Morty & Bobs, Coal Drops Yard, Kings Cross

Good burger, excellent cocktails, lovely atmosphere

Burger source 

Kings Cross is a pretty convenient location for a few of us to meet up, and the redevelopment North of St Pancras is… well, pretty wonderful. Wide, open, modern, highly stylised – it’s absolutely buzzing, even on a Wednesday night.

Celebrating a friends birthday, we chanced upon Morty & Bob’s, and it happened to have a burger on the menu, so…

The order 

Bob’s burger [sic] & fries features an aged prime patty, garlic mayo, lettuce, tomato, pickles and a brioche bun. I also had a glass of wine, and a cocktail (their take on an old fashioned). Pudding… I was pitched a pear compote cheesecake. Let’s see..

The meat of it

First impressions, pretty good. Those fries look crisp and well seasoned (they are, though a smidge… stale?). The burger’s bun is glossy, there’s strong melt on the cheese, the salad looks bright, crisp and fresh, the bacon looks thick but crispy… Let’s take a closer look.

The bun – dense and possibly slightly oversized. The salad – over thick slices of tomato destabilise the stack. The meat – coarse ground, cooked to a perfect medium. Excitement… To the taste.

The meat is lovely – beautiful texture, lovely exterior crust, soft and juicy interior, with that light funk from the dry ageing. Lovely mouthfeel, but ever so slightly underseasoned. The bacon is a joy, and with the cheese (collectively adding an additional £3.50 on an already £14 burger and fries) provide the necessary umami to partially compensate for the patty, so I was glad of the indulgence. The mayo adds a smooth, velvety tang from the garlic that’s welcome; a crisp crunch comes from the salad and the hint of sweet sharpness from the pickles is well distributed. The bun… is cold, and slightly out of proportion. Too much bread, and what there was should have been toasted. But it works together surprisingly well and makes up for its shortcomings via the overall experience. It’s a good burger, and a pleasure to eat it.

The fries, as I’ve said, were solid. They seemed slightly stale, like they’d been left out too long between dips in the fryer, but they were well seasoned, suitably potatoey, and lovely dunked in a pot of mayo or ketchup.

As to the cocktails? Really interesting takes on traditional cocktails on the menu. Served fast, in a lovely atmosphere, with attentive waitstaff. A great overall experience.

Pudding? There were a few options and I had a cheesecake that was recommended to me. It was… fine. But not the right pudding to follow the burger. I was envious of my friends chowing down on a flourless brownie with ice cream.

Monkey finger rating  

Bun –  3/5  
Build – 4/5 
Burger – 4/5 
Taste –  4/5  
Sides – 4/5
Value – 3.5/5 – £17 for a bacon cheese burger, plus service, plus pudding, plus drinks – this was not a cheap evening. But it was good.  

Burger rating – 4/5 – a great overall experience.

The deets 

A seven minute stroll from Kings X station. Find Morty & Bob’s here.

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.

Roast, Borough Market, London

Gamey, well-put-together venison burger

Burger source

There was beef wellington on the menu, but such is my commitment to burgers that – in realising that Roast – one of the defining meat-centric restaurants in London – had a burger on its Christmas menu – I changed my mind. Note this is a far cry from the Roast-To-Go burger I reviewed back in 2017, even if it was prepared in the same kitchen.

The order

So there it was – the Wild British Fallow Deer Venison burger. Featuring a brioche bun, stilton, beef tomato, lettuce and Roast’s burger sauce. Had to be done. We also had a healthy diversity of sides – pigs in blankets, garlic mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower cheese and chunky truffle chips.

The meat of it

Let’s look at it again.

It’s well presented and constructed. Lettuce protecting the bun from a juicy (?) burger, good slice of pickle, bright, fresh veg, ‘Roast burger sauce’ on the side, and promising-looking chunky fries in the obligatory fancy tin pot.

Let’s come into the cross section:

Look at that colour! A perfect pink, absolutely amazing! And the light hasn’t helped but he brioche is quite pale beneath a warm and attractively grilled bun. You’ll also note that the bun has slipped off the giant lettuce leaves and doesn’t want to stay settled at all – I’m pro shredding the lettuce on the underside of a burger. This hasn’t stayed together as you’d hope, although I fully accept that most people don’t cross-section their burger in this way.

