Brewdog, Clerkenwell, London

Convincing vegan burger; actual meat let down by overcooking/packing

Burger source

I’ve been an “Equity Punk” since 2015 – holding a very small number of shares in the crowdfunded Brewdog empire – but I’ve never taken advantage of it. So we corrected that this weekend and stopped in for a burger and beer at the Brewdog bar in Clerkenwell.

Brewdog bigs up the burger origins a little in its menu: “Our bespoke mix of chuck, rib cap and brisket beef comes solely from British farms including our friends at Alec Jarrett Farm & Foxham Farm.” And its buns too: “Our burger buns are baked exclusively for us at Wrights Bakery, independent and family run since 1867.”

The order

Matt and I split a ‘Patriot burger’ – 7oz beef patty, smoked bacon, cheddar, pickles, onion, baby gem & bbq sauce in a sesame and poppy seeded brioche bun – and a ‘Beyond meat’ burger – beyond meat patty, vegan chipotle slaw, vegan gouda cheese, roasted red peppers, baby gem & pickles in a beetroot brioche bun. Disclaimer: I have a tiny shareholding in Beyond Meat too, following its IPO.

On the side, we shared some wings, fries and sweet potato fries.

We each had a ‘beer flight’ as well – four one third pint glasses of different Brewdog beers. We had Instamatic (wheat ale – v unusual), Elvis Juice (famous Brewdog IPA), East Coast IPA and Clockwork Tangerine. The fruitier IPAs, because I was ordering and I like that kind of thing.

The meat of it

So, as I tried two burgers, each in turn.

Let’s start with the Patriot burger.

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Ok, this has been brutalised by the cross section but you can see from this and the feature picture that this has not been well stacked. Without the ceremonial knife holding it together, the meat is sliding all over the place, the salad is spilling out the sides; pickles undernearth basically created an icerink for the burger. People who read my blog regularly will also know that I’m about to be unimpressed with the meat – overcooked (no pink at all, that’s not just the lighting), packed solid, finely ground. All terrible errors. And because the meat turns up on site as mince, they have little choice – food safety regulations mean they have to cook it medium well. Total shame, as the meat was good quality and well seasoned, although somewhat lacking in crust (hotter griddle needed). And a quick word on the bacon: it was a bit insipid and floppy. I wish more burger places would either take the Americans lead and make crispy bacon REALLY crispy, or use thicker cut/more flavourful bacon if they’re going to cook it like they did here.

Almost everything else about the burger was actually pretty good; the seasoning was great, sweet BBQ sauce, crisp pickle and melty, salty cheddar was actually really well held by the brioche – which felt like a standard white bun, much less sweet than you’d expect of a brioche. It was soft, but served untoasted – actually totally fine in context. Such a shame that the texture of the meat had that slightly rubbery consistency that overcooked, overpacked burgers do.

In contrast, the Beyond Meat burger…

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The stack here was a little more controlled but the ‘bottomings’ cause the same problem. Messy build. The Beyond Burger is texturally consistent though, so no problems there, though probably needs a smaller bun or bigger patty. How did this all come together?

Pretty impressively, actually. The chipotle slaw adds a lovely, savoury crunch (almost bacony), the pickles and beetroot bun provide sweetness, that vegan gouda – why can’t I buy that in a grocery store?? – amazingly convincing, salty, gooey goodness. The Beyond Burger is as good as it always is – not quite fooling you into thinking its beef, but really very close. The overall package was great, and I’d probably have this over the Patriot burger on a return visit.

As to the sides…

The wings weren’t standard buffalo wings – buttermilk batter meant they were super crispy – great – but the addition of a honey glaze substantially tempered the hot sauce. Basically, they were barely spicy. But they were crisp and tasty nonetheless. Without the heat, the blue cheese sauce was surplus to requirements.

The fries were pretty delightful, especially the sweet potato fries. They arrive unseasoned, but once that’s corrected, they are crisp, full of OG potato flavour, and not at all greasy. Really very good work.

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I’m not going to attempt to review the beers. The bartender that served us was – at least apparently, I have no way of knowing – incredibly expert. He guided us on flavour profiles, food pairings (“the esters in the wheat beer will give it a cooling effect for the spice in the buffalo wings, but the Elvis Juice will kick it up a notch”), and more. But it was consistently good as Brewdog always is, and some interesting variations. Nice to have it on tap instead of bottled/canned, too.

