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.

img_20190926_195012

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

img_20190926_195358

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.

img_20190926_201652

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.

img_20190926_190226

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.

Temper, Covent Garden, London

Exquisite if slightly over-complex burger

Burger source

IMG_20190429_180628

Temper describes itself as a ‘whole animal barbecue restaraunt in London’ – they buy animals whole, butcher them in house, and have a zero-waste policy that means fewer animals are slaughtered to provide the meat required to serve their covers every week.

Brainchild of celebrity chef Neil Rankin, I’d heard lots about how amazing this place was and was excited to go when a theatre night with my sister provided an opportunity to stop in for pre-show supper.

Little specifically is said about the burger, except of course that it comes from the same meat source as everything else.  When you walk in, the smell of fresh and aged meat is in the air – in a good way, it’s not overpowering, but its not for the faint of heart. There is a meat fridge, a wall of dry-aging meat, in the centre of the restaraunt.

IMG_20190429_180716

The order

A two-course pre-theatre menu for £16 got me the Temper cheeseburger (Aged beef patty, ogleshield cheese, pickles, salami) and dorito fried fish tacos as a starter. We shared fries (an extra £4) whilst Sheila had the burger too.

Allergies, and our ability to cope with the burger cooked medium rare, were checked. Excitement.

The meat of it

This burger is beautiful. I mean, look at it.

IMG_20190429_183439

The plating and construction is absolutely flawless. Perfect structure, clean plate, wonderfully melty cheese, elegance in the toppings, nothing in excess, nothing out of proportion. It looks great, though I was briefly worried that the bun might be over-toasted.

Then the cross section.

IMG_20190429_183515

Again, little to worry about here. Perfect medium rare, bun holding up to the juices, somewhat protected by the salad, uinform thin layer of pickle, cheese and salami. The dry-aged beef is less pink than fresh beef, and less juicy, leading to less mess and a different aroma – the soft funk of aged meat.

Then to the taste…

Wow. This burger is perfectly constructed. The bun wasn’t overtoasted, it was just right to hold up to the burger sauces and juice. The mustard and burger sauce perfectly compliment the meat – which, as you can see is coarse ground, loosely packed and perfectly cooked. The crust on the patty is good – a healthy sear – and the seasoning is excellent. The pickles are sweet and crisp and the cheese lends a wonderful umami and texture to the bite (I didn’t know what Ogleshield cheese was but do now – melty, brined cheese from the West Country). The salami is hard to detect, though, adding little texture or flavour next to everything else. And the one challenge eating the burger is that it slides around the bun a little – not sure why as the build looked perfect. Perhaps the layers of mustard and burger sauce on each bun? Or the sheer heft of the patty.

The dry-aged beef, however, is probably not to everyone’s taste. I enjoyed it but found it very hard to benchmark against my other favourite burgers (things like Bleecker, Dip & Flip, Lucky Chip & others). The dry-aging means the meat is less juicy than another medium rare burger – indeed, there are few drippings whilst eating this burger at all. But critically, the funk of dry-aged meat is prevalent. And whilst it is absolutely enjoyable, it makes the whole thing feel a little ‘fancy’ and complex, and imagine not everyone will enjoy the experience equally. It does fit Temper’s profile as a high-end barbecue restaraunt perfectly, and I would certainly have it again with no hesitation. Although I do want to try their pizzas next time…

As to the sides…

IMG_20190429_183722

The fries are pretty much perfect. Perfectly crisp, not greasy in any way, not too thick but not too thin (crispy on the outside and squidgy in the middle, much like Armadillos) and very well seasoned. Great on their own or with ketchup and mayo.

IMG_20190429_183424

The Dorito fish tacos looked pretty amazing… but were a little disappointing. There’s good crunch to the ‘breading’ (dorito-ing?) but nothing that screams the savoury goodness of Doritos. There’s too much fish – the ratios in the tacos are off – so you lose the sauce, chilli, lime, even the taco – which disappears behind a substantial wall, soft white fish. That said, it’s perfectly cooked and you get hints of brilliance against the background of protein-stodge; a flash of heat from the chilli, creaminess from sauce, and bright clean sharpness from the lime.

A fantastic experience, if some of it was a bit unfamiliar and some things a little off. Temper is on the list of favourite places to go.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4.5/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 4.5/5 – subjective docking of half a point because I’m not sure how I feel about aged meat burgers
Taste –  4.5/5
Sides – 5/5 – really just scoring the fries here. The Fish tacos were technically a starter.
Value – 4/5 – £16 for burger and fries is toppy, but worth it.

Burger rating – 4.5/5 – really very good

The deets

Temper has three locations now, in Covent Garden, the City and Soho. Go, go soon, take your friends. I’m very tempted by the mid-week all-you-can-eat-pizza-and-wine-for-£20 combo.

IMG_20190429_191214