The Beagle, Barlow Moor Road, Manchester

Very serviceable Mancs Deliveroo burger, with decent skin on chips and craft beer

Burger source

The Beagle seems to be one of that new breed of gastropub; handmade burgers, an excellent craft beer selection, burritos and more.

The menu is relatively low fuss; no indication of the heritage of the burgers or any such stuff; no hand-fed cows on the salt-marshes of Northern Ireland or anything. Picking the order off Deliveroo, you’d be hard pressed (but for the booze selection, and the absence of kebabs) to identify the difference between this place and a kebab shop that also did burgers.

But the ratings were high (90%+) and I thought it’d be nice to have a Northern burger whilst visiting Manchester, so I did. Looking up the website of the pub, it’s clearly the kind of craft burger/beer hipster hangout I love, so next time – who knows – maybe I’ll make it in. But this time I was housebound with the kids, so ’twas not to be.

The order

I went relatively simple – the Maple Bacon Burger, a 6oz patty, chipotle mayo, crispy streaky maple cured bacon, and cheese, on a brioche bun. With salad and skin-on chips.

I had them deliver a craft beer too – a High Wire Grapefruit (Grapefruit Pale Ale is apparently a thing).

The meat of it

The stack is messy; a huge slice of tomato and salad coated in copious chipotle mayo, bacon and burger both spilling out of the side of the apparently undersized brioche, and the burger blackened and flattened to the point I imagined I might need to skip the review – so mediocre was it likely to be.

But looks can be deceiving. Whilst the stack was indeed messy, delivery may account for some of the sliding, and the cross section reveals a coarse ground patty that has decent amount of pink visible. The bacon cuts with an audible snap when I prepped for the cross section shot, which adds drama and excitement – bacon was made to be fried crisp, IMHO.

On first taste, I’m confused. There’s salt from the extremely melty cheese and the bacon, adding to the bite of the burger (simple salt/pepper seasoning on that, and not too much of it). The sweet hint in the bacon couples with the sweet salad and sweet brioche and is countered by the mild but obvious heat from the – very flavourful – chipotle mayo. Of which there is slightly too much, but which adds more than it detracts.

The bun starts to fall apart in my hands as I eat; though the burger lacks real juiciness, the mayonnaise and salad is taking its toll on even the egg-and-sugar enriched bun. The combination is certainly more than the sum of its parts, though; a good bite to the meat, a crisp, salty, gooey texture from the cheese and bacon, the sweetness from the bun and salad and the texture and heat added by the mayo gel extremely effectively, even after being in a takeaway box for 10 minutes. The pros outweigh the cons (slightly overdone, dry meat, slight under seasoning, messy stack, inadequate bun), and the overall experience was very satisfying.

The fries; held up very well. Medium-cut, skin on chips, these taste of real potato, are crisp without being greasy, and are well-seasoned without being salty. Even without ketchup they are enjoyable, which is a good sign.

The beer; I will not attempt to review too comprehensively. My taste in beer is unusual; I favour sweeter drinks with a hint of beeriness and prior to the current craft beer renaissance we seem to be going through, I’d only ever order a beer if there was Hoegarden on tap. This beer is the lovechild of a fairly standard craft IPA (think: Beavertown Neck Oil) and a can of Lilt. It’s not overtly sugary but the hint of sweetness cuts back the bitterness of the IPA to leave a very smooth overall experience. The Grapefruit flavour isn’t overly chemical. I’d have it again, but I suspect most real beer lovers wouldn’t.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 3.5/5

Build – 3/5

Burger – 3.5/5

Taste – 4/5

Sides – 4/5

Value – 4/5 – £10 for burger and side, plus £5 for the beer (!!) with 10% off the lot.

Burger rating – 4/5 – really a very good experience overall

The deets

You can find the Beagle on Deliveroo, or at 458 Barlow Moor Road, Manchester, M20 0BQ. The pub’s website is here.

