Yen Burger, London Bridge

A breathtaking burger experience

Burger source

Unlike many of the burgers I review here, discovered from word of mouth buzz or from other peoples’ top ten lists (or very occasionally, because I was pitched it by their PR folk), Yen Burger is a place that I just spotted, a short walk from my office, on the way to London Bridge. I was initially put off – Japan-spiced burger? What fresh hell of fascist-fusion cuisine was this? But a colleague was braver than I and passed on the recommendation when I was looking for a new local place to check out.

And so André and I decided to give it a go.

The burger’s origins start in the mind of food entrepreneur Yen Nguyen, who, apparently after success elsewhere in Germany and the UK (a Google search reveals little about her other than her association with Yen Burger), decided that the gap in London’s thriving burger scene was the Japanese twist. And so, Yen Burger was born.

Here’s the official spiel, from the website:

This brand new concept will offer premium Asian-influenced burgers. Starting with the ‘Yen Burger’ which features a 100% wagyu beef patty, fresh pickles, smoked turkey bacon, cheese and shiso leaf, it’s the ultimate fusion burger and a great introduction to Yen’s offerings. Other options include ‘The Finest Chick’ which combines coconut panko chicken breast and homemade slaw with the reviving shiso leaf and a zingy mango sauce…. Each burger is fresh made in-house from the highest quality Aberdeen Black Angus or Wagyu beef, 100% sustainable cod or vegetable alternatives.

The order

I went for the eponymous Yen Burger. 6oz of Wagyu beef, pickles, lettuce, red onion, ‘Yen sauce’, turkey bacon and shiso leaf. I don’t even know what a couple of those ingredients are, but I was excited.

We had ‘Dashi chips’ on the side (dusted with Paprika seasoning) and some chicken Gyoza because, why not?

The meat of it

Let’s take a moment to admire this.

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Ok, so it’s maybe not the most beautiful burger you’ve ever seen at this point. But let’s admire the components. Thick cut pickles. Coarse, crusty burger patty. Bright, fresh shiso and onion. Perfectly melted cheese. And this soft, white, unsweetened bun, inviting you in.

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In cross section, it becomes more special. The Yen sauce provides a sensuous coating. The meat is coarse ground, loosely packed and cooked to a perfect medium. The turkey bacon is there – subtle, but present. I coudn’t wait to taste this burger.

And OH. I was NOT disappointed. The Wagyu is so utterly, amazingly delicate it practically melts in your mouth. But not before you hit the crunch of the perfectly seasoned outer crust; the soft, plain bread providing structure but not flavour, complimenting the sweet/salty contrast of crust and rich, pink burger inner. The Yen sauce lubricates, a sweet/savoury glue. The cheese adds further umami, subtly, whilst the hint of smoke and crispiness is added by the turkey bacon; less powerful than the traditional pork variants. Additional sharp sweetness from the delicious pickles and crunch from the red onion. WOW. I had to slow myself down – I wanted to devour this and order another.

The Asian ‘spices’ – subtle. A hint of something of Japan in the background of the flavour profile. Nothing overt or tacky – this is a traditional burger with Japanese accents. Cooked to perfection, in perfect harmony with itself. Outstanding.

The dashi fries need comment. They look good, right? But seasoned fries can go wrong, I hear you say. They can be overwhelmingly flavoured and over-salted.

No, say I. Not in this case. The paprika seasoning adds flavour, sure, and these are well salted fries. But the exceptional richness of the potato flavour was unexpected – these are tasty fries – as is the perfect crisp exterior, and the soft, lush, fluffy interior. In absolutely perfect balance. Not a hint of greasiness, light, crisp and delicious. And, when the salt got a little much, Heinz came to the rescue.

The only dish that mildly disappointed was the chicken gyoza. Over-greasy from the fryer, the minced chicken within was dry and lacking in flavour. The soy sauce was strong and the balance felt out. Perhaps it was an indulgence too far.

Overall, an utterly extraordinary and unexpected experience. André reported that the Asian spiced burger was also excellent, and the £15 a head tab felt like good value for the feast (we shared Gyoza and fries between us).

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 5/5
Build – 4.5/5 – looked messy but flawless
Burger – 5/5
Taste – 5/5
Sides – 4.5/5 – docking half a point for the gyoza, but the fries were perfect
Value – 5/5 – £15 for burger and side, ish.

