Friday, 26 April 2013

Burgers: A London Sampling

Two slices of bread and a slab of meat, simple ain’t it? Although bread has been eaten for thousands of years in countless forms and humans have been eating meat for just as long, it took a surprisingly long time before someone thought to combine them. Bread was the original crockery; in medieval times stale bread was used as edible plates soaking up the juices of whatever was being eaten, leading to open–faced sandwiches. Bread is even used as the delivery vehicle such as for Shooter’s sandwiches or pain surprise. Despite the vague claim of a Jewish religious leader being the inventor of the sandwich, the widely accepted factoid has it that back in the 18th century the Fourth Earl of Sandwich was the first to have the bright idea to put cold meats between two slices of bread. Handy during a game of cards as marking your hand with sticky fingers is not a good thing

Fast forward a hundred years and some bright spark decided to put some hot mincemeat in a bun and the burger was born. No one knows exactly who the innovator was and frankly I don’t care, what matters is that it was created. What seemed like a relatively simple evolution has led to waves of innovation, debate, favouritism and politics. Burgers were big news in 1950’s America with Whitecastle pioneering the fact that burgers, uniformly shaped, could be made fast. Then McDonalds created the franchise and with these two weapons they unleashed a steady torrent of meat slurry into the face of Joe Public. They ate it and they loved it. 

Over the years our love affair for the burger has waned, becoming a symbol of everything that is wrong with modern society – greed, lust and excess. Greasy, fatty fried meat in a carbohydrate-packed bun served with oily chips, washed down with high-fructose corn syrup. Soon governments and media declared fast food as the 'food of the poor, the stupid and the gluttonous'. "Shame on all those that eat it!” they cried. Do it, and do it now; lest we have time to look at ourselves dunking our chocolate digestives in our tea and dripping on our copies of the Daily Mail. Acres of trees are cut down every week to ensure thousands of column inches can be dedicated to how we are eating and drinking ourselves to an early grave and taking the taxpayer with us. The face of this epidemic: the humble burger.

Outside of the world the Daily Mail seems to have created, the burger has made a comeback. The food culture of this, and many European countries, has exploded and people have decided that they will eat anything as long as it tastes good. Fuck the diets, what matters is taste. A form of self-fellatio, people run around endlessly like food junkies desperate to get their next fix. McDonalds is scorned and mocked, not because it is unhealthy, but because it’s shitty solidified grey sludge. Look at American chains such as In-N-Out. They are heralded by both the press and the public, yet the offerings are essentially the same. The only real difference is taste and one saying they care about the quality of what they are serving. Both are still high fat, high carb foods.

London has more than its own fair share of burger joints. Mega-chains such as McD's and BK as well as smaller chains and independents. Below I present six very different offerings from around the capital. A street food van, small independent types, dirty slices of Americana and one supposedly down-on-its-luck chain. Forgive me for not visiting the Golden Arches for comparison - I think we all know what that tastes like.

Bleecker Street - Simply The Best
I've written about these guys before and to signpost where this is going: this is, in my opinion, the best burger in London. Full stop, hands down, shake it all around. A more controversial point would be that I don’t even think anyone else is even close - maybe only the guys directly below. When I tell friends this I find it hard to describe why exactly. The bun is pretty straightforward and there are none of my favourite accompaniments such as pickles, pickled/caramelised onions or a spicy sauce. What it does have however is exceptional beef, tasty cheese and some moreish burger sauce. The bun is beautifully toasted giving a nice crunch and there are two thin circles of charred onion that gives a light smokey flavour. The cheese is pure Americana and gives a creamy blanket for the patty. Overall though, the star is the beef.