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.

Roast, Borough Market, London

Gamey, well-put-together venison burger

Burger source

There was beef wellington on the menu, but such is my commitment to burgers that – in realising that Roast – one of the defining meat-centric restaurants in London – had a burger on its Christmas menu – I changed my mind. Note this is a far cry from the Roast-To-Go burger I reviewed back in 2017, even if it was prepared in the same kitchen.

The order

So there it was – the Wild British Fallow Deer Venison burger. Featuring a brioche bun, stilton, beef tomato, lettuce and Roast’s burger sauce. Had to be done. We also had a healthy diversity of sides – pigs in blankets, garlic mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower cheese and chunky truffle chips.

The meat of it

Let’s look at it again.

It’s well presented and constructed. Lettuce protecting the bun from a juicy (?) burger, good slice of pickle, bright, fresh veg, ‘Roast burger sauce’ on the side, and promising-looking chunky fries in the obligatory fancy tin pot.

Let’s come into the cross section:

Look at that colour! A perfect pink, absolutely amazing! And the light hasn’t helped but he brioche is quite pale beneath a warm and attractively grilled bun. You’ll also note that the bun has slipped off the giant lettuce leaves and doesn’t want to stay settled at all – I’m pro shredding the lettuce on the underside of a burger. This hasn’t stayed together as you’d hope, although I fully accept that most people don’t cross-section their burger in this way.

As to the taste – perfect seasoning, there’s a wonderful umani between the burger and the stilton – which is unobtrusive and subtle. The bun holds together well and doesn’t have the sweetness many brioche do; but has fantastic substance and bite, contrasting with its soft, fluffy blandness against the flavourbomb of the burger itself. The texture and mouthfeel is good, though the burger is a little dry overall – I suspect that wild fallow deer doesn’t have the fat content your average 20-30% beef burger patty might – and the light gamey taste adds a pleasant depth of flavour.

The Roast Sauce? Is basically just a fancy, smooth home made ketchup. It’s pleasant, but this burger wanted a mayo or aioli style burger sauce on the buns to add fat and moisture back into each bite. Pickle in there would have added good contrast to the dry, salty, gamey meat. Not bad, but a few refinements would have elevated it.

As to the chips – they were perfect. Double if not triple fried, crunchy on the outside and fluffy in the middle, they were perfectly seasoned and very flavourful. Again the ketchup/burger sauce was a good accompaniment, but would have preferred a mayo or aioli dip.

On the other sides (sorry for lack of pictures) – the pigs and blankets were just fine – good sausages but not desperately easily to distinguish from a pack you’d from Sainsbury’s. The mushrooms were extraordinary – the right answer to how much butter can you use when grilling mushrooms is ALL OF IT. I heard good reports for the truffle chips, the cauliflower cheese, the stuffing and more. Good all around.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4.5/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 3.5/5
Taste –  3.5/5
Sides – 4.5/5
Value – 3.5/5 – £22 is a lot, although possibly reasonable given the venue and cost of the venison

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – Enjoyable and interesting novelty, though I probably wouldn’t have this again unless I could change up the recipe. The meat was just too lean for a burger patty, and there are a lot of other good things on the menu.

The deets

Wander around Borough market until you find the lift/steps that lead up to Roast. You can’t – no wait, you can easily miss it. Good luck and enjoy – let me know how you found it.

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.

Nanny Bill’s, in residence @ Vinegar Yard, London Bridge

Glorious, innovative double patty smash

Burger source
Nanny Bill’s was named in homage to the founders’ grandma, Bill, who ran a cafe in the 70s and 80s. Founded in 2015 in East London as a food truck venture, Bill’s is part of the decade-and-a-half love affair with high quality American fast food Britain is experiencing. Had I known they were famed for their ‘Mac & Cheese’ croquettes, we might have tried those too…

The burgers are interesting; hand pressed, clearly high quality meat, and some interesting variations – from the Dalston Dip (served with gravy) through standard bacon double cheeseburger (with BBQ sauce) through to the spicy Jam burger, various chicken and vegan options and more.

