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.

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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.

Haché Burgers, High Holborn, London

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

Burger source

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

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

The order

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

Let’s get into it.

The meat of it

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

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

First bite, moment of truth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monkey finger rating

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

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

The deets

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

Dirty Burger Shoreditch, 13 Bethnal Green Road, London E1

Has Dirty Burger peaked?

Burger source

For me, Soho House’s Dirty Burger is part of the great opening salvo of London’s battle against burger mediocrity. I rememer being distinctly impressed, one Friday lunchtime jaunt out with colleagues to the Vauxhall Branch. It introduced me to some key burgering techniques, including the mustard fry (mustard on the grill with the patty, a key tenet of In&Out’s Animal Style), I vaguely recall. They also use the ‘lid technique’ to ensure a good cheese melt on the burger, covering cheese topped burgers on the grill plan and squirting water on to create a cloud of steam that does the necessary work. Invaluable in home-burger creation. I was looking forward to revisiting with a review in mind, so post a team shuffleboard session (more fun than it sounds), we braved a torrential Summer downpour and headed to the Shoreditch branch.

The order

A Dirty Bacon (a cheese burger with bacon), naturally. And crinkle cut fries, because – why not? And onion fries too, because I remembered these being legendary.

The meat of it

As it’s basically a take-away, service was expectedly rapid (if not up to the speed of a lesser fast-food joint). We were the only customers on this particular rainy day. The burgers initially looked glorious – check out the stack!

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Unfortunately, first tasting did not live up to the glamour picture. The “bacon” is really a gammon steak, half an inch thick and adding ludicrous saltiness to this already well-seasoned burger. The cheese was delightfully melty, as remembered… but the burger itself unfortunately was overcooked and a little chewy, with little pinkness on cross section.

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This meant that the bun, sturdy as designed to cope with a juicy patty, was actually a bit too dry. The salad was fresh and sweetish but the ‘bacon’ overwhelmed everything, including the pickles – which went entirely unnoticed. My memory of the mustard fry was either mistaken or they’ve changed the recipe as the only flavour coming through was the salt. The beef might have been great – but overcooked as it was, it didn’t impart huge amounts. Ketchup and mustard added after-the-fact improved the balance somewhat, but sadly on this occasion, Dirty Burger missed its mark.

As to the sides…

As per my recollection, the crinkle cut fries were a limpid offer – slightly soggy and underwhelming. They came unseasoned, so self-salting is necessary. Fortunately, my memory of the onion fries was accurate; they are a savory, crispy enigma. How does something so crisp, crunchy and delicious, contrasting perfectly with sweet thick rings of onion, emerge from the same deep fat fryer? Spectacular, if greasy, indulgence.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 3.5/5
Taste –  3/5
Sides – 4/5 -bump for the onion fries
Value – 4/5 – £10 for burger and side, ish.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – didn’t live up to its erstwhile glory. But I’d go back on the offchance they were having a bad day, and perhaps not order the gammon burger…

The deets

Dirty Burger is increasingly all-over. The Shoreditch branch is at 13 Bethnal Green Road, just opposite Box Park (where you’ll need to go if you need the loo, as the tiny restaurant has no facilities). Fortunately Dirty Bones just around the corner is a good place for a cocktail after, if you want to keep the theme Dirty…

25 degrees, 7000 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles

 

Damp. Sloppy. Messy. But more good than bad in his Hollywood burger…

Burger source

Here’s the name, explaining the point of difference for the burger chefs at 25 degrees:

“Named after the precise temperature difference between a raw and well-done hamburger, 25 Degrees introduces a sophisticated twist on the traditional American burger bar. At 25 Degrees, we not only emphasize the importance of quality hamburgers, but we also serve up an unrivaled experience- complete with chic décor, playful servers and a stream of funky tunes.”

The beef burger meat is apparently ground sirloin, though turkey, tuna and veggie burgers were also on offer alongside a variety of other bits of SoCal Americana, including Grilled Cheese and Kale salads.

The order

There are only four ‘pre-assembled’ beef burgers on the menu – names one through four – though you can have any combination of toppings you want custom assembled.

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That is one big burger

I went for number 1 – gorgonzola cheese, thousand island sauce, grilled onions and crispy bacon, as it was the closest to my more or less reviewer’s standard of a bacon cheeseburger, and I figured it’d give an authentic experience of how the chefs here like to see their burgers assembled. I was asked how I wanted it done, and opted for medium rare as that seems to be the going standard in this part of the world.

