Harrild & Sons, Farringdon, London

Good burger spoiled by overcooking

Burger source

Harrild & Sons is a bar and restaurant (really a pub that serves food and cocktails) on Farrindgon Street, sometimes known as the ‘dullest street in the Square Mile.’ It’s a lovely space with a high-end but down to earth feel, lots of exposed wood and interesting design touches, tonnes of real-ale and beer options, an extensive cocktail menu and… a burger. One that looked like it took itself seriously on the menu.

The place is named for a manufacturer of printing presses that had facilities in the area. Nice design touches signal this everywhere.

The order

The Harrild Burger, natch. The meat is from London’s famed Ginger Pig butcher, the burger itself is topped with melty Swiss cheese, bacon, relish, lettuce , red onion & served with fries – all for £13.50. I was drinking one of my favourite beers – a Kona Big Wave Hawaiian ale. On tap.

The meat of it

It looks good, doesn’t it.

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Lovely melt on the cheese. Fresh looking vegetables. Sturdy bun – not a brioche, I think, despite its shiny appearance. Or at least, not a sweetened one.

Let’s check the cross.

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Lovely coarse grind. Flecks of pink in the meat. The bun is holding up, the salad is bright and fresh. Crisp bacon lies temptingly on top of the melty cheese.

First taste. Crunch – excellent crus- wait, no. It’s burnt. It’s definitely burnt. Not just-a-good-char burnt, but fully-taste-the-ashes burnt. Whoops. Also a little underseasoned – although possibly the bitterness of the char is just masking the taste of salt. Either way, it’s not the best first impression.

But it grows on you. It’s not completely charred and the unburned meat contrasts well with a tangy relish, and the crisp vegetables. Some sweet pickles make and appearance and the bacon – thin, round slices of back bacon – are crisp, crunchy and delicious. The textural contrast and overall umami make up somewhat for the burnt taste. A little mayo takes the edge off and it’s enjoyable, on the whole. Such a shame – this burger was maybe a minute or two from greatness.

As to the fries:

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Crisp and grease free. But underseasoned and low on flavour – with mayo these are alright. But I actually left some, which I never do, so they were empirically proven to be less than compelling.

The beer was great. It’s Kona Big Wave. Always reliable.

Overall, not bad for a £13.50 pub burger on a busy Friday night.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 3/5
Taste –  3.5/5
Sides – 3.5/5

Value – 4/5 – £13.50 – for burger and fries is OK in this part of town.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – has it been less overdone, this would have been an easy 4. Lots of potential here.

The deets

Just a few minutes up Farringdon Street, you can’t miss it. And apparently you can book tables! Website here.

Brewdog, Clerkenwell, London

Convincing vegan burger; actual meat let down by overcooking/packing

Burger source

I’ve been an “Equity Punk” since 2015 – holding a very small number of shares in the crowdfunded Brewdog empire – but I’ve never taken advantage of it. So we corrected that this weekend and stopped in for a burger and beer at the Brewdog bar in Clerkenwell.

Brewdog bigs up the burger origins a little in its menu: “Our bespoke mix of chuck, rib cap and brisket beef comes solely from British farms including our friends at Alec Jarrett Farm & Foxham Farm.” And its buns too: “Our burger buns are baked exclusively for us at Wrights Bakery, independent and family run since 1867.”

The order

Matt and I split a ‘Patriot burger’ – 7oz beef patty, smoked bacon, cheddar, pickles, onion, baby gem & bbq sauce in a sesame and poppy seeded brioche bun – and a ‘Beyond meat’ burger – beyond meat patty, vegan chipotle slaw, vegan gouda cheese, roasted red peppers, baby gem & pickles in a beetroot brioche bun. Disclaimer: I have a tiny shareholding in Beyond Meat too, following its IPO.

On the side, we shared some wings, fries and sweet potato fries.

We each had a ‘beer flight’ as well – four one third pint glasses of different Brewdog beers. We had Instamatic (wheat ale – v unusual), Elvis Juice (famous Brewdog IPA), East Coast IPA and Clockwork Tangerine. The fruitier IPAs, because I was ordering and I like that kind of thing.

The meat of it

So, as I tried two burgers, each in turn.

Let’s start with the Patriot burger.