Burger rating – 5/5 – absolutely one of the best burgers (and fries) I’ve ever had. Would return without hesitation.

The deets

At the start of Southwark Street, just by London Bridge, you’ll find this nestled to other burger joints; Honest Burgers and Breakfast Club, as well as Borough Market’s own Roast to Go. All are within a potato’s throw of here.

But go here. In the words of Keanu Reeves, it’s breathtaking.

Wahlburgers, James Street, Covent Garden

Including Transformers: The Last Knight, this is the worst thing Mark Wahlberg has ever done

Burger source

Wahlburgers is a chain of growing notoriety. 10 seasons of reality TV, 30+ outlets in the US, a high-profile arrival in Covent Garden and of course – the Wahlberg family – made me curious. And a mixed barrage of reviews (bad from critics, more positive – it seemed – from punters) made me even moreso. Averaging four stars on Tripadvisor and Google Reviews, it surely merited investigation, yes? Not so much, it turns out. But spoilers…

The “fresh Scottish beef” is, apparently, a “signature blend of brisket, short rib and chuck.” Should be good, right? I mean, that’s some tasty cuts right there.

The order

“The brothers each have a favourite,” the menu acclaims. Well, they were all 4oz burgers and we were hungry, so we went for the 1/2 pound “O.F.D” – “Originally from Dorchestah”, featuring a 6oz patty, swiss cheese, bacon, sautéed mushrooms and a ‘housemade tomato jam.’

There were a few of us, so we tried a lot of sides – Mac & Cheese, cola wings, hummus [sic] and tortillas, sweet potato and regular fries, thin and crispy onion rings.

I drank the Wahlbrewski, an American Pale Ale served on tap.

The meat of it

The summary kind of gives it away. This is a terrible, terrible burger. A crime against burgers. Daylight robbery at £12 for the burger alone. Let’s look at it.

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Barely melted swiss cheese. The bun is cold, though inoffensive. The patty is small relative to everything else.

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In cross section: you see mealy, finely ground, tightly packed meat. The pale red tomato jam has a strange consistency. The bacon is flaccid and the mushrooms are an odd inclusion.

First bite. No seasoning. The meat tastes like its from a cow that has been unbundled from mummification prior to butchering and preparation. Dry, tasteless meat is not salvaged my limpid bacon and tasteless cheese. The bun holds up and provides sweetness and body – but that’s about all that’s redeeming about this burger.

Four of us ordered it, and none of us were willing to waste the calories to finish it. Nearly two full burgers’ worth of detritus went back. In my few years of burger reviewing, this is the first time I refused to finish the meal.

The waitstaff were extremely courteous and apologetic. They tried to explain away our dislike for the burger. “I don’t like Swiss cheese either….” The cheese was a small part of the problem. “Our meat blend is very unusual, a lot of people won’t love it, it’s the brisket…” The meat blend, in theory, is fine. Brisket is a little unusual and would have reduced the overall fat content, but shouldn’t have dried it out completely. “Try our double burger, you’ll love it.” We declined to buy any more of the horrific burgers, but in an attempt to win us round the manager brought one anyway, on the house, split five ways for us to try.

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It was marginally better, in the way that a slap to the face is better than a gutpunch. i.e. Both terrible. In practical terms, a more substantial, Big-Mac-esque burger sauce, and a more melty cheese added moisture and umami. But the meat was the same rubbery, leathery awfulness we’d experienced previously.

My first ever nul points. I would not eat this burger again if you paid me its price. Misters Wahlberg, you should be ASHAMED, to lend your family name to this horror, this caloric vacuum of flavour, this insult to burgers, to cows, to your customers.

A rapid fire set of reviews for the sides:

  • The tortilla/hummus [sic] combo was fine but uninspired. You could have been eating Doritos and Tesco houmous.
  • The Mac & Cheese – was flagrant misrepresentation in that it was neither mac nor cheese, but rather standard penne in a mild, garlicky white sauce. Most of this went uneaten.
  • The cola wings – were great. Really crisp, sweet with a hint of heat, juicy meat that fell off the bone. A highlight.
  • The fries and sweet potato fries – were fine. Well cooked, lightly seasoned, good structure and body though not really notable.
  • The fried pickles – were well fried and tasted ok – but the pickle flavour was very light. The slices are too thin and the pickles too weak to hold up to the batter and deep frying.
  • The thin and crispy onion rings – were extremely moreish. Heavily seasoned, they were salty, sweet, crispy and delicious.