Monkey finger rating

To each burger in turn

Patriot Burger

Bun –  5/5
Build – 2/5
Burger – 2/5
Taste –  3/5

Beyond Burger

Bun – 4/5
Build – 3/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste – 4/5

Sides – 4/5 -would have been higher had there been more hot sauce in the buffalo wings, the fries are really excellent
Value – 4/5 – £22 per head for burger, sides, beer per head – with a 10% Equity Punk discount. Pretty good even without.

Overall rating – 4/5 – the experience was fun and the Beyond Burger was really very good. I’d go back, and probably try even more different beers. Or maybe – controversially – the chicken burger.

The deets

There are Brewdog bars all over the place now – find your nearest here.

Thirsty Bear, Stamford Street, London

Exceptional pub fayre

Burger source

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The Thirsty Bear positions itself as the “pub revolutionised” and in many ways it is. iPads adorn many of the tables, which also have beer taps attached, allowing you to order (and pour!) your drinks at the table, get food sent to you, call a waiter for help and so on. It’s a small but effective gimmick, cutting down queue/wait time and certainly makes things work differently.

The burgers are the staple of the pub’s American-themed menu, which also features wings, ribs, slaws, soft tacos and beyond. All we know is about the burger origins is that  “All burgers are a whopping 6oz of prime rib-eye, fillet and sirloin patty.”

The order

I ordered a ‘BBQ bacon’, and colleagues had various eccentric variations; one featuring pulled pork, one peanut butter. The BBQ bacon featured 6 oz beef patty, crispy smoked bacon, Monterey jack, lettuce, tomato, red onion, BBQ glaze, bun. Side of Cajun fries, and we had some wings and ribs too.

The meat of it

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Appearances can be confusing. In the darkness of the pub, what was clear was that this burger appeared to have a rather flaccid bun; there was ample (perhaps excessive) salad poking around the side. The burger was topped with thin-mandolined pickled cucumber. BBQ sauce was dripping around the bun. The cheese had an excellent melt and was glooping around the side. A stray red onion loop makes its presence felt.

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The cross section reveals a fine grind, densely packed. Not sure how this is going to go.

Then the first bite. The crunch from the uber-crispy bacon reports like a rifle shot. The taste is instant; the salt and crunch of the bacon; the slight resistance from the well-charred burger exterior. The juicy drip of its interior – drier than it could have been, but better than many. A smokiness and sweetness, from the meat and the BBQ sauce, peels through each mouthful. There’s a light bonus crispness and sweetness from the salad; tomato and onion, mild lettuce, perfect pickle. The meat blend makes every mouthful tasty, despite the fact that the burger is a little too dense and too chewy, and the lettuce portion is unnecessarily generous…  the overall impression is one of lush, well balanced flavour. This is an excellent pub burger.

Sides were fun: the Cajun fries (and the regular, and sweet potato fries colleagues ordered) were truly excellent. Crisp and well seasoned on the outside, squidgy in the middle, without being unduly salty. Cajun seasoning adds a (very) mild spice flavour.

We also tried some buffalo wings and ribs. The ribs were dry and tougher than they should have been; the sauce a little meanly applied though not without flavour. Overall, a solid meh. The wings, on the other hand, had a good crunch, decent heat coming through the hot sauce, and only a smidge too little sauce. The meat was juicy and not overdone. Definitely moreish, though, and recommended.

The colleagues I was eating with enjoyed theirs as much as I did mine, so verdict verified.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5 – soft but surprisingly sturdy
Build – 4/5 – may not look like much but really very well contained
Burger – 3.5/5 – could have been a shade or two rarer without hurting anyone
Taste –  4/5 – very solid flavour, if a little dense and less juicy than it could have been
Sides – 4/5 – excellent fries, good wings, middling ribs
Value – 4/5 – £12 for burger and side, ish. Plus £5.50 for a pint, and £12 to share a jumbo starter.

Burger rating – 4/5 – really very good overall.

The deets

Just off Southwark Street, about 8 minutes down the road from Waterloo Station. Worth the diversion for supper and a pint. Limited Vegan options available.

Bottle of Sauce, Ambrose Street, Cheltenham

One of the best burgers in Britain

Burger source

A group of friends were going away for a weekend; naturally, with me as one of them, we googled for the best burgers in town. And Google told us about the Bottle of Sauce. Just over a year old, the pub/restaurant is clearly gaining a cult following – it was packed, with everyone from people on dates to large groups of friends who had it pegged as the perfect location to start their night out.

