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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Fuel Shack, Food Court, Suria KLCC, Malaysia

A high quality burger that is still somehow reminiscent for the Ramly burger tradition

Burger source

The founders of Fuel Shack write in their story of their determination to end the binary choice faced by Malaysian diners – of mass-market, low-quality, chain fast-food, vs., pretentious, expensive, upmarket high end burgers beyond the reach of most people. They wanted, they said, to end this with the introduction of accessible but high quality burgers served in a setting anyone could access. KLCC may be an expensive mall, but anyone can eat at the food court on level six, and anyone can get there easily enough.

The question: have they succeeded?

The order

I had the standard classic cheeseburger. Salad, mayo, 1/3rd lb grass-fed Australian beef patty, American cheese and a standard bun, with fries. RM16.80 or thereabouts for the privilege, with a drink. Or about £3. Certainly accessible by the standards of Malaysian high-end fast food, though a little more pricey than your Maccy D’s.

The meat of it

Whilst superficially this is good presentation, I have a few notes for fuel shack.

  1. Salad goes under the burger. It’s got to protect the bun from the meat juices.
  2. Cheese needs to be melted in. That slice of American cheese is practically solid.
  3. Easy on the mayo. More on this shortly

That said…

None of this hurts the burger too much. There’s a lovely crust from a hot griddle that gives a nice bite to the burger; the bun is soft but holds up well. There’s a saltiness from the cheese and an umami from the seasoning that reminds me – distantly, but in a good way – of the cheap (horrific) roadside Ramly burgers you get all over the country.

The cross section makes most of this clearer.

The interior of the burger is overcooked, but it’s not bad in spite of this – the meat is high quality and coarse ground, if somewhat compacted. The copious amounts of mayonnaise is applied with a kind of playdough applicator – with dozens of holes. There’s probably two full tablespoons of mayo in a single burger. Which is a lot. But it provides fake juiciness for the slightly overdone meat. The sweet/savoury balance isn’t bad, though the mayo overwhelms at times and I added a little ketchup to take the edge off. All in all, I’d say that Fuel Shack achieves its mission – this is a good burger at a reasonable price, distinct from fast-food, mainstream offerings as well as the high end offer, yet somehow something new in its own right.

As to the fries?

More or less unremarkable. Well seasoned, they cool quickly in the air conditioned environment and quickly achieve cardboard texture. That said, there’s a distinct potato flavour in there and they’re served in a sensible portion that doesn’t overwhelm. Crisp and tasty when hot, in a more potatoey- McD’s style. Completely adequate.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 4/5
Build – 2/5
Burger – 3.5/5
Taste – 3.5/5
Sides – 3/5
Value – 4/5 – £3 for burger and side, ish, is value even in local terms for what it is

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – would go again and make some customisation requests – less mayo, less overdone meat, meltier cheese, salad underneath.

The deets

There’s an outlet on the sixth floor of KLCC, in the Food Court. There may be others… check the website.

The Beagle, Barlow Moor Road, Manchester

Very serviceable Mancs Deliveroo burger, with decent skin on chips and craft beer

Burger source

The Beagle seems to be one of that new breed of gastropub; handmade burgers, an excellent craft beer selection, burritos and more.

The menu is relatively low fuss; no indication of the heritage of the burgers or any such stuff; no hand-fed cows on the salt-marshes of Northern Ireland or anything. Picking the order off Deliveroo, you’d be hard pressed (but for the booze selection, and the absence of kebabs) to identify the difference between this place and a kebab shop that also did burgers.

But the ratings were high (90%+) and I thought it’d be nice to have a Northern burger whilst visiting Manchester, so I did. Looking up the website of the pub, it’s clearly the kind of craft burger/beer hipster hangout I love, so next time – who knows – maybe I’ll make it in. But this time I was housebound with the kids, so ’twas not to be.

The order

I went relatively simple – the Maple Bacon Burger, a 6oz patty, chipotle mayo, crispy streaky maple cured bacon, and cheese, on a brioche bun. With salad and skin-on chips.

