Yen Burger, London Bridge

A breathtaking burger experience

Burger source

Unlike many of the burgers I review here, discovered from word of mouth buzz or from other peoples’ top ten lists (or very occasionally, because I was pitched it by their PR folk), Yen Burger is a place that I just spotted, a short walk from my office, on the way to London Bridge. I was initially put off – Japan-spiced burger? What fresh hell of fascist-fusion cuisine was this? But a colleague was braver than I and passed on the recommendation when I was looking for a new local place to check out.

And so André and I decided to give it a go.

The burger’s origins start in the mind of food entrepreneur Yen Nguyen, who, apparently after success elsewhere in Germany and the UK (a Google search reveals little about her other than her association with Yen Burger), decided that the gap in London’s thriving burger scene was the Japanese twist. And so, Yen Burger was born.

Here’s the official spiel, from the website:

This brand new concept will offer premium Asian-influenced burgers. Starting with the ‘Yen Burger’ which features a 100% wagyu beef patty, fresh pickles, smoked turkey bacon, cheese and shiso leaf, it’s the ultimate fusion burger and a great introduction to Yen’s offerings. Other options include ‘The Finest Chick’ which combines coconut panko chicken breast and homemade slaw with the reviving shiso leaf and a zingy mango sauce…. Each burger is fresh made in-house from the highest quality Aberdeen Black Angus or Wagyu beef, 100% sustainable cod or vegetable alternatives.

The order

I went for the eponymous Yen Burger. 6oz of Wagyu beef, pickles, lettuce, red onion, ‘Yen sauce’, turkey bacon and shiso leaf. I don’t even know what a couple of those ingredients are, but I was excited.

We had ‘Dashi chips’ on the side (dusted with Paprika seasoning) and some chicken Gyoza because, why not?

The meat of it

Let’s take a moment to admire this.

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Ok, so it’s maybe not the most beautiful burger you’ve ever seen at this point. But let’s admire the components. Thick cut pickles. Coarse, crusty burger patty. Bright, fresh shiso and onion. Perfectly melted cheese. And this soft, white, unsweetened bun, inviting you in.

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In cross section, it becomes more special. The Yen sauce provides a sensuous coating. The meat is coarse ground, loosely packed and cooked to a perfect medium. The turkey bacon is there – subtle, but present. I coudn’t wait to taste this burger.

And OH. I was NOT disappointed. The Wagyu is so utterly, amazingly delicate it practically melts in your mouth. But not before you hit the crunch of the perfectly seasoned outer crust; the soft, plain bread providing structure but not flavour, complimenting the sweet/salty contrast of crust and rich, pink burger inner. The Yen sauce lubricates, a sweet/savoury glue. The cheese adds further umami, subtly, whilst the hint of smoke and crispiness is added by the turkey bacon; less powerful than the traditional pork variants. Additional sharp sweetness from the delicious pickles and crunch from the red onion. WOW. I had to slow myself down – I wanted to devour this and order another.

The Asian ‘spices’ – subtle. A hint of something of Japan in the background of the flavour profile. Nothing overt or tacky – this is a traditional burger with Japanese accents. Cooked to perfection, in perfect harmony with itself. Outstanding.

The dashi fries need comment. They look good, right? But seasoned fries can go wrong, I hear you say. They can be overwhelmingly flavoured and over-salted.

No, say I. Not in this case. The paprika seasoning adds flavour, sure, and these are well salted fries. But the exceptional richness of the potato flavour was unexpected – these are tasty fries – as is the perfect crisp exterior, and the soft, lush, fluffy interior. In absolutely perfect balance. Not a hint of greasiness, light, crisp and delicious. And, when the salt got a little much, Heinz came to the rescue.

The only dish that mildly disappointed was the chicken gyoza. Over-greasy from the fryer, the minced chicken within was dry and lacking in flavour. The soy sauce was strong and the balance felt out. Perhaps it was an indulgence too far.

Overall, an utterly extraordinary and unexpected experience. André reported that the Asian spiced burger was also excellent, and the £15 a head tab felt like good value for the feast (we shared Gyoza and fries between us).

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 5/5
Build – 4.5/5 – looked messy but flawless
Burger – 5/5
Taste – 5/5
Sides – 4.5/5 – docking half a point for the gyoza, but the fries were perfect
Value – 5/5 – £15 for burger and side, ish.

Burger rating – 5/5 – absolutely one of the best burgers (and fries) I’ve ever had. Would return without hesitation.

