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.

All Star Lanes, Brick Lane, London

An underwhelming, overpriced burger

Burger source

The premise of the All Star Lanes experience is high-end bowling and American food & drink. It delivers on the bowling, and of course the drink side – its bourbon and US beer selection is pretty good for London. How does it fare on the food side of things? Well, the burger section of the menu at least is reasonably extensive. Not only do “bun” options include pulled pork, sliders and hot dogs, but the main burger options are interesting and the topping options are plentiful – everything from Monterey Jack cheese and treacle-cured bacon to chargrilled lobster tail, fried buttermilk chicken, kimchikraut, duck fried egg and many more. Including (for £6), a Wagyu beef patty being swapped in for the regular one.

The burger itself involves a patty made of “6oz steak and rib cap patty”, toasted brioche, lettuce, tomato, red onion, mayo, smoked tomato and mayo relish. So far, so good, right?

The order

I was rather excited about the food, so I went for the “King Pin” – a Classic burger with Monterey Jack and treacle cured bacon… but swapped out the regular patty for a Wagyu one! The burger came with fries… and naturally for a drink, it was an old fashioned – made with Woodford Reserve. I started with popcorn squid…

The meat of it

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The popcorn squid was served in an American style Chinese takeaway box with chopsticks and some tangy mayo. It was deep fried, and – with a squeeze of lemon and the mayo – utterly delicious. Crisp and tasty.

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The burger looked and smelled amazing – the classic funk of dry-aged Wagyu on a perfect stack; crisp lettuce, sweet tomato, perfectly melty jack on the patty and topped with stiff bacon with the promise of crisp crunch. Even the brioche was perfect.

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But the cross section began to reveal some flaws. The burger was overcooked -well done instead of the medium necessary for a juicy mouthfeel. The meat was overpacked – and, on tasting, slightly chewy in texture. It was also – to my palate – slightly underseasoned, and the Jack was mild to the point of flavourlessness. The bacon was chewy rather than crispy, and the relish and bun together were too sweet – a mustard mayo or garlic aioli would have been a better contrast.  Don’t get me wrong, the whole was greater than the sum of its parts (thankfully) and the burger was fine on the whole. But it was not worth the premium cost (£18!), nor one of the better examples of a gourmet burger in London.

The fries were straight out disappointing – cold at point of delivery, slightly underfried. Well-seasoned, and good quality potato, but not really worth the eating. They were mostly abandoned, a rarity for me.

To be fair – we were a party of 18 people , so it’s possible it was just too much to handle, and the food is better at its best.

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The drink… whilst my main tipple for the evening was a very fine, unfussy Old Fashioned – whilst we ate, as we were having a set meal – I had a rather more eccentric cocktail with the meal. The “Apple-ation” – “Jack Daniel’s No.7, Jack Daniel’s Honey, Maraschino liqueur, honey, apple juice and orange bitters. Served smoked for a BBQ taste.” This taught me a number of things – 1) I’m unimpressed by drinks turning up in a smoking jar, ready for self assembly, 2) Jack Daniel’s honey is horrific 3) this cocktail shouldn’t be drunk by anyone. It really tasted *bad*.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 4.5/5
Burger – 2.5/5
Taste –  3/5
Sides – 3.5/5 – boosted by squid, hit by fries
Value – 2/5 – £18  for the burger and fries! – plus the squid! Too much money.

Burger rating – 2.5/5 – for what sounded and looked like such a GREAT burger, I’m sadly not in a hurry to sample another All Star Lanes burger. Don’t get me wrong – I probably will, especially if I go as part of a smaller group – but it was disappointing to say the least.

The deets

There are All Star Lanes around London and in Manchester now too… this one was at 95 Brick Lane, London, E1 6QL, or on 020 7426 9200 if you prefer that sort of thing. Definitely book for bowling.

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.

The Falcon, Rotherwick

Well-cooked and assembled Wagyu beef burger for £15? In a pub? Yes please.