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The Wahlbrewski – a light, refreshing, citrusy American Pale Ale – was really nice (to my craft-beer loving palate). A strong partnership with an American brewery, a sweetness takes the edge off the bitterness of the ale, and its light and well carbonated. A good partner for the food, such it was.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 2/5
Build – 2/5
Burger – 0/5
Taste – 0/5
Sides – 3/5 – the onion rings would get 5 on their own, the wings 4, the fries 3.5.
Value – 1/5 – £30 for burger, sides, drink and shared starters for food of this quality in that environment was just too much

Burger rating – 0/5 – all the points Wahlburgers gets – for the service, for the sides, for the beer – it loses to the appalling travesty it claims is a burger.

The deets

Please don’t go there for the burgers. But it’s opposite Covent Garden tube if you want a quiet American Pale Ale and a basket of onion rings, brilliant service and a brightly-lit fast food environment. And I’d definitely recommend it for that.

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.

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.

Fuel Shack, Food Court, Suria KLCC, Malaysia

A high quality burger that is still somehow reminiscent for the Ramly burger tradition

Burger source

The founders of Fuel Shack write in their story of their determination to end the binary choice faced by Malaysian diners – of mass-market, low-quality, chain fast-food, vs., pretentious, expensive, upmarket high end burgers beyond the reach of most people. They wanted, they said, to end this with the introduction of accessible but high quality burgers served in a setting anyone could access. KLCC may be an expensive mall, but anyone can eat at the food court on level six, and anyone can get there easily enough.

The question: have they succeeded?

The order

I had the standard classic cheeseburger. Salad, mayo, 1/3rd lb grass-fed Australian beef patty, American cheese and a standard bun, with fries. RM16.80 or thereabouts for the privilege, with a drink. Or about £3. Certainly accessible by the standards of Malaysian high-end fast food, though a little more pricey than your Maccy D’s.

The meat of it

Whilst superficially this is good presentation, I have a few notes for fuel shack.

  1. Salad goes under the burger. It’s got to protect the bun from the meat juices.
  2. Cheese needs to be melted in. That slice of American cheese is practically solid.
  3. Easy on the mayo. More on this shortly

That said…

None of this hurts the burger too much. There’s a lovely crust from a hot griddle that gives a nice bite to the burger; the bun is soft but holds up well. There’s a saltiness from the cheese and an umami from the seasoning that reminds me – distantly, but in a good way – of the cheap (horrific) roadside Ramly burgers you get all over the country.

The cross section makes most of this clearer.

The interior of the burger is overcooked, but it’s not bad in spite of this – the meat is high quality and coarse ground, if somewhat compacted. The copious amounts of mayonnaise is applied with a kind of playdough applicator – with dozens of holes. There’s probably two full tablespoons of mayo in a single burger. Which is a lot. But it provides fake juiciness for the slightly overdone meat. The sweet/savoury balance isn’t bad, though the mayo overwhelms at times and I added a little ketchup to take the edge off. All in all, I’d say that Fuel Shack achieves its mission – this is a good burger at a reasonable price, distinct from fast-food, mainstream offerings as well as the high end offer, yet somehow something new in its own right.

As to the fries?

More or less unremarkable. Well seasoned, they cool quickly in the air conditioned environment and quickly achieve cardboard texture. That said, there’s a distinct potato flavour in there and they’re served in a sensible portion that doesn’t overwhelm. Crisp and tasty when hot, in a more potatoey- McD’s style. Completely adequate.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 4/5
Build – 2/5
Burger – 3.5/5
Taste – 3.5/5
Sides – 3/5
Value – 4/5 – £3 for burger and side, ish, is value even in local terms for what it is

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – would go again and make some customisation requests – less mayo, less overdone meat, meltier cheese, salad underneath.

The deets

There’s an outlet on the sixth floor of KLCC, in the Food Court. There may be others… check the website.

