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.

I simply cannot stress the patty enough here. The flavour is an explosion in your mouth with juices transporting an immensely beefy and buttery taste. Usually cooked slightly more rare than medium rare, the soft squishy patties yield a joy so great that I can never resist returning for another double. Oh, and that’s a point. Always get a double. Bleecker’s patties are only 4oz so a double is the only real choice. After trying MEATLiquor, I didn’t think doubles got any better. Trust me, they do. MUCH better. Go try them, you won’t regret it I promise.

10/10
Bleecker Double Cheeseburger

Patty & Bun - A Masterclass
The opening was yonks ago now and its a little late blog this but I couldn't just leave them out. I was there a week after it opened, again a week later, and then again and again. Okay, I got a little carried away in my ‘research’ eating there 5 times in their first month. That itself may give a clue as to how good they are. Joe has an infectiously uptempo attitude and is seemingly the last person I would expect as having laser-focus and a keen eye for perfection. Nonetheless that is what he offers: a temperature-probe controlled patty – cooked to the perfect medium rare (a big middle finger to Westminster council). Every single one of the 5 times I went - a perfect carbon copy. That simple fact alone cannot be overlooked. When a meal is as simple as a burger, consistency is king and rarely have I been somewhere so many times and gotten the exact same product every time.

Ari Gold

The burger itself is a real gusher and the greaseproof paper it is brought in ends as an improvised bucket. The flavour of the burger is incredible, one of those 'punch you in the face with flavour on the first bite type' burgers. The meat is hugely flavourful and seasoned well, possibly a smidge over-salty. The cheese is again a creamy tangy American number while countered by one of my favourite accompaniments: the pickled onions Joe created alongside the Street Kitchen guys. The brioche is similar again to the SK ones, very sturdy with a firmer texture than some competitors. It miraculously holds up to the juicy onslaught and importantly, it isn’t sweet.

Overall it’s a fantastic burger. The Jose chilli burger is great and I've heard raving about the lamb, but for me the simplicity and deliverable excellence of the Ari Gold can’t be beat. Sides are simple, wings, slaw, fries and some choc-ices. The wings are decadent; smoked and confit, then breadcrumbed, fried and slathered in a smokey BBQ sauce. Amazingly its actually quite hard to eat the serving of five as they are so rich. Although I prefer traditional buffalo wings – these are close to top of the pile.

9/10

Elliots - Disappointing Elegance
After PB we could hardly have gone to a different place. Elliots is  a quiet unassuming joint just off Borough Market, nuzzled between two fish restaurants. They do some seriously good British-inspired food, but more importantly a fantastic burger on weekdays lunchtimes. Tricky for your average working man.

The burger is worlds apart from Joe or Zan's creations. Refined, clean with ‘some-assembly-required’ as the lightly pickled cucumbers are left out the bun. It has had some massive praise across the Burgeratti – however I'd have to say overall I was a tad underwhelmed. This may be due to the fact that we were the very first table served at lunch, or simply that everyone can have an off day.


The patty was a little dry and grainy in texture. The bun also left a little stale. The positives were that the patty had a deep beefy flavour, although it was fairly mild and more of an aftertaste. The pickled cucumbers were delicious, lightly pickled and retained a lovely crunch (intriguingly the skins are now left on compared to Burgerac's version). The burger was topped with onions slow caramelised in beef fat that should have been a huge punch of umami but they were notable by their absence. Possibly a hotter, slightly faster caramelisation would be better. The saving grace came in the form of the nutty Comté which really kicked the burger up a notch. Alongside the potato circles – deliciously crisp and salted and the amazing garlic mayonnaise, the lunch was enjoyable but nothing great. If I have the chance I’d be happy to go back as I’m confident it was more of a blip than a genuine issue.

7/10


Lucky Chip - Failure to Launch
After trying their Lucky Fried Chicken it was clear these guys know their way around a kitchen and how to execute on a simple product. Burgers are what made their name and so I was ungraciously expecting a further step-up. It was my first time at LC and I went with about 20 or so other burger/food bloggers for what has now become a self-styled @BurgerAwayDay. No stress on the kitchen there then!

I ordered the Royale with cheese – Lucky Chip’s version of how McDonalds cheeseburgers should be – and a Kevin Bacon – a more simple bacon cheese burger. I’d have to say unfortunately even though there was nothing majorly wrong with the burger, I just wasn’t blown away. Structurally the Royale was a nightmare. There was just too much in there and the bun couldn’t handle it. Halfway through it was almost a scoop-job. The Kevin although less busy was still a mess by the end. The Royale also had far too much sauce in it (mustard and special sauce). 



