Lord Wargrave, Nr Edgware Road, London

Possibly the best smash burger in London

Burger source

A friend with excellent taste in both bourbon and BBQ suggested we meet at this pub for a couple of drinks and dinner, and – seeing a double smash burger alongside a variety of ribs options, I felt confident that good things would follow.

The pub has high standards – from its menu:

ALL SMOKE – NO MIRRORS – we’re all about authentic London barbecue, with influences from around the world. Our meat is dry-rubbed, smoked in-house, low and slow, over British hickory logs. Our meat and poultry is ethically sourced, free range, and from local farms wherever possible, and our fish comes from day boats off the south coast of the UK, and is delivered to us daily.

Well. Expectations, much.

The order

We shared a half dozen crispy BBQ wings (my friend couldn’t cope with buffalo spice option), and naturally I had the Smash burger: double beef, double cheese, onions & pickles. I added bacon too, because… greed. To drink? House red, and I may have had an unusual bourbon because it’s a whisky bar too.

And I was tempted by a pudding. I’ll come to that.

The meat of it

Decent presentation

Take a look at that. That’s nice. Shiny bun, beautiful char on the meat and melt on the cheese, well balanced with the pickles and onions.

Let’s take a look at the cross section and see what we’re really dealing with here. I received a groan from my friend when I did this (as I often do).

Holy moly

I can’t explain this. It’s a smash burger – at most, two slender, three ounce patties. And yet there’s a clear and evident pink, uniform through the centre. First bite and you are hit with a wall of savoury – coarse ground, amazingly seasoned meat provides bite… and then soft, tender chew. the flavour is smoky, with depth but none of the funk that comes with dry-aged beef. The cheese binds and adds yet more umami; the bacon almost pushes it over the top, but the sweet pickle and onion tempers it. The bun is soft and holds together against the surprising heft of the burger. I force myself to take slow, thoughtful bites. Savouring each mouthful as the full extent of this creation – this masterpiece – of a burger works its way over my palate. Simon is jeering at me as a reverent look passes over my face; each bite surprises, delights and astounds me. This burger is glorious, I have zero notes. Not one. It is unimprovable.

So. Wow. Breathe. And then the sides.

The fries are – as you can probably see on close inspection – crisp on the outside, thick cut by the standard of American fries but thin for English chips. They are substantial enough that they taste of actual hot, fluffy potato; they are beautifully seasoned with salt and pepper, crisp without being greasy. Possible the archetype of what chips should be, could be, when they grow up. Without the ostentation of rosemary of any of that fancy stuff – simple, uncomplicated, perfect.

The wings are presented beautifully – I love the slim, angled slices of spring onion scatted over the – evenly coated but not dripping – BBQ wings. The sauce is smoky and sweet, but not overwhelming, nor particularly distinctive. The wings crunch as you bite into them, and the meat comes off clean – but is a little tough and chewy. Enjoyable, but I’d probably go for the buffalo if I went back, and hope that they would be more generous in the saucing process, with a meatier and more tender wing. Good but not great.

I was pretty full from the meal, but as regular readers may know, my kryptonite is sticky toffee pudding. It is the ‘BEYOND GODLIKE’ of dessert options for me and – generally – even a mediocre pud is a thing of joy. This time – it presented SO beautifully after being pitched to me by the waitress (it’s excellent, she said)… but then proceeded to have the texture and flavour of a mouldering brick. The waitress acknowledged that a knife should not be required to break a STP apart and graciously took it back, and off the bill. I’ll discount it from my scoring; suspect I got unlucky.

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 5/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste – 5/5
Sides – 4/5 – minor deduction for tough, slightly undersauced wings. Fries were a 5.
Value – 5/5 – it wasn’t cheap but it was WORTH it

Burger rating – 5/5 – genuinely one of the best burgers I’ve ever had.

The deets

You can find the Lord Wargrave pub a five minute walk from Edgware Road station, tucked unassumingly behind the main thoroughfare down to Marble Arch from the Marylebone Road. The extensive selection of whisky, beer and wine is another reason to go back. Simon had ribs, which also looked glorious. Atmosphere and service, great.

