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.

The Hoddington Arms, Upton Grey, Hampshire

A glorious pub burger, an appropriate post lockdown celebration

Burger source

I’m gonna be honest – it was my first meal out in six months. There was a chateaubriand on the menu. It didn’t matter; it was always going to be the burger. There was no ceremony in its description – it simply was the eponymous Hodd Cheese Burger, hopefully a staple of the menu…

The order

The Hodd Cheese and Bacon Burger featured mature cheddar, cured bacon, mustard mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, crispy onion ring and skinny fries. I had a pint of Shipton Pale ale as an aperitif and washed it down with a nice Sangiovese. Pudding was sticky toffee pudding (my kryptonite on any menu), and I was persuaded by my neighbour to have a Balvenie Scotch as a digestif (I’ve always been more a Bourbon fan and sceptical of single malts; the peat is too much for me, but this was great).

The meat of it

Well.

This was a happy-inducing cross section. A pub burger, with pink, coarse ground, loosely packed meat. With an ample coating of throughly melted aged cheddar. Salad on the bottom, protecting the bun. The bun itself, sturdy but not hard and dry. Pliable. Warm.

First bite. Moment of truth. Perfectly seasoned – good flavour, excellent sharpness from the cheese, enough moisture from the mustard mayo and salad. The meat’s a little too loose and fibrous – wonder if it was the way it was ground? There is perhaps not quite enough sturdiness to the crust, perhaps a hotter griddle would have pulled it all together. Regardless – the net impact is one of savoury goodness; I slow to take in each mouthful carefully, mindfully savouring the flavour. I must admit, I didn’t notice the bacon, but given the taste profile, it would have been adding subtle umami. Side note; whatever made the bun red didn’t noticeably add to the flavour, but it was good nonetheless – soft, seeded, fresh.

Onto the fries, for which I refer you to the featured image above. These were glorious; crisp on the outside, soft in the middle. Not exactly skinny fries, more svelte at best – perfectly seasoned, likely double if not triple fried – absolutely delicious. Dunked in mayo and ketchup for kicks but great on their own.

The onion rings were coated in a wonderful batter, crisp and non-greasy, with a thick, sweet ring of fresh onion at their core. They were slightly underseasoned and totally unnecessary within the stack, so I chucked on some salt and had them on their own. Very fine indeed.

Pudding was a medjool date sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream and was a paragon of its type. Just beautiful on the plate, warm and melty, a luscious island in a sea of warm, soupy, slowly thickening toffee sauce. The sponge was light and fluffy with dense pockets of date. A complete delight.

For a digestif – a Balvenie. Lightly smoky but sweeter and smoother than the few single malts I’ve ever had, this was a good return to scotch for the bourbon drinker that I am. Enjoyed it.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4.5/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 4.5/5 – just needed a harder sear, I reckon
Taste –  4.5/5
Sides – 5/5 -bump for the onion fries 

Value – 4/5 – £50 for burger, side, pud, pint, glass and a half of wine and double digestif. Not ridiculous but not every day eating.

Burger rating – 4.5/5 – didn’t live up to its erstwhile glory.

The deets

A wonderful pub in the idyllic North Hampshire village of Upton Grey, about 5 miles south of Basingstoke. Utter delight. More here.