As to the taste – perfect seasoning, there’s a wonderful umani between the burger and the stilton – which is unobtrusive and subtle. The bun holds together well and doesn’t have the sweetness many brioche do; but has fantastic substance and bite, contrasting with its soft, fluffy blandness against the flavourbomb of the burger itself. The texture and mouthfeel is good, though the burger is a little dry overall – I suspect that wild fallow deer doesn’t have the fat content your average 20-30% beef burger patty might – and the light gamey taste adds a pleasant depth of flavour.

The Roast Sauce? Is basically just a fancy, smooth home made ketchup. It’s pleasant, but this burger wanted a mayo or aioli style burger sauce on the buns to add fat and moisture back into each bite. Pickle in there would have added good contrast to the dry, salty, gamey meat. Not bad, but a few refinements would have elevated it.

As to the chips – they were perfect. Double if not triple fried, crunchy on the outside and fluffy in the middle, they were perfectly seasoned and very flavourful. Again the ketchup/burger sauce was a good accompaniment, but would have preferred a mayo or aioli dip.

On the other sides (sorry for lack of pictures) – the pigs and blankets were just fine – good sausages but not desperately easily to distinguish from a pack you’d from Sainsbury’s. The mushrooms were extraordinary – the right answer to how much butter can you use when grilling mushrooms is ALL OF IT. I heard good reports for the truffle chips, the cauliflower cheese, the stuffing and more. Good all around.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4.5/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 3.5/5
Taste –  3.5/5
Sides – 4.5/5
Value – 3.5/5 – £22 is a lot, although possibly reasonable given the venue and cost of the venison

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – Enjoyable and interesting novelty, though I probably wouldn’t have this again unless I could change up the recipe. The meat was just too lean for a burger patty, and there are a lot of other good things on the menu.

The deets

Wander around Borough market until you find the lift/steps that lead up to Roast. You can’t – no wait, you can easily miss it. Good luck and enjoy – let me know how you found it.

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!

Cut & Grind, Kings Cross revisited: The Radical Vegan

The best vegan burger 

Burger source

I’ve reviewed Cut & Grind before – tl;dr, it’s extraordinary. The care, the craft, the ingredients, the construction, the care in the condiments – glorious.

I met a veggie friend there for lunch, and had a brief chat with the owner Pas – who I caught on his way to and from the National Burger Awards – he waxed lyrical about his plans for the Radical Vegan – the restaurant’s own meat-alternative burger, constructed with soy and pea protein.

I’ve tried Honest’s Plant Burger, and a couple of others using both the Beyond Burger and the Moving Mountains plant burger, so thought it’d be interesting to try.

Small disclaimer: Pas was at college with me, though we didn’t know each other, we’re friendly and have friends in common. I was not comped or incentivised in any way to write this review.

The order

So Radical Vegan it was. Served with the new-look v-cut fries.

The meat of it

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You can see a decent melt on the cheese and a good amount of crispy onions falling out the side. Fresh, bright salad and the sweet, crisp pickles surround the perfect stack. The bun is soft and sturdy.

In cross section…

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You’d absolutely be forgiven for thinking this was real meat. The texture, the colour, – absolutely perfect. The outer crust looks different – it’s coated with a crispy something – no idea what it was – but it gave the burger an absolutely delightful crunch. Couple that with a very convincing meatiness, and I’d say eight in ten people wouldn’t know it wasn’t meat. Extraordinary. The other elements of the burger are perfectly balanced – a simple bun, adding to texture and bite but not flavour. The not-cheese, adding savouriness and bind but not complexity. The sweet pickles and the mild mustard providing sweet and mild spicy undertones to everything. Just perfect balance.

The fries…

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It’s possibly hard to see what they’ve done here, but these are ‘V-cut’ fries – a little hollow, perfect for sauce. But the increased surface area on these bites of potato gives more room for crisp/fluffy contrast, tonnes of surface area for the perfect level of salty seasoning and… well, they’re possibly the best fries I’ve ever had. Simply extraordinary. They deserve poetry I have no intention of writing. But someone should.

The ketchup – I suspect still home made though I didn’t check – is a new recipe from last time. Smoother, less sickly, and delightful.

