I moved to London nearly 5 years ago, in the summer of 2011, just before the riots (a coincidence, I assure you). At that point, the “gourmet burger” scene, for want of a better term, was just kicking off in earnest. The Meat Wagon had scored a site they called Meat Liquor, Honest Burgers was making waves from its first outlet in Brixton market (despite not having toilet facilities onsite, which caught me out the first time I went…) and queues for all the major players were plentiful and long.
Fast forward to now, and they are everywhere, with all manner of new kids on the block, corporate chains upping their game to try and get a piece of the action, major names from the USA coming over and proving to be all hype, no substance (Shake Shack and Five Guys really are both the epitome of mediocre, overpriced fast food from the times I’ve been, and I was stunned at the poor service in Shake Shack, given how great service invariably is in America), and the early pioneers are on the whole to be found all across the capital, and in some cases the world (Meat Liquor now has sites in Leeds, Brighton, Bristol and even Singapore).
It’s incredibly competitive, and many have a decent claim to being the leader of the pack. However, for me there is a clear front-runner – Patty & Bun.
Obviously when picking a favourite, you’re looking for something that can scale the heights. But almost as important, is that it gets up to the top of the mountain each time, rather than wheezing about halfway up and deciding it can’t be bothered.
The only place I’ve been to that can claim that same sort of consistency in excellence as Patty & Bun is Meat Mission. At a rough estimate, I’d say I’ve eaten at Patty & Bun 10 times now (3 in Mayfair, half a dozen or so at Liverpool Street, and this trip to Soho). Every time it has been exceptional.
If anyone asks me the best burger in London, I have no hesitation in proffering the Jose Jose. It’s a messy beast, but worth the kerfuffle. The Sobrasada and Chorizo Relish is one of the greatest condiments I’ve ever had the pleasure of sampling, sweet, tangy, a little spicy kick, with tiny, crunchy nuggets of fried chorizo in most mouthfuls. I’ve had better (the Super Fatty Patty and the World Peace Burger), but they were one-month-only limited editions. My intention last night had been to treat myself to another one of these masterpieces, until I saw the casting call for their special, the Beefer Sutherland. The price tag was a little steep, at nearly 50% more than my old faithful, but I’m a sucker for a novelty burger, so in the order went.
Before the food, a word about the venue and service – there was no queue, which surprised me a little, even at 8.45pm on a Wednesday. I had only become aware that this P&B existed days earlier, that had somehow escaped my radar, but it seems to have been there for quite a while. The friendly waiter showed us to a table downstairs, the restaurant decked out in the pretty-standard-now “reclaimed wood and nick-nacks” style, and with plenty of nods to the history of Soho in the shape of neon lights alluding to sexy-time, and pin-up girl pictures adorning the walls. The bathroom was more than a little cosy, I popped in to wash my hands before the meal, and had to give the hand-dryer a miss as it would have probably sent the man at the urinal’s flow into the stratosphere. Not sure if this design choice is also a nod to Soho tradition. Oh, and major props on the music – on walking in they had Fallacy ft Tubby T – Big & Bashy playing (a track I must have played dozens if not hundreds of times in my hip hop sets back in the early 00s), and it was solid hip-hop and grime early on, switching to some very nice (proper) deep house later on. I shazamed a good 4 or 5 songs for future reference!
The food arrived swiftly after ordering (worth noting you can specifiy how you prefer the beef patty cooked here, which is not always the case at burger joints), and without anything as boring and traditional as a plate. Personally, that didn’t bother me but one of my companions found that rather irritating, and I know many have a bee in their bonnet about this trend. The burgers come wrapped in waxed paper, which you can unfold to use as something of a bowl/plate substitute – the burgers are so juicy and the toppings so plentiful that you absolutely need this!
As well as our burgers, we order rosemary fries, confit potatoes with salt & vinegar aioli and Patty & Bun’s famous “Winger Winger Chicken Dinner” wings.
The burger was, on first bite, a bit of a shock to the system. It wasn’t an unpleasant shock, but it had a very unusual flavour that I wasn’t expecting, a large part of which I think came from the pickled shiitake mushrooms. I remember seeing a Heston Blumenthal show where he went on at length about the relationship mushrooms and beef have, and how mushroom can really maximise the “beefiness” of a burger or steak. And you know what, I think he was right. There was a deeply pleasurable rich-but-savoury party kicking off in my house, and much like a flatmate who is woken by it then decides to join in because it’s there whether they like it or not, my tastebuds spent the first half trying to work out what was going on, and the 2nd half having a whale of a time. The lettuce seemed somewhat redundant, but everything else added something useful to the experience – little chunks of beef from the ragu varied the texture of the meat, the beef fat mayo was unlike any mayonaisse I have had before, while the roast onion ketchup provided a little sweetness to counteract the overall picture, that was very much in the realms of umami. The brioche bun, despite all the juices, held up brilliantly to the very last. There was a touch of Dip n Flip to the experience actually, although I would have to say that I preferred the Dip n Flip version of this type of burger, and it’s considerably cheaper. And in truth, this was not a patch on the Jose Jose, which is £3.50 cheaper.
As I mentioned earlier, the wings are famous, and for good reason. I was never a big fan of chicken wings until an old flatmate (how’s it going Harry?) started raving about Meat Liquor’s Bingo Wings, and while it was those which converted me, these are a completely different beast. They are cooked in an 18 hour confit process, and are reassuringly meaty, this meat breadcrumbed and coated in a fairly sweet, and very sticky, BBQ sauce, and simply falling off the bone the moment your mouth gets round them. There’s a hint of honey and ginger in the sauce, it’s possibly a little sickly for some palates, and a whole tub of them to yourself (which is about 6 I think) might have been too much for me, but 3 or 4 hit the spot just right. You will need the hand wipes they give you if you order these.
The rosemary fries do what rosemary fries do – these are a solid example, crispy outside, fluffy inside, I’d have preferred a touch more seasoning, but they weren’t my order, so I’m not complaining.
The confit potatoes, however, were fantastic. Basically they were tiny, brilliant roast potatoes with an excellent aoili, though I ended up dipping them in the juices that had abandoned the burger ship. I could happily be served a bucket of these potatoes, a bowl of this gravy, and just get stuck in. Incredibly crispy, and so fluffy inside – I’m not an expert, but I suspect goose fat or beef dripping or something was used on these to get this result.
The beer was served in some sort of outsized milk bottle, which I inexplicably found really pleasant to marvel at. Maybe it was just the beer inside, I’ve not had a drink in 12 days and was on the water for this excursion.
All in all, I was yet again delighted with Patty & Bun, and relieved that I hadn’t bigged it up to my friends only to see them disappointed (this has happened at Honest a few times since they expanded so rapidly, even though when they are on point they are one of the best). The Beefer Sutherland was not something I’d order again given the other available options, particularly at that price point, but was a thoroughly enjoyable burger in it’s own right. The sides were superb, especially those wings. I know I’ll be back again, and again, and again…
Beefer Sutherland – 8/10
Patty & Bun – 9/10