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.

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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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Honest Burgers, Southwark Street, London: Plant Burger review

The Beyond Burger powered Plant Burger is totes amazeballs

Burger source

I reviewed Honest Burgers a couple of years’ back and the formula hasn’t changed a great deal. But thanks to a successful trial at its home restaraunt in Kings Cross, and the relentless march of Veganism, the Plant Burger is now a staple at its restaraunts everywhere. A collaboration with Beyond Meat (a company whose tagline is ‘the future of protein’), this promised the real ‘fake burger’ experience.

The order

So that’s what we had. We’d been told it would pass a blind taste test as “real” meat and I was curious. Plus, it never hurts to eat less dead cow. So away we went: here’s what came with: a vegan burger from Beyond Meat with vegan smoked Gouda, Rubies in the Rubble Chipotle ‘Mayo’, mustard, red onion, pickles, lettuce.

But Jme ordered wings to go with it, because WINGS. Also, no buffaloes were harmed in their production.

The meat of it

There is nothing in the superficial appearance of this burger that screams ‘vegan.’ It’s really very artfully crafted. Though it doesn’t really resemble the official glamour shot, that’s standard for the industry.

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The cross section would tell more, I was sure, not least if that bun was as hard as it looked. Spoiler: it wasn’t:

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The bun gave way easily, but the salad took some slicing; a mustard heavy coating covering a thick, thick sliced bed of salad, pickle and red onion. There’s something slightly off about the bun/topping/salad ratio; the burger is smaller than you’d expect, the salad bigger. But these aren’t major offenses.

Then the taste. The texture of the burger is softer than you’d expect and you don’t make out the grind in quite the same was as with a beef burger, but the flavour is remarkable. It doesn’t have the funkiness of dry-aged beef but, in a blind test, you’d be hard-pressed to tell it wasn’t real, and I’ve tasted a LOT of burgers. That said, there’s limited discernable ‘crust’ on the burger, and it’s not quite as juicy as a medium-cooked beef patty. But the overall experience really isn’t far off.

The complimentary flavours and textures meld well; the vegan gouda doesn’t taste a lot like gouda but is a brilliant, salty, melty cheese – better than any vegan cheese I’ve ever tried and without any soy-aftertaste. We speculated – not seriously – that it might be fake-fake cheese – i.e. real. The bun is soft and plain; a good contrast to the heavily savoury burger and cheese that holds up to the mustard and salad; the beyond burger doesn’t trail fat like its meat counterparts. The heavy mustard coating on the salad is actually fine in contrast with the rest of the burger and the overall umami experience is excellent. A little relish or ketchum helps take the edge off all the salt, actually, which is slightly overdone without a mayo- or aioli-based condiment or brioche bun to take the edge off – the mustard doesn’t quite cut it.

Overall, tremendous. I see no reason why I wouldn’t have a beyond burger in place of a regular meat burger anywhere it’s on offer. This is the thing sci-fi has been missing – why would we eat Soy-Protein rubbish in space, when the future is Beyond Meat?

Sides wise…

 

The wings were great if a little mild and on the small side; excellent crunch, smooth if not-super-spicy buffalo sauce. Go heavier on the Frank’s next time! The spring onion garnish was functional as it was aesthetically pleasing.

The rosemary fries are as good as rosemary fries get. Which is to say, pretty good, although a little heavy on the, erm, rosemary for me. Crisp, full of potato flavour, well seasoned, and excellent with a dollop of ketch and mayo.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 4/5 -is its unweighted score as a burger. As a vegan burger, it’s 6/5. Best I’ve ever had. Noting that I’ve not yet tried the impossible burger and my veggie/vegan burger reppertoire has been relatively limited.
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 4/5
Value – 4/5 – £11.5 for burger and fries.

Burger rating – 4/5 – I would happily have this on any repeat visit to Honest, in place of a meat burger, and not just to be good to the environment.

The deets

Honest Burgers is prolifertaing. Find your nearest here.

