Thirsty Bear, Stamford Street, London

Exceptional pub fayre

Burger source

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

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

The order

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

The meat of it

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monkey finger rating

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

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

The deets

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

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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!

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.

The Refinery, Southwark

 

Uninspired Wagyu burger with raw chips.

Burger Source

My new office is a 10 minute walk from Borough market, but it being the Christmas season, finding a lunchtime venue that isn’t heaving is slightly more complicated an undertaking than it should be. So the Refinery; a cavernous, uber-local bar/restaurant that bills on its menu once again – two burgers. A standard, and a Wagyu. I was curious and had planned to have lunch with a colleague so we popped down.

Part of the Drake & Morgan group, all the insight I got into the burger’s provenance was the simple word ‘Wagyu’ and having had a good experience at the Falcon, I thought – why not?

The order

It was a working day and I was lunching with a gym buddy so the order was restricted to the burger and a portion of ‘Cowboy fries’ – fries cooked with honey, chilli and garlic somehow – to share. We were reassured the burgers were cooked medium when we ordered; water was the only drink we needed.

The meat of it

When the food arrived, initial impressions were good. The brioche bun held a sizeable patty with nicely melted blue cheese, a sensible amount of salad, well stacked and well presented. The chips – well, they got the order wrong (delivering a portion each), and the honey/chilli/garlic combo resulted in a sticky mess in a tin cup. Not sure what we were expecting, I suppose… but we were expecting them to be cooked, which they weren’t. One bite was enough to dismiss the lot, and the restaurant staff were so busy we eventually sent them back rather than attempting to get a cooked batch delivered.

The burger itself… was a little disappointing. To list the things that weren’t quite right…

  1. it was swimming in a pool of mayo, making it slippery and unhandlable,
  2. the blue cheese was ok but didn’t add a huge amount to the burger
  3. the beef wasn’t cooked medium but was well-done (the photo below is slightly misleading; that pink is more lighting than meat-colour)
  4. there was nothing special about the taste of this ‘wagyu’ – nice but totally unspectacular
  5. the lean/fat ratio seemed a bit off; the burger wasn’t particularly juicy.

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On the plus side; the meat was coarse ground, loosely packed and well-seasoned. The blue cheese didn’t detract from it (if it didn’t particularly add to it), and, whilst slightly dry, the flavour profile was such that it didn’t particularly need any sauce – this was down to a good contrast between a very sweet brioche bun and an ultra savoury patty. The salad in the burger was crisp, juicy and fresh. The pickles were somewhat crisp but a little uninspiring – like they’d been sat on a plate a bit too long – and were served on the side.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  3.5/5
Build – 2.5/5
Burger – 3/5
Taste –  3/5
Sides – 0/5
Value – 2/5 – £13.95 for a burger that’s just ‘meh’ at best with no sides is a lot.

Burger rating – 3/5 – Very mid-table in the rankings, the burger isn’t offensive but it definitely isn’t spectacular either.

The deets

The Refinery Bankside is in the base of the Bluefin building, about 7 minutes’ walk from Southwark tube, behind the Tate Modern. More detail here.