More on the website here.

Roast, Borough Market, London

Gamey, well-put-together venison burger

Burger source

There was beef wellington on the menu, but such is my commitment to burgers that – in realising that Roast – one of the defining meat-centric restaurants in London – had a burger on its Christmas menu – I changed my mind. Note this is a far cry from the Roast-To-Go burger I reviewed back in 2017, even if it was prepared in the same kitchen.

The order

So there it was – the Wild British Fallow Deer Venison burger. Featuring a brioche bun, stilton, beef tomato, lettuce and Roast’s burger sauce. Had to be done. We also had a healthy diversity of sides – pigs in blankets, garlic mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower cheese and chunky truffle chips.

The meat of it

Let’s look at it again.

It’s well presented and constructed. Lettuce protecting the bun from a juicy (?) burger, good slice of pickle, bright, fresh veg, ‘Roast burger sauce’ on the side, and promising-looking chunky fries in the obligatory fancy tin pot.

Let’s come into the cross section:

Look at that colour! A perfect pink, absolutely amazing! And the light hasn’t helped but he brioche is quite pale beneath a warm and attractively grilled bun. You’ll also note that the bun has slipped off the giant lettuce leaves and doesn’t want to stay settled at all – I’m pro shredding the lettuce on the underside of a burger. This hasn’t stayed together as you’d hope, although I fully accept that most people don’t cross-section their burger in this way.

As to the taste – perfect seasoning, there’s a wonderful umani between the burger and the stilton – which is unobtrusive and subtle. The bun holds together well and doesn’t have the sweetness many brioche do; but has fantastic substance and bite, contrasting with its soft, fluffy blandness against the flavourbomb of the burger itself. The texture and mouthfeel is good, though the burger is a little dry overall – I suspect that wild fallow deer doesn’t have the fat content your average 20-30% beef burger patty might – and the light gamey taste adds a pleasant depth of flavour.

The Roast Sauce? Is basically just a fancy, smooth home made ketchup. It’s pleasant, but this burger wanted a mayo or aioli style burger sauce on the buns to add fat and moisture back into each bite. Pickle in there would have added good contrast to the dry, salty, gamey meat. Not bad, but a few refinements would have elevated it.

As to the chips – they were perfect. Double if not triple fried, crunchy on the outside and fluffy in the middle, they were perfectly seasoned and very flavourful. Again the ketchup/burger sauce was a good accompaniment, but would have preferred a mayo or aioli dip.

On the other sides (sorry for lack of pictures) – the pigs and blankets were just fine – good sausages but not desperately easily to distinguish from a pack you’d from Sainsbury’s. The mushrooms were extraordinary – the right answer to how much butter can you use when grilling mushrooms is ALL OF IT. I heard good reports for the truffle chips, the cauliflower cheese, the stuffing and more. Good all around.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4.5/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 3.5/5
Taste –  3.5/5
Sides – 4.5/5
Value – 3.5/5 – £22 is a lot, although possibly reasonable given the venue and cost of the venison

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – Enjoyable and interesting novelty, though I probably wouldn’t have this again unless I could change up the recipe. The meat was just too lean for a burger patty, and there are a lot of other good things on the menu.

The deets

Wander around Borough market until you find the lift/steps that lead up to Roast. You can’t – no wait, you can easily miss it. Good luck and enjoy – let me know how you found it.

Burgsy’s, Castlegate, York

Juicy, tasty blue-cheese burger

Burger source

The (self-proclaimed?) ‘best burger in York’ was always going to be on the list for a visit to the town, so we were excited. The small, family run place gave us lots to look forward to.

The order

I normally try to order the closest thing to a cheese and bacon burger on the menu to provide a baseline – in this case, I went for the Blue Jack – which featured ‘stinky’ stilton and smoked bacon, alongside rocket and a balsamic reduction on a brioche bun. I was allowed to request it medium, which was a joy – it speaks to meat ground on site and hopefully a juicy bite and outstanding mouthfeel. I upgraded the side of fries to ‘lumberjack’ fries, which upgraded the fries with mushrooms, caramelised onions, streaky bacon, mayo and BBQ sauce. What could go wrong?

