Prairie Fire BBQ, Mercato Metropolitano, Elephant & Castle, London

Excellent, messy, juicy double patty smash burger

Burger source

Mercato Metropolitano London is a sustainable community market; in practical terms, this means it’s a massive half in/half outdoor food court, filled with a myriad of wonderful food stalls including at least three places that serve burgers. And none of the cutlery is single use plastic, hurrah!

Prairie Fire BBQ serves ‘Kansas style BBQ’  founded in 2013 by American Expat in London Michael Gratz; his job titles include ‘founder’, ‘chef’, and ‘Pit Master.’ The philosophy is Kansas style, sauce heavy, smoked meat, or in their own words: the “…slow smoked, sauce heavy Kansas City Style is the apex of the ancient art of cooking with wood. The rub, the char, the smoke ring, the tenderness, the umami, the sauce, the smile and well used napkin define Prairie Fire and the future of European BBQ.”

The order

I have had the PFQ, their signature burger, which is: “two seasoned chuck & rib tip steak patties smashed into diced onion on flattop. Served with melty American cheese, crisp lettuce, tomato, onion & BBQ aioli.”

I had seasoned fries on the side.

The meat of it

The Mercato eating environment is a lot of fun. Noisy, half indoors, half outdoors, all smell, sounds and raucous laughter.

Food is served in paper baskets; the ordering system ‘texted’ me to collect the prepared food hot off the grill and fryer.

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It’s hard to photograph, but there was nothing bad about the appearance. That said, the incredible amounts of sauce meant it was a slippery burger, whilst perfectly stacked, had this been on a plate it would probably have collapsed in moments.

The pickle, to the side, was crisp, sweet and fresh. Very mild on vinegar, it’s a palate cleanser for the main meal.

In cross section…

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Here’s where you can see the structural limitations of the burger; the sauce is so heavy that the burger is slipping apart even as I hold it up for its glamour shot.

That said… looks aren’t everything, and on first bite you get an immediate understanding of the splendour of this burger.

The patties are thin and crisp – 2.5-3oz each, at a guess, the patty smash on a hot (though not the hottest) plate lets them char in their own fat, developing a wonderful texture and flavour – though I didn’t notice the onions they’d apparently been cooked in. Cheese is melted in on the grill, though it’s hard to detect under the BBQ aioli. The salad, too, is somewhat token, lost in the sauce. But none of this is a bad thing.

The incredible umami of the burger, with a faint hint of dry-aged, quality beef funk, is complemented perfectly by the runny sweet aioli, a mild peppery heat, and something like the memory of cheese. The salad is present but provides little more than textural background noise. The bun is soft and pliant, with a lovely crumb but thankfully little sweetness.

It’s pretty glorious, if messy, in all. My only criticism, and it’s a marginal one, is that a hotter grill would have provided even more crunch to the patties (which would have been welcome), and the aioli was just fractionally too heavily laid on.

The fries are ‘seasoned’ fries – a sweet smoked paprika, basically, heavily dusted over salted, thin cut fries. There’s nothing bad about these, though nothing exceptional either; thicker cut potatoes might have provided more natural potato flavour but it wasn’t necessary. The additional BBQ aioli they are served with was possibly a perfect condiment in the context of the meal.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 3/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 4/5
Value – 3.5/5 – £12.50 for burger and side – felt a bit toppy in a food market setting, but everything at Mercato is a little pricey.

Burger rating – 4/5 – really good patty smash option. Next time will add bacon for a bit more crunch and request they leave it on the grill a little longer than normal.

The deets

Mercato Metropolitano is a 5 minute walk from Elephant & Castle tube, and 15 minutes from my office in Southwark. Recommended for anyone in the neighbourhood. Find more info on PFQ here.

Patty & Bun, Old Compton Street, Soho

Huge, tasty, juicy burger; a little rare and a lot caramelised oniony. Eccentric sides.

Burger source:

Another one from the stable of ‘pop-up done good’, founder and chef Joe Grossman reportedly fell in love with the burger scene in NYC and, when he met business partner Mark Jankel and started the P&B story over here, decided he wanted to build on the craze here. More on the origins of P&B here. The hype for P&B I heard was stupendous, possibly second only to how people rave about Honest Burger, so I was both curious and excited as my Burger Crew friends and I gathered for a semi-spontaneous mid-week visit.

The order

I went for the ‘Smokey Robinson’ – largely by mistake and, for my tastebuds – it did prove to be something of an error. It’s loaded with ‘mounds’ of caremelised onions – which I love – but seriously, MOUNDS.

P&B burger

They are not exaggerating. We also had the much-vaunted chicken-skin fries, confit chicken wings (“Winger winger chicken dinner”), Rosemary fries, and some rather eccentric chicken thighs – possibly the ‘Thunder thighs’ – which seem different in my memory from those on the current menu at the Soho branch, but I suspect my memory is playing tricks. Also confit’d I think, and coated with a strong flavoured marinade, apparently Urfa chilli.

The meat of it:

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The meat is coarsely ground, loosely packed and cooked very medium – verging on rare. So much so there was almost that smell of raw meat as you bit into it. A bit too rare for my liking, to be honest. But it is an immense burger – easily 8 oz of meat and fat that’s otherwise well seasoned and luscious for anyone whose tastebuds are that way inclined. The caramelised onions, for me, overpowered the gentle juiciness of the beef; the sweetness took over and I was waiting for a salty bite to recover it. I should have had the Ari Gold burger with bacon, I think, for my tastebuds, but if you like a sweeter burger, it’s a good choice. The demi-brioche bun really struggled under the weight and juiciness of the meat (unlike TomTom Mess Hall, these guys have an excellent meat/fat ratio) and added further (unnecessary to my mind) sweetness to the experience. That said, the overall impact wasn’t bad at all – just not to my slightly more savoury tastes. A bad choice on my part.

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The chicken skin fries were an interesting novelty and reminded me of the Orange Walkers’ Crisps packets from the mid-90s (I know you can still get them, but… who does?). Nothing extraordinary but well fried, crisp, and a good counterpoint to the burger; despite doubtless being natural flavouring, the flavour can’t help but feel slightly artificial as your only other frame of reference is a 60p bag of crisps! The confit nature of both the thighs and the wings added a satisfying crunch but, for me the flavours were too strong – you could barely taste the chicken for the marinade. The fact that the sauce on the wings was cloyingly sweet (and I was having a sweet burger!) and the sourness of the chilli of the thighs was slightly odd (I guessed the spice was tamarind before double checking the menu). On their own, I can understand why everyone raves about the Rosemary fries; but in the context of this mess of a tasting meal, they were lost. Next time; Ari Gold burger with bacon, Rosemary fries, and I’m done.

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I also had a very delicious cocktail – the Would I Lychee You (Kudos, Bob’s Burgers) – which was refreshingly sweet and punchy. And this time, sweet was what I wanted.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 3.5/5
Taste –  3.5/5
Sides – 3.5/5
Value – 4/5

Burger rating – 4/5 – I blame my poor taste experience entirely on my own error of judgement in ordering the wrong burger. I think everything about P&B is good that should be, even if I haven’t acquired a taste for the more eccentric sides yet.

The deets

P&B is seemingly everywhere, with branches in Liverpool Street, Old Compton Street, James’ Street and beyond. Check out the list of locations here for your most convenient stopover.

Bonus pic with the decor:

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