Dirty Bones, Kingly Court, Carnaby Street

Decent (but pricey) mustard soaked thin patty double cheeseburger, meaty vegan burger, enormous crispy fried chicken burger and intriguing sides

Burger source
I auctioned off a guided burger tasting evening as a way of raising funds for Byte Night / Action for Children, a charity we support at work that does very worthwhile work with children in vulnerable circumstances. Naturally, it was bought by a vegan (and an omnivore).

So that meant we needed to find a burger place I hadn’t been to – so we could review it – and one that had vegan options. And actually, in #Veganuary, that wasn’t that hard.

Dirty Bones seeks to bring American comfort food, NYC style, to London. It’s the lovechild of two friends who liked what they saw in NYC and decided to bring it to London. Little about the origins of the burger, but we know it’s dry-aged steak and brisket… So let’s see…

The order
I had the “Classic” – double brisket & dry aged steak burger with American cheese, red onion, gherkins and dijonnaise on seeded brioche. Ed, our vegan, had the Vegan classic: Moving Mountains® plant-based burger with vegan cheese, red onion, gherkin and veganaise on a soft seeded bun. Saad had the free-range crispy fried chicken burger with baby gem, chipotle aioli and sweet chilli sauce on seeded brioche.

In addition, Saad and I shared the cheeseburger dumplings (housemade gyoza dumplings stuffed with burger mince and melted cheese. Served with our signature burger sauce), Ed had the Padron peppers (sprinkled with Madron salt) and a Fordham Gypsy Lager.

The meat of it
You can see this is a well plated burger.

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Pickles, thick cut red onions and an extremely healthy of dijonnaise provider a slippery base, and the well melted american cheese gloops over the two crispy 3-4oz patties. The glossy seeded bun looks solid, yet pliant.

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In cross section, a slight pinkness shows through – the Kingly Court restaurant is small, I doubt they have the space to grind and prep their own meat on site, which means they are limited on cooking the meat truly pink. And it’s not really necessary for this style of cheeseburger, so I’m not concerned. The dijonnaise is really slathered on thick; onions slide out of the base as I cut through for the cross section pic, and half the stack threatens collapse.

The first bite – is all crisp, crunch, sweet onion, and the hot rasp of mustard cutting through the sweet mayonnaise. The bun is soft, holding up well against the sauce and the burger, and – appropriately – not enriched. No need for brioche here, the dijonnaise, pickles and onion provide the sweet counterpoint. As to the meat itself? The grind is tight and packed in hard, but it is good meat, so it’s not chewy. There’s a light crust on the patty, but a hotter griddle and more seasoning would have helped this along, even if it meant a more cooked centre. The fat ratio seems slightly too low – it’s quite a lean burger and the only drippings are dijonnaise, not beef juice. But the overall impression is not bad at all; the heat from the mustard in the dijonnaise is moreish and its ample quantity makes up for the slight dryness of the meat; the bun is perfect, the cheese makes up for some of the underseasoning. It all works, albeit messily.

I have only pictures of Ed and Saad sampling the Vegan Classic and the Spicy Chicken, but I’m told they were good. In fact, Ed had to double check it was actually vegan (having been led down the garden path before), and was provided with a list of ingredients.

As to the sides? The cheesburger gyoza are just plain WEIRD.

They fail as both gyoza and cheeseburgers, but as a thing in their own right? Delicious; crisp gyoza skin, a hollow centre (where the burger meat has shrunk) and a core of slightly slimey, cheesey burger meat. Dipped in the slightly vinegar heavy, ketchup-based burger sauce (topped with spring onions and sesame seeds – a nice accent), you could eat plate after plate of these. Were it not for the £8.50 price tag…

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The fries are skin-on skinny fries. There’s nothing bad about them – but nothing inherently interesting either. Perfectly capable, well seasoned, well cooked fries.

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I really liked the Gypsy Lager. New world hops, a hint of hony-mead sweetness, all in all, a very smooth beer going down.

Monkey finger rating
Bun –  5/5
Build – 3.5/5
Burger – 3.5/5 (beef)
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 4/5 – I don’t know how to judge them but those gyoza are an experience.

