Burger & Beyond, and beyond

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The bait that caught us

I started hearing about Burger & Beyond last year when I attended the National Burger Day event at Hawker House. Sadly, I was unable to sample their wares that day, and despite the best of intentions I’d not made it to Kerb, the South Bank Market, or any of the other places they’d been around. Then they moved to Dinerama, in my corner of London. I had arranged to meet an old buddy for food last Sunday, we were kicking ideas around, and then it hit me – go and try these sexy looking offerings, and have the scope to test a few other things out from Dinerama’s ample selection.

We met there at 7pm on a Sunday – the place was relatively quiet but had a nice atmosphere, a gentle buzz, the DJ playing an excellent selection of nu-disco, chilled house, that sort of thing – it had me and Alfie Shazam-ing away while we were there! We ordered our burgers, £10 for a hell of a recipe – The Big Lew, with 90 day dry-aged patty (Ribeye, Brisket, Chuck, Featherblade), pancetta bacon, cold smoked American cheese, and marrownaise.

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Alfie nipped to the next hatch, Thunderbird, for some Chipuffalo wings (buffalo sauce, chipotle, coriander, pickled celery, truffled blue cheese dip) and fries (Cajun spice, awesome sauce) – I’m not mad keen on wings so I sat those out, the fries were a bit meh in honesty; nice seasoning and sauce, but they had that weirdly hollow thing going on that some thin fries get, they were good and crispy, but they didn’t have me thinking I’d ever order them myself down the line. The wings are, by Alfie and many other people’s accounts, excellent.

The burgers arrived – they seemed smaller than the impression we’d had from the pic I’d sent to him earlier to get the saliva buds going (the one at the top of the page). But in isolation they were very attractive, well presented burgers, scoring high on the filthy-stuff-that’s-probably-bad-for-you-but-probably-delicious scale.

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Dutty

On first bite, the bread was somewhat dense, heavy. Almost like a bun on the verge of going stale, but I don’t think it was that. However, it tasted great, and held together like a champ (the Kiwi Burger from Shane’s I’d had earlier in the day had disintegrated into a million pieces by the 3rd bite, the less said about that travesty the better). The smoked American cheese seemed to act like a delicious putty, holding things in place. The marrownaise was rich, the streaky bacon strips suitably crispy, if a little over-salty to my palate.

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Plenty of bacon, good good

The patty, with it’s various cuts in there, had a good, beefy flavour, but a somewhat unusual texture. I suspect they grind their meat more coarsely than is common. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it was different, and that unsettled me for the first few mouthfuls while I tried to work out what exactly was different. They’d said it would be served medium, and I’d say it was leaning towards medium-rare, but regular readers will know that is absolutely fine by me!

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It looks raw in the middle, fret not, that’s just an optical illusion from such a juicy burger with sloppy toppings! It was cooked through.

did very much enjoy this burger, but it was cursed by a common problem in this Instagram era – the sexiness of the photos that drew me here set expectations unreasonably high, and it inevitably disappointed on that level. I am keen to try another burger from these guys, as this was a very good effort indeed, but I left the experience feeling slightly let down, which on reflection is an odd thing considering the quality of the burger they served me. The jury is out to a degree, so I’ll avoid giving it a score for now, I think a 2nd sampling would be very useful for me to work out it’s place in my league table! But I would certainly recommend you try it if you see them around, it’s a very welcome addition to the city.

After this, we fancied something sweet, and found ourselves looking at You Doughnut – the options pretty straightforward, just 2 choices available. We both went for the malted milk choc doughnut over the salted popcorn peanut caramel , £3 each for a small portion (£5 for a larger one), which was plenty to sweeten up our evening. These were a delight. Freshly made, light, tiny doughnuts dusted with sugar, maltesers and digestive biscuits crumbled atop, with malted chocolate sauce to finish it off. The combination and balance was fantastic. I’ve generally not got that much of a sweet tooth, so tend to dodge desserts, but the very reasonable price encouraged me to sample these, and I’m glad I did. I will definitely have these on my next visit.

Being the pair of fatties that we are, our minds wandered to other places in the area, and then it hit me – Alfie had to try the brisket bun at Smokestak. Funnily enough they had a stall at Dinerama before opening their permanent site near Brick Lane, and I am not exaggerating when I say that I consider this the best sandwich I’ve ever had in my life. Better than Kappercesein’s majestic cheese toastie. Better than Katz’s Deli’s Pastrami on rye (although I’ve only had the Texas version, not the NYC effort, which looks to be a different beast). Better than the Hamish Macbeth from Deeney’s. I do not say this lightly.

