I found myself in Shoreditch ahead of a gig last night with an hour to kill, and a stomach to fill. The universe clearly detected this, and a picture was placed in front of me on Instagram that made my decision quite simple.
I set to finding the vendor, Black Bear Burger – you’ll find them upstairs at Boxpark, by the outside area on the Shoreditch High Street Station side.
Here’s what they had available
I ordered myself the Brisket Burger and a portion of nuggets, and took a seat outside while I waited for them to make my order. The burger was offered to me as medium, and I gladly agreed to that. There was an abundance of seating space up there, and a view out over a busy, bustling part of the area.
My radio buzzer went off after 5 minutes or so, and I went to collect my food. Both the burger and the nuggets looked the business.
I started with the nuggets. These were little chunks of chicken breast, in a wonderfully crunchy buttermilk coating that was well seasoned, and apparently still subject to regular tweaks to improve it as they go along. If they get any better they will be getting towards being one of my favourite side dishes going, and at £5 they are an absolute bargain. The buffalo sauce was superb – based on Frank’s buffalo sauce, and mixed with mayo. The blue cheese dip was only so-so, that could handle being a lot blue cheesier in my view, but then I am a sucker for a strong, sharp blue cheese so maybe others would prefer it’s subtle tone.
The burger was very good indeed too – super juicy, and the slab of brisket on top was incredibly tender, easily pulling apart when I tugged an edge. The combination of quite a fatty patty and this moist brisket made the addition of the pickled red onions very necessary. The American cheese in there was fully melted, and the garlic mayo added to the luxurious, indulgent tone of the burger. It maybe was a little too indulgent on that note for some palates – the onion fought bravely alongside the other ingredients to create the balance you want from a great burger, but I’d imagine some might find it a bit rich. The seeded bun held together very well considering the content of the sandwich, and allowed the contents to speak for themselves without adding loads of sweetness as some buns do. The burger patty itself was decent, and served medium as promised. It didn’t, however, quite have that mouthgasm effect that my absolute favourite burgers have delivered, I’m not sure if that’s the beef they use or the degree to which they seasoned it or what.
That, however, is nitpicking. This was a really very enjoyable meal. Served fast, by friendly staff. Very reasonably priced indeed. Tasty, attractive, and it filled me up for the night.
I will happily be back here to try their other burger out, and ordering plenty more of those excellent nuggets.
My old flatmate ThePetebox texted me a while ago with a ridiculous, but appealing, idea. Go out into London, and sample 3 of the finest burgers around, each time choosing a winner. Do this a bunch of times, then you do the winners in 3’s, down to a grand final, thus working out the best of the best of the best.
We’ve faffed for a few months, but finally made the leap. Meeting up at Patty & Bun in Soho after Pete had bizarrely been teaching Iain Duncan-Smith to beatbox on Radio 2, we had a loose plan involving Lucky Chip and A N Other, which we hadn’t quite worked out yet.
So, to business. The rules of engagement are simple – 3 burgers, not necessarily the same burgers, just the one that we think sounds the best or that is their signature, or that we know to be kick-ass. For me at Patty & Bun, that’s the Jose Jose – in my opinion the finest burger that is permanently on a menu in London.
We ordered, and they were with us in literally a couple of minutes. As always, opening them was a risky business if you weren’t careful, due to the very messy nature of the burger. But it was as glorious as every other time I’ve had one – sweet, spicy sobrassada chorizo relish mixing with smoky mayonnaise and ketchup, the beef perfectly medium-rare (as they’d advised it would be unless we wanted it done longer) and seasoned just right, the springy, light brioche bun holding together like a champ (especially impressive given how sloppy a sandwich this is). But what I’ve come to realise with this one is that the masterstroke is the pickled onions – the acidity of these cuts through the sauces just enough to stop it being sickly, a crucial note in a symphonic burger. We were off to a flying start. The 2 burgers, service and a donation to a charity that was included and explained to us came in at £21.38.
Patty & Bun – Jose Jose Burger – 9/10
After some consideration about where to head next, we decided to include Tommi’s Burger Joint, which is a relatively new addition to the Soho area. I’d been to the Mayfair joint some time ago, and been impressed, but this was only my 2nd crack of the whip. We both ordered cheeseburgers (which come medium), and a pot of chipotle mayo. The price was a very impressively cheap £12.50 for everything. The burgers arrived quickly, wrapped quite similarly to Patty & Bun’s, yet somehow looking nothing like as appealing due to poor branding and presentation. We unwrapped, and being honest they didn’t excite – they looked a bit dry, dull, and overdone. I popped a big blob of chipotle mayo in there and chowed down.