Value – 3/5 – £13 for burger and fries, £8.50 for gyoza – not a cheap meal out.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – really completely capable, upper-mid table burger. With a few tweaks it could be top class; with the fries bundled it would even be good value… as it is, it’s a pricey novelty.

The deets
Dirty Bones started in West London, near Kensington, but has spread to Soho, Shoreditch, and Oxford. Find your nearest location here.

Thirsty Bear, Stamford Street, London

Exceptional pub fayre

Burger source

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The Thirsty Bear positions itself as the “pub revolutionised” and in many ways it is. iPads adorn many of the tables, which also have beer taps attached, allowing you to order (and pour!) your drinks at the table, get food sent to you, call a waiter for help and so on. It’s a small but effective gimmick, cutting down queue/wait time and certainly makes things work differently.

The burgers are the staple of the pub’s American-themed menu, which also features wings, ribs, slaws, soft tacos and beyond. All we know is about the burger origins is that  “All burgers are a whopping 6oz of prime rib-eye, fillet and sirloin patty.”

The order

I ordered a ‘BBQ bacon’, and colleagues had various eccentric variations; one featuring pulled pork, one peanut butter. The BBQ bacon featured 6 oz beef patty, crispy smoked bacon, Monterey jack, lettuce, tomato, red onion, BBQ glaze, bun. Side of Cajun fries, and we had some wings and ribs too.

The meat of it

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Appearances can be confusing. In the darkness of the pub, what was clear was that this burger appeared to have a rather flaccid bun; there was ample (perhaps excessive) salad poking around the side. The burger was topped with thin-mandolined pickled cucumber. BBQ sauce was dripping around the bun. The cheese had an excellent melt and was glooping around the side. A stray red onion loop makes its presence felt.

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The cross section reveals a fine grind, densely packed. Not sure how this is going to go.

Then the first bite. The crunch from the uber-crispy bacon reports like a rifle shot. The taste is instant; the salt and crunch of the bacon; the slight resistance from the well-charred burger exterior. The juicy drip of its interior – drier than it could have been, but better than many. A smokiness and sweetness, from the meat and the BBQ sauce, peels through each mouthful. There’s a light bonus crispness and sweetness from the salad; tomato and onion, mild lettuce, perfect pickle. The meat blend makes every mouthful tasty, despite the fact that the burger is a little too dense and too chewy, and the lettuce portion is unnecessarily generous…  the overall impression is one of lush, well balanced flavour. This is an excellent pub burger.

Sides were fun: the Cajun fries (and the regular, and sweet potato fries colleagues ordered) were truly excellent. Crisp and well seasoned on the outside, squidgy in the middle, without being unduly salty. Cajun seasoning adds a (very) mild spice flavour.

We also tried some buffalo wings and ribs. The ribs were dry and tougher than they should have been; the sauce a little meanly applied though not without flavour. Overall, a solid meh. The wings, on the other hand, had a good crunch, decent heat coming through the hot sauce, and only a smidge too little sauce. The meat was juicy and not overdone. Definitely moreish, though, and recommended.

The colleagues I was eating with enjoyed theirs as much as I did mine, so verdict verified.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5 – soft but surprisingly sturdy
Build – 4/5 – may not look like much but really very well contained
Burger – 3.5/5 – could have been a shade or two rarer without hurting anyone
Taste –  4/5 – very solid flavour, if a little dense and less juicy than it could have been
Sides – 4/5 – excellent fries, good wings, middling ribs
Value – 4/5 – £12 for burger and side, ish. Plus £5.50 for a pint, and £12 to share a jumbo starter.

Burger rating – 4/5 – really very good overall.

The deets

Just off Southwark Street, about 8 minutes down the road from Waterloo Station. Worth the diversion for supper and a pint. Limited Vegan options available.

The Laughing Gravy, 154 Blackfriars Road, London

Extraordinarily tasty burger with somewhat ordinary chips and even more exceptional pud

Burger source

This is a restaraunt with really a very high calibre of food across the board. So the burger doesn’t feature centrally, and gets just modest billing on the menu. Nonetheless; I expected from the reputation the restaraunt had acquired that this would be no “pub” burger.