Thirsty Bear, Stamford Street, London

Exceptional pub fayre

Burger source

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The Thirsty Bear positions itself as the “pub revolutionised” and in many ways it is. iPads adorn many of the tables, which also have beer taps attached, allowing you to order (and pour!) your drinks at the table, get food sent to you, call a waiter for help and so on. It’s a small but effective gimmick, cutting down queue/wait time and certainly makes things work differently.

The burgers are the staple of the pub’s American-themed menu, which also features wings, ribs, slaws, soft tacos and beyond. All we know is about the burger origins is that  “All burgers are a whopping 6oz of prime rib-eye, fillet and sirloin patty.”

The order

I ordered a ‘BBQ bacon’, and colleagues had various eccentric variations; one featuring pulled pork, one peanut butter. The BBQ bacon featured 6 oz beef patty, crispy smoked bacon, Monterey jack, lettuce, tomato, red onion, BBQ glaze, bun. Side of Cajun fries, and we had some wings and ribs too.

The meat of it

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Appearances can be confusing. In the darkness of the pub, what was clear was that this burger appeared to have a rather flaccid bun; there was ample (perhaps excessive) salad poking around the side. The burger was topped with thin-mandolined pickled cucumber. BBQ sauce was dripping around the bun. The cheese had an excellent melt and was glooping around the side. A stray red onion loop makes its presence felt.

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The cross section reveals a fine grind, densely packed. Not sure how this is going to go.

Then the first bite. The crunch from the uber-crispy bacon reports like a rifle shot. The taste is instant; the salt and crunch of the bacon; the slight resistance from the well-charred burger exterior. The juicy drip of its interior – drier than it could have been, but better than many. A smokiness and sweetness, from the meat and the BBQ sauce, peels through each mouthful. There’s a light bonus crispness and sweetness from the salad; tomato and onion, mild lettuce, perfect pickle. The meat blend makes every mouthful tasty, despite the fact that the burger is a little too dense and too chewy, and the lettuce portion is unnecessarily generous…  the overall impression is one of lush, well balanced flavour. This is an excellent pub burger.

Sides were fun: the Cajun fries (and the regular, and sweet potato fries colleagues ordered) were truly excellent. Crisp and well seasoned on the outside, squidgy in the middle, without being unduly salty. Cajun seasoning adds a (very) mild spice flavour.

We also tried some buffalo wings and ribs. The ribs were dry and tougher than they should have been; the sauce a little meanly applied though not without flavour. Overall, a solid meh. The wings, on the other hand, had a good crunch, decent heat coming through the hot sauce, and only a smidge too little sauce. The meat was juicy and not overdone. Definitely moreish, though, and recommended.

The colleagues I was eating with enjoyed theirs as much as I did mine, so verdict verified.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5 – soft but surprisingly sturdy
Build – 4/5 – may not look like much but really very well contained
Burger – 3.5/5 – could have been a shade or two rarer without hurting anyone
Taste –  4/5 – very solid flavour, if a little dense and less juicy than it could have been
Sides – 4/5 – excellent fries, good wings, middling ribs
Value – 4/5 – £12 for burger and side, ish. Plus £5.50 for a pint, and £12 to share a jumbo starter.

Burger rating – 4/5 – really very good overall.

The deets

Just off Southwark Street, about 8 minutes down the road from Waterloo Station. Worth the diversion for supper and a pint. Limited Vegan options available.

An urgent missive to pub landlords and restauranteurs around the UK on the humble burger

Dear publican, restaurant owner / manager / chef,

You’ve doubtless noticed that London, and increasingly the UK in general, has undergone something of a renaissance when it comes to burger fayre. No longer are we satisfied with an overcooked hockey puck of beef, wedged into a floury bap and presented with a bottle of squeezy ketchup by way of condiments. That doesn’t mean we’re all pretentious gits who should order something else (well, maybe it does, but nonetheless); please consider the following attributes of a good burger, easily managed in virtually any kitchen, which will turn your ‘burger’ option from a tedious, seldom-ordered staple to a featured attraction.