That all said the patty was notably tasty and had a great flavour, similar to the Diner’s improved patties. We also ordered spicy wings which had a great crust and were very moreish despite not being spicy. The fries were another disappointment, lacking crispness but also overly thin, I don't have a photo but if I had, you would have known what I meant just by looking at them. Burgeraddict said they were night and day compared to the Sebright ones. Overall I was pretty disappointed and the food was unfortunately rather forgettable.

6/10

Gourmet BurgerKitchen - Sucker for Nostalgia
Laughably enough, the day after the BurgerAwayDay I went on a work lunch break to GBK. GBK has a soft spot in the nostalgia section of my heart as it was the first place in the UK I had had a properly tasty burger; albeit about 8 years ago. In recent years it has taken a lot of flak for falling behind the competition, both independents and even other chains such as Byrons. In Canary Wharf they have had a refurb and changed-up the menu in an effort to boost their image. The weathered wooden furniture and barber/diner style from Byron has been pretty much completely duplicated.


I went for the Taxi Driver – brioche, American cheese, dill pickle, smoked chilli mayonnaise and an onion ring. I'm likely to get a lot of grief for this but: I actually enjoyed this burger far more than Lucky Chip’s. Structurally it was much sounder (after the removal of the onion ring), the flavours were more complementary without overpowering anything and the beef wasn’t far off. You can tell it lacks the aged quality of some of the others but its good enough and well seasoned. The bun however was a little overly sweet and a little cloying in texture. GBK need to learn to make the their brioches a little more like Miller’s – light and fluffy but not too sweet.

The skinny fries they do with toasted rosemary and salt are a huge improvement and incredibly moreish. One of the better fry offerings around. Bun aside this is a good burger. Nothing amazing, nothing groundbreaking, just tasty. I am a sucker for their relish and smoked chili mayo and along with the nostalgia, I just keep coming back.

A very generous: 8/10



Boisdales - Close But No Cigar
You may not have heard of Boisdales. They are a Scottish themed steakhouse that offers whiskey, cigars and live jazz music with branches in Chealsea and Canary Wharf. I’ve never been to eat a steak there and a review of the place is almost impossible to find. In the Wharf branch they have cleverly tried to snag some of the lunchtime market and started offering takeaway burgers. I gave them a shot and overall the burger wasn’t too bad – although a like for like comparison is difficult as it cooled down a bit by the time I got back to the office.

The burger, looking a little smushed, has clearly either suffered on the journey or is simply a rather delicate little flower. The bun itself was okay, nothing fantastic though and a touch too chewy. The patty wasn’t too dense and surprised me with its solid beefy flavour. Could have done with a touch more seasoning though and the lack of serious aging time was clear. Overall though this patty was similar to a Byron which isn't something to turn your nose up at. The condiments too were all tasty: thin red onion, pickles, tomatoes, mayo. The overall mouth feel and taste was satisfying however it lacked something which would make me hesitate to rush back. 



Only real gripe was the waitresses made me feel like I had ruined their day by simply asking for my order and then they forgot my fries. It took quite a lot of poking to get an apology and eventually they (rightly) offered me a free burger next time. When you order only a burger and fries and one of them is missing it’s not a great first impression. FYI: I haven’t taken them up on the burger.

6/10

  
Bleecker - Can be found  popping up all over. Check their website for where they are heading.
Patty & Bun - 54 James St London W1U 1HE, Tel: 0207 487 3188. Nearest Tube: Bond Street
Elliots - 12 Stoney St, Borough Market, SE1 9AD, Tel: 02074037436. Nearest Tube: London Bridge
Lucky Chip @ the Grafton - 20 Prince of Wales Road, London, NW5 3LG, Tel: 0207 482 4466
Gourmet Burger Kitchen - Burger essentially identical so find your nearest one on their website
Boisdales @ Canary Wharf - Cabot Place, Canary Wharf London, E14 4QT. Tel: 020 7715 5818

3 comments:

  1. Agree 100% with your crowning of Bleecker being #1. It's sex in a bun.

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  2. have you tried Tommi's burger joint? Bleeker st is definitely top 3...but in my opinion haven eaten at both a myriad of times Tommi'c kicks the crap outta Patty & Bun. The interesting thing will be how they all fare when Shake Shack moves in, in June...

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    1. I have indeed tried Tommi's and think its a clear step down from P&B. Meat lacking in bold flavour and the overall bun lacks some of P&B's magic touches (onions, perfectly melted cheese). But that's what makes food interesting I guess, everyone has different tastes and preferences. And yeah will be interesting to see how Shake Shack and Five Guys stack up against each other.

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