There’s not much information about the pub, or the ‘Dodo family’ it’s part of on its website, but the parent site tells us that it is part of a small independent chain of social-centric pubs called the Dodo Pub company. Founded 8 years ago, the owners seem to be on a mission to reinvent dilapidated pubs as community hubs, with great food and booze:

Our mission is to set up unique neighbourhood pubs for local communities, all the while continuing to develop our interest in good food, good drink and good design and sharing this passion with our wonderful and loyal customers.

They are onto something good… with their burgers made from dry-aged prime cuts of beef, ground in-house and served pink by default and… well, wait for the meat of it.

The order

Simples – we’d already been out for a few hours, so couldn’t deal with overcomplicated ordering. 6 ‘Big D’ burgers, 5 fries, 3 portions of buffalo wings and one portion of buffalo fries between the six of us. The Big D burger has a seeded bun, the beef, crispy bacon, cheddar, dodo burger mayo, caramelised onions, lettuce. Simples.

The meat of it

HOLY CRAP. This was unexpected. We’re in a pub in Cheltenham, but somehow the medium rare bite of this burger is one of the best balanced, juiciest and, frankly, most gloriously sumptuous burger eating experiences of my life.

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I’ll wind back. Delivering burgers on a tray as they did mean the presentation impact isn’t about an elegant plate but more a ‘wall of meat’ experience. It was an imposing delivery; we weren’t complaining. The stack was fine – no issues with construction, though the juiciness of the meat was combining with dodo sauce to drip onto the tray. A good sign, on reflection. The bacon, two long, crisp strips of perfectly flat, is arranged in a cross hatch. The rest of the toppings are underneath the burger. The bun is seeded, non-brioche.

And the taste…. Whilst, being extremely critical, I would argue that the patties could have done with marginally more seasoning, this is some of the finest meat I’ve ever had in a burger. Coarse ground, loose packed, perfectly pink and with a high fat ratio (I’d guess 70/30), melty cheese and crisp, crunchy bacon, every mouthful is a delight. The caramelised onions and salad, melded seamlessly in with the dodo sauce, provide a sweet counterpoint, and the sturdy seeded bun holds up admirably. I practically inhaled the burger.

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The sides; the fries (Rosemary sea salt fries, sorry!) are crisp on the outside, squidgy on the inside. Thicker than regular fries, I won’t pretend I noticed the rosemary taste (milder than Honest Burger’s take on this), but really very well done. The Buffalo fries were extraordinary; unlike chilli fries the buffalo sauce doesn’t make them too soggy, but the slick, spicy tang of buffalo sauce melded beautifully with those near-perfect fries.

The wings were good too – nothing extraordinary, I’d have liked a bit more crunch to them under the sauce, but the sauce was perfect, and the blue-cheese dip was fine too. The chicken was high quality, juicy but not too fatty, and perfectly cooked.

Wow. Go to Cheltenham *just* so you can spend a few hours in this pub. As a bonus, the atmosphere was jumping, the staff were friendly, and the drinks (we had a house Bourbon cocktail) weren’t bad at all.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  5/5 – held up admirably
Build – 5/5 – beautifully constructed
Burger – 5/5 – possibly tied with Dip & Flip and marginally ahead of Bleecker Street  my mind
Taste –  5/5 – better than the some of its parts
Sides – 4.5/5 – buffalo fries FTW!
Value – 4/5 – Sides are pricey but good, cocktails are cheap, burgers are average by London standards.  But it’s probably expensive for Cheltenham – about £25 for burger, sides and a drink a piece

Burger rating – 5/5 – Just amazing.

The deets

Ambrose Street is fairly central in Cheltenham. If you’re a group of more than 8 people, you can book a table, otherwise just turn up. We got there around 8pm on a Saturday and had little problem finding a space (though we were sat in the outdoor courtyard area). Book your trip now!

Byron Waterloo, 41-45 The Cut, Southwark

Byron started the gourmet burger revolution for me. Does it live up to my memory of it?