The deets

At the start of Southwark Street, just by London Bridge, you’ll find this nestled to other burger joints; Honest Burgers and Breakfast Club, as well as Borough Market’s own Roast to Go. All are within a potato’s throw of here.

But go here. In the words of Keanu Reeves, it’s breathtaking.

Chillis, Bangsar Shopping Centre, KL, Malaysia

Surprisingly good, albeit messy and flawed

Burger source

Truly, we’d meant to go to Dome. At least it was semi-authentically Malaysian, rather than a local branch of the global Texan chain. But it was a Sunday evening and they were out of everything, and we wanted to go somewhere quick where our egg-allergic three year old would be able to get something she’d eat, like a hot dog. So Chillis it was.

Founded in 1975 as a casual dining, Tex-Mex themed restaurant, this place is all Americana – oversized burgers, quesadillas, hot dogs and the rest. They don’t have a presence in the UK but there are 1,500 of them around the world, including a plethora in KL and PJ.

The order

I had the Ultimate (Beef) Bacon Burger, because it’s Malaysia and they don’t serve pork in mass market casual dining restaurants in major malls for fear of alienating the majority Muslim population.

Here’s what’s in it: Double beef bacon, aged cheddar cheese, pickles, leaf lettuce, red onions, tomato, jalapeños aioli, spicy Buffalo wing sauce & Honey-Chipotle sauce.

The meat of it

Pleasingly, and somewhat unexpectedly, my waiter asked me how I’d like it done. I opted for medium, suspecting that it’d be somewhat overdone.

You can see what it looked like on arrival, and expectations were low.

There’s a curious light brown colour that looks washed out around the edges of the oversized burger (guessing 8oz). The beef bacon is heavily loaded; there’s nothing aged looking about the cheddar (it’s basically American cheese, though that’s no bad thing). The sauce is everywhere and it looks like it’s going to be MESSY.

On cross section, I’m more hopeful. The meat’s actually pink. The salad is well layered, protecting the bun. The bacon is well proportioned. The bun has a useful density to it holding it together. And most of the mess was slightly overzealous application of sauce; the fat ratio isn’t out of control.

Onto the tasting…

It’s actually not bad. Whilst the pickles are awful and have to be picked out (you can see their unhealthy faded green colour in the first picture – there are some on the side as well as some embedded in the burger), the burger itself is extremely juicy and reasonably well cooked. The crust isn’t as crisp as I’d like it to be, but with a burger this thick an over hot grill would probably result in a raw centre. The seasoning is good but not excessive and the cheese – whilst under melted – has a decent saltiness to it.

The beef bacon is disappointing in the way beef bacon always is, in that it’s not actual bacon so isn’t crisp, is overchewy, and flaps around in oversized bits when you’re trying to eat this enormous monstrosity of a burger. BUT it’s actually well seasoned and adds to the overall flavour.

The sauce is confused, but again this works in favour of the overall experience. All the umami from burger, bacon and cheese is evened out by the brioche bun and a BBQ-esque sauce. The confusion is because clearly the ‘honey-chipotle’ sauce combined with the ‘buffalo sauce’ somehow evens out as generic sweet BBQ sauce without a momentary hint of actual spice-induced heat. Not bad, just not quite what was advertised.

So, whilst it wasn’t what was billed, the overall experience was OK, if messy. The burger, cheese and bacon contrasted well with the bun and sauce, the patty itself is coarse ground, loose packed and well seasoned, and the combination more or less works. The primary failing, other than just being about 30% too big, was the lack of textural contrast within the burger – it’s all a bit mushy. The absence of real bacon, the soft crust on the meat, the horrific pickles, means that the overall experience is a bit like eating a large mush-burger. And the fact it slides all over the place meant I gave up and ate the second half with cutlery.

As to the sides, it comes with seasoned fries:

You don’t need many of these, the burger’s so large. But they’re not bad; thicker than your McD’s fry, there’s a little real potato heft to them. The dusting of salt, pepper and a little paprika (if I’m not mistaken) makes them taste interesting, with or without ketchup. There’s a reasonable crispness to them, though not quite as much as you might guess from the picture. No greasiness, no sogginess.

All in all, a pleasant surprise.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 4/5

Build – 2/5 – slippery beastt

Burger – 3/5

Taste – 3.5/5

Sides – 4/5 – I would have enjoyed these if I’d had enough appetite for them after the burger

Value – 4/5 – It’s hard to gauge if RM32.50 for the burger and fries is good value in a country where you can get a full meal in another kind of restaurant for RM5 or less, but relative to British standards, at about £6 (plus kids eat free), this is pretty good value.

