Lord Wargrave, Nr Edgware Road, London

Possibly the best smash burger in London

Burger source

A friend with excellent taste in both bourbon and BBQ suggested we meet at this pub for a couple of drinks and dinner, and – seeing a double smash burger alongside a variety of ribs options, I felt confident that good things would follow.

The pub has high standards – from its menu:

ALL SMOKE – NO MIRRORS – we’re all about authentic London barbecue, with influences from around the world. Our meat is dry-rubbed, smoked in-house, low and slow, over British hickory logs. Our meat and poultry is ethically sourced, free range, and from local farms wherever possible, and our fish comes from day boats off the south coast of the UK, and is delivered to us daily.

Well. Expectations, much.

The order

We shared a half dozen crispy BBQ wings (my friend couldn’t cope with buffalo spice option), and naturally I had the Smash burger: double beef, double cheese, onions & pickles. I added bacon too, because… greed. To drink? House red, and I may have had an unusual bourbon because it’s a whisky bar too.

And I was tempted by a pudding. I’ll come to that.

The meat of it

Decent presentation

Take a look at that. That’s nice. Shiny bun, beautiful char on the meat and melt on the cheese, well balanced with the pickles and onions.

Let’s take a look at the cross section and see what we’re really dealing with here. I received a groan from my friend when I did this (as I often do).

Holy moly

I can’t explain this. It’s a smash burger – at most, two slender, three ounce patties. And yet there’s a clear and evident pink, uniform through the centre. First bite and you are hit with a wall of savoury – coarse ground, amazingly seasoned meat provides bite… and then soft, tender chew. the flavour is smoky, with depth but none of the funk that comes with dry-aged beef. The cheese binds and adds yet more umami; the bacon almost pushes it over the top, but the sweet pickle and onion tempers it. The bun is soft and holds together against the surprising heft of the burger. I force myself to take slow, thoughtful bites. Savouring each mouthful as the full extent of this creation – this masterpiece – of a burger works its way over my palate. Simon is jeering at me as a reverent look passes over my face; each bite surprises, delights and astounds me. This burger is glorious, I have zero notes. Not one. It is unimprovable.

So. Wow. Breathe. And then the sides.

The fries are – as you can probably see on close inspection – crisp on the outside, thick cut by the standard of American fries but thin for English chips. They are substantial enough that they taste of actual hot, fluffy potato; they are beautifully seasoned with salt and pepper, crisp without being greasy. Possible the archetype of what chips should be, could be, when they grow up. Without the ostentation of rosemary of any of that fancy stuff – simple, uncomplicated, perfect.

The wings are presented beautifully – I love the slim, angled slices of spring onion scatted over the – evenly coated but not dripping – BBQ wings. The sauce is smoky and sweet, but not overwhelming, nor particularly distinctive. The wings crunch as you bite into them, and the meat comes off clean – but is a little tough and chewy. Enjoyable, but I’d probably go for the buffalo if I went back, and hope that they would be more generous in the saucing process, with a meatier and more tender wing. Good but not great.

I was pretty full from the meal, but as regular readers may know, my kryptonite is sticky toffee pudding. It is the ‘BEYOND GODLIKE’ of dessert options for me and – generally – even a mediocre pud is a thing of joy. This time – it presented SO beautifully after being pitched to me by the waitress (it’s excellent, she said)… but then proceeded to have the texture and flavour of a mouldering brick. The waitress acknowledged that a knife should not be required to break a STP apart and graciously took it back, and off the bill. I’ll discount it from my scoring; suspect I got unlucky.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 5/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste – 5/5
Sides – 4/5 – minor deduction for tough, slightly undersauced wings. Fries were a 5.
Value – 5/5 – it wasn’t cheap but it was WORTH it

Burger rating – 5/5 – genuinely one of the best burgers I’ve ever had.

The deets

You can find the Lord Wargrave pub a five minute walk from Edgware Road station, tucked unassumingly behind the main thoroughfare down to Marble Arch from the Marylebone Road. The extensive selection of whisky, beer and wine is another reason to go back. Simon had ribs, which also looked glorious. Atmosphere and service, great.

More on the website here.

Hunworth Bell, Hunworth, Norfolk

Enjoyable despite its limitations

Burger source

The Hunny Bell is a local favourite, in the middle of nowhere in rural Norfolk. Rated highly on Tripadvisor, and by locals we know, it was a fun family meal out.