Burger source

Byron was founded by Tom Byng, who, according to its website, spent many a night in the US eating burgers he couldn’t find in the London of 2007… and so he set up. In my mind, this man, and this chain (now owned by a private equity firm with upwards of 60 locations Nationwide) kick-started the burger renaissance London is currently undergoing and showed GBK – then the only ones with a claim to the gourmet burger – that it had no idea what it was doing.*  In my memory, their ‘pure cuts of British beef’ were always cooked to a perfect medium, delivered with super-melty cheese in a soft brioche, and were just plain delicious. They even have their own cheese for extra meltiness – Freddar, a cheddar hybrid named after one of their chefs!

 

*mind you, I haven’t been to a GBK in years!

The order

We were there for a work related do, so shared a variety of starters (buffalo wings, nuggets served with BBQ sauce and nachos topped with sour cream, salsa, guac and melted cheese) and sides (fries, courgette fries). For my burger, I went for the B-Rex, medium rare (more common now than I thought it was in London!) – which is a bacon cheese burger with jalapenos, pickles, onion rings, BBQ sauce and mayonnaise. What’s there not to love?

The meat of it

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The burger looked perfect. I mean, look at it! A perfect stack, layered up as you’d expect it. The patty looked a bit tooperfect, holding together in a slightly suspicious way and I feared it might have been overcooked…

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…but look at that cross section! A perfect medium rare! Strong melt to the cheese, brioche holding up admirably against the sauces and one would assume burger juice.

Then a bite. The meat’s slightly underseasoned, or at least struggling to cope with the sweetness of BBQ sauce, onion and brioche. It’s also slightly low on the fat ratio (I’d guess an 80/20 lean/fat at best), which means it’s not as juicy as you’d hope. The grind is good, though, the texture melt-in-your-mouth perfect, the cheese glorious, the japalenos and pickles a sweet, crisp counterpoint to the crunchy onion ring. The bacon gets somewhat lost in all of this, but it’s adding salt to the hot sweet mess of this burger, so isn’t without purpose. The jalapenos are reasonably non-descript, adding the faintest hint of heat. Unfortunately… whilst all these elements are coming together well, the overall balance of this burger is a bit off – too much sweetness, not enough umami. Add to this the fact that the beef is just fine – unexceptional if good quality ground beef – and there’s no longer any specialness about this Byron burger. A serviceable output of a decent chain… but little to write home about.

As to the sides…

  • The wings are good. On the mild side of standard buffalo, suspect either they weren’t using Frank’s hot sauce but some poor imitator, or overdid the butter. Crisp and tender, though, and not bad for London.
  • The fries were fine – a small portion for the money (£3 for a portion about the same size as a small fries at McD’s), crisp french-fry style, well-seasoned.
  • The courgette fries are great – sweet, crispy and salty all in one go. Don’t even pretend they’re healthy, but they are delicious!
  • The chicken nuggets and nachos – meh. Chain fayre, nothing exceptional, except for the BBQ sauce which seems eccentric and different to standard, mostly in a good way.

Drinks-wise I was having Woodford reserve off its decent bourbon list. Burgers and bourbon – a killer combination. Or you can have craft beer if you prefer…

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 4.5/5
Burger – 3.5/5
Taste –  3.5/5
Sides – 4/5 – courgette fries bump it up half a point
Value – 3.5/5 – £9, £3 sides, expensive drinks… a little overpriced for standard fayre.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – it’s either gone downhill to ‘average’ or I’ve been spoiled by everything else that’s cropped up since 2007!

The deets

Everywhere in London (and some beyond), but this particular one was on the Cut, which runs from Southwark to Waterloo. Nearer the Southwark end. Find your own here.

Burger &  Shake, Marchmont Street, London

Good all rounder, over-ordered like crazy as a result. Hard shakes are ftw.

Burger Source

Having eaten our way through many of the mainstays of London burgerness, we are having to hunt harder for top shops to feed our (well, mostly my) burger habit. Friends wanted to meet near Holborn, so Burger & Shake it was to be. The other mooted venue was a Hoxton Burger, but I also wanted my first experience of the famous Hoxton Grill to be in Hoxton, rather than in the more generalist restaurant that supports the Hoxton Hotel in Holborn, so I vetoed it…

To call the website minimalist would be overstating things, but the menu does tell us this much: “Our 100% beef patty is made up of cuts from Aberdeen angus and charolais cattle, that graze in Ayrshire Scotland. We cook our beef burgers medium rare as standard…”

So far, so good.