I had them deliver a craft beer too – a High Wire Grapefruit (Grapefruit Pale Ale is apparently a thing).

The meat of it

The stack is messy; a huge slice of tomato and salad coated in copious chipotle mayo, bacon and burger both spilling out of the side of the apparently undersized brioche, and the burger blackened and flattened to the point I imagined I might need to skip the review – so mediocre was it likely to be.

But looks can be deceiving. Whilst the stack was indeed messy, delivery may account for some of the sliding, and the cross section reveals a coarse ground patty that has decent amount of pink visible. The bacon cuts with an audible snap when I prepped for the cross section shot, which adds drama and excitement – bacon was made to be fried crisp, IMHO.

On first taste, I’m confused. There’s salt from the extremely melty cheese and the bacon, adding to the bite of the burger (simple salt/pepper seasoning on that, and not too much of it). The sweet hint in the bacon couples with the sweet salad and sweet brioche and is countered by the mild but obvious heat from the – very flavourful – chipotle mayo. Of which there is slightly too much, but which adds more than it detracts.

The bun starts to fall apart in my hands as I eat; though the burger lacks real juiciness, the mayonnaise and salad is taking its toll on even the egg-and-sugar enriched bun. The combination is certainly more than the sum of its parts, though; a good bite to the meat, a crisp, salty, gooey texture from the cheese and bacon, the sweetness from the bun and salad and the texture and heat added by the mayo gel extremely effectively, even after being in a takeaway box for 10 minutes. The pros outweigh the cons (slightly overdone, dry meat, slight under seasoning, messy stack, inadequate bun), and the overall experience was very satisfying.

The fries; held up very well. Medium-cut, skin on chips, these taste of real potato, are crisp without being greasy, and are well-seasoned without being salty. Even without ketchup they are enjoyable, which is a good sign.

The beer; I will not attempt to review too comprehensively. My taste in beer is unusual; I favour sweeter drinks with a hint of beeriness and prior to the current craft beer renaissance we seem to be going through, I’d only ever order a beer if there was Hoegarden on tap. This beer is the lovechild of a fairly standard craft IPA (think: Beavertown Neck Oil) and a can of Lilt. It’s not overtly sugary but the hint of sweetness cuts back the bitterness of the IPA to leave a very smooth overall experience. The Grapefruit flavour isn’t overly chemical. I’d have it again, but I suspect most real beer lovers wouldn’t.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 3.5/5

Build – 3/5

Burger – 3.5/5

Taste – 4/5

Sides – 4/5

Value – 4/5 – £10 for burger and side, plus £5 for the beer (!!) with 10% off the lot.

Burger rating – 4/5 – really a very good experience overall

The deets

You can find the Beagle on Deliveroo, or at 458 Barlow Moor Road, Manchester, M20 0BQ. The pub’s website is here.

Pool-Pub, Rentemestervej, Copenhagen

Surprisingly tasty fayre at this sports bar; amazing curly fries

Burger source

So we’re on a stag do. We go to a pool bar where we play a veritable Olympiad (technically a pentathlon) of indoor sporting events. I have zero expectations for the food… but then the chef engages me in a conversation about it. “We grind them on site, of course. We cook them to medium, naturally! We have a high fat ratio, yes, 7-15%!” Only in Denmark is a ‘high’ fat ratio less than half what a modest fat ratio would be elsewhere in the world. But nonetheless, they earned my attention.

The order

There were three burgers on offer; we went for the Mr Cheesey (their house burger featured boiled egg, which, y’know, weird). This featured, as Google Translate would put it: “Chopped beef, cheddar, iceberg, tomato, cucumber, red onion and ketchup! Bun lubricated with mayonnaise.”

Mmm. Tasty, tasty lubricant.

All the burgers are served with curly fries.

The meat of it

The stack looked good. A thick bed of chopped iceberg lettuce, cucumber (!) and tomato, followed by a healthy looking patty with an excellent melt of cheese on top fo it. The potato roll gleamed with a light toasting and probable enrichment of some kind.

