Nanny Bill’s, in residence @ Vinegar Yard, London Bridge

Glorious, innovative double patty smash

Burger source
Nanny Bill’s was named in homage to the founders’ grandma, Bill, who ran a cafe in the 70s and 80s. Founded in 2015 in East London as a food truck venture, Bill’s is part of the decade-and-a-half love affair with high quality American fast food Britain is experiencing. Had I known they were famed for their ‘Mac & Cheese’ croquettes, we might have tried those too…

The burgers are interesting; hand pressed, clearly high quality meat, and some interesting variations – from the Dalston Dip (served with gravy) through standard bacon double cheeseburger (with BBQ sauce) through to the spicy Jam burger, various chicken and vegan options and more.

The experience was definitely one for our Covid times. We had to book and pre-order drinks in advance, we had to show our Covid check-in on the NHS app to be allowed in, everything was table service, managed and paid for on our phones, after going to a website by scanning a QR code at the table. It was, per the law, masks on at all times when not at the table. We’d primarily chosen to meet at Vinegar Yard as it provided an outdoor (under cover) space, which felt sensible in the age of Corona. And knowing Nanny Bill’s was there gave us something else to look forward to… their Insta pictures are glorious.

The order
I was tempted by the standard bacon double cheeseburger, but the Jam was calling out to me. Double beef patty, smoked bacon, American cheese, pink onions, hot sauce, shredded lettuce, bacon jam, burger sauce on a brioche bun.

In our rule-of-six compliant group, friends tried the Dalston Dip, the Bacon Double Cheese Burger and the Hot Mess chicken burger. All looked great.

Sidewise, I went for the Aggy Fries – rosemary salt fries, garlic buttermilk mayo, hot sauce, grated Parmesan and spring onion, and nabbed a chicken strip with rum’n’ting BBQ sauce.

The meat of it
So, how was it?

Let’s take a look.

There’s a lot to take in. The crust on the meat is immediately apparent, peeking out from the shiny, super-soft brioche. The cheese has a perfect melt, the lettuce is bright and fresh, you can see the burger sauce forming a protective layer on the perfectly toasted bottom bun.

This burger is a thing of beauty and power. But how did it taste?

In a word? Glorious. The crust is amazingly seasoned and tasty and gives way with a crisp crunch, revealing (amazingly) an ever-so-slightly pink centre. The bun is soft and sturdy (strong and stable?) – it holds up to the fillings and provides a starchy, only-slightly-sweet counterbalance to the umami bomb of the burger and its fillings.

The sweet / savoury / sour contrast is a delight; the melty cheese, chewy bacon, perfectly seasoned meat deliver a savoury mouthful; balanced perfectly with the sweetness of the bacon jam and the burger sauce. The pickled red onions lend a bright sour tang. In the background of the mouthful you can pick up the faintest heat from the hot sauce – a little more would not have been a bad thing.

Every mouthful brought another crunch/chew/taste sensation. It is probably the best patty smash burger I have had in the UK, bar none. Outstanding.

To the sides…

The aggy fries were interesting. A thick coating of hot sauce – Frank’s? – made the centre of the pile somewhat soggy, but amazingly flavoursome; lovely mild buffalo heat with every mouthful. The rosemary seasoning is mild and pleasant, the mayo a lovely creamy contrast to the crisp fries; even the Parmesan plays an unexpected role, boosting the flavour and adding a mild cheesey funk. And of course, I’m one of those people who things chopped spring onions improves almost everything – really wonderful, very moreish, and an extremely creative take on fries, one that adds rather than distracts with its novelty. Obviously the standard rosemary fries are excellent too, and don’t suffer from the soggy hot sauce centre.

The chicken strips were… disappointing .The breading is too light, and underseasoned – insipid. The ‘rum n ting’ BBQ sauce is pleasant, but would have been better cutting through the heat and seasoning of a crisper coating for the wings; as it was, it was not-quite-managing to redeem the juicy, but otherwise flavourless, chicken strips.

Drink wise, we had a very pleasant, fruity and slightly flowery session IPA from the London Beer Factory called Hazey Daze. Can recommend, not least for the outrageous ringpulls.

In all, this was an extraordinarily creative and tasty take on some standard burger fare; the team at Nanny Bill’s clearly know what’s going on and I wish them every success.