The experience was definitely one for our Covid times. We had to book and pre-order drinks in advance, we had to show our Covid check-in on the NHS app to be allowed in, everything was table service, managed and paid for on our phones, after going to a website by scanning a QR code at the table. It was, per the law, masks on at all times when not at the table. We’d primarily chosen to meet at Vinegar Yard as it provided an outdoor (under cover) space, which felt sensible in the age of Corona. And knowing Nanny Bill’s was there gave us something else to look forward to… their Insta pictures are glorious.

The order
I was tempted by the standard bacon double cheeseburger, but the Jam was calling out to me. Double beef patty, smoked bacon, American cheese, pink onions, hot sauce, shredded lettuce, bacon jam, burger sauce on a brioche bun.

In our rule-of-six compliant group, friends tried the Dalston Dip, the Bacon Double Cheese Burger and the Hot Mess chicken burger. All looked great.

Sidewise, I went for the Aggy Fries – rosemary salt fries, garlic buttermilk mayo, hot sauce, grated Parmesan and spring onion, and nabbed a chicken strip with rum’n’ting BBQ sauce.

The meat of it
So, how was it?

Let’s take a look.

There’s a lot to take in. The crust on the meat is immediately apparent, peeking out from the shiny, super-soft brioche. The cheese has a perfect melt, the lettuce is bright and fresh, you can see the burger sauce forming a protective layer on the perfectly toasted bottom bun.

This burger is a thing of beauty and power. But how did it taste?

In a word? Glorious. The crust is amazingly seasoned and tasty and gives way with a crisp crunch, revealing (amazingly) an ever-so-slightly pink centre. The bun is soft and sturdy (strong and stable?) – it holds up to the fillings and provides a starchy, only-slightly-sweet counterbalance to the umami bomb of the burger and its fillings.

The sweet / savoury / sour contrast is a delight; the melty cheese, chewy bacon, perfectly seasoned meat deliver a savoury mouthful; balanced perfectly with the sweetness of the bacon jam and the burger sauce. The pickled red onions lend a bright sour tang. In the background of the mouthful you can pick up the faintest heat from the hot sauce – a little more would not have been a bad thing.

Every mouthful brought another crunch/chew/taste sensation. It is probably the best patty smash burger I have had in the UK, bar none. Outstanding.

To the sides…

The aggy fries were interesting. A thick coating of hot sauce – Frank’s? – made the centre of the pile somewhat soggy, but amazingly flavoursome; lovely mild buffalo heat with every mouthful. The rosemary seasoning is mild and pleasant, the mayo a lovely creamy contrast to the crisp fries; even the Parmesan plays an unexpected role, boosting the flavour and adding a mild cheesey funk. And of course, I’m one of those people who things chopped spring onions improves almost everything – really wonderful, very moreish, and an extremely creative take on fries, one that adds rather than distracts with its novelty. Obviously the standard rosemary fries are excellent too, and don’t suffer from the soggy hot sauce centre.

The chicken strips were… disappointing .The breading is too light, and underseasoned – insipid. The ‘rum n ting’ BBQ sauce is pleasant, but would have been better cutting through the heat and seasoning of a crisper coating for the wings; as it was, it was not-quite-managing to redeem the juicy, but otherwise flavourless, chicken strips.

Drink wise, we had a very pleasant, fruity and slightly flowery session IPA from the London Beer Factory called Hazey Daze. Can recommend, not least for the outrageous ringpulls.

In all, this was an extraordinarily creative and tasty take on some standard burger fare; the team at Nanny Bill’s clearly know what’s going on and I wish them every success.

Monkey finger rating
Bun – 5/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste – 4.5/5
Sides – 4.5/5 –
small penalty for mediocre wings, but fries were great
Value – 4/5 –
£17 for burger and side, ish, with service. OK but not exactly a meal deal.

Burger rating – 4.5/5 – really outstanding overall. Would be tempted to have again, but having seen how amazing their other burgers looked… I’d be tempted to try one of those.

The deets
Nanny Bill’s have a few locations, but if you’re looking for outdoor eating in this time of Covid, Vinegar Yard behind London Bridge Station is the place for you. You can find other locations here, as well as buy their home-kits if you want to give it a try in the comfort of your home kitchen!

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.

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.

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.