The cross section disappointed somewhat. This was not a medium cooked burger. But it was a good coarse grind and there were pink hints to it so on we went…

And it was pretty good – good charred exterior, nicely seasoned, and despite the overcooking the burger was relatively juicy – a little more fat would not have been a bad thing – but the mayo and the cheese held it all together very well indeed. The texture was good – I think bacon would have helped a little, but then I always do – as would a relish for contrast. I was dipping the whole burger in ketchup!

The curly fries were amazing – highly seasoned, crisp on the outside and squidgy in the middle, super moreish. I sometimes wonder why they bother with straight cut fries.

A reasonable burger experience overall; an extraordinary one for a sports pub. Highly recommended.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 4/5

Build – 4/5

Burger – 3.5/5

Taste – 3.5/5

Sides – 5/5 – curly fries ftw

Value – 4/5 – I’ve no idea what we paid for anything, probably about a million kroner, because that’s how much everything costs in Copenhagen. But it was definitively better value than anything else we did/paid for in that city, wonderful as it is!

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – go for the pool. Stay for the burger. It’s too out of the way to be a burger destination and as I say – in relative terms it was a good burger. In absolute ones? Above average, but unexceptional.

The deets

I have no idea. Not that central in Copenhagen; we got cabs. It was a stag do. I’m not even sure I was there. Check the website.

The Salusbury, Salisbury Road, Queens Park

Gastropub tries to do good burger, doesn’t quite manage it.

Burger Source

If you read my appeal to publicans, you’ll know that I don’t generally review pub burgers. I made an exception for the Salusbury as the pub clearly makes a feature of its ‘aged short rib burger,’ so I thought I’d give it a try.

An independent pub under the same ownership for 15 years, the Salusbury boasts the talents of Andrew Fila, former head chef at the Medcalf, Exmouth Market. The aim to deliver the best food, drink and service. The service is excellent, and I can’t talk to the drink… and the food is generally OK.

But how did they fayre with that pub kryptonite, a genuinely good burger?

The order

Just one burger on the menu, the ‘aged short rib’ burger served with chips. I was asked how I’d like it done and opted for medium, which was a good sign. I was eating with family, who ordered fish and chips, amongst other things, which looked excellent.

The meat of it

This burger should have been good. It was clearly good meat; it was cooked perfectly – look at the cross section shot. But a few crucial things went wrong, sadly.

20160906_204935

The meat was underseasoned; so didn’t taste of much. The toppings didn’t add enough to counter it (not even that substantial pickle), and the (very, very) firm eggwashed roll just added too much chewiness. I abandoned half of it immediately.

The burger wasn’t juicy enough; I put this down to too high a lean/fat ratio. It was slightly too tightly compacted too, despite being coarsely ground, which means it was a dense thing to eat your way through.

This sounds incredibly nitpicky, but the end result was a substantial burger that tasted of very little. Not bad… but not good either. And it’s frustrating because the ingredients were clearly top quality.

The chips, however, were crisp, fluffy and delicious with the provided mayonnaise. Which, to be fair, also helped bring the burger together somewhat , packed as it was with salty goodness.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  1/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 2/5
Taste –  2/5
Sides – 4/5
Value – 1/5. This thing is not worth £14.50.

Burger rating – 2/5 – A few things for the Salusbury to fix; they clearly have the technical skills but some of the core ingredients – in particular the bun and the beef – need some thought.

The deets

If you’re keen to stop by, the Salusbury is near Queen’s Park tube station in North London; 50-52 Salusbury Road, NW6 6NN. I’d have the fish and chips.

Honest Burgers, Kings Cross

The Tribute is a contender for the greatest burger in the world; plus amazing atmosphere and delightful service, what’s not to like?

HonestBurgersInARow
Grub’s up!

The latest in my Monday night meet-ups shifted to a Wednesday, but otherwise followed the same pattern as before. Four friends, fine burgers. This time, we strayed from Islington’s comforts to hit up Honest Burgers in Kings Cross – significantly more spacious than its Brixton counterpart but home to the same, much-hyped menu. I’ve probably had as many people tell me that Honest Burgers is home to the best burgers in London as have told me of Meat Liquor’s greatness, so, needless to say, we were very excited. I’ve also been told that their Rosemary Fries are ‘crack’ by more than one person, so, was keen to see for myself.