The first couple of bites were a let-down, but once I hit the chipotle mayo, ketchup and so on, it took on an extra dimension – the chipotle mayo in particular was very tasty. However, it was far from as good a burger as I’d remembered from my first trip – the patty is quite thin, I think the burger was marginally overdone, and not as tasty meat as I recalled it having – also Pete mentioned his was a tad gristly. It wasn’t bad – indeed, for £6.25 it is incredible value for central London. But after the Jose Jose this seemed very pedestrian.
Tommi’s Burger Joint – Burger with cheese and chipotle mayo – 6/10
We took a small interlude here to grab an excellent coffee from Soho Bikes
Beef patty, smoked bacon, roasted jalapeños, blue cheese & aioli. I’ve had this burger 3 times now, and it’s a good un for sure. Chatting to our server, it turns out they press the blue cheese (a lovely, salty, almost spicy cheese) into a disc which melts atop the burger. The aioli is smeared generously over the bottom half of the bun and brings plenty of garlic to the party, the smoked bacon is excellent and cooked as it needs to be in a burger – just crispy enough to be easy to break through, but not a salty pork biscuit. The occasional jalapeño hit is very welcome amongst this all.
The combination here is delicious, but it did bring to mind the clever move of the Jose Jose – those pickled onions.
The melted cheese and aioli, and a quite fatty patty (which is a good thing for flavour, but still), make for a somewhat oily, greasy mouth-feel after a few bites. It could probably use something in there to cut through this – pickled chillies might do this, but the roasted jalapeños here didn’t, even while being very tasty. It’s nit-picking – I really like this burger. But it’s something I feel could improve it. The burgers were £9.50 each, no service as we ordered and paid at the bar.
Lucky Chip – El Chappo – 8/10
So, a clear winner in Patty & Bun’s Jose Jose, despite my affection for the El Chappo. Tommi’s disappointed this time out, although I’m sure I will give them another crack – the price is excellent and the first time I went it was a corker, so this could be an aberration. On to the next trio!
————————————————————————————————— Remaining heats in this stage (subject to change!)
Honest Burgers, Hawksmoor, Burger & Beyond
There’s a few obvious contenders I’ve left out because they are only available on specific days that don’t really suit my schedule, and also some well known brands that I feel don’t deserve comparison with most of these. But feel free to leave suggestions for wild cards in the comments, as I suspect I’ve missed a few out!
Mac & Wild is a restaurant I’ve been wanting to sample after seeing this frankly filthy piece of food smut on the Facebook timeline of a friend who works there…
And so I naturally sought to find out whether they were doing a Christmas burger – it was a yes, a table was booked, friends bailed at the last minute, all seemed lost, and then a 2nd opportunity arose. Booyakasha. And then 2 of the 3 friends bailed on that one, but I’ll take it, the friend that was left knows his stuff, being responsible for some of the finest drinking dens and food outlets London has seen in the last few years.
In we went, and what a lovely place it is. Tucked away on Great Titchfield Street near Oxford Circus, it wears it’s rustic charm proudly, with ample nods to the hunting and game that are the backbone of this restaurant. Even the door handles are rifles!
Wooden surfaces, hunting memorabilia, Scottish bits and bobs – all abound inside the restaurant. It is a cosy little place, with room for more seating downstairs, and stock stuffed in every little nook and cranny they can find, including this rather impressive stash of bottled Irn Bru (which as everyone knows, is made in Scotland from girders). They also have loads of bottles of their pre-mixed cocktails around – more on that later.
We decided that the best approach for the two of us (juuuuust the twoooo of us) was to share a Christmas burger (based around venison and turkey), and their highly rated Venimoo burger – a venison patty and a beef patty, apparently a prize winning combination. After my pleasant experience with Lucky Chip’s Rudolph Burger, I was ready to give more deer a whirl. We also ordered some haggis pops, hispi cabbage with black pudding, cheesy chips, and a venison scotch egg.
The pops arrived first, and they were a fantastic “small bites” type of dish. Little nuggets of haggis in incredibly crispy crumb, served with a dipping sauce called “Red Jon”, a delicious, sweet, sticky, mustardy concoction of redcurrant jelly and mustard. The crispiness of the crumbs was a recurring theme, I have to say that whatever the hell they are doing with their panko crumbs, it is working. If you are going to bread something, and fry it, then serve it and it’s not as crunchy AF… why I oughtta! No issues around that here.
