Beef & Brew, 323 Kentish Town Road

OK burger, interesting sides.

Burger source

Beef and Brew tells you little about itself on its website (in fact, the site was down when I visited, though it has since returned). But the concept is simple; a small, cosy North London eatery featuring copious amounts of meats and beer. The burger lacks ceremony in its description but is unusual in that it is served with bearnaise rather than cheese, but also with bacon.

The order

The only burger on the menu, without the optional cheese. I was curious about the bearnaise. Sides-wise, we went for wedges and gnocchi to share. I had an old fashioned to drink, give as I’m not a beer-fan.

The meat of it

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The burgers are bought-in, not ground on site, so arrive medium well. Which is a shame, as the well-constructed burger carries a decent complement of savoury-ness, a good bite, a well-balanced ratio of meat/bread/cheese. That said, it is slightly dry (a medium rare finish might have helped that), and the fat ratio was perhaps a little light.

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The bearnaise added savouriness but not as much moisture as you’d expect, and the layer of salad was fresh and crisp. The bun was too sturdy for a dry burger and lent a bit more starchiness to it all than I’d like. The meat was good but perhaps slightly too lightly seasoned for my liking (go to TOWN with that salt and pepper, y’all); wherever they bought the burgers in from, freshness/fat ratio notwithstanding, knows their meat; it had a richness to the flavour that’s common with dry-aged beef. The tomato jam provides the right amount of sweet contrast to the rest of the burger.

The overall impression is solid, if not extraordinary. Room to improve!

The sides… whilst I’m not a huge fan of wedges (give me fries any day), the creamy potato-ness of these, coupled with a crisp exterior and healthy seasoning, makes them a worthwhile order. The Gnocchi, however, was extraordinary – like the richest, smoothest Mac & Cheese you’ll ever have, but with a delightfully substantial bite to it. And I don’t even particularly like Mac & cheese, generally finding it a bland and bloaty accompiment to my favourite meat fests, so the fact I liked this is saying something.

The Old Fashioned was well constructed – the right balance of sweetness to bourbon with a zesty citrus finish and a hint of bitters.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 3.5/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 4/5 – the gnocchi is good
Value – 3.5/5 – £25 for burger and sides, including the cocktail. Even without the drink, the cost of the sides – £3.50 for wedges and £5 for the gnocchi seems a little steep.

Burger rating – 4/5 – I considered knocking it down a half point more for the low ‘value’ score, but the truth is, it’s a nice place to sit and it’s a burger I’d have again, so kudos to you, Beef & Brew.

The deets

Head left out of Kentish Town tube, and it’s across the road, a few tens of metres away. You can’t miss it. We didn’t book (it was a Monday night) but it’s probably a good idea to do so, via the website or on 020 7998 1511.

Burger &  Shake, Marchmont Street, London

Good all rounder, over-ordered like crazy as a result. Hard shakes are ftw.

Burger Source

Having eaten our way through many of the mainstays of London burgerness, we are having to hunt harder for top shops to feed our (well, mostly my) burger habit. Friends wanted to meet near Holborn, so Burger & Shake it was to be. The other mooted venue was a Hoxton Burger, but I also wanted my first experience of the famous Hoxton Grill to be in Hoxton, rather than in the more generalist restaurant that supports the Hoxton Hotel in Holborn, so I vetoed it…

To call the website minimalist would be overstating things, but the menu does tell us this much: “Our 100% beef patty is made up of cuts from Aberdeen angus and charolais cattle, that graze in Ayrshire Scotland. We cook our beef burgers medium rare as standard…”

So far, so good.

The order

The friends who wanted to meet in the area (and who worked locally) were late. So we kicked off with some wings and some chilli fries. I kicked in for a “Bourbontun” hard shake, feat. Vanilla, peanut butter and bourbon… because obviously. Then came the main order; Jimjamjebobo and I split the House Burger (“180g beef patty, lettuce, tomato, pickle, American cheese and sweet cured bacon with our mustard and horseradish ketchup sauce”) and the New Yorker (“180g beef patty, lettuce, French’s mustard, Monterey Jack Cheese, pickle and fried onion. Served in our potato bun that is cooked with the patty under a cloche on the grill.”)