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.

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.

Dirty Bones, Kingly Court, Carnaby Street

Decent (but pricey) mustard soaked thin patty double cheeseburger, meaty vegan burger, enormous crispy fried chicken burger and intriguing sides

Burger source
I auctioned off a guided burger tasting evening as a way of raising funds for Byte Night / Action for Children, a charity we support at work that does very worthwhile work with children in vulnerable circumstances. Naturally, it was bought by a vegan (and an omnivore).

So that meant we needed to find a burger place I hadn’t been to – so we could review it – and one that had vegan options. And actually, in #Veganuary, that wasn’t that hard.

Dirty Bones seeks to bring American comfort food, NYC style, to London. It’s the lovechild of two friends who liked what they saw in NYC and decided to bring it to London. Little about the origins of the burger, but we know it’s dry-aged steak and brisket… So let’s see…

The order
I had the “Classic” – double brisket & dry aged steak burger with American cheese, red onion, gherkins and dijonnaise on seeded brioche. Ed, our vegan, had the Vegan classic: Moving Mountains® plant-based burger with vegan cheese, red onion, gherkin and veganaise on a soft seeded bun. Saad had the free-range crispy fried chicken burger with baby gem, chipotle aioli and sweet chilli sauce on seeded brioche.

In addition, Saad and I shared the cheeseburger dumplings (housemade gyoza dumplings stuffed with burger mince and melted cheese. Served with our signature burger sauce), Ed had the Padron peppers (sprinkled with Madron salt) and a Fordham Gypsy Lager.

The meat of it
You can see this is a well plated burger.

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Pickles, thick cut red onions and an extremely healthy of dijonnaise provider a slippery base, and the well melted american cheese gloops over the two crispy 3-4oz patties. The glossy seeded bun looks solid, yet pliant.

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In cross section, a slight pinkness shows through – the Kingly Court restaurant is small, I doubt they have the space to grind and prep their own meat on site, which means they are limited on cooking the meat truly pink. And it’s not really necessary for this style of cheeseburger, so I’m not concerned. The dijonnaise is really slathered on thick; onions slide out of the base as I cut through for the cross section pic, and half the stack threatens collapse.

The first bite – is all crisp, crunch, sweet onion, and the hot rasp of mustard cutting through the sweet mayonnaise. The bun is soft, holding up well against the sauce and the burger, and – appropriately – not enriched. No need for brioche here, the dijonnaise, pickles and onion provide the sweet counterpoint. As to the meat itself? The grind is tight and packed in hard, but it is good meat, so it’s not chewy. There’s a light crust on the patty, but a hotter griddle and more seasoning would have helped this along, even if it meant a more cooked centre. The fat ratio seems slightly too low – it’s quite a lean burger and the only drippings are dijonnaise, not beef juice. But the overall impression is not bad at all; the heat from the mustard in the dijonnaise is moreish and its ample quantity makes up for the slight dryness of the meat; the bun is perfect, the cheese makes up for some of the underseasoning. It all works, albeit messily.

I have only pictures of Ed and Saad sampling the Vegan Classic and the Spicy Chicken, but I’m told they were good. In fact, Ed had to double check it was actually vegan (having been led down the garden path before), and was provided with a list of ingredients.

As to the sides? The cheesburger gyoza are just plain WEIRD.

They fail as both gyoza and cheeseburgers, but as a thing in their own right? Delicious; crisp gyoza skin, a hollow centre (where the burger meat has shrunk) and a core of slightly slimey, cheesey burger meat. Dipped in the slightly vinegar heavy, ketchup-based burger sauce (topped with spring onions and sesame seeds – a nice accent), you could eat plate after plate of these. Were it not for the £8.50 price tag…

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The fries are skin-on skinny fries. There’s nothing bad about them – but nothing inherently interesting either. Perfectly capable, well seasoned, well cooked fries.

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I really liked the Gypsy Lager. New world hops, a hint of hony-mead sweetness, all in all, a very smooth beer going down.

Monkey finger rating
Bun –  5/5
Build – 3.5/5
Burger – 3.5/5 (beef)
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 4/5 – I don’t know how to judge them but those gyoza are an experience.

