Honest Burgers, Kings Cross

The Tribute is a contender for the greatest burger in the world; plus amazing atmosphere and delightful service, what’s not to like?

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Grub’s up!

The latest in my Monday night meet-ups shifted to a Wednesday, but otherwise followed the same pattern as before. Four friends, fine burgers. This time, we strayed from Islington’s comforts to hit up Honest Burgers in Kings Cross – significantly more spacious than its Brixton counterpart but home to the same, much-hyped menu. I’ve probably had as many people tell me that Honest Burgers is home to the best burgers in London as have told me of Meat Liquor’s greatness, so, needless to say, we were very excited. I’ve also been told that their Rosemary Fries are ‘crack’ by more than one person, so, was keen to see for myself.

Burger source:

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Reassuring amounts of spatter and melt. Look how thick that bacon is!

Tom Barton and Phil Eles, the founders of Honest Burger, reportedly met whilst waiting tables in Brighton and decided they could ‘do better’. They met an experienced restaurateur, Dorian Waite, who helped them get set up in a tiny unit in Brixton Village, using savings to fund the initial fit-out. Despite their lack of experience in the food industry, it’s been a hit: their focus on British quality produce, featuring some particularly exceptional meat from the esteemed Ginger Pig butchers, seems to have worked well for them. A round of investment in 2014 also sees them expanding (far) beyond their first home in Brixton Village, and hence – Honest Burgers Kings Cross.

The order

We had sadly missed February’s special – Honest Burgers’ monthly rotating time-limited burger – called the ‘Rib Man Special’, featuring rib meat and Honest Burgers’ own proprietary ‘holy f**k sauce.’ The new special seemed rather conventional by contrast – the ‘Deli Special’ features garlic aioli, emmental cheese and smoked bacon, as well as spinach in place of lettuce. So I persuaded Jimjam to split a Tribute with me – a burger recommended to me by TK, and for good reason, allowing me to try both the special and a menu staple. The Tribute shares the burger and bacon, but swaps out aioli for mustard and burger sauce (a distant relative of Big Mac sauce, to my palate), cheddar for the Emmental and lettuce for the spinach.

We also ordered virtually every side: red-cabbage slaw, onion rings, buffalo wings, and a pot of each of the four sauces on offer – bacon ketchup, holy f**k sauce, chipotle mayo and curry sauce.

The meat of it:

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The stack was perfect on both burgers. A cross section cut revealed the same perfect pink medium finish on the loose ground, melt-in-your-mouth, perfectly seasoned 7-8oz patty. This is a big burger. The brioche was muscular enough to stand up to the burger, but only just – don’t leave it hanging – and had the bread’s characteristic sweetness and bite. The burger – both burgers – melt in your mouth, and the thick smoked bacon adds delightfully to the flavour melange.

To each individual burger’s attributes, now:

March 2016’s ‘Deli Special’ features aioli. As far as I can tell, aioli has drifted from its origins as a Mediterranean garlic sauce to become hipster flavoured mayonnaise, (heavily featuring garlic). It can be tasty, and it was, but it was also somewhat overwhelming; the intense (yet silky-smooth) garlic sauce kind of overwhelms the more delicate beefy flavours. The pickles were good but failed to cut through the aioli, and the spinach added very little other than an insulating layer, protecting the lower bun from the burger’s plentiful juices. The red onion, bright and shiny in the promo picture, was barely evident. The net result was pleasant but not necessarily re-orderable, especially when in contrast with…

The Tribute: bringing to mind Tenacious D’s song, this burger is an incredibly nostalgic taste explosion. This is how a Big Mac tastes in your memory; but with a dose of the best bacon cheese burger you’ve ever had, coupled with some more modern refinements. The burger sauce and pickle are a sweet accompaniment to the other ingredients; the melted cheddar adds a sharper and more explosive salty finish, and – somewhat unlike the Deli Special – the combined effect of the different flavours is more than the sum of its parts. This is a fine burger indeed, and a contender for my ‘Best Burger Ever.’

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The sides: the rosemary fries are hand cut, thicker than regular fries, apparently double or triple cooked and utterly delicious. The rosemary itself is neither here nor there for me, but the perfect finish and salty seasoning on these delicious fluffy potato fragments makes them, as I was promised, intensively addictive. Especially when coupled with the sauces:

  • Chipotle Mayo – mildy spiced, sweet and savoury mayo. Great.
  • Bacon ketchup – looking little like ketchup, this lumpy sauce tastes like the best ketchup you’ve ever had with the bonus explosive crunch of bacon hidden within. It’s less sweet than Heinz varieties but no worse off for it.
  • Holy f***k sauce – genuinely evoked the reaction in the name. Too hot for consumption as a side, this might have worked better for me sparingly within a burger construct. Or maybe I’m just a chilli lightweight these days.
  • Curry sauce – another burst of nostalgia here; this is an utterly refined variant on chip-shop curry sauce, though as far removed from it as the Tribute is from the Big Mac. Much more delicious.

The onion rings featured large thick rings of sweet, crisp white onions, beer (I think) battered and well spiced; and an even crisper exterior than Meat Liquor’s offer. Definitely the best onion rings I’ve had!

The buffalo wings were well sauced and juicy, but lacked the crispness you might have had elsewhere (ahem, Meat Liquor); no blue cheese sauce, though, and inexplicable amounts of chopped spring onions.

The red cabbage slaw was not noteworthy, and left no lasting impression. It was the only thing on the table we didn’t finish. It lacked the crispness of a white cabbage slaw, and there was no real need for it.

The cocktails – I had the Botanic Garden – gin, apple, elderflower and wine – so delicious I had another one, and great value at £5 a pop. Sweet and refreshing. I’m told the beer was good too.

A quick note on the service: the waitresses were amazingly entertaining, engaging with us on our burger choices and manliness (or lack thereof) in tackling the hot sauce. The chefs let me take pictures of them cooking (“but not the face”) which was amusing and gracious in one fell swoop. The overall experience was excellent as a result.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 4.5/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste – 5/5 (for the Tribute, 3.5/5 for the Deli Special)
Sides – 4/5
Value – 5/5. £28 – felt like amazing value for burger, fries, ALL the sides + 2 drinks apiece. But maybe I’m just too used to London pricing.

Burger rating – 5/5 – I think if I had to choose between this and Lucky Chip I’d be hard pressed – but the atmosphere and drinks at Honest Burgers vs. the Old Queen’s Head, plus the excellent sides, probably tip it in HB’s favour. All the points.

The deets

Tonnes of locations now (full list below) but the Kings Cross venue is at 251 Pentonville Road London N1 9NG, just 5 mins walk from Kings X. Tweet them @honestburgers. And go, go go go, if you haven’t been.

 

 

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.”