The order

The friends who wanted to meet in the area (and who worked locally) were late. So we kicked off with some wings and some chilli fries. I kicked in for a “Bourbontun” hard shake, feat. Vanilla, peanut butter and bourbon… because obviously. Then came the main order; Jimjamjebobo and I split the House Burger (“180g beef patty, lettuce, tomato, pickle, American cheese and sweet cured bacon with our mustard and horseradish ketchup sauce”) and the New Yorker (“180g beef patty, lettuce, French’s mustard, Monterey Jack Cheese, pickle and fried onion. Served in our potato bun that is cooked with the patty under a cloche on the grill.”)

That’s when things started to go wrong (in terms of how much we ordered).  And I’ll take a lot of responsibility for this – I’d been ill for a few weeks and this was a first outing with friends in a while, so I was celebrating/commiserating the bloc of time out of commission with food.

And so we ALSO ordered onion rings. More chilli fries. A further double portion of wings. Mac & Cheese with bacon.  AND sweet potato fries. Even between five of us, this was WAY too much food.

The meat of it

Both the burgers we ordered looked great – fresh, glazed potato roll, well stacked with a healthy six ounce patty that was clearly well cooked (if perhaps more the medium side of medium rare than the rare side). Grind, pack and fat ratio was good (I like my burgers like I like my women… coarse ground and loosely packed*), meat was juicy but not dripping, the build was excellent on first impression.

Then to the taste…

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The House burger was good, if perhaps lacking in the bangin’ beats the name and description promise. There wasn’t a hint of horesradish in the horseradish ketchup and, if I’m being critical, the patty was a little underseasoned. The bacon was good but not crunchy enough to provide textural contrast, and not enough saltiness. The bun and other fillings held up well, but there wasn’t quite enough umami in this one for me. Could be better.

The New Yorker came up trumps, though (no pun intended). The onions and pickle provided a lovely crisp, sweet finish, the monterey jack cheese added a salty oomph to the thing, and the whole was greater than the sum of its parts… although the burger did slide around on the onions something chronic.

If I’d had to choose between them from the descriptions alone, I’d have backed the House burger for the top job (everyone else ordered it), but the New Yorker came up from behind to win it all. Impressive work. Even if it’s less effective an analogy for the 2016 presidential raced than it initially seemed it might be.

As to the sides:

  • the wings were lush, substantial, crispy and perfectly coated with the uncle Frank’s hot sauce/butter combination that is Buffalo.
  • The chilli fries – weren’t seasoned before the addition of chilli (WHY, OH WHY?) so they were a bit bland and soggy, but the chilli was good as those things go. Depth of flavour and lovely hint of heat, rich meat and bean sauce in plentiful supply.  Regular fries would have been better in my view, but I think I’m perhaps the kind of guy who likes fries AND likes chilli, but doesn’t love them together.
  • The onion rings were disappointing for me; the batter hadn’t stuck, and the onions were glistening through like an exposed femur on an animated corpse. The flecks of pepper in the batter felt like false advertising; there was little flavour to them. That said, the onions were sweet and the batter crisp… just a few (major) minuses holding it back from excellence.
  • The first bowl of sweet potato fries were sent back as they were undercooked. The second batch were cooked but still somewhat limp and lifeless, and needed seasoning to oomph up.
  • The mac & bacon (no pic, soz) was fine but bland as I always find mac & cheese variants. Probably a reasonable example of the genre, if you were someone that had tried it enough times to care to differentiate between one bold of cheese mush and another.

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The bourbontun… OMG, this was delicious. Mostly a vanillla shake, the occasional glugs of peanut butter you get are like winning a mini lottery, and the bourbon gives a background hint that you’re not just indulging five year old you (ok, mostly you still are… but totes worth it). Definitely want to have this again, and I’m lactose intolerant!

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 3.5/5 – slight losses for chilli fries and sweet potato shenanigans
Value – 4/5 – £23 a head for burger, a tonne of sides & drink, & tip – not cheap but reasonable value for the quality and quntity o the food.

Burger rating – 4/5 – only really suffering from a minor umami docking and some mediocrity around the sides. It’s a good place.

The deets

The small, diner-style restaurant is halfway down Marchmont Street. Full details: Burger & Shake, 47 Marchmont Street, London WC1N 1AP Tel: 020 7837 7718  info@burgerandshake.co.uk

* This is an Eddie Izzard reference… not a weird fetish.