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.

Wahlburgers, James Street, Covent Garden

Including Transformers: The Last Knight, this is the worst thing Mark Wahlberg has ever done

Burger source

Wahlburgers is a chain of growing notoriety. 10 seasons of reality TV, 30+ outlets in the US, a high-profile arrival in Covent Garden and of course – the Wahlberg family – made me curious. And a mixed barrage of reviews (bad from critics, more positive – it seemed – from punters) made me even moreso. Averaging four stars on Tripadvisor and Google Reviews, it surely merited investigation, yes? Not so much, it turns out. But spoilers…

The “fresh Scottish beef” is, apparently, a “signature blend of brisket, short rib and chuck.” Should be good, right? I mean, that’s some tasty cuts right there.

The order

“The brothers each have a favourite,” the menu acclaims. Well, they were all 4oz burgers and we were hungry, so we went for the 1/2 pound “O.F.D” – “Originally from Dorchestah”, featuring a 6oz patty, swiss cheese, bacon, sautéed mushrooms and a ‘housemade tomato jam.’

There were a few of us, so we tried a lot of sides – Mac & Cheese, cola wings, hummus [sic] and tortillas, sweet potato and regular fries, thin and crispy onion rings.

I drank the Wahlbrewski, an American Pale Ale served on tap.

The meat of it

The summary kind of gives it away. This is a terrible, terrible burger. A crime against burgers. Daylight robbery at £12 for the burger alone. Let’s look at it.

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Barely melted swiss cheese. The bun is cold, though inoffensive. The patty is small relative to everything else.

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In cross section: you see mealy, finely ground, tightly packed meat. The pale red tomato jam has a strange consistency. The bacon is flaccid and the mushrooms are an odd inclusion.

First bite. No seasoning. The meat tastes like its from a cow that has been unbundled from mummification prior to butchering and preparation. Dry, tasteless meat is not salvaged my limpid bacon and tasteless cheese. The bun holds up and provides sweetness and body – but that’s about all that’s redeeming about this burger.

Four of us ordered it, and none of us were willing to waste the calories to finish it. Nearly two full burgers’ worth of detritus went back. In my few years of burger reviewing, this is the first time I refused to finish the meal.

The waitstaff were extremely courteous and apologetic. They tried to explain away our dislike for the burger. “I don’t like Swiss cheese either….” The cheese was a small part of the problem. “Our meat blend is very unusual, a lot of people won’t love it, it’s the brisket…” The meat blend, in theory, is fine. Brisket is a little unusual and would have reduced the overall fat content, but shouldn’t have dried it out completely. “Try our double burger, you’ll love it.” We declined to buy any more of the horrific burgers, but in an attempt to win us round the manager brought one anyway, on the house, split five ways for us to try.

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It was marginally better, in the way that a slap to the face is better than a gutpunch. i.e. Both terrible. In practical terms, a more substantial, Big-Mac-esque burger sauce, and a more melty cheese added moisture and umami. But the meat was the same rubbery, leathery awfulness we’d experienced previously.

My first ever nul points. I would not eat this burger again if you paid me its price. Misters Wahlberg, you should be ASHAMED, to lend your family name to this horror, this caloric vacuum of flavour, this insult to burgers, to cows, to your customers.

A rapid fire set of reviews for the sides:

  • The tortilla/hummus [sic] combo was fine but uninspired. You could have been eating Doritos and Tesco houmous.
  • The Mac & Cheese – was flagrant misrepresentation in that it was neither mac nor cheese, but rather standard penne in a mild, garlicky white sauce. Most of this went uneaten.
  • The cola wings – were great. Really crisp, sweet with a hint of heat, juicy meat that fell off the bone. A highlight.
  • The fries and sweet potato fries – were fine. Well cooked, lightly seasoned, good structure and body though not really notable.
  • The fried pickles – were well fried and tasted ok – but the pickle flavour was very light. The slices are too thin and the pickles too weak to hold up to the batter and deep frying.
  • The thin and crispy onion rings – were extremely moreish. Heavily seasoned, they were salty, sweet, crispy and delicious.