Burger source:

HonestBurgersPattties
Reassuring amounts of spatter and melt. Look how thick that bacon is!

Tom Barton and Phil Eles, the founders of Honest Burger, reportedly met whilst waiting tables in Brighton and decided they could ‘do better’. They met an experienced restaurateur, Dorian Waite, who helped them get set up in a tiny unit in Brixton Village, using savings to fund the initial fit-out. Despite their lack of experience in the food industry, it’s been a hit: their focus on British quality produce, featuring some particularly exceptional meat from the esteemed Ginger Pig butchers, seems to have worked well for them. A round of investment in 2014 also sees them expanding (far) beyond their first home in Brixton Village, and hence – Honest Burgers Kings Cross.

The order

We had sadly missed February’s special – Honest Burgers’ monthly rotating time-limited burger – called the ‘Rib Man Special’, featuring rib meat and Honest Burgers’ own proprietary ‘holy f**k sauce.’ The new special seemed rather conventional by contrast – the ‘Deli Special’ features garlic aioli, emmental cheese and smoked bacon, as well as spinach in place of lettuce. So I persuaded Jimjam to split a Tribute with me – a burger recommended to me by TK, and for good reason, allowing me to try both the special and a menu staple. The Tribute shares the burger and bacon, but swaps out aioli for mustard and burger sauce (a distant relative of Big Mac sauce, to my palate), cheddar for the Emmental and lettuce for the spinach.

We also ordered virtually every side: red-cabbage slaw, onion rings, buffalo wings, and a pot of each of the four sauces on offer – bacon ketchup, holy f**k sauce, chipotle mayo and curry sauce.

The meat of it:

HonestBurgersTributeCrossSection

The stack was perfect on both burgers. A cross section cut revealed the same perfect pink medium finish on the loose ground, melt-in-your-mouth, perfectly seasoned 7-8oz patty. This is a big burger. The brioche was muscular enough to stand up to the burger, but only just – don’t leave it hanging – and had the bread’s characteristic sweetness and bite. The burger – both burgers – melt in your mouth, and the thick smoked bacon adds delightfully to the flavour melange.

To each individual burger’s attributes, now:

March 2016’s ‘Deli Special’ features aioli. As far as I can tell, aioli has drifted from its origins as a Mediterranean garlic sauce to become hipster flavoured mayonnaise, (heavily featuring garlic). It can be tasty, and it was, but it was also somewhat overwhelming; the intense (yet silky-smooth) garlic sauce kind of overwhelms the more delicate beefy flavours. The pickles were good but failed to cut through the aioli, and the spinach added very little other than an insulating layer, protecting the lower bun from the burger’s plentiful juices. The red onion, bright and shiny in the promo picture, was barely evident. The net result was pleasant but not necessarily re-orderable, especially when in contrast with…

The Tribute: bringing to mind Tenacious D’s song, this burger is an incredibly nostalgic taste explosion. This is how a Big Mac tastes in your memory; but with a dose of the best bacon cheese burger you’ve ever had, coupled with some more modern refinements. The burger sauce and pickle are a sweet accompaniment to the other ingredients; the melted cheddar adds a sharper and more explosive salty finish, and – somewhat unlike the Deli Special – the combined effect of the different flavours is more than the sum of its parts. This is a fine burger indeed, and a contender for my ‘Best Burger Ever.’

HonestBurgersSauceSelection

The sides: the rosemary fries are hand cut, thicker than regular fries, apparently double or triple cooked and utterly delicious. The rosemary itself is neither here nor there for me, but the perfect finish and salty seasoning on these delicious fluffy potato fragments makes them, as I was promised, intensively addictive. Especially when coupled with the sauces:

  • Chipotle Mayo – mildy spiced, sweet and savoury mayo. Great.
  • Bacon ketchup – looking little like ketchup, this lumpy sauce tastes like the best ketchup you’ve ever had with the bonus explosive crunch of bacon hidden within. It’s less sweet than Heinz varieties but no worse off for it.
  • Holy f***k sauce – genuinely evoked the reaction in the name. Too hot for consumption as a side, this might have worked better for me sparingly within a burger construct. Or maybe I’m just a chilli lightweight these days.
  • Curry sauce – another burst of nostalgia here; this is an utterly refined variant on chip-shop curry sauce, though as far removed from it as the Tribute is from the Big Mac. Much more delicious.