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Little & Large

We ordered one small, one large – £5 and £8.50. For me, the extra is completely worth it for more of that heavenly brisket. The soft bun is toasted wonderfully, so it crackles and crunches to the bite, tiny bits of char at the edges catching your lips. The inside of the top of the bun appears to have been brushed with dripping or similar, the bottom with a sheen of delicious BBQ sauce. The brisket is coiled within the confines of the bun, and topped with a generous handful of sweet, fiery, pickled red chillies.

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Oh baby

Just writing about it has me gently shaking my head in awe at this masterpiece. The balance is flawless, the brisket juicy and tender, the combination just perfect. I’ve had this sandwich 5 times now, firstly at Meatopia 2015, and each time it has been as brilliant as that first one.

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From an earlier visit

There are other items on the menu at Smokestak worth shouting about, the smoked monkfish tail with burnt lemon is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, and the jacket potato smoked rarebit is a fantastic side dish, but on this trip we simply sat, ordered brisket buns, ate, paid, left, in approximately a 15 minute sitting, something I expect I will do many more times in the future.

So all-in-all, a deeply satisfying evening with a good friend and some lovely food. I need to revisit Burger & Beyond to decide whether it deserves a place at the very top table of London’s burger contenders, but it certainly is in contention. London is in a great place right now in terms of the quality and variety of food available, long may this continue.

 

When Novelty Burgers Go Wrong

I’m hardly a war journalist, but I do make little sacrifices here and there in pursuit of interesting burgers to write about – yesterday was one such little disaster, when faced with a menu seemingly full of delights, at a restaurant I’d been wanting to try out for some time, Red’s True Barbecue.

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Photo shamelessly stolen from here

Yesterday, I did something I never thought I would, and can say with complete certainty will never do again. I had a doughnut burger. Typing that out, I feel like an idiot. What did I expect? I have a thoroughly British palate – if I treat myself to a cooked breakfast, the condiment I reach for is tomato ketchup (sorry, brown sauce advocates). The one thing that never, ever crosses my mind is “You know what this deliciously savoury mess needs? Syrup!”.

So why on earth did I think that sticking a double bacon burger between 2 glazed doughnuts was something I might find enjoyable?

Well, basically, novelty value. I eat more burgers than is probably healthy. Now, I realise that sticking them between deep fried sugary dough isn’t a great way to make them healthier, but it does vary things up a little. I saw something online about a charity offer, a one-day-only buy-one-get-one-free doughnut burger event with a mandatory donation built in to the price. I have a couple of friends who I’ve been saying I’d go to Red’s with for months. The visit scripted itself.

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So in we went, early evening on a Monday. After a little bit of strangely awkward and complicated to-and-fro with our waiter about some free beer vouchers my friend had been emailed (which we were told were only valid after we’d spent £10, so we should scan at the end of the meal, which is fair enough in order to prevent abuse of the offer), we ordered. It was decided to get 2 of the doughnut burgers to share, with some BBQ and sides to complement things.

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And so this arrived. Times two. I’d love to say it looked appetising, that it was a glorious mess. But tbh, it filled me with dread. In there you’ve got 2 beef patties, smoked peppered bacon, cheese and dirty sauce, served between those two glazed doughnuts, sprinkled with what they call “frickles”. I’d prepared appropriately – lunch had been a vegetarian affair, worth about 250 calories to my daily intake. A lap of Victoria Park had been run, weights lifted, 30 minutes pedalled on an exercise bike. I had plenty of spare calories to play with for my dinner, and here they all were, in one rather scary looking Frankensandwich.

We got to business. As there were 2 sandwiches, and 3 of the group eating, we sliced them in half, which in truth made them much easier to manipulate mouthwards. The first thing I noticed was the burgers were definitely at the “well done” end of the spectrum. This to me tends to mean one of two things – either they’re overdone, or they’re done just right as the meat isn’t of the quality where they can be served pink. Given that this was a BBQ place, I’d hope it was the former, and that they mince their own beef onsite. My friend who has eaten there plenty seemed to think that these were not cooked to their usual level, and I’ll take him at his word!

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What can I say of the burger? Well, I would say I will never eat such a thing again. The patties seemed to be of good quality meat, if overdone to my tastes. The bacon was excellent and pleasingly crispy, and the cheese suitably molten. The dirty sauce was intriguing, and something I’d like to try in a different context. Somewhat like a peppercorn sauce, maybe some garlic going on in there. But why on earth had I thought that sticking this lot between doughnuts would be a pleasant thing to experience? They had a cloying, almost caramel flavour. The glaze was soon all over my hands, and any pleasure I took from the traditionally “burger” parts of this meal were cancelled out (and then some) by the overwhelming sweetness of what it arrived between. Every mouthful was completely dominated by that aspect of the burger. When you are dealing with such big, bold flavours as these, and they are struggling to get a word in edgeways, you know it’s a completely imbalanced package. But then, that’s not really the point is it? It’s novelty island writ large, more about social media shares than a delicious dining experience, and I feel a little bit ashamed for being part of the machine that helps this trend rumble on.