That’s when things started to go wrong (in terms of how much we ordered).  And I’ll take a lot of responsibility for this – I’d been ill for a few weeks and this was a first outing with friends in a while, so I was celebrating/commiserating the bloc of time out of commission with food.

And so we ALSO ordered onion rings. More chilli fries. A further double portion of wings. Mac & Cheese with bacon.  AND sweet potato fries. Even between five of us, this was WAY too much food.

The meat of it

Both the burgers we ordered looked great – fresh, glazed potato roll, well stacked with a healthy six ounce patty that was clearly well cooked (if perhaps more the medium side of medium rare than the rare side). Grind, pack and fat ratio was good (I like my burgers like I like my women… coarse ground and loosely packed*), meat was juicy but not dripping, the build was excellent on first impression.

Then to the taste…

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The House burger was good, if perhaps lacking in the bangin’ beats the name and description promise. There wasn’t a hint of horesradish in the horseradish ketchup and, if I’m being critical, the patty was a little underseasoned. The bacon was good but not crunchy enough to provide textural contrast, and not enough saltiness. The bun and other fillings held up well, but there wasn’t quite enough umami in this one for me. Could be better.

The New Yorker came up trumps, though (no pun intended). The onions and pickle provided a lovely crisp, sweet finish, the monterey jack cheese added a salty oomph to the thing, and the whole was greater than the sum of its parts… although the burger did slide around on the onions something chronic.

If I’d had to choose between them from the descriptions alone, I’d have backed the House burger for the top job (everyone else ordered it), but the New Yorker came up from behind to win it all. Impressive work. Even if it’s less effective an analogy for the 2016 presidential raced than it initially seemed it might be.

As to the sides:

  • the wings were lush, substantial, crispy and perfectly coated with the uncle Frank’s hot sauce/butter combination that is Buffalo.
  • The chilli fries – weren’t seasoned before the addition of chilli (WHY, OH WHY?) so they were a bit bland and soggy, but the chilli was good as those things go. Depth of flavour and lovely hint of heat, rich meat and bean sauce in plentiful supply.  Regular fries would have been better in my view, but I think I’m perhaps the kind of guy who likes fries AND likes chilli, but doesn’t love them together.
  • The onion rings were disappointing for me; the batter hadn’t stuck, and the onions were glistening through like an exposed femur on an animated corpse. The flecks of pepper in the batter felt like false advertising; there was little flavour to them. That said, the onions were sweet and the batter crisp… just a few (major) minuses holding it back from excellence.
  • The first bowl of sweet potato fries were sent back as they were undercooked. The second batch were cooked but still somewhat limp and lifeless, and needed seasoning to oomph up.
  • The mac & bacon (no pic, soz) was fine but bland as I always find mac & cheese variants. Probably a reasonable example of the genre, if you were someone that had tried it enough times to care to differentiate between one bold of cheese mush and another.

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The bourbontun… OMG, this was delicious. Mostly a vanillla shake, the occasional glugs of peanut butter you get are like winning a mini lottery, and the bourbon gives a background hint that you’re not just indulging five year old you (ok, mostly you still are… but totes worth it). Definitely want to have this again, and I’m lactose intolerant!

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 3.5/5 – slight losses for chilli fries and sweet potato shenanigans
Value – 4/5 – £23 a head for burger, a tonne of sides & drink, & tip – not cheap but reasonable value for the quality and quntity o the food.

Burger rating – 4/5 – only really suffering from a minor umami docking and some mediocrity around the sides. It’s a good place.

The deets

The small, diner-style restaurant is halfway down Marchmont Street. Full details: Burger & Shake, 47 Marchmont Street, London WC1N 1AP Tel: 020 7837 7718  info@burgerandshake.co.uk

* This is an Eddie Izzard reference… not a weird fetish.