Burger rating – 3/5 – I’m not itching to go back, but that’s mainly the cholesterol. The burger wasn’t bad. Amanda’s mushroom burger was apparently good too.

The deets

These restaurants are all over the place. Find your nearest (in Malaysia) on the local website here.

Big Fernand, Issy-les-Molyneaux, Paris

A juicy Gallic smashburger (smashburgé?), worth travelling for.

Burger source

Ok, I’ll freely admit – I googled ‘burger restaurant’ near the hotel we were staying at for a business trip and Big Fernand jumped out. I liked the pictures so we headed down.

However, having Google translated the copy on the webpage for this review, I’m SO pleased we went as would TOTALLY travelled for this even if it hadn’t been convenient:

“In the middle of a small Parisian street, at the end of a restaurant of district embalmed with the smell of herbs and fresh bread. A band of mustachus is busy at the rhythm of the sizzling meat just chopped to revisit a dish known by all: the hamburger. Their Hamburgs caress the sweet dream of seducing the most refractory skeptics and offer a second romance to the lovers convinced of the burger. This is how Big Fernand was born: a mixture of popular culture of a dish that brings together people from all backgrounds and products gleaned throughout France.”

There’s only one right reaction to this: wow.

The burgers are cooked as ‘smash’ burgers -a healthy portion of the mince is rolled into a ball and squished down onto the grill with a heavy spatula, cooked in its own fat until crispy, scraped off the grill, flipped for a lesser version of the same treatment before being topped and stacked on the bun, then wrapped in grease-proof paper to serve. By coincidence, my favourite food blogger/scientist Kenji Lopez-Alt has just released a video on the art of a smashburger which explains this technique in a bit more detail (although Big Fernand use MUCH bigger patties and manage to carry it off).

The order

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Pat and I both had the Bartholome, Beef, Swiss Raclette, bacon (lots of bacon), caramelised onions and chives, topped with Big Fernand’s own BBQ sauce. I admit, I ‘doubled up’ for €4, having only had a salad for lunch, which added a second patty, more bacon, cheese and an entire (totally unnecessary) portion of fries. Pat opted for ‘herb fries’ and I went for Paprika fries. All that for €14 (€18 for my double) – with our choice of soft drink. We were offered a choice of how we wanted the burgers cooked and both opted for medium.

The meat of it

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Holy moley. This was a monster. The slightly floppy, very simple seeded white burger bun barely stood up to the heft of a single patty, much less my double. The raclette was copious and melty, and the bacon in plentiful supply, providing a salty chew. The BBQ sauce provided a necessary sweetness, cutting back on the incredible umami from the rest of the burger. Whilst Pat detected a hint of sweetness from the onions, they were lost in my behemoth of a burger. Not a terrible thing given the general deliciousness of the burger as a gestalt.

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The meat itself was a cooked a bit over medium (unusual for France, where the colour ratings on meat are usually one down on what we order in the UK – i.e. medium is usually medium rare etc)., but the high fat ratio of the beef (essential in a smash burger) meant it was no less juicy for it, and the cheese, bacon and BBQ sauce complimented it beautifully. I think they could improve the bun – a sturdier potato roll or even a brioche bun might have stood up to the burger slightly better – but this is really a very minor concern in what was an otherwise magnificent mound of meat (and stuff).

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The fries… were slightly chewier than I’d expect for ‘freshly’ cooked fries (perhaps our batch wasn’t that fresh), and Pat’s herb fries were reminiscent of Honest Burger’s rosemary fries. But the seasoning was nice. They were served with a garlic aioli which was unnecessary (chips needed sweetness, not further saltiness!). Not bad as a combo at all!

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste –  4.5/5
Sides – 4/5
Value – 4/5 – €14/€18 translates to around £12-£15  for the burger, side and drink, and that’s definitely not bad, but probably a little on the high side vs. the very good value burgers you get in London these days. That said, this includes the ‘Brexit’ depreciation tax, given the value of the pound now vs June 22nd 2016…

Burger rating – 4.5/5 – I am totally going back the next opportunity I have to be in range. Fresh, delicious burgers, great service with amusing, interested staff happy to practice their English with us… and lots more to try.

The deets

Big Fernand has lots of locations, but the one we went to was here:  30 rue Ernest Renan, 92130 Issy-Les-Moulineaux. +33 1 41 90 72 55.

There’s even one in London if you can’t wait for the next Paris trip!  12 Percy Street W1T 1DY Londres, +44 207 81 32 586.