Miller & Carter, Winchester Road, Basingstoke

This burger tastes better than it has any right to

Burger source

I was arranging to meet a client who happens to live locally for one of my first face to face meetings in about six months. He happened to like burgers, was sympathetic to my fondness for them, so I looked for a novel burger place – and to my surprise, discovered a local steakhouse I’d never heard of. So we went. First Monday of indoor eating in months. V exciting.

The order

Ordinarily my baseline review is a bacon cheeseburger – standardising the reviews somewhat. But the trademark burger was jumping out at me – the Miller’s Dirty Burger. And you can see why:

Tender fillet tails cooked to your liking, aged Cheddar cheese sauce, pulled beef barbacoa bearnaise, smoked streaky bacon, Monterey Jack, chorizo, special recipe burger sauce

Wawaweewah. It had to be done.

The meat of it

Other than the disproportionate height, the plating’s not bad. Clean plate, artful portion of what is (I promise, sorry for the soft focus) some nice, crisp, fresh coleslaw that’s not too heavy, standard posh chips in a tin-cup presentation and a burger that is well stacked. Lovely glossy bun, lettuce shielding the bottom half from the heft of meat, sauce, and toppings. I was given a choice of how I wanted the fillet tails done (medium rare), but the burger had to be cooked well done. This is par for the course in any restaurant that doesn’t grind its patties on site, but was nonetheless a shame in a place that prides itself on its meat.

Anyway, the cross section…

Somewhat predictably, the polish isn’t so evident in cross section. The burger is kind of a mess. The lower bun immediately gives way to the mass of everything, you can see the burger patty is cooked to a pale grey pallor, and is so tightly packed there’s almost no moisture left in it. The burger is so filled with toppings (I made those fillet tails out as medium, but that’s fine) so as to be impossible to eat as a sandwich, so I resort to cutlery and give it a taste.

And… against all expectations at this point… I really like it. The burger beef is well seasoned and has a good crust, and whilst its dry and dense as you’d expect, the fillet tails are soft and dreamy, the bearnaise, burger sauce and melty montery jack cheese (indulgent, much?) coalesce into a savoury, moist, gooey, bright yellow joy. There’s also the occasional spark of spice from the chorizo, and the fresh, sweet salad adds a clean crispness. But it’s not really a burger – I end up eating it in two halves, unable to get the mountain into edible bits without this drastic step. The fillet tails – tender, moist, luscious pieces of steak – are delicious in their own right, the bread is firmer than it appeared, holding up well… though I think the bacon was probably just a dead mound of calories, lost in all the other flavour. So yeah. Not bad, if not quite a burger. And working despite my understanding of what makes a good burger by almost every other measure.

The fries… are just slightly under-seasoned, under-cooked and a little shy of hot. But not terrible – good potato flavour, just on the tolerable side of cooked enough; a good stodgy compliment to the richness of the burger.

It being lunchtime on a Monday, the drink was a lime & soda, but we did have coffee and a ‘mini’ pud – I went for an Eton Mess.

It wasn’t particularly mini. And it was divine – light, crispy meringue, rich, sweet cream, sweet and sharp passionfruit laced throughout it… I inhaled it. I’m not an eton mess connoisseur, but after this, I kind of wanted to be. The shortbread was a waste of space, though – what use does anyone have for unsweetened shortbread? Perhaps I was meant to use it as a spoon for the mess…

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3.5/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 3/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 3/5 -bump for the onion fries 
Value – 3/5 – £30 for burger and pud and drink – a little steep.

Burger rating – 4/5 – perhaps slightly generous, but I enjoyed it in spite of its flaws.

The deets

Apparently Miller & Carter is a National chain. Who knew? Find your local here. Maybe have the steak. We had brilliant service and a good experience of it, can recommend.

Gordon Ramsay Plane Food Restaurant, Terminal 5, Heathrow

Confusing, overpriced, under-seasoned, overcooked burger that doesn’t deliver

Burger source

Gordon Ramsay is, by every objective measure, a spectacular chef. Restaurants around the world, TV series and Masterclasses; even a burger specialty restaurant in Vegas.  I’ve watched both his Masterclasses and really enjoyed them. And it turns out his airport restaurant has a short-rib cheeseburger on the menu, so I thought I’d give it a try.