I had a glass of merlot to drink with it all.

The meat of it

So far, so good. Presentation is great – you can see the blue cheese dripping off the burger, the smoked bacon is crisp and generous, the rocket is bright and fresh. The lumberjack fries… are fully loaded.

To the cross section…

This is pretty close to a perfect cross section for me – coarse ground, pink, juicy meat. A bun that holds up to the burger. Well proportioned toppings (though the rocket should perhaps have been under the burger to protect the bun a little more from the juices). Look at that melty stilton! Amazing.

As to taste… the stilton is a little… overpowering. You can’t tell how well seasoned the meat is because the flavour from the cheese is so strong (a bit too strong). But the meat is high quality and well cooked, the mouthfeel is fantastic, and the rocket – which I was sceptical off – actually provides a realy good contrast to the super-savoury, super funky stilton. The bacon and the balsamico adds a sweet contrast and the whole thing works better than I’d expected. A really enjoyable burger.

That said – my friends said that their more conventional burgers were underseasoned – to the point of tastelessness – so wonder if I got lucky with my choice!

As to the fries… well, these are literally a hot mess. The caramelised onions were cloyingly sweet, they were incredibly overseasoned – to almost the point of being inedible – and the excess of sauces and toppings made it hard to detect or enjoy any particular flavour. They were well cooked, hot, fresh shoestring fries though, which are never that bad.

The merlot was excellent, as was the service and general ambience.

On balance, massively recommend Burgsy’s, but perhaps ask to salt your own fries, and ask them to make sure the burger is well seasoned before it hits the griddle. I would go back, and order a little differently, if I return to York with a hankering for a good burger.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4.5/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 4.5/5
Taste –  4/5 – the stilton was a bit too much for me but think others would love it
Sides – 2.5/5 – lost points for excess seasoning and a hot mess of toppings
Value – 4/5 – it’s pricey-ish for the city but not bad.

Burger rating – 4/5 – really very good.

The deets

Surrounded by wine bars, Castlegate is a nice, quiet street, a little way away from the chaos of York’s Christmas crowds. Find more deets and book online to visit here.

Sands Restaraunt, Wells-on-the-Sea, Norfolk

Pretty good burger with well-flavoured meat

Burger source

After a four hour journey, we were happy to have arrived in the coastal town of Wells for our first ever visit to Norfolk. I should probably have gone for seafood on the menu, but the burger had an impressive billing, and eating out post-pandemic is still something of a rarity, leaving this blog neglected, so…

The order

The “Sands of time” burger featured:

6oz Prime Beef Burger. Cheese, Smoked Bacon, Onion Rings, Beef Tomato on a Bed of Mixed Leaves in a Brioche Bun, served with Fries and Burger Relish.

Which sounded pretty good to me.

The meat of it

The rather ludicrous plating was fun. Unnecessary knife literally embedded into the board, totally hilariously large onion rings adding unmanageable height to the stack… and of course, fun bougie basket of fries and pot of relish on the side.

In cross section… it has a little more going for it.

You can see pink, coarse ground, loosely packed meat making up a beautiful patty. You can see thick bacon and melty cheese – the bacon, whilst back, was crispy around the edges. The salad is bright and fresh. The bun – so far – is holding up. Toasted but soft – though not that warm, unfortunately. The onion rings – left the building. Fun, but a side, not a central part of this burger’s flavour profile or structure.

First bite – bitter edge from slightly too much salad (rocket? spinach? not standard lettuce), crisp umami from the bacon and melty cheddar, and tasty, slightly undersalted but otherwise well flavoured beef. The meat carries a slight funk, like it’s been dry-aged and was juicy with good mouthfeel. The relish added light sweetness without the vinegary effect you can get with ketchup. It was firmly not bad, but, beyond the choice of salad leaves, a couple of minor notes to the chef… heavier on the salt would not have hurt this burger. The strong flavour of the meat needed its savoury edge. And a hotter griddle for the crust would have added textural depth… one this burger needed, as by the time I got to the second half, the juice had completely soaked the lower bun, which was dissolving. That said, the bun was soft and tasty, so points where its due.