The meat of it

The 8oz behemoth makes an impression. This is a BIG BURGER. It has to be coaxed out of the wrapping, and then it flopped onto the plate, trailing juice and thousand island sauce that had come away with moisture from the resting meat. The bottom half of the brioche bun was completely sodden and the burger was practically unhandlable. The thousand island sauce also made the burgery slippery, and it fought for freedom as I sliced it in half.

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Juicy

The cross section cut showed the problem. Whilst the loosely packed, coarse ground patty (with what must have been at least a 25% fat ratio) had been cooked to perfection, the meat/bread ratio was far off sensible. And the saucey toppings took things further out of control; a surfeit of gorgonzola cheese bled onto the plate and grilled onions were flying out with every bite. The bacon, not as generously delivered as the onions or cheese, fails to deliver textural contrast throughout the burger – it just doesn’t have enough coverage. And the arugula (rocket for the uninitiated) adds very little to the overall impact of the burger.

That said, the burger taste itself was not bad – the meat was well seasoned and had a dry-aged funkiness to it that only high quality meat does. The bacon – when it was present – added a delicious salty crunch. The bun and onions contributed a sweetish undertone to what would otherwise have been a very salty burger. The burger’s moistness played really well for mouthfeel. It would just have been better a couple of ounces lighter and the toppings could have been better thought through.

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Magic onion rings, oh yeah.

As for the sides… we ordered a half-n-half onion-ring / fries combo for $7.50. The onion rings were extraordinary. Well seasoned with a light heat, the first bite delivered a wonderful savory crunch… soon followed by a sweet aftertaste as you chewed the onion. The fries were just OK – rosemary and salt on thin cut McDonald’s style fried that weren’t all as fully cooked as they should have been.

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Chipotle sauce vs. Spicy Aioli – spot the difference

$2 bought a selection of sauces; we chose BBQ (American BBQ is sweeter than its British counterpart, and this lacked any other personality to speak of), Chipotle and spicy Aioli.  We honestly couldn’t tell the last two apart, both tasted like mildly spicy mayonnaise. But they were good.

FYI – my brother had a grilled cheese  ((over-thick brad and under-melted cheese) and soup, and his wife had a salad. We did a good amount of sharing to get through it all.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3/5
Build – 3/5
Burger – 3.5/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 4/5
Value – 3/5 – $17 for a burger with no fries is excessive, even for the standards of the West Coast..

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – Like many here, this burger is more than the sum of its parts.

The deets

This restaurant is in the base of the Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles. You can’t miss it -we walked in on a busy Saturday afternoon and got a booth to ourselves.

Wesburger N’ More, Mission Street, San Francisco

 

An outstanding burger; hefty and delicious.

Burger source

Wesburger was tipped as one of the better burgers in SFO, and whilst they make little fuss about the origins of its burger meat, it’s all clearly of the highest order and promoted under the marketing tagline “because burgers are fun.” I literally couldn’t agree more.

The destination following a drinks evening with my company’s US team; this place was a treat.

The order

We encountered Ramon as we walked in and he recommended the ‘Hot Wes’ to us, a 6oz patty topped with jalapenos, onion rings and queso. I naturally added bacon. Was medium rare ok? Hells yeah!

Because I was feeling greedy post a stop off at Branch and Bourbon, I threw in an order for a couple of rounds of tater tots and some fried chicken. A colleague wanted the Mac & Cheese so that was added to the pile too.

We also popped in to the Den next door (‘the smallest bar in SFO’) and got some ‘punch’ (Vodka, coconut, and stuff on this occasion).

The meat of it

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The burger was delicious. Whilst it looks like a hot mess, it held really well; the bun slipped on top and the queso helped it together. The meat was course ground, loosely packed and perfectly pink. The queso bound the onion rings and bacon into the burger and the bun held up against the juices admirably. The salty hit was contrasted with sweet and crunchy onion rings and a slightly sweet bun, all complimented by the tart crispness and light spice of the pickled jalapeno. I’d say this is possibly one of the best burgers I’ve ever had – up there with Dip & Flip and Bleecker Street (though less refined, more raw than either – and that’s not a bad thing). Such a shame it’s such a long way from home!