Reading around online, there’s talk of this being a 2000 calorie burger. When I think of the things I could eat for that sort of calorific value (so many slices of pizza…), and how many laps of Victoria Park I’ll have to run to cancel that out today, it makes me want to shed a tear. What was interesting was how this sugary, stodgy feeling stayed with me through the evening. I was halfway to meeting a friend for some drinks after leaving Red’s, and decided to turn on my heel and head home, so intense was the feeling of an insulin-fuelled food coma, and I didn’t rid myself of the unpleasant aftertaste and feeling of sickliness until I woke up this morning. I wanted something to cleanse my palate last night when I got home, but God knows what would have worked in the context. A bowl of Marmite perhaps? And this after only eating fractionally over half of a doughnut burger, with a fair amount being left unfinished by those sharing them.

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Brisket and Burnt Ends – the photo doesn’t really do this one justice, it was very nice. The “Mustard Caviar” is basically a mustard seed condiment.

To be fair, the rest of the meal was decent, with some strong highlights. The brisket and burnt ends were thoroughly enjoyable, with the brisket positively melting in the mouth, and the burnt ends being a crunchy counterpoint with good flavour. The sauces provided at the table were all excellent, the fries pretty much done to perfection.

The deep fried pickles were really very good indeed. I’d never been a massive fan of the ones from Meat Liquor – which are flat strips in batter. These ones are a half pickle, a whole one cleft in twain from top to bottom, which means that they retain a happy crunch after deep frying. The creamed corn wasn’t to my taste, and apparently is a new recipe that isn’t as good as the old.

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Creamed corn

The onion rings side was an odd one. We got 1 onion ring. We definitely asked for onion ringSWe clarified this when this sad, lonely, overweight ring arrived with no company, and were informed that it was because they thought we’d ordered it as part of the free accompaniments for the burger, which seems odd to me – I would have thought a portion is a portion is a portion, the same size whatever the context. They brought us one more ring, and the bill showed one English pound for this reinforcement. There were 3 of us eating. A portion of onion rings is listed as £2.95. I don’t really understand what happened there. TBH, there were a series of communication breakdowns with the waiter from start to finish.

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Top, top camerawork from me here.

Which brings us to the end, which was nearly as messy as the burger itself (incidentally, they provided wet-wipe napkins to clean our hands, which was very necessary!). I had known about the 2-for-1 burger deal, the free beer offer was news to me on the day, but certainly very welcome. Yet when it came to that moment and we proffered our voucher codes to redeem them, we were suddenly informed that the small print said it was one beer per table. The small print didn’t say this. This hadn’t been mentioned at the top when we said we had these vouchers. The waiter basically said “hey, what can I do, I’m just a waiter? You want to speak with the manager?”.

Now, I’m not a big complainer at restaurants, but likewise I don’t have that very British terror of “making a scene” that many do. When he came over, he again said “small print”, we pointed out the absence of what he was claiming. He was a little ruffled and flustered (which I think was the restaurant starting to fill up for the evening rather than a reaction to us or anything we were saying or doing), and shot off, came back with a new bill which he chucked on the table with few words, then ran off again, firmly clobbering the chair next to me into mine. With this they’d taken 1 more beer off the bill, despite 4 vouchers being redeemed within the group. Now, this whole episode in and of itself isn’t that big a deal to me, but I think worth mentioning – I was left with a feeling of “is this offer trying to trick people through the door?”

I was going there whatever, the free beer offer was unknown to me until minutes before I arrived, so my indignation was barely existent, but I was struck with how poorly they handled a pretty simple situation, and this was in stark contrast to a story my friends had told me about a visit one Sunday breakfast when a manager there had observed them wait too long for their meal, and without prompting knocked a substantial amount of their final bill. So it’s not like they don’t know what great service is, it’s just that this time was a bit of a chaotic mess, and it did leave me with a 2nd funny taste in my mouth – one free beer per table is a really weird offer to advertise (especially when you don’t actually mention that stipulation anywhere), and is going to lead to odd, awkward moments like this.

All that being said, I enjoyed the BBQ enough to say I’ll probably be back at some point given the location, within walking distance of where I live. The service was a bit erratic, which is a bugbear of mine – cooking great food is hard, being organised, friendly and polite simple by comparison, and there’s really never a good excuse for getting that aspect of a restaurant wrong. Even if it’s stupidly busy and things take a long time, a friendly word and some management of expectations goes a long way – last night was a hodge podge of confusion, misunderstandings and errors.

The doughnut burger however… I highly recommend that you never, ever order one.

Red’s True BBQ Doughnut Burger – 2/10

Brisket & Burnt Ends – 7.5/10

Overall Experience – 5.5/10