On the sides – I’ll treat the onion rings as sides. Despite thick slices of onion within the batter, there was little natural sweetness from the onion nor savoury bite from the batter – they were underseasoned, and I must have just gotten unlucky with the onion. The texture was otherwise crisp and on point.

The fries – were well fried and well seasoned, but seemed standard french-fry cut frozen chips. Nothing bad about them, but little to write home about.

£14.50 for the lot would have been reasonable in London, and I guess is the going rate in a Tourist-heavy town with ‘arguably the best view’ in Wells (it wasn’t bad).

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3.5/5
Burger – 3.5/5
Taste –  3.5/5
Sides – 3/5 
Value – 3.5/5

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – my hopes (and perhaps standards) aren’t high for burgers in restaurants that don’t specialise in them (or steak more generally), so this really wasn’t bad.

The deets

Stroll along the Quay in Wells and you’ll find Sands Restaurant upstairs at no. 13. Or visit the website here.

Seven Seeds Williamsburg, Wythe Street, Brooklyn

Finely cooked (underseasoned) burger, eccentrically topped

Burger source

Our final meal on this visit to the US was a brunch with cousins from Singapore in a Eastern Mediterranean style restaurant in the most modern style of hotel you can imagine in North Brooklyn. Totally normal.

The burger had no grand billing but it was ground and cooked on site, and sounded interesting, so I thought I’d risk the eccentricity of the Mediterranean stylings and see where it landed.

The order

I had the Seven Seeds Burger – Angus beef, goat cheese, shaved cucumber, pickled red onion, toum.

The meat of it

Let’s look again.

There are some very interesting elements to this burger. There’s a good crust; the pickled onion looks fresh, bright and inviting, offering sharpness and sweetness in one. The bun looks soft and has a welcome light toasting. The cucumber – no. That’s not ‘shaved’ cucumber, that’s not even a ‘sliced’ cucumber. That’s a full on wedge of cucumber. Too much, picked out and eaten on its own. It was fine. You can see a small pot of toum hiding between the burger and the seasoned fries.

In cross section:

You can see how well balanced this burger is. Perfect coarse grind, bright pink meat, lovely juices held pub by a soft, airy, plain bun.

But… and it’s not an insubstantial but… the first bite unlocks very little flavour. The burger is hefty but underseasoned; the cuts of meat used were insipid – if I had to guess – I’d say it was heavy on chuck. The toppings aren’t evenly spread and it takes to bite two or three to get the feta and pickle properly involved… and they do help considerably, the savoury goo of the feta adds a much needed umami tang. But the flavour is just odd (for my palate) and the mouthfeel of the feta isn’t entirely pleasant, gumming up your mouth unexpectedly.

It’s such a shame as the burger/bun combination is in many ways glorious – good crust, melty meat, tender and juicy with every mouthful. It just doesn’t taste of very much.

As to the fries, they were lightly seasoned and (for me) slightly too lightly fried. Occasional crisp bites but some soft ones. The pot of toum was delicious, though and was better than any aioli as a dip for the fries. Perhaps I should have doused the burger in it…

Monkey finger rating

Bun – 4/5

Build – 4/5

Burger – 3/5

Taste – 3/5

Sides – 3.5/5 – bump for the toum

Value – 4/5 – $19 + service for the burger and fries seemed reasonable for this kind of place in this part of town

Burger rating – 3/5 – there really wasn’t enough flavour to score it higher

The deets

The Seven Seeds Restaurant is downstairs in the Williamsburg Hotel, on Wythe Street in Brooklyn. Find it and book here. Probably don’t have the burger, though, unless you’re a huge feta fan. The other food looked more interesting and was great, by all accounts.

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.

Dirty Bones, Kingly Court, Carnaby Street

Decent (but pricey) mustard soaked thin patty double cheeseburger, meaty vegan burger, enormous crispy fried chicken burger and intriguing sides

Burger source
I auctioned off a guided burger tasting evening as a way of raising funds for Byte Night / Action for Children, a charity we support at work that does very worthwhile work with children in vulnerable circumstances. Naturally, it was bought by a vegan (and an omnivore).