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The Wahlbrewski – a light, refreshing, citrusy American Pale Ale – was really nice (to my craft-beer loving palate). A strong partnership with an American brewery, a sweetness takes the edge off the bitterness of the ale, and its light and well carbonated. A good partner for the food, such it was.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 2/5
Build – 2/5
Burger – 0/5
Taste – 0/5
Sides – 3/5 – the onion rings would get 5 on their own, the wings 4, the fries 3.5.
Value – 1/5 – £30 for burger, sides, drink and shared starters for food of this quality in that environment was just too much

Burger rating – 0/5 – all the points Wahlburgers gets – for the service, for the sides, for the beer – it loses to the appalling travesty it claims is a burger.

The deets

Please don’t go there for the burgers. But it’s opposite Covent Garden tube if you want a quiet American Pale Ale and a basket of onion rings, brilliant service and a brightly-lit fast food environment. And I’d definitely recommend it for that.

Refuel @ Soho Hotel, Soho, London

Tasty but messy beef and chicken burgers

Burger source

A seasonal special, the Soho Hotel has let its chefs go wild and create their burgery delights for the Summer. Only available until 30th September! Here’s the blurb:

This August, the talented chefs at Refuel Bar & Restaurant have each created their own ultimate burger inspired by flavours from around the world.

Try Renaldo’s ‘Greek Island Paradise Burger’, a lamb burger with rosemary, lemon, oregano, feta, tomato and grilled onion with pickle and cucumber tzatziki or ‘Shannon’s Dirty Burger’, a twist on the classic created with a double beef patty, Applewood smoked cheese, golden onions, smoked bacon and topped with a blue cheese dip.  Each of the specially created summer burgers are paired with a refreshing Asahi beer.

More at the website.

We were curious and needed a new burger place to try in Soho, so thought, why not?

The order

Jimjamjebobo and I shared SAM’S EIFFEL TOWER BURGER (Buttermilk chicken, streaky bacon, caramelised onion with smoked paprika mayonnaise and crispy onion rings) and SHANNON’S DIRTY BURGER

(Double beef patty, Applewood smoked cheese, golden onions, smoked bacon, blue cheese dip). Sides of truffle Parmesan polenta chips, french fries and ‘hand cut chips’ were shared. Asahi came bundled with the burger.

The meat of it

To each burger in turn, then the sides.

Shannon, let’s talk.

I mean, what do you even call this stack? The double burgers are SIDE BY SIDe instead of on top of each other, bottoming (tomato, salad) cause the burger to slide around further, the toppings are literally falling out the side – it’s presentationally a mess. But… that bacon, onion, melty cheese, fresh salad – all looks good. What lies within?

A reasonably coarse grind but very little pink (oddly, Jimbo’s half looked better). It’s still sliding all over the place but we’re ready to taste now…

And gosh, it comes together. The meat is uncomplex but well seasoned and with a good crust. The moisture from the sweet bun, the cheese and the fresh salad makes up for the slightly overcooked burger. The cheese is extremely gooey and adds a lovely mouthfeel. The bacon is ultra-crisp streaky and adds a delightful crunch to each bite. Shannon, it may have looked a mess and been difficult to eat (at one point, I just flung the tomato out), but it was delicious. That said, I could do nothing with the blue cheese sauce. It was too thick to dip, too solid to spread, and it added nothing to the burger. It came on the side and was left on the side.

Now, for Sam’s turn.

