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.

Temper, Covent Garden, London

Exquisite if slightly over-complex burger

Burger source

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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Steam Engine, Waterloo, London

Vigorously indulgent burger; great, edging on brilliant

Burger source

I was looking for somewhere near Waterloo to meet an old family friend; the Steam Engine showed as having a permanent residency from Burger Craft; apparently a partnership with the Publove pubs. It’s not entirely clear from how the relationship with Publove works, but Burger Craft’s mission is clear:

Our craft is burgers: The finest ingredients, wonderful flavours, slow cooked meats, hand cut chips and homemade sauces brought together to create unforgettable burgers. Smashed, grilled and steamed to perfection by our team of chefs to create the tastiest, juiciest burgers around. That’s Burger Craft! Come see us in PubLove  all over London.

Simple enough. The website, whilst somewhat circumspect about who these people are, does go on in beautiful detail about what they’re trying to achieve, how and with who:

Our wonderful dry aged beef (and the rest of our delicious meats) comes from the multiple awards winning Walter Rose & Son’s fantastic farm in Wiltshire. Used by non-other than Tom Kerridge we’ve since discovered.

Our “Springy” & sensational demi-brioche buns come from the master craftsmen & women at The Bread Factory. London’s leading artisan bakery.

We source every ingredient from equally outstanding and dedicated suppliers and continuously work with them to maintain our quality. “Taste, taste and taste again”

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Welcome to the Steam Engine.

The order

Let’s put it to the test, then. A ‘Bacon Dude’ duly ordered – American cheese, streaky bacon – atop the six-ish oz smashburger patty, served in a fresh, soft demi-brioche with hand-cut fries. All for about a tenner; even with my half of Meantime and Andreas’ coke the bill was only £12.25 a head. Reasonable for this part of town.

The meat of it

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I’m not going to lie, the plating isn’t great; the burger itself looks fantastic, but that sad sprawl of fries doesn’t inspire confidence. However, the second you touch the bun you can feel that this burger is something beyond the ordinary; it’s unbelievably soft, the stack is perfect with the burger sat atop a thin spread of what seems to be BBQ sauce, a slim slice of tomato and then coated with a lush, bright yellow melt of proper American processed cheese and a healthy wodge of nicely browned, lightly smoked bacon. Touch is the right word; this burger is an unashamed multi-sensory experience. You taste, touch, sell, feel all in one go.

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The cross section doesn’t look as pink as many other high-end burgers in London but it is a patty smash-and-steam job – the meat is pressed down on the grill to get extra crispness on the patty and steamed under cover to get a good cheese melt, so this finish is expected. The meat is coarsely ground and even with the smash retains a loose-packed finish. It looks good.

A first bite shows the impact this cooking method delivers; the super-soft bun is wrapped around completely melty cheese, a thick smokey bite of bacon, soft – and if I’m brutally honest, slightly over-soft and slightly undersasoned – melty meat, and somewhat indistinct salad. That said, the cheese and bacon compensated for the slight underseasoning of the burger, and the meat itself is clearly top-notch, with that a light touch of that gamey flavour you get when meat has been dry-aged; fat oozes out of it and drips out of the soft, slightly sweet bun. The bacon was slightly flaccid, like it had been under a heat lamp and lost some of its crispness; and so the only real problem with the burger as a whole is textural. The limitations compound, but are minor. The overall experience is gluttunous, voluminous, glossy and pliant. The burger is tender, juicy and plump.

The fries – were underwhelming IMHO. Some of them were fine; crisp and well-seasoned, happily married with a dollop of ketchup. Others – were limp, sorry excuses for a french fry – not quite underdone but somehow structurally incapable of holding the crisp finish their most impressive peers did. They are well seasoned, though, and tasty enough – it was just a bit of a mixed, visually underwhelming bag; an unfair pairing for an otherwise superlative burger.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4.5/5 – really high quality
Build – 4.5/5 – the veg was slightly over-done and there could have been a smidge more sauce
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 2.5/5
Value – 4/5 – £11 for burger and side, ish. Pretty good for something in view of Waterloo station.