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Ok, this has been brutalised by the cross section but you can see from this and the feature picture that this has not been well stacked. Without the ceremonial knife holding it together, the meat is sliding all over the place, the salad is spilling out the sides; pickles undernearth basically created an icerink for the burger. People who read my blog regularly will also know that I’m about to be unimpressed with the meat – overcooked (no pink at all, that’s not just the lighting), packed solid, finely ground. All terrible errors. And because the meat turns up on site as mince, they have little choice – food safety regulations mean they have to cook it medium well. Total shame, as the meat was good quality and well seasoned, although somewhat lacking in crust (hotter griddle needed). And a quick word on the bacon: it was a bit insipid and floppy. I wish more burger places would either take the Americans lead and make crispy bacon REALLY crispy, or use thicker cut/more flavourful bacon if they’re going to cook it like they did here.

Almost everything else about the burger was actually pretty good; the seasoning was great, sweet BBQ sauce, crisp pickle and melty, salty cheddar was actually really well held by the brioche – which felt like a standard white bun, much less sweet than you’d expect of a brioche. It was soft, but served untoasted – actually totally fine in context. Such a shame that the texture of the meat had that slightly rubbery consistency that overcooked, overpacked burgers do.

In contrast, the Beyond Meat burger…

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The stack here was a little more controlled but the ‘bottomings’ cause the same problem. Messy build. The Beyond Burger is texturally consistent though, so no problems there, though probably needs a smaller bun or bigger patty. How did this all come together?

Pretty impressively, actually. The chipotle slaw adds a lovely, savoury crunch (almost bacony), the pickles and beetroot bun provide sweetness, that vegan gouda – why can’t I buy that in a grocery store?? – amazingly convincing, salty, gooey goodness. The Beyond Burger is as good as it always is – not quite fooling you into thinking its beef, but really very close. The overall package was great, and I’d probably have this over the Patriot burger on a return visit.

As to the sides…

The wings weren’t standard buffalo wings – buttermilk batter meant they were super crispy – great – but the addition of a honey glaze substantially tempered the hot sauce. Basically, they were barely spicy. But they were crisp and tasty nonetheless. Without the heat, the blue cheese sauce was surplus to requirements.

The fries were pretty delightful, especially the sweet potato fries. They arrive unseasoned, but once that’s corrected, they are crisp, full of OG potato flavour, and not at all greasy. Really very good work.

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I’m not going to attempt to review the beers. The bartender that served us was – at least apparently, I have no way of knowing – incredibly expert. He guided us on flavour profiles, food pairings (“the esters in the wheat beer will give it a cooling effect for the spice in the buffalo wings, but the Elvis Juice will kick it up a notch”), and more. But it was consistently good as Brewdog always is, and some interesting variations. Nice to have it on tap instead of bottled/canned, too.

Monkey finger rating

To each burger in turn

Patriot Burger

Bun –  5/5
Build – 2/5
Burger – 2/5
Taste –  3/5

Beyond Burger

Bun – 4/5
Build – 3/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste – 4/5

Sides – 4/5 -would have been higher had there been more hot sauce in the buffalo wings, the fries are really excellent
Value – 4/5 – £22 per head for burger, sides, beer per head – with a 10% Equity Punk discount. Pretty good even without.

Overall rating – 4/5 – the experience was fun and the Beyond Burger was really very good. I’d go back, and probably try even more different beers. Or maybe – controversially – the chicken burger.

The deets

There are Brewdog bars all over the place now – find your nearest here.

Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Festival Place, Basingstoke

A contender once again; GBK got good

Burger source

GBK was the original gourmet burger in London, more than half a decade ahead of Byron in landing in the UK, it introduced us to a burger that wasn’t chargrilled to death in a pub or a freeze-dried hockey-puck, like Maccy D’s. But I wasn’t a huge fan at the time; in the early 2000s, the burgers seemed oversized, mealy, over complex and, well, nothing special. Even without a frame of reference, it wasn’t a favoured destination.

But the chain has changed ownership three times, from the original Kiwi founders through two separate restaurant holding groups. It’s look, feel and theme hasn’t changed significantly but the menu – less eccentric than it once was – and the food quality, have both improved significantly, it seems.