In contrast, Sam’s stack is rather more elegant. Look at that cheese! Look at that bacon! Plated beautifully, well done. Look at that crisp breaded chicken, topped with crispy bacon… mmm…

So, to the tasting:

The chicken has a crisp, if somewhat uninspired breading – buttermilk chicken in my head has associations of the Deep South of America, but instead this is (as the name would suggest) a rather more elegant, continental breading. The meat is unbelievably moist, perfectly cooked. The cheese is a delight, gooey and luscious, binding the flavours rather beautifully. The bacon is hard to detect; it’s sparse and can’t compete with the other flavours, so was probably surplus to requirements. The burger did need the paprika mayonnaise that came on the side (it was just a bit too much salt without it) but I found that rather strong flavoured and so went without. Really a very credible effort.

As to the sides… A few to mention.

The coleslaw – which came with the burgers – was a bit too mayo-heavy for me and didn’t really add to the experience.

The pickle (aka Pickle Rick, because it was enormous and we like Rick and Morty): was great; fresh, crisp, and, well, big. Eaten on the side, I would have preferred pickle slices in the Dirty burger, I think. But I enjoyed it nonetheless.

The polenta fries… were grim. But that’s because I don’t like polenta fries. They were crisp, the Parmesan topping added a salty tang, but I don’t like truffle and I don’t like polenta. They are just a poor imitation of a thick cut chip and they should stop making them.

The regular fries… were just ok. Well seasoned but not universally crisp, and some of them were a little overcooked.

The hand cut fries… were too significant fractions of a potato for me to enjoy. Hand cut just a little bit thinner next time, I didn’t want roast potato size wedges with a burger then, and I never will.

And last, but definitely not least – the onion rings. Possibly the best onion rings I’ve ever had. A thick round of sweet onion encased in a crisp, extremely well seasoned batter. A lovely contrast of freshness and decadence. It came with Sam’s Eiffel Tower burger, so wasn’t an orderable side, but it should be.

Monkey finger rating

To each in turn…

Shannon:

Bun – 4/5
Build – 1/5
Burger – 3/5
Taste – 4/5

And Sam:

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

Sides – 3.5/5 – even the delightful onion rings can’t redeem the other chips
Value – 3.5/5 – £22.50 for burger, sides, and an Asahi.

Burger rating – 4/5 – overall, really a good experience. The Soho Hotel is a nice place to eat, there was a good vibe (even on a Tuesday), the service was great and the burgers were interesting. Try it out whilst the offer is on, and you will walk away happy and (very) full.

The deets

Just off Dean Street in Soho, look for Richmond Mews. You can book online.

Fuel Shack, Food Court, Suria KLCC, Malaysia

A high quality burger that is still somehow reminiscent for the Ramly burger tradition

Burger source

The founders of Fuel Shack write in their story of their determination to end the binary choice faced by Malaysian diners – of mass-market, low-quality, chain fast-food, vs., pretentious, expensive, upmarket high end burgers beyond the reach of most people. They wanted, they said, to end this with the introduction of accessible but high quality burgers served in a setting anyone could access. KLCC may be an expensive mall, but anyone can eat at the food court on level six, and anyone can get there easily enough.

The question: have they succeeded?

The order

I had the standard classic cheeseburger. Salad, mayo, 1/3rd lb grass-fed Australian beef patty, American cheese and a standard bun, with fries. RM16.80 or thereabouts for the privilege, with a drink. Or about £3. Certainly accessible by the standards of Malaysian high-end fast food, though a little more pricey than your Maccy D’s.

The meat of it

Whilst superficially this is good presentation, I have a few notes for fuel shack.

  1. Salad goes under the burger. It’s got to protect the bun from the meat juices.
  2. Cheese needs to be melted in. That slice of American cheese is practically solid.
  3. Easy on the mayo. More on this shortly

That said…

None of this hurts the burger too much. There’s a lovely crust from a hot griddle that gives a nice bite to the burger; the bun is soft but holds up well. There’s a saltiness from the cheese and an umami from the seasoning that reminds me – distantly, but in a good way – of the cheap (horrific) roadside Ramly burgers you get all over the country.