Just the perfect plate of food.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  5/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 5/5 – I haven’t had the impossible burger, but this is the best of everything else I’ve tried
Taste –  5/5 – whilst I’d probably prefer a C&G regular beef burger, that’s because they’re ALSO extraordinary. And yet I’d still have to think about it.

Sides – 5/5 – poetry fries

Value – 5/5 – £12.50 for burger and fries, INCLUDING service. Worth the trip.

Burger rating – 5/5 –  C&G was already one of my favourite burgers in London. This cements its spot at the top.

The deets

About 10 minutes’ walk from King’s Cross, this place is worth the trip.

Yen Burger, London Bridge

A breathtaking burger experience

Burger source

Unlike many of the burgers I review here, discovered from word of mouth buzz or from other peoples’ top ten lists (or very occasionally, because I was pitched it by their PR folk), Yen Burger is a place that I just spotted, a short walk from my office, on the way to London Bridge. I was initially put off – Japan-spiced burger? What fresh hell of fascist-fusion cuisine was this? But a colleague was braver than I and passed on the recommendation when I was looking for a new local place to check out.

And so André and I decided to give it a go.

The burger’s origins start in the mind of food entrepreneur Yen Nguyen, who, apparently after success elsewhere in Germany and the UK (a Google search reveals little about her other than her association with Yen Burger), decided that the gap in London’s thriving burger scene was the Japanese twist. And so, Yen Burger was born.

Here’s the official spiel, from the website:

This brand new concept will offer premium Asian-influenced burgers. Starting with the ‘Yen Burger’ which features a 100% wagyu beef patty, fresh pickles, smoked turkey bacon, cheese and shiso leaf, it’s the ultimate fusion burger and a great introduction to Yen’s offerings. Other options include ‘The Finest Chick’ which combines coconut panko chicken breast and homemade slaw with the reviving shiso leaf and a zingy mango sauce…. Each burger is fresh made in-house from the highest quality Aberdeen Black Angus or Wagyu beef, 100% sustainable cod or vegetable alternatives.

The order

I went for the eponymous Yen Burger. 6oz of Wagyu beef, pickles, lettuce, red onion, ‘Yen sauce’, turkey bacon and shiso leaf. I don’t even know what a couple of those ingredients are, but I was excited.

We had ‘Dashi chips’ on the side (dusted with Paprika seasoning) and some chicken Gyoza because, why not?

The meat of it

Let’s take a moment to admire this.

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Ok, so it’s maybe not the most beautiful burger you’ve ever seen at this point. But let’s admire the components. Thick cut pickles. Coarse, crusty burger patty. Bright, fresh shiso and onion. Perfectly melted cheese. And this soft, white, unsweetened bun, inviting you in.

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In cross section, it becomes more special. The Yen sauce provides a sensuous coating. The meat is coarse ground, loosely packed and cooked to a perfect medium. The turkey bacon is there – subtle, but present. I coudn’t wait to taste this burger.

And OH. I was NOT disappointed. The Wagyu is so utterly, amazingly delicate it practically melts in your mouth. But not before you hit the crunch of the perfectly seasoned outer crust; the soft, plain bread providing structure but not flavour, complimenting the sweet/salty contrast of crust and rich, pink burger inner. The Yen sauce lubricates, a sweet/savoury glue. The cheese adds further umami, subtly, whilst the hint of smoke and crispiness is added by the turkey bacon; less powerful than the traditional pork variants. Additional sharp sweetness from the delicious pickles and crunch from the red onion. WOW. I had to slow myself down – I wanted to devour this and order another.

The Asian ‘spices’ – subtle. A hint of something of Japan in the background of the flavour profile. Nothing overt or tacky – this is a traditional burger with Japanese accents. Cooked to perfection, in perfect harmony with itself. Outstanding.

The dashi fries need comment. They look good, right? But seasoned fries can go wrong, I hear you say. They can be overwhelmingly flavoured and over-salted.

No, say I. Not in this case. The paprika seasoning adds flavour, sure, and these are well salted fries. But the exceptional richness of the potato flavour was unexpected – these are tasty fries – as is the perfect crisp exterior, and the soft, lush, fluffy interior. In absolutely perfect balance. Not a hint of greasiness, light, crisp and delicious. And, when the salt got a little much, Heinz came to the rescue.

