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.

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.

Coin Laundry, 70 Exmouth Market, London

A tremendous disappointment of a burger; dry, overcooked, underseasoned, under-topped

Burger source

So when looking for new burgers, I routinely Google other people’s ‘best burgers’ list and this one came up number two on Esquire.com. The review is extraordinary, the photo lush. I mean, look at it:

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I’m reminded, in a movie reference that will show my age, of Michael Douglas in Falling Down.

There is something wrong with this picture.

Regardless, this is what Coin Laundry’s website has to say about it:

“Cheeseburger, hot smoked pork belly, red onion, kohlrabi pickle, fried potatoes.” There’s no real clue as to the origin of the burger itself, other than the restaraunts own claims that it uses: “ingredients … from the best local suppliers…. Our meat and veg are organic where possible.”

So, there’s that.

The order

I was there for a birthday meal with my sister and some friends and, whilst Sheila joined me on the burger the others ordered a selection of sharing plates from the menu. I’m not going to get into the small plates except in passing; so the order was really just the burger for me. I’d asked about the potatoes; generally I’m more of a fries guy but was sold on them by the waitress: “they’re, like small roast potato chunks,” sounded good at the time.

The meat of it

So, the burger. First impressions, not positive:

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The stack is lopsided. The plate is unnecessarily small and potatoes are literally falling off the edge. They look ok, though, so I’m reserving judgement. Cross section next.

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Perhaps the clue should have come when they didn’t ask me how I wanted the burger cooked, because it’s well done (not ideal). Worse, there’s little evidence of the ‘hot pork belly’ – ample red onion, and plenty of the pickle… but the pork belly had such promise!

Down to the taste. The bun is incredibly soft and is tragically the highlight of the burger; sweet and sturdy enough for this burger. The meat? Is underseasoned; the crust is soft, there’s no tang whatsoever from the kohlrabi, you can’t taste any cheese (or much salt at all, to be honest). The grind is  coarse enough but the meat is packed in hard and the overall impression is chewy hockey-puck like. The red onion is not unpleasant but despite the lack of salt, the dryness of the burger forced me to condiments; ketchup and mayonnaise help a little. It’s just unworthy of a seeding in any ‘best burger’ ranking and belongs in the kitchen of a mediocre pub, frankly. It was sad.

The potatoes? Not as crispy as they looked. Underseasoned and hard to season (too thick; had these been cubed roasted potatoes I’d have enjoyed the variation, otherwise I should have gone with the fries option). All in all, a solid ‘meh’.

As to other things; had a fried chicken dish (soaked in a mildly spicey sauce and served with a sour cream-esque side) which was nice, tasted a rather delicious courgette fritter (think: bhaji) and enjoyed the totally ungarlicky garlic fries. They definitely can cook here, just… not a burger.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 1/5
Burger – 2/5
Taste –  2/5
Sides – 4/5 – not really sides so much as small plates of other things, but good on the whole
Value – 2/5 – £13.50 for burger and potatoes, £6-7 for the small plates. Overall the meal wasn’t expensive but it was so disappointing.

Burger rating – 2.5/5 – go for the food, beer and atmosphere. Don’t have a burger.

The deets

Coin Laundry is up on Exmouth Market and is full of charm and atmosphere; the service is friendly and most of the food is good. Just don’t order the burger. You can book online via the website.

The Table Café, 83 Southwark Street, London

An extremely well put together burger let down by the meat

Burger source

The Table Café is characteristic of the Southwark neighbourhood; independent, owner-managed, distinctive, generally innovative and relatively unconventional. It’s not a burger house but does feature an interesting one on the lunch menu which I thought I’d sample, given the reputed quality of the rest of the cooking. More of the backstory of the restaurant here; worth a read.

The order

I went for the Cheeseburger, red onion relish & triple cooked chips, resisting the urge to add bacon for £2.50!

The meat of it

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The burger is well if simply presented. The bun has some gloss but is not a brioche; there’s a light dripping of unidentifiable burger sauce spilling out the side, the stack looks well assembled. The triple cooked chips on the side are golden with crunch evident before you even pick one up, much less bite into it. So far, so promising.

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The cross section improves and detracts in equal measure. It’s a perfect stack; a thick layer of the red onion relish, a good melt on the cheese, a good amount of pickle, a sturdy but pliant bun, and a good ratio of everything involved. BUT you can see the meat is overdone – it’s grey in the middle and soft the whole way through, no real juiciness at all.

On tasting it – the red onion relish brings a wonderful sourness to every bite, contrasted by the crisp sweetness of the pickle and the savoury nature of the rest of it. The burger meat is well seasoned but the lack of a distinctive crust and the dryness of the overcooked meat detracts from the overall experience, despite the best efforts of the mildly spicy mustard-filled burger sauce elsewhere in the stack. The meat isn’t terrible, but it is far less special than the rest of the burger, which really pulls together very well.

The fries -whilst underseasoned – live up to the first impression. Crisp crunch, but cut thick enough for a fluffy interior despite the triple cooking. The ketchup that was on the table – a brand I didn’t recognise – was somewhat eccentric. I suspect the consequence of buying posh, locally sourced, organic stuff. I’d have preferred Heinz, tbh!

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 4/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 2.5/5
Taste – 3/5 – let down by meat despite how good everything else is
Sides – 4/5 – good chips
Value – 3.5/5 – £12.75 for burger and fries, which is pretty reasonable for the restaraunt. The bacon was too much extra though!

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – could have been better had it been better cooked.

The deets

This is one of our locals on Southwark Street, near the Tate Modern and five minutes’ walk from Blackfriars. If I go back I’ll ask them to cook it medium explicitly and see what happens.