The cross section makes most of this clearer.

The interior of the burger is overcooked, but it’s not bad in spite of this – the meat is high quality and coarse ground, if somewhat compacted. The copious amounts of mayonnaise is applied with a kind of playdough applicator – with dozens of holes. There’s probably two full tablespoons of mayo in a single burger. Which is a lot. But it provides fake juiciness for the slightly overdone meat. The sweet/savoury balance isn’t bad, though the mayo overwhelms at times and I added a little ketchup to take the edge off. All in all, I’d say that Fuel Shack achieves its mission – this is a good burger at a reasonable price, distinct from fast-food, mainstream offerings as well as the high end offer, yet somehow something new in its own right.

As to the fries?

More or less unremarkable. Well seasoned, they cool quickly in the air conditioned environment and quickly achieve cardboard texture. That said, there’s a distinct potato flavour in there and they’re served in a sensible portion that doesn’t overwhelm. Crisp and tasty when hot, in a more potatoey- McD’s style. Completely adequate.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 4/5
Build – 2/5
Burger – 3.5/5
Taste – 3.5/5
Sides – 3/5
Value – 4/5 – £3 for burger and side, ish, is value even in local terms for what it is

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – would go again and make some customisation requests – less mayo, less overdone meat, meltier cheese, salad underneath.

The deets

There’s an outlet on the sixth floor of KLCC, in the Food Court. There may be others… check the website.

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.

The Laughing Gravy, 154 Blackfriars Road, London

Extraordinarily tasty burger with somewhat ordinary chips and even more exceptional pud

Burger source

This is a restaraunt with really a very high calibre of food across the board. So the burger doesn’t feature centrally, and gets just modest billing on the menu. Nonetheless; I expected from the reputation the restaraunt had acquired that this would be no “pub” burger.

The order

I had the Aberdeen Angus cheese burger with hand cut chips, with added smoked bacon for an additional £2. Portobello mushrooms and fried onions were also available as an alternative topping.

No starters, though I did share a pudding with an old friend. More on the 3-way salted caramel to follow.

The meat of it

This burger tastes extraordinary. Let’s look at it a little more closely.

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You can instantly see a good crust on the meat. The bun looks sturdy – perhaps excessively so? That rather depends on the meat, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The gammon-like bacon is thick, and covered with a good amount of very melty cheddar. A small drizzle of grease has escaped the otherwise perfect plating and speaks to a juicy feast to follow.

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The grease is explained. The coarse ground meat is cooked to a perfect medium, and whilst it looks and seems dry in the first pic, you can see here that the bun only just holds up to the meat juice. The bacon portion is ludicrously generous, and there’s a little red of relish in there of some description. You can see the cheese melting off to the side, a forgotten spider web of dairy deliciousness.

On first bite, you’re overwhelmed with umani. Whislt I ordinarily don’t love non-crispy  bacon in a burger, this thick cut smoked meat adds a delicious taste on top of the already well-seasoned beef. The beef itself is high grade, aged Aberdeen Angus, with a little of the delightful funk you get with dry-aging. It’s not overpowering though; this is not a complex burger, simply a very well constructed one. The melty cheddar binds without overwhelming the burger but the overall impact is very salty; the little relish is overpowered and the burger would have benefited from a sweet contrast. Perhaps my own fault for adding bacon but not ketchup.

I ate this burger slowly; it’s very rich and deserved savouring. They’ve made something wonderful here.

To the sides; the small side salad had a sweetish dressing and was a nice, if token, gesture in the direction of health. The chips were thick-cut, chip-shop style chips and were inconsistent – some soggy, others crisp to the point of shattering. A happy medium would have delivred a better experience throughout.

The pudding, of which I have no picture I’m afraid, was extraordinary. Brownie in multiple forms, a lush salted caramel gelato, cruchy bits in a sweet caramel goo, plus gooey salt caramel and chocolate embedded in a crisp brownie. There were peanut pieces surrounding the salted caramel gelato adding both salt and crunch. Wonderful. We shared it – at £9.70 and with three different grades of indulgence scattered across a large plate, it’s best shared between two!