The order

It’s the only burger on the menu; short-rib Monterey Jack cheeseburger with chimchurri mayo, served on a brioche bun with fresh salad and pickles.

The meat of it

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The burger looks good. There seems to be a good crust on the exterior, the Jack cheese is gloriously melted, the whole thing is perfectly assembled and presented on a piece of wax paper, enclosed in a toasted, shiny brioche bun.

Things aren’t dramatically wrong in cross section, either. Yes, the burger is overcooked – not a glimmer of pink anywhere – but the salad is protecting the bun, the tomato looks bright and fresh, the pickle is fragrant and the chimcurri mayo and beef fat are oozing delightfully out the edges of the burger. The beef is coarse ground and loosely packed, so I’m holding on to hope.

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On the first bite, however, things start to go wrong.

First, despite the overcooked centre, the char on the crust isn’t as crisp and satisfying as it looked. Worse, it’s under seasoned. Even with the cheese, the salty taste barely comes through.

Then, there’s the confusion of the chimchurri. It’s a sharp, fragrant flavour – made from parsley, vinegar, olive oil and other bits. It works well in butter on a steak – but in a burger, the flavours are confusing. There’s the salt of the cheese, possibly some salt from the seasoning on the burger (but this is lost), the sugary brioche, the bright crisp sweetness of the pickle and salad… well, it’s totally confounded by the sharp, tart, creaminess – ?? – of the chimchurri mayonnaise. In breadier bites, the bun was too sweet. When eaten with a mouthful of burger and mayo and salad – you have no idea what you’re tasting. It’s utterly perplexing, and not really in a good way.

The overcooked meat starts to wear, too. The burger feels relentless – and to be fair, whilst I finished it, I just very rarely leave food. That’s my bad. I should have left it. It wasn’t good. Unlike many of my burger experiences, the combination of the good individual parts somehow lessened the total experience. I can only explain this by guessing that….

  1. I was victim of an overzealous grill chef, and it would have worked better with a juicier medium patty
  2. I think more likely, someone who doesn’t have the same view of what a good burger should taste like was responsible for creating what, for me, was a Frankenstein’s monster of a burger

It’s a shame. There was definite potential. Swap out the chimchurri mayo for garlic aioli (or maybe red onion aioli – is that a thing?), get the burger cooked to medium, a tad more salt and a tad more heat on the grill – and this would have been a fine burger indeed. As it was, I had to dose the burger with over sweet ketchup to give it some kind of flavour coherence.

Sides wise, I wasn’t hungry enough (or feeling wealthy enough) to order a portion of £5 triple cooked fries to myself, so I relied on the ages-old tradition of eating leftover food off my kids plates. Zoe and Emily both had fish and “chips” – the same triple cooked fries on the menu as a side.  So I had a couple of theirs.

And whilst they’re not bad – they have the standard thick, crisp crust of anything that’s been triple cooked, and an appropriately floury centre – they’re not chips. They’re between a quarter and a sixth of a large potato EACH. So they’re alright (if you like triple cooked potatoes), but calling them chips doesn’t make sense.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3/5 – sweet? Not sweet enough?
Build – 5/5
Burger – 2/5
Taste –  1.5/5
Sides – 3/5 – calling them triple cooked fries is misrepresentation
Value – 1/5 – £14 for the burger, a ludicrous £4.50 if I wanted to add bacon, and £5 if I’d wanted a portion of fries. Daylight robbery, even with kids eating free.

Burger rating – 1.5/5 – everything else everyone else was eating looked like it tasted better. Mind you, mine LOOKED like it should have tasted better. Maybe the whole restaurant is an exercise in form over function? Style over substance? Chimchurri over common sense?

The deets

It’s one of the main restaurants in T5. I’m sure there are others dotted around. If you go, don’t have the burger.

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.