The sides: the tater tots were crisp and savory on the outside, squidgy in the middle. Delicious with a little sriracha, and the portion served with cheese was outstanding. The fried chicken was billed as ‘extra crispy’ and it didn’t disappoint, but was a little dry (the order got confused and it arrived plain in a bun instead of with sides – I forgot to fuss). I tried a little of the Mac & Cheese and whilst I’m generally not a fan, this is clearly a whole order of magnitude better than the varieties I’ve sampled across the Atlantic.

The punch was fine; an sweet side to complement a salt-tastic feast.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  5/5
Build – 4.5/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste –  5/5
Sides – 5/5
Value – 4.5/5 – $40 per head including drinks and slightly too many sides, in San Francisco, is actually pretty amazing.

Burger rating – 5/5 – This really is one of the best burgers I’ve ever had; the service was excellent, and there was little to fault. I’d head back in a heartbeat, if only it didn’t require a transatlantic flight.

The deets

2240 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94110, 415-745-9371. Find them at http://www.wesburgernmore.com/, or, y’know, just get an Uber.

 

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.

The Bistrot, Seminyak, Bali

Welcome to the second in an occasional series of guest posts from travelling friends of ours, this one courtesy of none other than DJ Will MC Campbell….

One of the UK’s most beloved chefs once quirked “Food is for eating, and to be enjoyed… I think food is, actually, very beautiful in itself.” And what could be greater than the sight of a truly world-class burger arriving at your table, as others look on in envy?

Truth be told I tried to do my first burger review while in Japan – the home of Wagyu and Kobe beef, incredible cuts of meat from incredible cattle… but it wasn’t really served in true burger form, so couldn’t legitimately count it as one.

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Which is why, having left the incredible but cold shores of Japan, on arriving in Bali I headed to The Bistrot for my first evening out. An impressive wooden yet high ceilinged open space, upon entering you immediately feel reminded of a New York loft/factory space with a distinct industrial feel.

And there it was, centre of the menu, I couldn’t look away, the Bistrot Burger – 180g of beef from Australia’s finest cattle.

Burger Source

There are variations of the same burger – but the house special came with the trimmings I was looking for, onion rings (always a challenge to get right), Red Cheddar (?), Cognac Sauce, Tomato, Lettuce served in a lightly toasted sesame seed bun.

The Meat of It

I’m an absolute stickler for having the meat cooked to the way I like it – and I opt for medium rare (controversial for some I know), as it actually requires more attention than any other form of cooking a burger IMHO. It needs to be perfectly brown on the outside but I want to see the colours and juices coming through the middle.

I wasn’t disappointed. The meat was cooked to perfection. Perfectly seasoned, perfectly presented. I was excited I’d hit a home run on my first night in Bali. The Cognac sauced seemed to work really well, yet bizarrely added a somewhat BBQ flavour to the burger. Could it be a term lost in translation? I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt as the combo was immediately impressive.

Next up was the red cheese and the onion rings, where my initial doubts were realised. The onion rings were solid, but not great. A little too soft from the outside and not enough texture from the onion. I want to feel like I’m biting into an actual onion rather than just a lump of fried batter. The red cheese really let it down, as it felt processed and slabbed on – a little too perfectly square.

It’s always interesting trying bread from other countries, particularly when you walk into a supermarket and aren’t exposed to the 90+ variations we have in the UK. So it wasn’t a great surprise to find the bun good but not exceptional. It was toasted well, crispy when you bite into it, but soft through the middle.

All in all, I was impressed. The meat was ideally cooked, the sauce complimented the flavour really well… and did I really expect the onion rings and cheese to be of the same quality? Well let’s say I’d have been disappointed with the experience if it had been the other way round (or I’d be posting this on the wrong blog).

Would I go again? Probably. Would I recommend to others? Absolutely.

For a total of £8, it would be hard to find many places in the UK that would serve that level of quality food in such a place that makes you feel like you’ve been transported 12,000 miles across continents.

Monkey finger rating

Bun  – 3/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste – 4/5
Sides – N/A
Value – 4/5

I think our beloved chef might have been onto something when she made that remark about food – but I’d argue just adding the word good as a prefix would be about right. And this place was certainly good.

If you’re ever in Bali, I’d highly recommend popping in  – you can find them at Jl. Kayu Aya No.117, Seminyak, Badung, Kabupaten Badun. You can reserve a table, and if you’re there Friday or Saturday night I’d recommend doing so.

Atomic Burger, Cowley Road, Oxford

Decent burger in poor bun; amazing sides.