The order

I had the Aberdeen Angus cheese burger with hand cut chips, with added smoked bacon for an additional £2. Portobello mushrooms and fried onions were also available as an alternative topping.

No starters, though I did share a pudding with an old friend. More on the 3-way salted caramel to follow.

The meat of it

This burger tastes extraordinary. Let’s look at it a little more closely.

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You can instantly see a good crust on the meat. The bun looks sturdy – perhaps excessively so? That rather depends on the meat, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The gammon-like bacon is thick, and covered with a good amount of very melty cheddar. A small drizzle of grease has escaped the otherwise perfect plating and speaks to a juicy feast to follow.

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The grease is explained. The coarse ground meat is cooked to a perfect medium, and whilst it looks and seems dry in the first pic, you can see here that the bun only just holds up to the meat juice. The bacon portion is ludicrously generous, and there’s a little red of relish in there of some description. You can see the cheese melting off to the side, a forgotten spider web of dairy deliciousness.

On first bite, you’re overwhelmed with umani. Whislt I ordinarily don’t love non-crispy  bacon in a burger, this thick cut smoked meat adds a delicious taste on top of the already well-seasoned beef. The beef itself is high grade, aged Aberdeen Angus, with a little of the delightful funk you get with dry-aging. It’s not overpowering though; this is not a complex burger, simply a very well constructed one. The melty cheddar binds without overwhelming the burger but the overall impact is very salty; the little relish is overpowered and the burger would have benefited from a sweet contrast. Perhaps my own fault for adding bacon but not ketchup.

I ate this burger slowly; it’s very rich and deserved savouring. They’ve made something wonderful here.

To the sides; the small side salad had a sweetish dressing and was a nice, if token, gesture in the direction of health. The chips were thick-cut, chip-shop style chips and were inconsistent – some soggy, others crisp to the point of shattering. A happy medium would have delivred a better experience throughout.

The pudding, of which I have no picture I’m afraid, was extraordinary. Brownie in multiple forms, a lush salted caramel gelato, cruchy bits in a sweet caramel goo, plus gooey salt caramel and chocolate embedded in a crisp brownie. There were peanut pieces surrounding the salted caramel gelato adding both salt and crunch. Wonderful. We shared it – at £9.70 and with three different grades of indulgence scattered across a large plate, it’s best shared between two!

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste –  4.5/5 – – more relish, or some sweet pickle and this would be up there
Sides – 3/5
Value – 3.5/5 – £16 for burger and sides, ish, with added bacon, and best part of £5 for the pudding (SHARED!) – this place is definitely more £££ than ££. But it is that kind of place.

Burger rating – 4/5 – despite the price and middling chips, this is a very special burger indeed.

The deets

Just up from Southwark Tube, it was quiet on a Friday lunchtime. It’s a well kept secret indeed, but definitely deserving of wider recognition!

Haché Burgers, High Holborn, London

A near perfect burger, marred only by a dense brioche and average sides

Burger source

There’s little about the burger itself origins, other than the fact that the original owners set out to create ‘gourmet bugers, with nothing but the best ingredients.’ Bought out by Hush in 2016, the restaraunt has expanded from its original site in Camden and now has locations all London; this one was on High Holborn, a short walk from the tube. The new owners wanted to ‘reclaim burgers for grown-ups’ (so far, so clichéd), so Haché Burger Social expanded.

I must admit, the name put me off slightly – have never been a fan of Steak Haché, but Debs at work has been evangelising it to me for some time so I thought to give it a try!

The order

I ordered the ‘Steak le Fumé’ – £12.95 of caramelised onions, smoked bacon, Gruyère & house coleslaw, rather joyfully presented in a smoke-filled dome. It was close enough to my standard ‘cheese and bacon’ standard to be indicative for the review, I felt, but had added panache and drama, which was, y’know, ridiculous but fun. Damian and I shared standard fries (frites, natch) and onion rings (disappointingly not rondelles d’oignon panées). And I broke and ordered the banofé pie for pudding. Drank a raspberry mojito thanks to happy hour.

Let’s get into it.

