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.

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.

Surfin’ BIRD – BIRD Restaurant, Camden

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

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

Burger source:

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

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

The order

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

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

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

The meat of it:

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

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

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

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

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

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 3/5

Build – 4/5

Burger – 4/5

Taste – 4/5

Sides – 3/5

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

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

The deets

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

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

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