After eating burgers at well-thought of pubs and hotels in the area out of curiosity (given I write this blog), I’ve been nothing but disappointed, so felt the need to offer some genuinely well-intentioned advice for chefs to consider. One of these disappointing venues, incidentally, is a five star luxury country hotel and the other is a local pub that boasts a chef who worked at a Michelin-starred restaurant in its kitchen, so these aren’t amateurs. Which makes their burger offers all the more mystifying in their mediocrity.

See what you make of the following:

  • If you freeze your burgers, freeze them well. Wrap them individually, seal them (zip lock if possible, cling film is porous apparently) limit moisture lose through sublimation when they’re awaiting cooking. Otherwise the juiciest burgers will become dry and powdery when you take them out to cook them. It’s perfectly possible to make a delicious juicy medium burger from a frozen patty – cook it slow and finish it fast.
  • If you’re buying your burgers in, get them to do all of the above! If they don’t, switch your burger supplier! I found an excellent supermarket burger recently, am sure they’d be available wholesale nationally.
  • The fat/lean ratio is important. Again, don’t feel the need to use lean meat. 20-25% fat vs 75-80% lean seems to be the magic number. People have to cope with the fact that a burger isn’t the healthiest option on the menu.
  • The grind is important. If you’re making your own burgers, don’t pack them full of finely ground meat and squash them till they hold their shape. Course ground, loosely packed. Makes for a less chewy mouthful and that melt-in-your-mouth experience.
  • Burgers shouldn’t be served well done. You’re not allowed by law to sell them below ‘medium’ so go with that. It’ll add a juiciness quotient that is well worth striving for. If you sous vide, this is easy to do for large groups too – just char them on a hot grill for a quick finish and those vital flavours. Unless you’re going for a different burger style (smash-burgers and sliders have different rules).
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You can see all the things that are wrong with this burger. Dry, overcooked patty. Tightly packed, fine ground mince. The thick cut bacon? Flavourless and insufficiently charred for my liking. Bun? Stale. Sauce? Ketchup on the side.
  • It needs seasoning! At least the salt and pepper, the rest is for fancier burgers, but the ‘natural’ flavour of beef is quite bland so help it out.
  • Think through the sauce. A good condimentary [sic] partner  for your burger may not be the cloying sweetness of ketchup or the sharp bite of mustard. A relish, a mustard fry – lots of easy, great options to plan a burger around.
  • The bun matters. Dry, slightly stale floury baps – won’t do. I’m partial to an egg-washed soft white roll, toasted on the inside only. Has to hold up to juicy beef, and depending on the sweetness of your relish/sauce, you may not want the sweetness of a brioche or demi-brioche (much as they are all the rage, it seems).  The bun/patty ratio is important too – except for,dehydrated frozen burgers (the bad kind) most fresh burgers shrink as they lose moisture, so plan your patty size/bun size accordingly. Unlike the BK ads, meat doesn’t need to overhang the bun (you’ll have a problem with bun structural integrity if you do) but less than 95% bun coverage and you start to have plain bread mouthfuls and that’s not a good thing.
  • Cheese needs to be melted on. Nothing else needs to be said here. A lid and a bit of water work well here without needing to overcook the burger (I witnessed the dirty burger chefs do this, also softening the lettuce and tomato slightly at the same time – a great trick).
  • Everything else is an accessory. But accessories matter! Whether you include a pickle. Raw or cooked onion or caramelized onion. Chicken-skin fries, triple or double cooked. Lettuce or slaw. Just think it through in the context of a plate. Less is definitely more.

I think that’s most things, but if I’ve missed anything, I’m hoping the burger community will help me out in the comments, and I’ll update this post (with attributions). It seems like a lot but… it’s not really! Change your burger supplier and your baker (or at least, your order from the same!) and brief your chef and you’re away.

In a year with Brexit, Trump, terrorist attacks and celebrity deaths, the last thing anyone needs is a mediocre burger to top it all off.