Prairie Fire BBQ, Mercato Metropolitano, Elephant & Castle, London

Excellent, messy, juicy double patty smash burger

Burger source

Mercato Metropolitano London is a sustainable community market; in practical terms, this means it’s a massive half in/half outdoor food court, filled with a myriad of wonderful food stalls including at least three places that serve burgers. And none of the cutlery is single use plastic, hurrah!

Prairie Fire BBQ serves ‘Kansas style BBQ’  founded in 2013 by American Expat in London Michael Gratz; his job titles include ‘founder’, ‘chef’, and ‘Pit Master.’ The philosophy is Kansas style, sauce heavy, smoked meat, or in their own words: the “…slow smoked, sauce heavy Kansas City Style is the apex of the ancient art of cooking with wood. The rub, the char, the smoke ring, the tenderness, the umami, the sauce, the smile and well used napkin define Prairie Fire and the future of European BBQ.”

The order

I have had the PFQ, their signature burger, which is: “two seasoned chuck & rib tip steak patties smashed into diced onion on flattop. Served with melty American cheese, crisp lettuce, tomato, onion & BBQ aioli.”

I had seasoned fries on the side.

The meat of it

The Mercato eating environment is a lot of fun. Noisy, half indoors, half outdoors, all smell, sounds and raucous laughter.

Food is served in paper baskets; the ordering system ‘texted’ me to collect the prepared food hot off the grill and fryer.

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It’s hard to photograph, but there was nothing bad about the appearance. That said, the incredible amounts of sauce meant it was a slippery burger, whilst perfectly stacked, had this been on a plate it would probably have collapsed in moments.

The pickle, to the side, was crisp, sweet and fresh. Very mild on vinegar, it’s a palate cleanser for the main meal.

In cross section…

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Here’s where you can see the structural limitations of the burger; the sauce is so heavy that the burger is slipping apart even as I hold it up for its glamour shot.

That said… looks aren’t everything, and on first bite you get an immediate understanding of the splendour of this burger.

The patties are thin and crisp – 2.5-3oz each, at a guess, the patty smash on a hot (though not the hottest) plate lets them char in their own fat, developing a wonderful texture and flavour – though I didn’t notice the onions they’d apparently been cooked in. Cheese is melted in on the grill, though it’s hard to detect under the BBQ aioli. The salad, too, is somewhat token, lost in the sauce. But none of this is a bad thing.

The incredible umami of the burger, with a faint hint of dry-aged, quality beef funk, is complemented perfectly by the runny sweet aioli, a mild peppery heat, and something like the memory of cheese. The salad is present but provides little more than textural background noise. The bun is soft and pliant, with a lovely crumb but thankfully little sweetness.

It’s pretty glorious, if messy, in all. My only criticism, and it’s a marginal one, is that a hotter grill would have provided even more crunch to the patties (which would have been welcome), and the aioli was just fractionally too heavily laid on.

The fries are ‘seasoned’ fries – a sweet smoked paprika, basically, heavily dusted over salted, thin cut fries. There’s nothing bad about these, though nothing exceptional either; thicker cut potatoes might have provided more natural potato flavour but it wasn’t necessary. The additional BBQ aioli they are served with was possibly a perfect condiment in the context of the meal.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 3/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 4/5
Value – 3.5/5 – £12.50 for burger and side – felt a bit toppy in a food market setting, but everything at Mercato is a little pricey.

Burger rating – 4/5 – really good patty smash option. Next time will add bacon for a bit more crunch and request they leave it on the grill a little longer than normal.

The deets

Mercato Metropolitano is a 5 minute walk from Elephant & Castle tube, and 15 minutes from my office in Southwark. Recommended for anyone in the neighbourhood. Find more info on PFQ here.

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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.