knows that the bird is the word, but what do BIRD serve, in their own words? “The best free range fried chicken you’ve ever tasted.” A brave statement indeed for an establishment in Britain. I’ll be the judge of that, thank you…

The order

I opted for the Bacon & Cheese, which aside from the obvious ingredients, comes slavered in BBQ sauce & house kewpie mayo. Hold on, house what mayo? Call me ignorant, but I have to admit that I hadn’t come across this variant of mayonnaise before – and I was too busy drooling over the menu to investigate there and then. For the similarly uninitiated, Kewpie mayo is actually a wildly popular Japanese condiment, made with rice wine vinegar (rather than distilled). This results in a pathway to mayonnaise that some consider to be smoother, creamier and more flavoursome than your usual white stodge. Personally, there wasn’t enough here to reach a satisfactory judgement, but I’ll happily take it to the test again when I visit Japan in a couple of months – ideally in a quiet room with just a full jar, a spoon and a couple of idle hours.

But enough about the mayo. I’ve overlooked one of the critical selling points of BIRD’s Bacon & Cheese burger: it’s made with thigh meat, rather than breast. If you know your chicken, you’ll appreciate that thigh meat presents a significantly juicier bite than the average breast. On the flipside, this also results in a generally smaller, thinner cut of meat (more on that later).

I also opted for the Cheesy Korean fries on the side, along with a Coke and a healthy pot of buttermilk ranch sauce for dipping/swigging/downing (because somebody stop me).

The meat of it:

BIRD’s Camden venue is a recent addition to this growing chain, and the sheen was still evident even underneath the requisite thin layer of grease that you’d expect in such an establishment. Many of the standard British ‘hipstery’ small-chain paraphernalia were present: long wooden benches and stools, an excess of tiling and exposed brickwork, low-hung bare lighting… you’ve been here before, even if you haven’t. Putting personal prejudices to one side, however, the venue was undeniably tidy, warm and comfortable.

Despite warnings to the contrary from easily-offended TripAdvisor reviewers, we were quickly greeted and seated with a warm welcome. Orders followed swiftly, and all in all the food was with us in under twenty minutes. There was one heart-stopping moment when it appeared they may have forgotten to bring out the buttermilk ranch, but these fears were undone when a pot of the stuff was plonked on the bench shortly after the mains arrived. Otherwise, the staff were in that idyllic zone of appearing friendly and attentive – without being overbearing.BIRD 1

The main event arrived well presented, with BIRD’s decision to serve their mains on genuine plates being particularly well received. The brioche bun was a rather sturdy affair, which will undoubtedly please many but I found it to be unnecessary chunky (there was no beefy juice to soak up here) and a little dry, but not offensively so. The bacon was suitably hot and crispy and I was pleased to note that it had already combined well with the cheese (there’s nothing worse than still fridge-cold cheese ruining a burger). But what of the chicken itself? First, the coating. This isn’t your usual spicy breadcrumb or batter affair: the clearly Asian-influenced* approach to frying results in a pleasant and intriguing coating that was impressively crispy and flavourful. This gave way to the incredibly juicy and tender meat to produce some of the best fried chicken I’ve tasted. Unfortunately, as noted the thigh meat does mean that the burger felt smaller than it should have. Or perhaps I’m just greedy.

I have mixed feelings about the Cheesy Korean fries. The chips themselves were nothing particularly special, just your standard perfectly acceptable thin-cut crispy strips of potato. But no one ordering this dish came for the fries alone: it’s all about the topping. That said, the cheese sauce was fairly run of the mill while the gochujang glaze was really more of a spicy tomato paste. Altogether the result was certainly pleasing and fairly unique, but not enough to bring me back in itself. Marks have also been deducted for serving the fries in a mini frying pan.

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Finally, a word on the buttermilk ranch: this was disappointing. Perhaps I’ve become accustomed to the rich gooeyness of the likes of Newman’s Own Ranch, but I found this offering to be watery and strangely lacking in flavour. Given that BIRD offer a veritable smorgasbord of side sauces and glazes (including blue cheese – hello, blue cheese), I wouldn’t order this again.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 3/5

Build – 4/5

Burger – 4/5

Taste – 4/5

Sides – 3/5

Value – 3/5 – The burger, sides, sauce and soft drink came to a princely £18 (including tip). Personally, this is fairly de rigueur for this kind of restaurant but some may baulk at such a sum for what is essentially glorified fast food.

Burger rating – 3/5 A very solid fried chicken burger, in a world packed to the rafters with chicken burgers.

The deets

BIRD is expanding and now lays claim to three restaurants across London. I say across London, but somewhat predictably they’re located in Shoreditch, Islington and Camden. Influential folks at BIRD: if you’re reading this, we’d love to see you and your ilk south of the river too! Until then I’ll just stick with trusty old Sam’s, thanks.

They Tweet here, and if looking at glossy, overly filtered photos of fried chicken and doughnuts is your thing then you can follow them on Instagram too. Want some Facebook with that? Sure, they’ve got you covered.

*BIRD insist that its product is “not Southern fried chicken.  It’s not Korean fried chicken.  It’s BIRD Free Range & Fried.”