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.