The only dish that mildly disappointed was the chicken gyoza. Over-greasy from the fryer, the minced chicken within was dry and lacking in flavour. The soy sauce was strong and the balance felt out. Perhaps it was an indulgence too far.

Overall, an utterly extraordinary and unexpected experience. André reported that the Asian spiced burger was also excellent, and the £15 a head tab felt like good value for the feast (we shared Gyoza and fries between us).

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 5/5
Build – 4.5/5 – looked messy but flawless
Burger – 5/5
Taste – 5/5
Sides – 4.5/5 – docking half a point for the gyoza, but the fries were perfect
Value – 5/5 – £15 for burger and side, ish.

Burger rating – 5/5 – absolutely one of the best burgers (and fries) I’ve ever had. Would return without hesitation.

The deets

At the start of Southwark Street, just by London Bridge, you’ll find this nestled to other burger joints; Honest Burgers and Breakfast Club, as well as Borough Market’s own Roast to Go. All are within a potato’s throw of here.

But go here. In the words of Keanu Reeves, it’s breathtaking.

Wahlburgers, James Street, Covent Garden

Including Transformers: The Last Knight, this is the worst thing Mark Wahlberg has ever done

Burger source

Wahlburgers is a chain of growing notoriety. 10 seasons of reality TV, 30+ outlets in the US, a high-profile arrival in Covent Garden and of course – the Wahlberg family – made me curious. And a mixed barrage of reviews (bad from critics, more positive – it seemed – from punters) made me even moreso. Averaging four stars on Tripadvisor and Google Reviews, it surely merited investigation, yes? Not so much, it turns out. But spoilers…

The “fresh Scottish beef” is, apparently, a “signature blend of brisket, short rib and chuck.” Should be good, right? I mean, that’s some tasty cuts right there.

The order

“The brothers each have a favourite,” the menu acclaims. Well, they were all 4oz burgers and we were hungry, so we went for the 1/2 pound “O.F.D” – “Originally from Dorchestah”, featuring a 6oz patty, swiss cheese, bacon, sautéed mushrooms and a ‘housemade tomato jam.’

There were a few of us, so we tried a lot of sides – Mac & Cheese, cola wings, hummus [sic] and tortillas, sweet potato and regular fries, thin and crispy onion rings.

I drank the Wahlbrewski, an American Pale Ale served on tap.

The meat of it

The summary kind of gives it away. This is a terrible, terrible burger. A crime against burgers. Daylight robbery at £12 for the burger alone. Let’s look at it.

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

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In cross section: you see mealy, finely ground, tightly packed meat. The pale red tomato jam has a strange consistency. The bacon is flaccid and the mushrooms are an odd inclusion.

First bite. No seasoning. The meat tastes like its from a cow that has been unbundled from mummification prior to butchering and preparation. Dry, tasteless meat is not salvaged my limpid bacon and tasteless cheese. The bun holds up and provides sweetness and body – but that’s about all that’s redeeming about this burger.

Four of us ordered it, and none of us were willing to waste the calories to finish it. Nearly two full burgers’ worth of detritus went back. In my few years of burger reviewing, this is the first time I refused to finish the meal.

The waitstaff were extremely courteous and apologetic. They tried to explain away our dislike for the burger. “I don’t like Swiss cheese either….” The cheese was a small part of the problem. “Our meat blend is very unusual, a lot of people won’t love it, it’s the brisket…” The meat blend, in theory, is fine. Brisket is a little unusual and would have reduced the overall fat content, but shouldn’t have dried it out completely. “Try our double burger, you’ll love it.” We declined to buy any more of the horrific burgers, but in an attempt to win us round the manager brought one anyway, on the house, split five ways for us to try.

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It was marginally better, in the way that a slap to the face is better than a gutpunch. i.e. Both terrible. In practical terms, a more substantial, Big-Mac-esque burger sauce, and a more melty cheese added moisture and umami. But the meat was the same rubbery, leathery awfulness we’d experienced previously.

My first ever nul points. I would not eat this burger again if you paid me its price. Misters Wahlberg, you should be ASHAMED, to lend your family name to this horror, this caloric vacuum of flavour, this insult to burgers, to cows, to your customers.