Burger Source

OK, it’s another pub burger. But when a pub boasts of Wagyu beef, and has it alongside a regular burger on the menu, I’m thinking this is worth a try. This is a pub that takes its burgers seriously.

In fact; it was incorrectly billed as Kobe Wagyu beef on the menu. For the uninitiated, Kobe beef is beef from a specific strain of ‘Wagyu’ cattle, raised in Hyogo prefecture in Japan. This is why it struck me as so incredibly unlikely that a pub – even a nice pub, like the Falcon, in a lovely village like Rotherwick in North Hampshire – would be selling it in burgers. It’s famed for its tenderness and marbled texture, and is not exported in vast quantities – in fact, there are only 3,000 Kobe cattle in Japan, according to Wikipedia’s (admittedly dated) version of events.

This would make the £14.95 price tag seem incredibly unlikely… and in fact, on correspondence with the manager, it transpires they have been slightly misled by a Wagyu beef supplier called ‘Kobe Cuisines’ so will be editing its menu accordingly. Still, Wagyu beef. Yum.

The order

We were celebrating my mother-in-law’s birthday and arriving late to lunch after an ice-rink expedition, so were all famished. Some bread tempered appetites, and a Jim Beam on the rocks furnished me with a drink (I’m still on this bourbon kick and the pub was lacking in alternatives, though it had a wide selection of Scotch).

The main meal was the burger alone; I was offered toppings (bacon, avocado, cheddar, blue cheese etc.; blue cheese and avocado were recommended), but went for the pure burger from a desire to actually taste this highly acclaimed meat. This seemed to impress the manager.

The meat of it

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You can see from the picture that this was not an imposing burger; substantial but not enormous. The pickle was nice but eaten separately given it’s pointless positioning atop the stack; the bun was eggwashed but not a brioche as far as I could tell. It was slightly too big for the burger, and so held up to the burger’s heft… but only just. Perhaps due to wagyu beef’s lower fat melting point, the burger was not as juicy as an equivalent burger made from a different beef?

It was accompanied with a nicely savoury mayo, deliciously crisp and fresh, sweet tomato and salad, and bacon jam – which is hard to describe, but more sweet than savoury and lacking in any kind of crisp bacon texture. Nice, though, and a good counterpoint to the well-seasoned patty, which was beautifully crisp but slightly too well done for my liking; a medium-well rather than a medium verging on medium rare. I’d guess 5-6oz for the patty; well seasoned, coarsely ground and loosely packed. Definitely winning on more levels than it’s losing.

The taste. The taste confounded me. Beef that well-done shouldn’t have been this juicy; there was a slight gaminess to the flavour and tonnes of umami from the seasoning, despite no bacon or cheese actually in the stack. The mayonnaise was clearly a good accompaniment and the bun didn’t distract whatsoever. Cheese would have been unnecessary, and believe me that’s not something I say lightly. Because, y’know, I love cheese.

The fries, thin, hand-cut, skin-on fries, were very well cooked and seasoned to perfection. They went beautifully with the bacon jam, in fact, and the fresh side salad was wonderful, alongside a slightly less inspiring but mildly pleasant, light coleslaw.

In all, it was an inspiring experience. Despite the beef being Kobe-style rather than Kobe, it’s instantly made it to the top of my pub burger league table and will motivate me to head back to Rotherwick for future lunches in the not-too-distant-future.

Monkey finger rating

Bun –  4/5
Build – 4/5
Burger – 4/5
Taste –  4/5
Sides – 4.5/5
Value – 4.5/5 – Wagyulicious: an outstanding burger for £15.

Burger rating – 4.5/5 – Top of my pub burger league table. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The deets

There are two pubs on Rotherwick’s main street and they both serve a burger, so make sure you make it to the Falcon if you want to try this one. You can find it here:  The Falcon, The Street, Rotherwick, Hook, Hampshire, RG27 9BL.