Burger rating – 4/5 – really rather good., in spite of the fries

The deets

There are a few Publoves scattered around London; this one is pretty much down the road from Waterloo, right by Lambeth North tube. Check the website for other locations.

Guest pic: Andreas, my Norwegian brother from another mother.

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Marks Bar @ Hixter Bankside, Great Guildford Street, London SE1

Sumptuous, meaty glory

Burger source

The “rib steak” burger (it’s rib-eye cut, according to Wikipedia, unless Mr Hix puts ground up bone in there) and fries announces itself with little ceremony on the menu. Mark Hix’s reputation as a chef and restaurateur promised an ‘upscale’ experience, but I really didn’t know what to expect.

The order

So, eating with the effervescent Mr Sullivan is an experience as, whilst we were offered blue cheese and bacon as toppings, once he established that customisation was possible, a world of opportunity was unlocked. Namely; the option of mushrooms and of regular cheddar. I went for the latter and bacon, and we ordered some sides to top up the table – onion rings, chicken popcorn and chicken skins. Just to see! And of course the burger came with fries. As a surprising bonus, our waiter allowed us to order the burgers medium rare (often disallowed in London, presumably for food safety reasons), so that was exciting.

The meat of it

So this burger doesn’t look that special on arrival. I mean, it looked good, but not extraordinary.

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A single slice of back bacon (surprising in itself – usually streaky’s the choice for burgers) resting on well melted cheese, resting on the 6oz patty… whilst all veg and burger sauce lies deconstructed around it… some assembly required. In some ways I can understand this – I immediately dispensed with the tomato, it has no place in my burgers – whilst Craig left the red onion to one side, a judgement call I understand but don’t agree with.

Anyway, some light assembly later, tomato-based burger relish, onion and pickles manually inserted and bun topped, I went for the cross section.

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Wow. Look at that pinkness. The meat was practically melting just after the cut. The bun – which looked somewhat dry from a distance – is necessarily sturdy to withstand the juicyness of the meat.

And then the taste. Funky, meaty, juicy… melty texture… the crunch of the bacon was totally unexpected from back bacon, the crisp sweetness of the pickle a delightful contrast and even the tomato relish added to the overall gestalt. The bun withstood the onslaught of flavour and provided the necessary starchy contrast and you tasted the high quality beef with every mouthful as there was clearly some restraint in the burger’s seasoning – no doubt for this very reason. This is one of the best burgers in London, without a shadow of a doubt.

The sides – well, the fries were outstanding if conventional french fries. The dipping sauces – some kind of parsley aioli, a rich curry sauce and ketchup – helped cut the edge of the generous salting they’d had. The chicken skins – like ‘healthy’ pork scratchings, provided a delightful savoury crunch. The onion rings were a revelation; seasoned, crispy, spicy, flecked with pepper and running spicy and sweet as the seasonings contrasted with the natural flavour of the onion. The only disappointment is that “chicken popcorn” was, in fact, chicken flavoured popcorn… not popcorn-shaped chicken, as we’d mistakenly assumed. I didn’t even try it in protest at my own folly.

Oh and Craig and The Bond wanted mushrooms… they were special; garlicky, buttery, sweet and savoury.

Drinks wise – was mostly consuming Hixter’s Old Fashioneds. They were outstanding, and served with a hefty single block of ice to help them linger.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4.5/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 4.5/5
Taste –  5/5
Sides – 4.5/5
Value – 4/5 – £14.95 for the burger and fries, £10 for three sides  for the burger plus a share of delivery.  So it’s not a cheap burger.

Burger rating – 5/5 – the whole is really greater than the sum of its parts at Hixter. This is a very special burger indeed.

The deets

Marks Bar is in the basement of Hixter Bankside, tucked away on Great Guildford street just by Southwark Street. Lovely ambiance and home to a rather eccentric bar billiards game we utterly failed to understand despite quite clear instructions on how to play. Find it here.