The order

I hadn’t intended to have a second burger in our holiday week, but the description of the HB double cheeseburger, topped with Emmental, served with onion rings, slaw, on a brioche and smoked bacon… well, it just sounded great. So I had to give it a go. We shared a carafe of Sea Change Negroamaro, a red wine whose billing features environmetnal activism, with a proportion of profits going to dealing with ocean plastics. Sold.

The meat of it

Let’s look at the main picture again.

The plating is tidy but a close inspection will show – a burnt brioche, unnecessary onion rings and a burnt edging on the bacon that bodes poorly… but it looks well assembled, and I’m intrigued.

In cross section, the errors compound themselves. These are thick patties, but cooked well done. They are far too big for the burger. The emmental is well melted and there’s an intriguing layer of sauce on the bottom bun… so, on to the taste.

Well, the burger is well seasoned. The crisp bacon adds excellent umami. The vegetables are crisp, fresh and sweet. The patties are a little dry, but the spicy mayo adds the required moisture and a lovely depth of flavour. There’s a wonderful smokiness to the whole thing.

Then… the whole thing kind of slides off the romaine slice and tomatoes at the base… leaving, in short, a mess:

The rest of it had to be eaten with cutlery, in two halves, split top and bottom. Ketchup helped balance the half without the spicy mayo, and yet somehow, the whole thing kept me wanting more. Despite almost everything going wrong with it, I still kind of enjoyed it. Though I think next time, the belly pork Amanda had is more likely to be on my order card.

The sides? The fries were well seasoned, standard french fries, but slightly undercooked. The slaw was soft – lacking all freshness and crispness – the mayo / dressing was just too heavy. But the onion rings were near-paragons of the form – lovely, crisp, well seasoned batter, sweet onion within… if they were a little greasy.

Giving notes on the whole dish:

  1. Don’t burn the bun
  2. Shrink the patties – 3oz each is plenty, 4oz each was too much
  3. Switch to a patty smash. higher fat ratio, melt cheese on each half as part of the build
  4. Go heavier on the delicious, animal-style sauce, consider adding some chopped pickle into it too for a bright, sweet crunch amidst it all
  5. Shred lettuce for a more stable base – the single leaf of romaine is pretty in theory, but irritating in practice
  6. Swap out the emmental for a sharp local cheddar
  7. Double fry the chips
  8. Find a new slaw recipe. It was bad.
  9. More onion rings. Because why not?

And the wine? Delicious. In both form and function. Highly recommend.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  2.5/5
Burger – 3.5/5
Taste –  3.5/5
Sides – 3/5 – the onion rings and wine redeem the fries and slaw somewhat 
Value – 3/5 – £14.50 for burger and fries. Wine and other dishes reasonable.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – really much more enjoyable than it should have been

The deets

The food, service, ambience etc., at the Hunny Bell were all brilliant. The burger isn’t the best but everything else comes highly recommended. Visit if you’re in the region of Holt in Norfolk at any point.

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!

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.

Popsons, 998 Market Street, San Francisco

A salt-tastic melty smashburger, but not the best SFO has to offer

Burger source

Chef Adam Rosenblum, a respected chef with an number of different restaurant ventures, decided to add to the morass of upper-mid-range burger joints in town, like Super Duper burgers, with a smash burger. Ground on site, the fresh, well-seasoned patties are cooked to order;  the patties are squashed down on a hot grill, crisp up in their own fat, topped with cheese which is then melted both into the burger and the bun before assembly.

The website tells more about the burgers (fresh hormone-free beef sourced from Five dot Ranch and ground on site) and the bread (baked exclusively for Popsons by San Francisco bakery Petit Pain).

They sound and look great.

The order

I went for a double cheese burger with bacon, and a naked fries $17 with service.

The meat of it

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This is not a tidy burger. The stack is wobbling and sliding around, but really the issues there are all cosmetic. Once you pick it up and right what was lost in the assembly, the burger doesn’t suffer for it.

First bite and you’re hit with a salt explosion; the bacon was totally unnecessary as the super-salty, super-melty, super-plentiful American cheese slams your palate like a speedboat filled with salt racing through the Dead Sea. My fault for adding it but… the bacon is thick, chewy and crisp -perfect, really – and the salad, whilst fresh, is completely overwhelmed. There’s a smear of burger sauce under the patties; it drips out slowly with the excess grease from the burger. Remarkably, the petit pain bun holds up; it has a sturdiness to it, and good supporting flavour – love a seeded bun. There’s something gloriously indulgent about this.

