Popsons, 998 Market Street, San Francisco

A salt-tastic melty smashburger, but not the best SFO has to offer

Burger source

Chef Adam Rosenblum, a respected chef with an number of different restaurant ventures, decided to add to the morass of upper-mid-range burger joints in town, like Super Duper burgers, with a smash burger. Ground on site, the fresh, well-seasoned patties are cooked to order;  the patties are squashed down on a hot grill, crisp up in their own fat, topped with cheese which is then melted both into the burger and the bun before assembly.

The website tells more about the burgers (fresh hormone-free beef sourced from Five dot Ranch and ground on site) and the bread (baked exclusively for Popsons by San Francisco bakery Petit Pain).

They sound and look great.

The order

I went for a double cheese burger with bacon, and a naked fries $17 with service.

The meat of it

IMG_20180904_191900

This is not a tidy burger. The stack is wobbling and sliding around, but really the issues there are all cosmetic. Once you pick it up and right what was lost in the assembly, the burger doesn’t suffer for it.

First bite and you’re hit with a salt explosion; the bacon was totally unnecessary as the super-salty, super-melty, super-plentiful American cheese slams your palate like a speedboat filled with salt racing through the Dead Sea. My fault for adding it but… the bacon is thick, chewy and crisp -perfect, really – and the salad, whilst fresh, is completely overwhelmed. There’s a smear of burger sauce under the patties; it drips out slowly with the excess grease from the burger. Remarkably, the petit pain bun holds up; it has a sturdiness to it, and good supporting flavour – love a seeded bun. There’s something gloriously indulgent about this.

That said… the crust on the meat was disappointing on a smash burger – it was a little soft, suspect the grill plate just wasn’t hot enough to get the real char going – and I should probably have added some ketchup to cut the salt down a little. Or Popsons could have gone for a little pickle and/or relish and/or sweeter burger sauce to bring out the flavour contrast a bit.

IMG_20180904_191913

The fries are fairly unremarkable; better than bog-standard McD’s frozen fries, you can taste real potato in them – but naked, the seasoning is decent if unexceptional and there’s nothing to write home about regarding the flavour. Acceptable filling, but not even a guest-star in the show. The ketchup is (unnecessarily) fancy ‘Sir Kensington’ something or other. I’d rather have had Heinz.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 3.5/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 3/5 – nothing to see here
Value – 3.5/5 – $17 with a small tip and no drink – this place is more expensive than Super Duper, a (very) nearby Smashburger alternative.

Burger rating – 3.5/5 – whilst there’s no question it’s a good burger, it doesn’t quite deliver on the promise and for the money, I’d probably rather have a Super Duper burger (and a drink).

The deets

Near the junction of Market and 6th Street. You can’t miss it.

Breakfast and burgers, 106 Leadenhall Street, London

Delicious, none-too-heavy burger, tasty even when delivered by Uber Eats

Burger source

Says the website:

“Our burgers are made from 28 day aged grass fed Scottish beef & made fresh daily. Our patties are custom blended, cooked to order & served with lettuce, gherkin, tomato, red onion garnish & our chef’s homemade burger sauce. All our beef patties are 5oz, hand made daily & cooked from fresh…”

I first encountered this restaurant when I needed a lunch venue near a client’s office on Leadenhall Street to meet The Bond, one-time guest blogger on this very blog. I remember it being awesome at the time but was too distracted by my mission to lure the Bond back to the employ of my company (mission: success) that I didn’t give the food the time enough for a review.

The day after the second general election in two years, and thanks to the assist of Uber Eats, we gave it another try.

20170609_123024
Burger lovers loving burgers – my team (plus the Bond) settle down to tuck in

The order

My order? A cheese & bacon burger – simples. We shared a few sides of fries between the 9 of us who were hitting up Breakfast & Burgers on this occasion (a few of us had been up late watching updates from the political craziness). Nothing too fancy. A few people went for the chicken, non-bacon variants, and Bondie had the chilli burger (“just the right level of heat”).

The meat of it

Despite being on the back of a bike for 15 minutes whirling through central London (an entirely faff-free process, with Uber Eats, once I figured out the limitations of the app), the burgers arrived warm and well packaged. Unfurling the wax wrapper revealed a handsome stack; a large slice of tomato, pickle and salad topped the burger, (as well as the cheese and bacon), itself surprisingly intact within a large brioche bun.

20170609_123151
Seriously, that pink is so perfect, this burger could have been Sous Vided

The cross section revealed a PERFECT pink, beautifully medium burger. The 5oz patty meant it wasn’t overwhelmingly drippy but the coarse-ground, loosely packed patty was perfect for what it was – well-seasoned quality beef. The slightly greedy man in me likes a slightly higher fat ratio, which might have been solved by getting the double burger on the menu… but it was lunchtime! So wasn’t going to be that indulgent. The bacon and cheese was a nice complement, though not overwhelming, and the burger sauce further added to the savoury bite. The bun and amazingly fresh vegetables were the sweet and crisp counterpoint to the umami-ness of the burger… all in all, it was perfectly balanced.

