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!

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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.

Marks Bar @ Hixter Bankside, Great Guildford Street, London SE1

Sumptuous, meaty glory

Burger source

The “rib steak” burger (it’s rib-eye cut, according to Wikipedia, unless Mr Hix puts ground up bone in there) and fries announces itself with little ceremony on the menu. Mark Hix’s reputation as a chef and restaurateur promised an ‘upscale’ experience, but I really didn’t know what to expect.

The order

So, eating with the effervescent Mr Sullivan is an experience as, whilst we were offered blue cheese and bacon as toppings, once he established that customisation was possible, a world of opportunity was unlocked. Namely; the option of mushrooms and of regular cheddar. I went for the latter and bacon, and we ordered some sides to top up the table – onion rings, chicken popcorn and chicken skins. Just to see! And of course the burger came with fries. As a surprising bonus, our waiter allowed us to order the burgers medium rare (often disallowed in London, presumably for food safety reasons), so that was exciting.

The meat of it

So this burger doesn’t look that special on arrival. I mean, it looked good, but not extraordinary.

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A single slice of back bacon (surprising in itself – usually streaky’s the choice for burgers) resting on well melted cheese, resting on the 6oz patty… whilst all veg and burger sauce lies deconstructed around it… some assembly required. In some ways I can understand this – I immediately dispensed with the tomato, it has no place in my burgers – whilst Craig left the red onion to one side, a judgement call I understand but don’t agree with.

Anyway, some light assembly later, tomato-based burger relish, onion and pickles manually inserted and bun topped, I went for the cross section.

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Wow. Look at that pinkness. The meat was practically melting just after the cut. The bun – which looked somewhat dry from a distance – is necessarily sturdy to withstand the juicyness of the meat.

And then the taste. Funky, meaty, juicy… melty texture… the crunch of the bacon was totally unexpected from back bacon, the crisp sweetness of the pickle a delightful contrast and even the tomato relish added to the overall gestalt. The bun withstood the onslaught of flavour and provided the necessary starchy contrast and you tasted the high quality beef with every mouthful as there was clearly some restraint in the burger’s seasoning – no doubt for this very reason. This is one of the best burgers in London, without a shadow of a doubt.

The sides – well, the fries were outstanding if conventional french fries. The dipping sauces – some kind of parsley aioli, a rich curry sauce and ketchup – helped cut the edge of the generous salting they’d had. The chicken skins – like ‘healthy’ pork scratchings, provided a delightful savoury crunch. The onion rings were a revelation; seasoned, crispy, spicy, flecked with pepper and running spicy and sweet as the seasonings contrasted with the natural flavour of the onion. The only disappointment is that “chicken popcorn” was, in fact, chicken flavoured popcorn… not popcorn-shaped chicken, as we’d mistakenly assumed. I didn’t even try it in protest at my own folly.

Oh and Craig and The Bond wanted mushrooms… they were special; garlicky, buttery, sweet and savoury.

Drinks wise – was mostly consuming Hixter’s Old Fashioneds. They were outstanding, and served with a hefty single block of ice to help them linger.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4.5/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 4.5/5
Taste –  5/5
Sides – 4.5/5
Value – 4/5 – £14.95 for the burger and fries, £10 for three sides  for the burger plus a share of delivery.  So it’s not a cheap burger.

Burger rating – 5/5 – the whole is really greater than the sum of its parts at Hixter. This is a very special burger indeed.

The deets

Marks Bar is in the basement of Hixter Bankside, tucked away on Great Guildford street just by Southwark Street. Lovely ambiance and home to a rather eccentric bar billiards game we utterly failed to understand despite quite clear instructions on how to play. Find it here.

Fur and Feathers, Herriard, Hampshire

An exceptional gastropub in the Basingstoke surrounds.

Burger Source

All the menu says is: “Home Made 7oz Beef Burger  or Grilled Chicken Breast with Chips, choose either Chunky Potato or Sweet Potato Chips Served in a Brioche Bun with Tomato, Dill Pickle & Our Own Tomato Relish, Mayonnaise & Watercress (GF, please specify)”

There were a variety of toppings on offer; from bacon and Tunworth cheese, stilton & bacon to chilli jam and guacamole; these people are putting a serious twist on the gastropub burger. But would it live up to the impressive sounding menu? The presence of gluten free options and the option of regular chips or sweet potato chips gave me the impression, rightly or wrongly, that this was a place that took its burger seriously, so I once again broke my no-pub-burger rule and rolled the dice.

The order

The beef burger, obviously, with bacon and Tunworth cheese (whatever that was), tomato relish and regular chips. Accompanied by a lime and soda, because, #datenight #designateddriver.

The meat of it

On arrival, I discovered quickly that Tunworth cheese seems to be a relative of Camembert (a guess later confirmed by a quick Google search) and that it came deep fried. A healthy,  crispy wedge of cheese oozed out on top of a large patty and thick, crisp slice of back bacon, which in turn was sat on top of a layer of thin dill pickle slices and a slab of tomato. The brioche, a not-oversweet representative of the genre, was heavily toasted (charred, some might say) and the burger was served open, as if to say “I defy you to close me up and take a bite.” A coating of watercress covered the facing half of the bun, adding to the challenge.

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I managed to get the bun on. Check out that oozing cheese!

As to the taste; well I started with a nibble of the Tunworth cheddar; it had somewhat exploded but the light creaminess was delicious and a very exciting teaser for the feature presentation. The crisp coating added a marvellous textural contrast. I squidged on the top bun (the brioche was soft despite charring on the inside), dolloping on a thick layer of the chunky tomato relish that was served on the side as I went.

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The cross section revealed a densely packed, medium-well cooked burger (less pink than I’d like, and denser – with more chew than strictly called for), excellent coarse ground beef and wonderfully seasoned. It was juicy, to the point of slipping somewhat within the brioche. And the taste somehow made up for the slight flaws in the burger; the umami from the cheese and bacon hits your mouth like a burger firecracker; lighting up your taste buds in all kinds of different directions simultaneously. The bacon was crispy, surprising for thick-cut back bacon and I’m not sure how they managed it. The Tunworth cheese – SO MUCH FLAVOUR. The relish brought a much needed sweet relief to the salt-splosion that the rest of the burger represented, as did the pickles and sweet tomato. The watercress, to my mind, would have been better swapped out for mustard and some fresh onion… but that’s just me.

As to the chips; they were plentiful and crisp on the outside, squidgy on the inside. Absolutely perfect examples of what a British chip should be, and how it can be superior to the French fry when cooked perfectly. My only criticism was that they could have been delivered with a tad more salt, as the coarse ground table salt didn’t stick to the fully-cooked chips very effectively.

On balance, a very, very satisfactory burger. Despite the minor flaws in the burger, the overall experience was remarkable and I’d recommend the pub – and this burger – to anyone in range.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  5/5
Sides – 4.5/5
Value – 4/5 – £15 for the burger and chips – expensive by the standards of the burger scene, but cheap for a gastropub meal.

Burger rating – 4.5/5 – truly the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The deets

This lovely gastropub is hidden away in the village of Herriard, about 5 miles from Basingstoke, in what feels like the middle of nowhere. It’s lovely and they server a LOT of different types of gin, but sadly only two types of bourbon and they were out of the one I wanted.

Find it here: The Fur and Feathers, Southrope, Herriard, Basingstoke, Hampshire, RG25 2PN. Tel: 01256 510510