The meat of it

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The drama was as entertaining as needless as you’d expect. The smokiness was gentle, though, this isn’t a charcoal-grilled burger, a light woody, smokey aroma just infuses everything.

The stack was good, which is clearer still in the cross section. Whilst all burgers default to medium well, they recommend them medium rare and that’s what I went for. The meed has a good crust and a thick band of pinky-red running through the centre.

First bite, moment of truth.

The brioche (we had a choice of ciabatta, but that, for me, would not have been a proper burger) was dense. It lacked the pliancy you’d expect and indeed want froma burger bun; it’s too chewy and it’s extremely sweet. Unnecessarily so in a burger which had its own sweet caramelised onions, sweet coleslaw and sweet, sweet meat already.

Everything else, however: pitch perfect. Cheese was melty and bound the burger well; the bacon was exquisite; whilst not as crisp as American style streaky, it had a rich, salty, pancetta-y quality that was in perfect contrast to the sweet, pink ground beef. The beef is a star attraction, coarse ground and juicy, lightly smoked, a thick, crunchy, well-seasoned crust holding it all together; it’s melt-in-your-mouth luscious, and thankfully lacks the gaminess some dry-aged bef has. The onions and coleslaw provide a sweet finish (no ketchup needed at all), the meat melts in your mouth, and the overall experience was just… great. Even with the bready bun.

The sides… the fries are partially skin on, thin cut frites, crisp on the outside and well seasoned. Solid but standard. There were variants on offer and perhaps we should have tried those, but they were very pricey and seemed unnecessary to me.

The onion rings, whilst making use good thick chunks of fresh, sweet onion, were coated in an ordinary batter and slightly underseasoned. So they were just OK.

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Pudding… let me start by saying that banoffee pie is one my kryptonite dishes; no matter how determined I am not to pudding, if a banoffee pie or a sticky toffee pudding is on the menu, I will struggle. And I’ve never had a bad banoffee pie – after all – it is simplicity itself; biscuit base, caramel, banana, cream, chocolate. Nothing else to it.

Unless, of course, you get carried away and put on 3 inches of cream. Which is what Haché has done, sadly making an extraordinary pudding… ordinary. Every ingredient is high quality and tasty on its own, but this enormous slab of pud just has too much bland cream atop it.

The Raspberry mojito wasn’t bad, if you’re into sweet cocktails. Minty, fresh with a good soda fizz on top, appropriately limey as well.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 2.5/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste – 4.5/5
Sides – 3/5 -bump for the onion fries
Value – 3.5/5 – £13 for the burger, £3-£6 for sides, £6 for puddings. Not cheap; even with 2-4-£10 happy hour cocktails.

Burger rating – 4.5/5 – the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Desite the bready bread, the ordinary sides and the disappointing pudding, I would put this in my top five burgers in London easily (alongside Dip & Flip, Cut & Grind, Bleecker Street, and Lucky Chip).

The deets

There are branches all over; online booking is easy. Check the website here.

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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The Table Café, 83 Southwark Street, London

An extremely well put together burger let down by the meat

Burger source

The Table Café is characteristic of the Southwark neighbourhood; independent, owner-managed, distinctive, generally innovative and relatively unconventional. It’s not a burger house but does feature an interesting one on the lunch menu which I thought I’d sample, given the reputed quality of the rest of the cooking. More of the backstory of the restaurant here; worth a read.

The order

I went for the Cheeseburger, red onion relish & triple cooked chips, resisting the urge to add bacon for £2.50!

The meat of it

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The burger is well if simply presented. The bun has some gloss but is not a brioche; there’s a light dripping of unidentifiable burger sauce spilling out the side, the stack looks well assembled. The triple cooked chips on the side are golden with crunch evident before you even pick one up, much less bite into it. So far, so promising.

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The cross section improves and detracts in equal measure. It’s a perfect stack; a thick layer of the red onion relish, a good melt on the cheese, a good amount of pickle, a sturdy but pliant bun, and a good ratio of everything involved. BUT you can see the meat is overdone – it’s grey in the middle and soft the whole way through, no real juiciness at all.