The fries, which never travel well – particularly not thin-cut french fries – were PERFECTLY seasoned, fairly large portions (they’d have to be at £2.75 a pop), and well fried – still crisp despite cooling rapidly from the trip. Remember them being equally impressive in store.

Sadly we didn’t opt for any other sides – will have to save those for a return trip to B&B.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5 – slightly oversized for the patty
Build – 5/5
Burger – 4.5/5 – bit more juice welcomed, but perfectly cooked
Taste –  4.5/5
Sides – 4.5/5

Value – 5/5 – <£10  for the burger and (admittedly shared) sides – which for a lunchtime indulgence, delivered, seemed pretty reasonable.

Burger rating – 4.5/5 – All in all, this really is a very special burger, from a very special little restaurant. It’s even better in-store, when its served in a basket, diner style. No frills, no thrills, but no spills either. Too tasty to wastey.

The deets

106 Leadenhall Street – a short walk from Liverpool Street. Also served via Uber Eats! Was with us within 15 minutes of being collected. And, once they hit the bike, you can track the burgers in real time…

 

Screenshot_20170609-121118.png
Pamella sets off on her cross-river odyssey with our precious cargo

 

Kua Aina, Carnaby Street, London

Juicy, lava-stone grilled deliciousness.

Burger source

“Legendary lava-grilled juicy hand-pressed 100% premium beef burgers since 1975,” and “a favourite of President Barack Obama.” They literally had to say no more, but they did:

“Our burgers are 100% beef, fresh from our butcher in Devon, made to our recipe from premium cuts of rib and hand-pressed in two sizes.  They contain no fillers, rusk or preservatives. We season our burgers and sandwich fillings with our homemade marinades and seasonings and cook everything to your order on our hot lava grills. Our semi-brioche seeded buns and artisan breads are freshly baked for us by a Michelin-starred chef seven days a week.”

And the story is fascinating: “Kua ‘Aina, or “Koo-a eye-na”, means “back country”, but is more often used to describe a country bumpkin in Hawaii. For native Hawaiians it can mean those who actively live Hawaiian culture and keep the spirit of the land alive.”

I was excited, and glad that it’s round the corner from Tom & Chris’ office, which made it convenient for a lunchtime burger.

The order

There was a lot on offer; I went for a near-standard cheese and bacon burger, unusual in that it  was served with a thick slice of grilled onion alongside the lettuce, tomato, burger, cheese and mayo, served on a seeded demi-brioche roll. It was offered in 1/3rd and 1/2 lb sizes; I went for the former – it was lunchtime – with a side of fries. In retrospect (next time!) I will try the huli-huli burger – a spice blend that sounded interesting and perhaps a little more distinctive (Tom had the huli-huli chicken sandwich.)

I was asked how I wanted it, and duly informed they weren’t allowed to serve it less than medium (I opt for medium rare where legal to do so!).

The meat of it

20170602_130519

Before I get into the food – the atmosphere in this place was fantastic. It helped that it was a warm day but there was an instant ‘tropical-ness’ (tropicality?) to the place; the staff seemed well-trained in whatever this version of the Hawaiian way looks like (open, friendly, engaging), the aromas from the lava-stone grill were amazing and the décor and vibe was ludicrously chilled for a spot 3 minutes’ walk from Oxford street in Central London. We didn’t even have to wait for a table! I hope that doesn’t bode poorly for the owners, but it was good for us.

20170602_133055

The food arrived promptly enough; the brioche clearly serves both the 1/3rd lb and the 1/2 lb burger and so was somewhat oversized for the smaller patty; however the flavour balance was excellent. A well-seasoned, coarse ground, medium packed patty was cooked perfectly to medium.

20170602_133349

The melt-on cheese added savoury gooeyness contasted marvelously with thick, slightly chewy, slightly crisp streaky bacon. The tomato, I ate separately (believing firmly it has no place in a burger).  The onion added a charred, satisfying crunch, the saltyness of the burger/cheese/bacon combo was countered by the semi-sweetness of the bun and the onion, the overall effect was really good. Splitting hairs – as I find myself having to – the slightly oversized bun wasn’t right for the smaller patty and so the ratio was just a tiny bit off. But that wouldn’t stop me from ordering it again.

20170602_133107

The fries were of the thin-cut, skin-on variety, a relative of those you might find in McDonald’s on its best day – paler than I’d expect but crisp and well-seasoned (perhaps even slightly over-seasoned, but again – hairsplitting). The portion was slightly small for the price, though.

Just had a water (lunchtime, working day, natch) – but would like to go back to try the hard shakes at some stage!

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 5/5
Burger – 5/5
Taste –  4.5/5
Sides – 4/5
Value – 4/5 – £14  for the burger and sides plus service – which would be fine if the side wasn’t so teeny. Not that you needed more… but it should perhaps have cost less!

Burger rating – 4.5/5 – really a wonderful experience;  delightful atmosphere, lovely food, great service, reasonably priced. If I’d manned up and ordered the 1/2 lb burger, doubtless it would have been perfect.

The deets

If you’re not going to Hawaii, you can find Kua Aina on Goodge Street and Carnaby Street. Details here.