What they tell you about the beef? “100% British prime beef patties using selected cuts from grass reared cattle on independent farms. We cook to medium but tell us how you like it.” –> reviewing the menu, you can see they experiment with different beef blends. I need to go back to try more, now I know they do a good burger…

The order

I had a GBK cheese & bacon (standard), whilst Amanda had a Avocado Bacon – a throwback to the early days of GBK, when a pineapple ring ALSO featured as a burger topping. Side of chunky fries, and that was it.

The meat of it

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The presentation was solid, for both burger and fries; a relatively clean plate, a good stack with nicely melted cheese, a soft-appearing seeded bun, and well-proportioned; not at all what I remembered from my early 2000s experience of it at all. Hope blossomed.

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The cross section provided additional cause for celebration; this burger was juicy, there was a reasonable melt to the cheese, the bacon, whilst perhaps not overly generous, was crispy, and the promise of a medium cook was upheld. More than this; a coarse grind, and, on tasting… a hefty crust surrounded a juicy interior. The toppings compliment it well and the pickles provide the sweet counterpoint necessary for all the savoury goodness as well. The bun is a simple soft roll, the sesame seeds provide a nice accent and it holds up to the burger juices well enough. No sweetness in the bread, though, that was provided by the pickles and some completely non-memorable BBQ sauce. I would have preferred a chunky relish with this one, I think.

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The fries, however… despite positive initial appearance, there’s something very suspect about these. Whilst they look like thick-cut, skin on chips, the interior tastes of processed mash. The crisp skin basically surrenders to it when you take a bite and you’re left feeling bewildered and slightly cheated. This still felt a better option than the skinny fries many of the other patrons were eating, which looked less like shoestrings and more like carbon nanotubes impersonating a French fry.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 4/5 – bit more melt on the cheese would have been good
Burger – 4.5/5 – really very good
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 2/5 – weird chips
Value – 3.5/5 – £13+ for burger and side, ish. And given the fries weren’t good…

Burger rating – 4/5 – pleasantly surprised.

The deets

There are over 60 of these around the country; mine was in Festival Place, Basingstoke. Amanda and I then went to see the Greatest Showman, and if this was a film blog, I’d be raving about it here. SO GOOD. Although I guess if this was a history blog, I’d be ranting about its inaccuracy…  You can’t please everyone all the time!

Burger & Lobster, Oxford Circus, London

Not as good as I remember it; overpriced and underwhelming, this burger disappoints.

Burger source

Four schoolmates, apparently, had the idea to open a restaurant (chain) that specialized on just one or two ingredients. They went for beef… and lobster, back in 2011 and seem to have done pretty well now, with multiple locations open across London and beyond.

Turf and surf. Not wholly original as combinations go, but the conceit – an extremely limited menu, designed for simplicity, with (originally) flat pricing for burger, lobster or lobster roll (there are a few more variants on offer now, and varied pricing), was intriguing, and I enjoyed a visit I made there back in 2012.

This time, I was there for a group event, and once again, chose turf…

The order

The “original burger” is 10oz of “Lettuce, tomato, house made pickles and B&L’s secret burger sauce served with chips and salad.” For a place that ‘specialises’ in two ingredients, they don’t make much of the beef’s progeny, but that’s what it is. I topped it with cheese and bacon (standard).

As it was a group event, some starters were pre-ordered, including a spicy bean and feta dip, some arancini (which don’t appear on the standard menu and might have been a Christmas special) and calamari.

The meat of it

Let’s start with the starters.

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The spicy bean dip was spicy as promised – served with a warm, soft flatbread. Nice, if simple.

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The arancini was a crispy ball of cheesey indulgence. I’m not a huge fan of arancini in general, so was somewhat underwhelmed; it was neither risotto ball nor deep fried cheese puff, so, well, meh. I don’t think it was the best exemplar of the category but it wasn’t bad.

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The calamari was extremely moreish; crisp but tender, well cooked. However the batter was loose and flaking off, as you can see in the picture, and the overall greasiness was too high. I suspect this was a slight victim of having to serve a partyload of people. The aioli was excellent; the tomato based sauce bland. But perhaps deliberately so. And the lemon took the edge of the grease…

And now the burger.

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It’s a behemoth. That picture! As much as I love burgers, 10oz is a little more than anybody needs.

Regardless; look at the stack. Absolutely perfect superficially. Lettuce protecting the lower half of the bun, a perfect melt on the cheese coating the burger, bacon, onions, pickle on top. Burger sauce on either side. Good crisp char on the bacon too. And the bun – an elaborate unsweetened white roll with seeds for texture – seemed to be holding up well.