Monkey finger rating
Bun – 5/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste – 4.5/5
Sides – 4.5/5 –
small penalty for mediocre wings, but fries were great
Value – 4/5 –
£17 for burger and side, ish, with service. OK but not exactly a meal deal.

Burger rating – 4.5/5 – really outstanding overall. Would be tempted to have again, but having seen how amazing their other burgers looked… I’d be tempted to try one of those.

The deets
Nanny Bill’s have a few locations, but if you’re looking for outdoor eating in this time of Covid, Vinegar Yard behind London Bridge Station is the place for you. You can find other locations here, as well as buy their home-kits if you want to give it a try in the comfort of your home kitchen!

Mac & Wild, Great Titchfield Street, Fitzrovia

 

Intriguing but ultimately unsatisfying venison & beef burger

Burger source

Hailed as home to one of the best burgers of London (in fact, winning that accolade last year from one of the various awards bodies who judge such things), the Scottish-themed steak and burger restaurant serves up a ‘Veni-Moo’ burger – a venison patty on top of a beef patty. Whilst I (surprisingly) don’t always subscribe to the notion that more meats = better (unless one of those meats is bacon, which categorically improves everything), I was curious, and we headed down for our irregular burger meet-up.

The order

The Veni-Moo burger is topped with bearnaise, cheese and caramelised onions on a brioche bun. We added Portmahock candied bacon (all around, except for Matt, who is clearly an inferior human being). We sampled the haggis pos with ‘red jon’ for a starter, and massively over-ordered sides – fries, wilderness fries (served with pork and BBQ sauce), onion rings and even a mac & cheese turned up.

The meat of it

So, in chronological order.

20170928_194641

The panko breaded haggis pops were crispy on the outside and haggisy on the inside. I’m not a Haggis fan, so whilst the crispy crunchiness was pleasant enough, the Offaly funk was not to my liking. The ‘red jon’ sauce they came with was great, though, a sweet, slightly vinegary BBQ sauce variant.

20170928_200354
Hard to see in the low lighting, but these burgers are well done. And not in a good way. NOte the relative lack of meat jus!

The burger, the main event. Looked great… but was ultimately underwhelming. The meats were both overcooked and under seasoned, and whilst the beef burger by itself might have held up, the venison was dryer, less flavoursome, and – on balance – completely unnecessary. The bacon – which looked amazing – could have done with a little more crispness, and still didn’t contribute enough salty crunch to make up for the lack of flavour elsewhere. The bun lacked the normal sweetness of brioche and was too chewy for the burgers (probably wouldn’t have been if the burgers had been cooked medium instead of well done, but there it was). So ultimately the overall flavour experience was, well, somewhat bland. Not bad, just not great, and certainly not living up to the hype.

The sides were mixed bag. The fries were solid – again slightly under seasoned, but high quality potatoes, well fried, crisp on the outside and squidgy in the middle. Perfect. The onion rings, on the other hand, were some of the most deceptively mediocre onion rings I’ve had – beautifully coated and fried… but lacking any seasoning or somehow even the natural sweetness of onion, it was just like eating fried, flavourless, batter. Which is a  bit like eating crispy grease. So, yeah, not good. The wildenerness fries, however, were AMAZING. I’m not a fan of chilli fries because chilli tends to make everything soggy… but the BBQ pork here just added a sweet, chewy, porky chewiness to crispy, crunchy on the outside-squidgy-on-the-inside chips. Outstanding.

We had puddings too (sorry no pic); I had most of a sticky-toffee-pudding with ice cream which was amongst the best I’ve ever had. Nima ordered a millionaire’s shortbread ‘mess’, which was apparently great also.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3.5/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 3/5
Taste –  3/5
Sides – 4/5 – would be higher if not for the woeful onion rings
Value – 4/5 – £34 a head for burger, starters, ample sides, and 2x drinks apiece seemed fair if not cheap.

Burger rating – 3/5 –  as much as I loved the sides and pudding, I’m just not in a hurry to have another one of these burgers, so can’t justify a higher rating.

The deets

Locations on Great Tictchfield Street and Devonshire Square. Find out more, and book here.

Atomic Burger, Cowley Road, Oxford

Decent burger in poor bun; amazing sides.