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste –  4.5/5 – – more relish, or some sweet pickle and this would be up there
Sides – 3/5
Value – 3.5/5 – £16 for burger and sides, ish, with added bacon, and best part of £5 for the pudding (SHARED!) – this place is definitely more £££ than ££. But it is that kind of place.

Burger rating – 4/5 – despite the price and middling chips, this is a very special burger indeed.

The deets

Just up from Southwark Tube, it was quiet on a Friday lunchtime. It’s a well kept secret indeed, but definitely deserving of wider recognition!

Harvest, Brattle Street, Harvard, Boston

A beautiful burger that doesn’t quite live up to appearances

Burger source

I was in Boston for work and my brother happened to be in town to launch the phenomenal Jagged Little Pill musical at the American Repertory Theater. So, we met beforehand and shared a burger and a lobster roll at this popular eatery in the centre of the Harvard campus.

The order

Arvind had the lobster roll; I took on the menu’s sole burger, served with skin on hand cut fries; gratifyingly I was given the option of having it cooked medium, which I took. We shared a cold-cuts and cheese platter to begin with, and a deconstructed Boston cream pie for pudding. Seeing as it was my first trip to Boston, and I was being a tourist, I also had a Sam Adams.

The meat of it

As you can see from the photo, the presentation of this burger is glorious; it’s a perfect stack, a glorious melt on the cheese, fresh, bright salad in call caught between a perfect, lightly seeded roll – I think a non-enriched potato roll rather than a brioche.

The cross section promises even more; the meat’s a perfect pink the whole way through, no graying at the edges and what looks like a decent char on the meat. The grind is coarse and its juicy without soaking the bun. So far, so brilliant. Pickle on the side, tomato, onion and lettuce leaves piled on top of the cheese.

And then the taste; this is where it lets itself down a bit. It’s every bit as juicy as it looks, but the char isn’t quite there so the whole impact is a little soft; in essence, not the best mouthfeel. This could have been addressed with some crispy bacon, or a slightly hotter griddle and a little more seasoning. The meat was good but with this finish they should probably mix up their meat blend – it tasted a little bland; wonder if they overdid the chuck and could have done with some rump in there. But I’m a meat blend amateur here, so could easily be wrong. The salad was as fresh and crisp as it looked; the cheese was a little gungey and bland, and the roll, whilst sturdy, did little to balance out the burger. A brioche might actually have helped with sweet/savoury contrast, as might some burger relish (ketchup is a necessary condiment here). Net impact: it’s tasty but not interesting, sadly. Which is a real shame as so many elements were done really well.

The fries – were slightly limp. They would have benefited from a second, or third, fry. That said, these are high grade potatoes, the seasoning was great, and they tasted good. The portion was the size of my head so they remained largely unfinished.

The cold cuts and cheese were delicious – sorry I didn’t grab a pic. We had a triple-cream soft cheese, like a soft extra salty brie, served with small whole meal toast triangles, prosciutto di parma, cornichons and a sort of beetroot puree. $12 well spent between us.

The Boston Cream pie was really nice, but I have no frame of reference. I understand it’s normally a traditional sponge with cream and chocolate sauce; this deconstructed variant makes me really want to have the original; soft, airy sponge, thick sweet butter frosting/icing, crunchy chocolate pieces and sweet chocolate sauce – what’s not to like?

Sam Adams – is a solid American lager, and tastes exactly the same as it does when you get it on import in the UK. I, worryingly, seem to be acquiring a taste for interesting lagers these days.