On tasting it – the red onion relish brings a wonderful sourness to every bite, contrasted by the crisp sweetness of the pickle and the savoury nature of the rest of it. The burger meat is well seasoned but the lack of a distinctive crust and the dryness of the overcooked meat detracts from the overall experience, despite the best efforts of the mildly spicy mustard-filled burger sauce elsewhere in the stack. The meat isn’t terrible, but it is far less special than the rest of the burger, which really pulls together very well.

The fries -whilst underseasoned – live up to the first impression. Crisp crunch, but cut thick enough for a fluffy interior despite the triple cooking. The ketchup that was on the table – a brand I didn’t recognise – was somewhat eccentric. I suspect the consequence of buying posh, locally sourced, organic stuff. I’d have preferred Heinz, tbh!

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 4/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 2.5/5
Taste – 3/5 – let down by meat despite how good everything else is
Sides – 4/5 – good chips
Value – 3.5/5 – £12.75 for burger and fries, which is pretty reasonable for the restaraunt. The bacon was too much extra though!

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – could have been better had it been better cooked.

The deets

This is one of our locals on Southwark Street, near the Tate Modern and five minutes’ walk from Blackfriars. If I go back I’ll ask them to cook it medium explicitly and see what happens.

The Grove, 83 Hammersmith Grove, Hammersmith

Very high quality pub burger; slightly uninspired wedges

Burger source

I was meeting a client in the area, and she had the pub recommended by colleagues. They specifically advised her it had a good burger, but it doesn’t have any particular billing on its otherwise conventionally unconventional gastropub menu.

The order

The burger has no fanfare in its send-up: “Grilled Aberdeen Angus Beef Burger (8oz), Cheddar, Pickle, Salsa, Onion Ring, Salad & Chips.” We shared a sticky toffee pudding for pudding, because Celine had never had one despite living in the UK for years and I felt she had to be educated.

The meat of it

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The burger arrived fairly promptly and was well assembled and well laid out; the thick slab of cheddar looked like an over-heavy coating and it worried me that this burger was going to be more hefty than tasty, but those fears proved unfounded. The stack is otherwise perfect; pickle, tomato and cheddar atop the beef, which was laid directly on a toasted brioche.

The “chips” were extremely thick seasoned wedges and a light pleasant salad with a garlicky white dressing centred the plate.

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The cross section revealed a perfect pink medium finish; a coarse ground patty, the bun just holding up to the juiciness, that perfect melt and a thick, crisp, sweet slice of tomato (I’m getting used to these!) and chunky pickle slice adding a vinegary tang. The relish was on the side, and it added a necessary, mildly spicy sweetness to the melty mouthfuls of really very well-seasoned and tasty meat, which had an impressive crust and the even pink finish – very good cooking indeed. It was topped with a solitary onion ring, which I ate separately. The onion ring was fine, but nothing special!

The chunky chips – are not my favourite. I’m sure they were good exemplars of their kind, but it’s like having a burger with a side of jacket potato, really. Doesn’t go, in my opinion.

The salad – was not bad at all. But it’s a salad. So that’s all I got.

The sticky toffee pudding – was OK, but a bit light on the caramel, and a bit dry in the sponge. It either needed a lot more caramel or a nice scoop (or, y’know, quenelle) of vanilla ice cream to moisten things up. Still hard for me to turn down but I kind of regretted not going for the banoffee pie. I love a banoffee pie.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4.5/5
Build – 4.5/5
Burger – 4.5/5 – a different meat blend might have added a tad more flavour but very little to complain about
Taste –  4.5/5
Sides – 3/5 – bump down for the chips and pud
Value – 4.5/5 – £12.50 for burger and side, ish. £50 for two with coffee and dessert – not bad.

Burger rating – 4.5/5 – one of the best pub burgers I’ve had. Just sub out the fries.

The deets

About five minutes’ walk from Hammersmith Tube; very quiet on a Tuesday lunchtime, this feels like more of a neighbourhood pub than a lunchtime place, but recommended wholeheartedly nonetheless. Find it here, online.