The onion rings featured large thick rings of sweet, crisp white onions, beer (I think) battered and well spiced; and an even crisper exterior than Meat Liquor’s offer. Definitely the best onion rings I’ve had!

The buffalo wings were well sauced and juicy, but lacked the crispness you might have had elsewhere (ahem, Meat Liquor); no blue cheese sauce, though, and inexplicable amounts of chopped spring onions.

The red cabbage slaw was not noteworthy, and left no lasting impression. It was the only thing on the table we didn’t finish. It lacked the crispness of a white cabbage slaw, and there was no real need for it.

The cocktails – I had the Botanic Garden – gin, apple, elderflower and wine – so delicious I had another one, and great value at £5 a pop. Sweet and refreshing. I’m told the beer was good too.

A quick note on the service: the waitresses were amazingly entertaining, engaging with us on our burger choices and manliness (or lack thereof) in tackling the hot sauce. The chefs let me take pictures of them cooking (“but not the face”) which was amusing and gracious in one fell swoop. The overall experience was excellent as a result.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 4.5/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste – 5/5 (for the Tribute, 3.5/5 for the Deli Special)
Sides – 4/5
Value – 5/5. £28 – felt like amazing value for burger, fries, ALL the sides + 2 drinks apiece. But maybe I’m just too used to London pricing.

Burger rating – 5/5 – I think if I had to choose between this and Lucky Chip I’d be hard pressed – but the atmosphere and drinks at Honest Burgers vs. the Old Queen’s Head, plus the excellent sides, probably tip it in HB’s favour. All the points.

The deets

Tonnes of locations now (full list below) but the Kings Cross venue is at 251 Pentonville Road London N1 9NG, just 5 mins walk from Kings X. Tweet them @honestburgers. And go, go go go, if you haven’t been.

 

 

Surfin’ BIRD – BIRD Restaurant, Camden

One of the greatest pleasures in a week night activity like a gig is the chance to roll up one’s sleeves and unashamedly indulge in a new greasy restaurant experience.

So it was when Little Comets performed at Dingwalls in London, prompting my housemate and I to roam Camden in search of some pre-gig warmth and fatty food. The many restaurants of Chalk Farm Road appear particularly toasty and enticing in the evening at this time of the year, and none more so than the orange shades of BIRD.

Burger source:

BIRD is the brainchild of Canadian husband and wife team Paul Hemings and Cara Ceppetelli. It opened its doors a couple of years ago, as the bargain bucket-shunning duo sought to reinvent the classic greasy-fingered fried chicken experience for a grown up London audience.

So, everyone knows that the bird is the word, but what do BIRD serve, in their own words? “The best free range fried chicken you’ve ever tasted.” A brave statement indeed for an establishment in Britain. I’ll be the judge of that, thank you…

The order

I opted for the Bacon & Cheese, which aside from the obvious ingredients, comes slavered in BBQ sauce & house kewpie mayo. Hold on, house what mayo? Call me ignorant, but I have to admit that I hadn’t come across this variant of mayonnaise before – and I was too busy drooling over the menu to investigate there and then. For the similarly uninitiated, Kewpie mayo is actually a wildly popular Japanese condiment, made with rice wine vinegar (rather than distilled). This results in a pathway to mayonnaise that some consider to be smoother, creamier and more flavoursome than your usual white stodge. Personally, there wasn’t enough here to reach a satisfactory judgement, but I’ll happily take it to the test again when I visit Japan in a couple of months – ideally in a quiet room with just a full jar, a spoon and a couple of idle hours.