Burger Source

When Oxford was identified as a destination for a “lads’ weekend” away, one of the first things I did was Google ‘the best burger in Oxford’… and up came Atomic Burger. Clearly an exercise in effective SEO as much as a in burger design and innovation, the restaurant claims “the highest quality meat”, “burgers made by hand daily”, “food cooked to order”, “secret recipes” and “local suppliers”… so we were duly sold on it. As it happens, having a drink across the road at the Big Society, the staff tried to sell us on eating a less… unconventional burger in their establishment, but at this stage we were committed.

The order

The menu is extensive; dozens of standard and eccentric burger combinations. Most of us went for the fairly conventional and hard to argue with ‘Dead Elvis’ – crispy bacon, American cheese & fried onions listed as the key ingredients. We were reassured by the waiter that not only were the burgers cooked medium as standard but they’d happily do them medium rare for us. So far so exciting.

A side came with each burger, and we split onion rings and regular fries between us so we’d get to try it all. We also got in an order of ‘Trailer Park Fries’ which we were assured were awesome – fries topped with pulled pork, cheese sauce and barbecue sauce. Yeah, I know. Had to be done.

The meat of it

To start with the bun of it; the bun on this burger is poor. A slightly stale, dry-looking, powdery white bun that seems simultaneously too large and too porous to hold itself up to anything. The top half was immediately discarded as dead weight.

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The patty itself; surprisingly thin, not cooked to  medium rare (a healthy medium though), a decent slice of melted-in American cheese and not quite crisp streaky bacon topped it; there was salad in but you’d have to look closely. The sides – onion rings that were breadcrumbed, but vegan (rolled in beer, flour and breadcrumbs, no egg) – were crisp and golden brown. The standard fries were reasonably thin cut from whole potatoes, partial skin on, and crisply fried. The Trailer park fries, as a separate full-sized side order, were a sight. Laden with meat and sauce, this was a side fit for a main. Drink-wise, I went for a ‘Hobo mojo’ – Bourbon, lemon & lime & maple syrup shaken over ice and served in a paper bag.

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As to how everything tasted: the sides were the star of the show. The trailer park fries were incredibly moreish; the cheese sauce somehow not as chemical-tasting as you’d expect bottle-style squeezey cheddar to be; the pork moist and savoury and the sweet barbecue sauce binding it together beautifully. The chips were crisp enough not to be soggy throughout – often a challenge for this type of dish. Delicious. The standard fries were good but a pale candle to these; not quite enough starchy bite to them. The onion rings were amazing; large, sweet slices of Spanish onion rolled in flour, Peroni and possibly a panko breadcrumb, they were crisp, sweet and savoury in one, and delicious. The Cajun ones were particularly good, with a light hint of heat underpinning them. There were some other fairly non-descript sides on the plate – middle-of-the-road pickles and bottom-of-the-road oversweet, over-mayo’d coleslaw.

The main event; the burger? Well-seasoned, loosely ground meat – but the patty was too thin and the bread too big, so the flavour was somewhat lost (even with a discarded top half). The American cheese gave savoury goo to it all and again helped mask the meat flavour, and the bacon wasn’t crisp enough for crunch, so just added a sort of stretchy chewiness. The onions seemed sparse and added little sweetness. This was one of those situations where a brioche might have done some good. We had an extensive conversation with the waiter about the buns – apparently the owner knows they need changing but hasn’t got around to it yet. Best of luck to him, and hope he prioritises it soon.

And finally, the Hobo Mojo – it’s a fancy name for bourbon with 7-up and maple syrup, but it’s a HECK of a combination and I’ll be making this one at home at some point soon. Maybe minus the paper bag. Delicious.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  1/5
Build – 3/5
Burger – 3/5
Taste –  3/5
Sides – 4.5/5
Value – 4/5 – £20 a head for burger, sides & cocktail, & tip – valuelicious. But I guess that’s what happens when you’re not in London.

Burger rating – 3/5 – Let down by a bun that poorly complemented the fillings, sadly, and a pale shadow of things like Dip & Flip’s equivalent burger. Next time we do Oxford, we’ll have to try a Big Society burger…

The deets

247 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1XG was the branch we visited, though we gather the owner has a Pizza place elsewhere in Oxford and another burger venue in Bristol. Check them out over here and make a booking for the Trailer Park fries and the Hobo mojo alone, if needs be.

Side note: the geek kitsch around the place was phenomenal; a wall full of starships, a few intriguing sculptures and lots more. It’s a fun place.

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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?

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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:

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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:

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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.’

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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.