I traded a bit of burger with Arvind for a bit of his lobster roll – I’m not a huge lobster roll fan, as find the flavour of the lobster to be too rich for my liking. But you could tell this was special; the bread is a heavily buttered and crisp brioche, kind of like a luxury grilled cheese texture; the lobster was fresh and utterly free of the fishy flakiness you get when you’re not in the lobster roll capital of the world. There was, if anything, too much lobster for the roll!

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 4/5

Build – 5/5

Burger – 3.5/5

Taste – 3.5/5

Sides – 4.5/5

Value – ??/5 – A friend picked up the tab but the pricing looked reasonable, even allowing for the ludicrous 20% service that’s more or less standard in the US. $16 for the burger and fries.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – It’s good, but not great. I think if I asked for it medium well and with bacon, it’d probably jump up quite a bit – and perhaps even more if I switched the cheese. So try that if you go!

The deets

It’s just off Brattle, a five minute walk from the Harvard metro station, near the American Repertory theater. If you’re in the area, I would definitely recommend it — good food, a lovely buzz (though it was graduation week so everything was busy!) and all the food looked great. Portions are big – bring your appetite. Website here for more info.

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.

Five Guys, Westfield, Shepherd’s Bush

Overpriced, but competent burger in sterile environment

Burger source

Five Guys is an American institution. Founded in Virgina in the mid 80s, it made its way to the UK a few years ago and has been spreading like wildfire.

Unlike McDonald’s style fast food, the food quality is high – Five Guys prides itself on freshness, not having freezers, sourcing meat well (in the UK, it’s grain finished Irish beef), and offering extremely simplicity in their menu – it’s basically just burgers, hot dogs and fries, though the ‘25,000 customisations’ on offer come in the form of swapping out salad, cheese, bacon, etc. and various other toppings on offer.

They also have Coca Cola vending machines with endless customisation on offer – any syrup, with any flavouring. For a caffeine-intolerant person that’s never been able to try vanilla Coke… well, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The order

I had the bacon cheeseburger – standard salad options – and shared a large fries with Matt and James. And a bottomless Coca Cola vending machine drink.

The meat of it

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The burger doesn’t look particularly special, though it’s clearly good meat and a capable bun, it is somewhat squished into its wrapper. There’s a reasonable melt on the cheese and the salad looks healthy and fresh. So far, so ok.

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The cross section reveals a burger that’s cooked to well done, rather than my preferred medium. Not inherently an issue, the two 4oz ish patties still seem to retain a reasonable amount of juice. A taste of a stray bit of bacon – a thin slice fo streaky – reveals a good crisp finish and good bacon flavour.

On first bite – the burger is juicy but could do with a little more moisture. The meat has good texture, is a coarse ground, high fat-ratio item but the overcooking has left it somewhat wanting. I’d have liked a smidge more seasoning, but the cheese compensates somewhat. The bun is a standard seeded white roll, so the sweetness comes from the vegetables; in a rare break with personal tradition I leave the tomato in place and eat it as is. The pickles are (too) mild, but the mayo helps bind the lot together. The whole is somehow better than the sum of its parts, which – whilst passable – are unexceptional. When you take into account the price – £8.50 for the burger, followed by a share of £5 for the fries and £3.50 for the drink… it feels somewhat overpriced.

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The ‘large’ portion of fries is enormous (MyFitnessPal tells me that a full portion weighs up at 1,368 calories, so definitely share it) – the above is just overspill, the majority of the pack is elsewhere. The chips are crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, fried in peanut oil (peanuts are a major feature of the Five Guys experience, left scattered around the restarunt in large sacks, making it totally unsuitable for allergy sufferers like my wife and nephew).

HOWEVER…. the seasoning is completely overdone. I’d have far preferred a simple salt finish. I should have customised their cajun seasoning right off them, would have dramatically improved it.

The final piece…

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I discovered in about 2000 that I was caffeine intolerant, and am now completely incapable of consuming it. I loved Coke, though, and ‘gold Coke’ – caffeine free Diet Coke – has been my only option if I wanted the flavour. I’ve watched all these novelty flavoured Cokes come and go and been unable to try them.