Burger Source

When Oxford was identified as a destination for a “lads’ weekend” away, one of the first things I did was Google ‘the best burger in Oxford’… and up came Atomic Burger. Clearly an exercise in effective SEO as much as a in burger design and innovation, the restaurant claims “the highest quality meat”, “burgers made by hand daily”, “food cooked to order”, “secret recipes” and “local suppliers”… so we were duly sold on it. As it happens, having a drink across the road at the Big Society, the staff tried to sell us on eating a less… unconventional burger in their establishment, but at this stage we were committed.

The order

The menu is extensive; dozens of standard and eccentric burger combinations. Most of us went for the fairly conventional and hard to argue with ‘Dead Elvis’ – crispy bacon, American cheese & fried onions listed as the key ingredients. We were reassured by the waiter that not only were the burgers cooked medium as standard but they’d happily do them medium rare for us. So far so exciting.

A side came with each burger, and we split onion rings and regular fries between us so we’d get to try it all. We also got in an order of ‘Trailer Park Fries’ which we were assured were awesome – fries topped with pulled pork, cheese sauce and barbecue sauce. Yeah, I know. Had to be done.

The meat of it

To start with the bun of it; the bun on this burger is poor. A slightly stale, dry-looking, powdery white bun that seems simultaneously too large and too porous to hold itself up to anything. The top half was immediately discarded as dead weight.

20161210_190829

The patty itself; surprisingly thin, not cooked to  medium rare (a healthy medium though), a decent slice of melted-in American cheese and not quite crisp streaky bacon topped it; there was salad in but you’d have to look closely. The sides – onion rings that were breadcrumbed, but vegan (rolled in beer, flour and breadcrumbs, no egg) – were crisp and golden brown. The standard fries were reasonably thin cut from whole potatoes, partial skin on, and crisply fried. The Trailer park fries, as a separate full-sized side order, were a sight. Laden with meat and sauce, this was a side fit for a main. Drink-wise, I went for a ‘Hobo mojo’ – Bourbon, lemon & lime & maple syrup shaken over ice and served in a paper bag.

20161210_191225

As to how everything tasted: the sides were the star of the show. The trailer park fries were incredibly moreish; the cheese sauce somehow not as chemical-tasting as you’d expect bottle-style squeezey cheddar to be; the pork moist and savoury and the sweet barbecue sauce binding it together beautifully. The chips were crisp enough not to be soggy throughout – often a challenge for this type of dish. Delicious. The standard fries were good but a pale candle to these; not quite enough starchy bite to them. The onion rings were amazing; large, sweet slices of Spanish onion rolled in flour, Peroni and possibly a panko breadcrumb, they were crisp, sweet and savoury in one, and delicious. The Cajun ones were particularly good, with a light hint of heat underpinning them. There were some other fairly non-descript sides on the plate – middle-of-the-road pickles and bottom-of-the-road oversweet, over-mayo’d coleslaw.

The main event; the burger? Well-seasoned, loosely ground meat – but the patty was too thin and the bread too big, so the flavour was somewhat lost (even with a discarded top half). The American cheese gave savoury goo to it all and again helped mask the meat flavour, and the bacon wasn’t crisp enough for crunch, so just added a sort of stretchy chewiness. The onions seemed sparse and added little sweetness. This was one of those situations where a brioche might have done some good. We had an extensive conversation with the waiter about the buns – apparently the owner knows they need changing but hasn’t got around to it yet. Best of luck to him, and hope he prioritises it soon.

And finally, the Hobo Mojo – it’s a fancy name for bourbon with 7-up and maple syrup, but it’s a HECK of a combination and I’ll be making this one at home at some point soon. Maybe minus the paper bag. Delicious.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  1/5
Build – 3/5
Burger – 3/5
Taste –  3/5
Sides – 4.5/5
Value – 4/5 – £20 a head for burger, sides & cocktail, & tip – valuelicious. But I guess that’s what happens when you’re not in London.

Burger rating – 3/5 – Let down by a bun that poorly complemented the fillings, sadly, and a pale shadow of things like Dip & Flip’s equivalent burger. Next time we do Oxford, we’ll have to try a Big Society burger…

The deets

247 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1XG was the branch we visited, though we gather the owner has a Pizza place elsewhere in Oxford and another burger venue in Bristol. Check them out over here and make a booking for the Trailer Park fries and the Hobo mojo alone, if needs be.

Side note: the geek kitsch around the place was phenomenal; a wall full of starships, a few intriguing sculptures and lots more. It’s a fun place.

20161210_194926

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.

BIRD 2

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.”