Value – 3/5 – £13 for burger and fries, £8.50 for gyoza – not a cheap meal out.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – really completely capable, upper-mid table burger. With a few tweaks it could be top class; with the fries bundled it would even be good value… as it is, it’s a pricey novelty.

The deets
Dirty Bones started in West London, near Kensington, but has spread to Soho, Shoreditch, and Oxford. Find your nearest location here.

The Beagle, Barlow Moor Road, Manchester

Very serviceable Mancs Deliveroo burger, with decent skin on chips and craft beer

Burger source

The Beagle seems to be one of that new breed of gastropub; handmade burgers, an excellent craft beer selection, burritos and more.

The menu is relatively low fuss; no indication of the heritage of the burgers or any such stuff; no hand-fed cows on the salt-marshes of Northern Ireland or anything. Picking the order off Deliveroo, you’d be hard pressed (but for the booze selection, and the absence of kebabs) to identify the difference between this place and a kebab shop that also did burgers.

But the ratings were high (90%+) and I thought it’d be nice to have a Northern burger whilst visiting Manchester, so I did. Looking up the website of the pub, it’s clearly the kind of craft burger/beer hipster hangout I love, so next time – who knows – maybe I’ll make it in. But this time I was housebound with the kids, so ’twas not to be.

The order

I went relatively simple – the Maple Bacon Burger, a 6oz patty, chipotle mayo, crispy streaky maple cured bacon, and cheese, on a brioche bun. With salad and skin-on chips.

I had them deliver a craft beer too – a High Wire Grapefruit (Grapefruit Pale Ale is apparently a thing).

The meat of it

The stack is messy; a huge slice of tomato and salad coated in copious chipotle mayo, bacon and burger both spilling out of the side of the apparently undersized brioche, and the burger blackened and flattened to the point I imagined I might need to skip the review – so mediocre was it likely to be.

But looks can be deceiving. Whilst the stack was indeed messy, delivery may account for some of the sliding, and the cross section reveals a coarse ground patty that has decent amount of pink visible. The bacon cuts with an audible snap when I prepped for the cross section shot, which adds drama and excitement – bacon was made to be fried crisp, IMHO.

On first taste, I’m confused. There’s salt from the extremely melty cheese and the bacon, adding to the bite of the burger (simple salt/pepper seasoning on that, and not too much of it). The sweet hint in the bacon couples with the sweet salad and sweet brioche and is countered by the mild but obvious heat from the – very flavourful – chipotle mayo. Of which there is slightly too much, but which adds more than it detracts.

The bun starts to fall apart in my hands as I eat; though the burger lacks real juiciness, the mayonnaise and salad is taking its toll on even the egg-and-sugar enriched bun. The combination is certainly more than the sum of its parts, though; a good bite to the meat, a crisp, salty, gooey texture from the cheese and bacon, the sweetness from the bun and salad and the texture and heat added by the mayo gel extremely effectively, even after being in a takeaway box for 10 minutes. The pros outweigh the cons (slightly overdone, dry meat, slight under seasoning, messy stack, inadequate bun), and the overall experience was very satisfying.

The fries; held up very well. Medium-cut, skin on chips, these taste of real potato, are crisp without being greasy, and are well-seasoned without being salty. Even without ketchup they are enjoyable, which is a good sign.

The beer; I will not attempt to review too comprehensively. My taste in beer is unusual; I favour sweeter drinks with a hint of beeriness and prior to the current craft beer renaissance we seem to be going through, I’d only ever order a beer if there was Hoegarden on tap. This beer is the lovechild of a fairly standard craft IPA (think: Beavertown Neck Oil) and a can of Lilt. It’s not overtly sugary but the hint of sweetness cuts back the bitterness of the IPA to leave a very smooth overall experience. The Grapefruit flavour isn’t overly chemical. I’d have it again, but I suspect most real beer lovers wouldn’t.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 3.5/5

Build – 3/5

Burger – 3.5/5

Taste – 4/5

Sides – 4/5

Value – 4/5 – £10 for burger and side, plus £5 for the beer (!!) with 10% off the lot.

Burger rating – 4/5 – really a very good experience overall

The deets

You can find the Beagle on Deliveroo, or at 458 Barlow Moor Road, Manchester, M20 0BQ. The pub’s website is 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.