A rapid fire set of reviews for the sides:

  • The tortilla/hummus [sic] combo was fine but uninspired. You could have been eating Doritos and Tesco houmous.
  • The Mac & Cheese – was flagrant misrepresentation in that it was neither mac nor cheese, but rather standard penne in a mild, garlicky white sauce. Most of this went uneaten.
  • The cola wings – were great. Really crisp, sweet with a hint of heat, juicy meat that fell off the bone. A highlight.
  • The fries and sweet potato fries – were fine. Well cooked, lightly seasoned, good structure and body though not really notable.
  • The fried pickles – were well fried and tasted ok – but the pickle flavour was very light. The slices are too thin and the pickles too weak to hold up to the batter and deep frying.
  • The thin and crispy onion rings – were extremely moreish. Heavily seasoned, they were salty, sweet, crispy and delicious.

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The Wahlbrewski – a light, refreshing, citrusy American Pale Ale – was really nice (to my craft-beer loving palate). A strong partnership with an American brewery, a sweetness takes the edge off the bitterness of the ale, and its light and well carbonated. A good partner for the food, such it was.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 2/5
Build – 2/5
Burger – 0/5
Taste – 0/5
Sides – 3/5 – the onion rings would get 5 on their own, the wings 4, the fries 3.5.
Value – 1/5 – £30 for burger, sides, drink and shared starters for food of this quality in that environment was just too much

Burger rating – 0/5 – all the points Wahlburgers gets – for the service, for the sides, for the beer – it loses to the appalling travesty it claims is a burger.

The deets

Please don’t go there for the burgers. But it’s opposite Covent Garden tube if you want a quiet American Pale Ale and a basket of onion rings, brilliant service and a brightly-lit fast food environment. And I’d definitely recommend it for that.

Harrild & Sons, Farringdon, London

Good burger spoiled by overcooking

Burger source

Harrild & Sons is a bar and restaurant (really a pub that serves food and cocktails) on Farrindgon Street, sometimes known as the ‘dullest street in the Square Mile.’ It’s a lovely space with a high-end but down to earth feel, lots of exposed wood and interesting design touches, tonnes of real-ale and beer options, an extensive cocktail menu and… a burger. One that looked like it took itself seriously on the menu.

The place is named for a manufacturer of printing presses that had facilities in the area. Nice design touches signal this everywhere.

The order

The Harrild Burger, natch. The meat is from London’s famed Ginger Pig butcher, the burger itself is topped with melty Swiss cheese, bacon, relish, lettuce , red onion & served with fries – all for £13.50. I was drinking one of my favourite beers – a Kona Big Wave Hawaiian ale. On tap.

The meat of it

It looks good, doesn’t it.

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Lovely melt on the cheese. Fresh looking vegetables. Sturdy bun – not a brioche, I think, despite its shiny appearance. Or at least, not a sweetened one.

Let’s check the cross.

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Lovely coarse grind. Flecks of pink in the meat. The bun is holding up, the salad is bright and fresh. Crisp bacon lies temptingly on top of the melty cheese.

First taste. Crunch – excellent crus- wait, no. It’s burnt. It’s definitely burnt. Not just-a-good-char burnt, but fully-taste-the-ashes burnt. Whoops. Also a little underseasoned – although possibly the bitterness of the char is just masking the taste of salt. Either way, it’s not the best first impression.

But it grows on you. It’s not completely charred and the unburned meat contrasts well with a tangy relish, and the crisp vegetables. Some sweet pickles make and appearance and the bacon – thin, round slices of back bacon – are crisp, crunchy and delicious. The textural contrast and overall umami make up somewhat for the burnt taste. A little mayo takes the edge off and it’s enjoyable, on the whole. Such a shame – this burger was maybe a minute or two from greatness.

As to the fries:

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Crisp and grease free. But underseasoned and low on flavour – with mayo these are alright. But I actually left some, which I never do, so they were empirically proven to be less than compelling.

The beer was great. It’s Kona Big Wave. Always reliable.

Overall, not bad for a £13.50 pub burger on a busy Friday night.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 3/5
Taste –  3.5/5
Sides – 3.5/5

Value – 4/5 – £13.50 – for burger and fries is OK in this part of town.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – has it been less overdone, this would have been an easy 4. Lots of potential here.

The deets

Just a few minutes up Farringdon Street, you can’t miss it. And apparently you can book tables! Website here.

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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