That said… the crust on the meat was disappointing on a smash burger – it was a little soft, suspect the grill plate just wasn’t hot enough to get the real char going – and I should probably have added some ketchup to cut the salt down a little. Or Popsons could have gone for a little pickle and/or relish and/or sweeter burger sauce to bring out the flavour contrast a bit.

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The fries are fairly unremarkable; better than bog-standard McD’s frozen fries, you can taste real potato in them – but naked, the seasoning is decent if unexceptional and there’s nothing to write home about regarding the flavour. Acceptable filling, but not even a guest-star in the show. The ketchup is (unnecessarily) fancy ‘Sir Kensington’ something or other. I’d rather have had Heinz.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 3.5/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 3/5 – nothing to see here
Value – 3.5/5 – $17 with a small tip and no drink – this place is more expensive than Super Duper, a (very) nearby Smashburger alternative.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – whilst there’s no question it’s a good burger, it doesn’t quite deliver on the promise and for the money, I’d probably rather have a Super Duper burger (and a drink).

The deets

Near the junction of Market and 6th Street. You can’t miss it.

City Burgers, Vauxhall, Amazon Restaurants delivery

Decent burger; bad sides, both suffer in delivery

Burger source

We wanted to try out Amazon Restaurants to use a voucher I had been sent, and City Burgers came up top. There’s no useful website, so no idea on the origins of the meat or the restaurant. It seems to be pop up within the Vauxhall Street Food garden, so a place with aspirations of gourmet but accessible food. Here’s their write-up:

Introducing our in house Burger stall, serving delicious, carefully sourced Hamburgers freshly prepared to eat in or takeaway. With a selection of burgers taking influence from global cuisines expect to have your tastebuds tingle to the flavours of London, New York, Madrid, Munich, and beyond.

The order

Cheese & bacon burger, skin on fries. Comes with a double 4oz patty. Colleagues had sweet potato fries and buffalo wings as well, and due to a glitch in the order we got to try the wings too.

The meat of it

The order system allowed you to specify a ‘done’ rating down to rare; I went for medium rare.

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Arriving in a cardboard box with no wax wrapper, the stack was still mysteriously intact. The potato roll had a lovely shine on it, the melt on the bright yellow American cheese was remarkable, and the single slice of back bacon had a charred crust – the look was lovely.

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In cross section, it holds up. Although more medium than medium rare, it’s not bad looking for a delivery burger.  Layers of salad protect the lower bun; onions, pickle top the bacon and the melty cheese drapes down the size. You can see the ooze of ketchup providing sweetness throughout the burger.

On tasting it – it’s impressive for a relatively mundane delivery burger. The meat is well seasoned, the bun holds up well, the bacon is crisp and adds a bit of bite, and the ketchup provides the necessary sweetness given the bun is a potato roll rather than the more popular brioche seen so often these days.

However… if there was a charred crust on the burgers, it softened in delivery and for being transported in a steamy cardboard box.  So the texture felt slightly off, despite a coarse grind and a loose pack. And there was probably just slightly too much meat in total – 2x 3oz patties would have been plenty!

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The fries – were terrible. Again, delivery would have been a factor, but not only were my portion a mix between standard frozen essential-type French fries and the skin-on variety advertised, but they were definitely undercooked. No effort to compensate for delivery had been made, so the chips lacked any crispness and were underseasoned (no salt was provided in the delivery bag). The sweet potato fries – which I didn’t try – reportedly had a raw crunch to them.

The buffalo wings – were a misnomer, really. They were fried chicken wings where the very light breading had buffalo flavour woven through the seasoning. They were dry and bland, lacking both the taste and texture you’d hope for buffalo wings.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  3.5/5
Sides – 1/5
Value – 3/5 – £7.50 for burger, £3 for a giant but rubbish portion.

Burger rating – 3/5 – a good burger, let down by terrible sides and a couple of delivery defects.

The deets

I think both Amazon Restaurants and Just Eat will sort delivery for you if you’re in range. Or head down to Vauxhall; 6A South Lambeth Place, SW8 1SP London, United Kingdom