So I drank a lot of flavoured coke with my meal. Vanilla (YUM), lime (not bad!), raspberry (chemical!) – totally worth the £3.50 for me, though probably not for any normal person who is happy with a single large cup of carbonated (fake) sugar water.

The one critical thing worth noting about the Five Guys experience is that the restaraunt is really very simply adorned; it feels like sitting in a McD’s, complete with over-bright lighting, occasional mess on the floor, unkempt furniture and dazed and confused patrons. It’s not a pleasant place to eat, and given that the price compares with some of the best burger restaraunts in London… well, it loses points on that front.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3.5/5
Build – 3/5
Burger – 3.5/5
Taste –  3.5/5
Sides – 3/5 – 4.5 without the cajun seasoning
Value – 3/5 – £15 for a fast food eating experience with better quality food.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 –  passable quality burger, but not excited to have another one.

The deets

Five Guys is everywhere in the UK now. Find your nearest here. We were en route to the Star Wars VR experience (The Void) in Westfield, hence choosing that particular eatery. THAT was amazing. Definitely try that.

BFI Bar & Kitchen (Benugo), South Bank, Waterloo

Gorgonzola-y goodness at the British Film Institute

Burger source

The BFI’s Bar & Kitchen has an eclectic modern European menu, and the burger sounded an interesting take on the convention. It was also the only burger on the menu, and of course they make little of its provenance, so I was fully prepared that this would be a mediocre attempt at best. I was pleasantly surprised… but… spoilers.

The restaurant itself is a delight – light and airy, completely calm at lunchtime on a Friday. I’m sure it’s busy at the weekends… but the service and ambiance today was perfect. I know from past experience that they have an excellent cocktail menu too.

The order

Bread, oil and balsamico to start followed by the burger – the BFI 6 oz beef burger, served with Gorgonzola, radicchio and red onion, on a butter milk bun. Accompanied by ‘fries’ (again, little send-up, though truffle fries were also on the menu).

The meat of it

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The presentation was good, and the burger delivered medium well (I was promised medium). That aside, the meat was juicy – a coarsely ground, loosely packed patty. Any seasoning of the meat itself vanished in the face of the punchy gorgonzola – an absolute umame-packed salt-fest coupling beautifully with the juicy meat.

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The enriched bun holds up well, but further interest comes from the red onion/radicchio (leafy Italian salady thing) combo, which provides a slightly sour, slightly sweet, slightly crisp topping to the burger. As the only substantive flavour contrast to the savoury, the buttermilk bun doesn’t quite provide the necessary counterpoint – I think some sweet relish or gourmet Italian ketchup would have slightly tempered the saltiness of the dish and perhaps have rounded it out without tainting its Italian stylings – but it’s not bad. Good crumb, airy but sturdy, with a soft bite to it. Really quite enjoyable on the whole.

The fries – there’s something special about these. They’re more chips than fries in the American sense – thicker cut, skin-on. They have a delightful exterior, light and almost flakey, crisp with a delightful crunch. The inside – soft and floury, a perfect contrast. I didn’t even ask for ketchup – that’s how good they were. Perfectly seasoned.

The bread starter –  which is really neither here nor there as it’s a burger review, but what the hey – lovely hefty brown slices, lightly grilled and served with a pot of rich olive oil and thick balsamic glaze. Very tasty!

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 5/5 – very special fries
Value – 4/5 –  expensive but reasonable for the area – £14 for burger and fries, £4 for bread, central London drinks prices etc., plus service – £55 for two

Burger rating – 4/5 – you’re unlikely to be disappointed. An interesting twist on the convention.

The deets

The BFI’s next to the National Threatre on the South Bank. The Bar & Kitchen bit is round the back, on Belvedere Road. But you can cut through the main BFI from the South Bank itself! More here.