But enough about the mayo. I’ve overlooked one of the critical selling points of BIRD’s Bacon & Cheese burger: it’s made with thigh meat, rather than breast. If you know your chicken, you’ll appreciate that thigh meat presents a significantly juicier bite than the average breast. On the flipside, this also results in a generally smaller, thinner cut of meat (more on that later).

I also opted for the Cheesy Korean fries on the side, along with a Coke and a healthy pot of buttermilk ranch sauce for dipping/swigging/downing (because somebody stop me).

The meat of it:

BIRD’s Camden venue is a recent addition to this growing chain, and the sheen was still evident even underneath the requisite thin layer of grease that you’d expect in such an establishment. Many of the standard British ‘hipstery’ small-chain paraphernalia were present: long wooden benches and stools, an excess of tiling and exposed brickwork, low-hung bare lighting… you’ve been here before, even if you haven’t. Putting personal prejudices to one side, however, the venue was undeniably tidy, warm and comfortable.

Despite warnings to the contrary from easily-offended TripAdvisor reviewers, we were quickly greeted and seated with a warm welcome. Orders followed swiftly, and all in all the food was with us in under twenty minutes. There was one heart-stopping moment when it appeared they may have forgotten to bring out the buttermilk ranch, but these fears were undone when a pot of the stuff was plonked on the bench shortly after the mains arrived. Otherwise, the staff were in that idyllic zone of appearing friendly and attentive – without being overbearing.BIRD 1

The main event arrived well presented, with BIRD’s decision to serve their mains on genuine plates being particularly well received. The brioche bun was a rather sturdy affair, which will undoubtedly please many but I found it to be unnecessary chunky (there was no beefy juice to soak up here) and a little dry, but not offensively so. The bacon was suitably hot and crispy and I was pleased to note that it had already combined well with the cheese (there’s nothing worse than still fridge-cold cheese ruining a burger). But what of the chicken itself? First, the coating. This isn’t your usual spicy breadcrumb or batter affair: the clearly Asian-influenced* approach to frying results in a pleasant and intriguing coating that was impressively crispy and flavourful. This gave way to the incredibly juicy and tender meat to produce some of the best fried chicken I’ve tasted. Unfortunately, as noted the thigh meat does mean that the burger felt smaller than it should have. Or perhaps I’m just greedy.

I have mixed feelings about the Cheesy Korean fries. The chips themselves were nothing particularly special, just your standard perfectly acceptable thin-cut crispy strips of potato. But no one ordering this dish came for the fries alone: it’s all about the topping. That said, the cheese sauce was fairly run of the mill while the gochujang glaze was really more of a spicy tomato paste. Altogether the result was certainly pleasing and fairly unique, but not enough to bring me back in itself. Marks have also been deducted for serving the fries in a mini frying pan.

BIRD 2

Finally, a word on the buttermilk ranch: this was disappointing. Perhaps I’ve become accustomed to the rich gooeyness of the likes of Newman’s Own Ranch, but I found this offering to be watery and strangely lacking in flavour. Given that BIRD offer a veritable smorgasbord of side sauces and glazes (including blue cheese – hello, blue cheese), I wouldn’t order this again.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 3/5

Build – 4/5

Burger – 4/5

Taste – 4/5

Sides – 3/5

Value – 3/5 – The burger, sides, sauce and soft drink came to a princely £18 (including tip). Personally, this is fairly de rigueur for this kind of restaurant but some may baulk at such a sum for what is essentially glorified fast food.

Burger rating – 3/5 A very solid fried chicken burger, in a world packed to the rafters with chicken burgers.

The deets

BIRD is expanding and now lays claim to three restaurants across London. I say across London, but somewhat predictably they’re located in Shoreditch, Islington and Camden. Influential folks at BIRD: if you’re reading this, we’d love to see you and your ilk south of the river too! Until then I’ll just stick with trusty old Sam’s, thanks.

They Tweet here, and if looking at glossy, overly filtered photos of fried chicken and doughnuts is your thing then you can follow them on Instagram too. Want some Facebook with that? Sure, they’ve got you covered.

*BIRD insist that its product is “not Southern fried chicken.  It’s not Korean fried chicken.  It’s BIRD Free Range & Fried.”