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It’s limitations start to become apparent in cross section. The beef is overcooked (perhaps another victim of mass-catering), resulting in a dry, mealy texture. It is too hard-packed, adding unnecessary bite. The burger sauce turns the whole thing into a slippery loaded gun – burger wants to shoot out everywhere. The bun, untouched by burger juice, is actually too dry. the pickle, whilst good, is totally outclassed by the vast quantity of meat, so the sweet contrast is left wanting. You can barely taste the bacon for the rest of it. The salad was fine, but the net impact was one of eating a bit of a hot mess.

That said, there were some redeeming qualities; it was well seasoned. The cheese melt was good and bound the burger together. The burger sauce was tasty… just outmatched by the vastness of the beef.  I ended up giving away a quarter of my burger and not missing it.

All in all, the burger didn’t quite work. I’d like to go back in a smaller group and see if they can do better.

The fries? Less complicated to review; they were unseasoned, uncrispy, there was no salt on the table, and tbh I left the vast majority. I didn’t even take a pic, it turns out. Sorry!

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 2.5/5
Taste –  2.5/5
Sides – 2.5/5 – the fries were bad. But the starters had some redeeming qualities
Value – 2/5 – £16 for burger and fries; starters were £7-8.50. I was there for a group event where I didn’t foot the bill, but if I had… I would have felt overcharged.

Burger rating – 2.5/5 – it wasn’t as good as I remembered it being. I don’t particularly like lobster but I was left wondering if I should have ordered that instead.

The deets

They seem to be all over the place – find your nearest branch here if you want to try it for yourself; I’m sure it’ll be better when they’re not crazy busy. This one was a four minute walk from Oxford Circus, on Little Portland Street.

Porky’s, 18 New Globe Walk, Bankside

Well cooked, well-constructed, slightly sweet burger in this meat-palace

Burger source

Independently owned by husband and wife team Simon and Joy Briggs, two road-tripping Brits who fell in love with Memphis, Porky’s is a full-on-rib shack. But they have a decent burger selection and were shortlisted for an award lately so we thought we’d give them a try. The burgers are 100% brisket mince, and to be honest I’m not sure what that’s meant to add to the burger (the brisket is a ‘primal cut’ of beef, featuring muscle and lots of connective tissue, classically braised or roasted – not sure if or how it has to be treated in a burger).

The order

A lunchtime visit so little extravagance; a ‘Beale Street Special’ and fries was the sum total of the order. The Beale Street special is a cheeseburger with onion rings, jalapenos and hot sauce. There wasn’t a ‘standard’ cheese and bacon, so I opted for this as the closest option on the menu!

The meat of it

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It’s a well presented burger, to be sure. Like Byron, it was a little too perfect, and I wondered what would happen on the cross-section…

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…but medium rare it was, juicy and perfectly cooked.

As to the taste… I was unsure about the hot sauce – have never been a fan in anything other than Buffalo wings. However it adds just a gentle heat to the backdrop of an extremely meaty burger. Perfect grind, well-seasoned, intensely flavoured (maybe it’s the brisket?), this is a burger that’s more than the sum of its part. Like the Byron B-Rex, the combination of jalapeno, onion and pickles – alongside a brioche bun – adds a lot of sweetness, and the burger probably could have used a little bacon to take the edge off it…. But on balance the taste was excellent. Juicy, high quality beef, wrapped in a stack of complementary ingredients, well prepared and presented.

Porkies_fries

As to the fries… as you can see from the picture, they didn’t look like much. McD’s style thin cut fries, arriving in need of seasoning… but it’s a healthy portion for the money, and they are much more crisp than they appear, so on balance – a good thing. Colleagues had the sweet potato fries, which also looked good.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 3.5/5 – good but unexceptional
Value – 4/5 – £12 for burger and side, ish… but then 20% discount with a Bankside Buzzcard!

Burger rating – 4/5 – meaty goodness that would have benefited from a little more saltiness and chew amongst the sweet and spicy toppings.

The deets

Just round the corner from the Tate and the South Bank, this branch of Porky’s is super-convenient to my office. They have one in Camden, too, if you’re North, or Boxpark if you’re East. All locations here.