So that meant we needed to find a burger place I hadn’t been to – so we could review it – and one that had vegan options. And actually, in #Veganuary, that wasn’t that hard.

Dirty Bones seeks to bring American comfort food, NYC style, to London. It’s the lovechild of two friends who liked what they saw in NYC and decided to bring it to London. Little about the origins of the burger, but we know it’s dry-aged steak and brisket… So let’s see…

The order
I had the “Classic” – double brisket & dry aged steak burger with American cheese, red onion, gherkins and dijonnaise on seeded brioche. Ed, our vegan, had the Vegan classic: Moving Mountains® plant-based burger with vegan cheese, red onion, gherkin and veganaise on a soft seeded bun. Saad had the free-range crispy fried chicken burger with baby gem, chipotle aioli and sweet chilli sauce on seeded brioche.

In addition, Saad and I shared the cheeseburger dumplings (housemade gyoza dumplings stuffed with burger mince and melted cheese. Served with our signature burger sauce), Ed had the Padron peppers (sprinkled with Madron salt) and a Fordham Gypsy Lager.

The meat of it
You can see this is a well plated burger.

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Pickles, thick cut red onions and an extremely healthy of dijonnaise provider a slippery base, and the well melted american cheese gloops over the two crispy 3-4oz patties. The glossy seeded bun looks solid, yet pliant.

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In cross section, a slight pinkness shows through – the Kingly Court restaurant is small, I doubt they have the space to grind and prep their own meat on site, which means they are limited on cooking the meat truly pink. And it’s not really necessary for this style of cheeseburger, so I’m not concerned. The dijonnaise is really slathered on thick; onions slide out of the base as I cut through for the cross section pic, and half the stack threatens collapse.

The first bite – is all crisp, crunch, sweet onion, and the hot rasp of mustard cutting through the sweet mayonnaise. The bun is soft, holding up well against the sauce and the burger, and – appropriately – not enriched. No need for brioche here, the dijonnaise, pickles and onion provide the sweet counterpoint. As to the meat itself? The grind is tight and packed in hard, but it is good meat, so it’s not chewy. There’s a light crust on the patty, but a hotter griddle and more seasoning would have helped this along, even if it meant a more cooked centre. The fat ratio seems slightly too low – it’s quite a lean burger and the only drippings are dijonnaise, not beef juice. But the overall impression is not bad at all; the heat from the mustard in the dijonnaise is moreish and its ample quantity makes up for the slight dryness of the meat; the bun is perfect, the cheese makes up for some of the underseasoning. It all works, albeit messily.

I have only pictures of Ed and Saad sampling the Vegan Classic and the Spicy Chicken, but I’m told they were good. In fact, Ed had to double check it was actually vegan (having been led down the garden path before), and was provided with a list of ingredients.

As to the sides? The cheesburger gyoza are just plain WEIRD.

They fail as both gyoza and cheeseburgers, but as a thing in their own right? Delicious; crisp gyoza skin, a hollow centre (where the burger meat has shrunk) and a core of slightly slimey, cheesey burger meat. Dipped in the slightly vinegar heavy, ketchup-based burger sauce (topped with spring onions and sesame seeds – a nice accent), you could eat plate after plate of these. Were it not for the £8.50 price tag…

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The fries are skin-on skinny fries. There’s nothing bad about them – but nothing inherently interesting either. Perfectly capable, well seasoned, well cooked fries.

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I really liked the Gypsy Lager. New world hops, a hint of hony-mead sweetness, all in all, a very smooth beer going down.

Monkey finger rating
Bun –  5/5
Build – 3.5/5
Burger – 3.5/5 (beef)
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 4/5 – I don’t know how to judge them but those gyoza are an experience.

Value – 3/5 – £13 for burger and fries, £8.50 for gyoza – not a cheap meal out.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – really completely capable, upper-mid table burger. With a few tweaks it could be top class; with the fries bundled it would even be good value… as it is, it’s a pricey novelty.

The deets
Dirty Bones started in West London, near Kensington, but has spread to Soho, Shoreditch, and Oxford. Find your nearest location here.

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.