When the rest of the food arrived, I have to say I loved the presentation. There was something about the way the Venimoo was served that really tickled me pink. The bun was darker than your average, with sesame seeds, and maybe it was the divot from some chefs thumb in the top half of the bun, maybe it was the two slightly overlapping patties seemingly drenched in melted cheese, tossed in seemingly carefree and slightly off-kilter… I don’t know, but I had a mental food boner for that sandwich just looking at it.
The Christmas Burger was less impressive to look at, but that’s a bit like saying so and so isn’t as attractive as George Clooney. It’s a high bar they’re being compared against, and there’s no shame in not reaching it. The Scotch Egg was, well, a scotch egg, with a smear of mustard on it’s platter the only visually exciting thing about that – bearing in mind I’m not really a big scotch egg fan. The cabbage – that really didn’t look like much, and had a huge amount of liquid in it, to the point that it bordered towards soupiness, although the chunks of black pudding in there were admirably large. The chips came with a little bowl of cheesy sauce to dip them in.
Where to start..?
Let’s start with what we’re here for – the Christmas Burger. It was… it was… good. Not outstanding, for reasons more of assembly and ease of consumption than anything else.
It was very tasty. The confit turkey was juicy, and as mentioned earlier, outstandingly crispy. It was also massive, which meant that on top of the other fillings it was a nightmare to try and eat. We may have made this trickier by cutting in half, I can’t say as I’ve not eaten one without cutting in half, but the Blacklock burger was actually far easier to handle when cleft in twain (as I did on my return visit earlier this week). At one point the last bit of the venison patty squirted out and landed in my lap, so it wasn’t ideal construction from an engineering point of view. The turkey element was simply so thick it just made the whole sandwich very hard to eat in the way God intended. Which is a dreadful shame, as the component parts were actually delicious, the two meat elements working very nicely with the brie and cranberry. The venison sausage patty was fantastic. It had bread sauce in there alongside the cranberry , which practically made me squeal with delight (I’ve become a bit fixated on what Christmassy elements make it into these sandwiches), but I suspect it’s that lubricant that made the patties slip around so much as I tried to eat them.
The cabbage really was a bit of a let-down, especially at the price. It just seemed to be lacking any really bold flavours, it needed more seasoning to my palate, the black pudding was nice enough, but that dish was definitely the poor relation of this meal. I didn’t get any real hit of heat from the mustard, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend that as a side dish.
The chips were good, if nothing to write home about – I’m not someone who is easy to impress with chips, but am quick to fault bad ones. These were crispy, and fluffy inside, the cheese sauce was great (although this seems an odd way to serve cheese sauce to me, but there you go, and you could always pour it over the chips when they arrive). The price is about par for the course for London, and I’ve no negative things to say about these. They were chips, executed well.
The venison scotch egg was, to me, the surprise package. I would never normally go for a scotch egg, for the simple reason that I rarely eat egg. This was, as with the other breaded items, phenomenally crunchy. The venison inside was juicy and moist and flavourful, and just a little pink. The egg… I don’t really understand how the chef did it to be honest. It was remarkable. My companion called it the perfect sous vide egg I think. It was jelly-like, but distinctly cooked. The yolks was runny but glutinous, all at once. It was delicious, I could happily stick one of those in my packed lunch any time. The mustard was a great, warming, sharp accompaniment.
And finally the Venimoo. A beef patty and a venison patty with cheese, bearnaise and caramelised onions, and we added the candied bacon. I’d insisted we order this, as frankly it sounded amazing. You know what? It was amazing. It is amazing. It knocked the Christmas Burger out of the park. I need to go back and try it again to really be sure, but its a real contender for my favourite burger that you could go and buy tomorrow (the best two I’ve ever had were limited editions that are apparently not to be repeated sadly, the Super Fatty Patty and the World Peace Burger).
The marriage of the venison and beef as flavours and textures was just superb. The melted cheese and bearnaise sauce gave it an incredible juicy succulence, aided by the sweet caramelised onions. The candied bacon added snap and another touch of sweetness, but also salt. It really is a phenomenal burger. I was actually a little taken aback by how much I enjoyed it – I’d remarked to my server about how burger’d out I was after so many trips for this Christmas specials project! At a tenner (or £11.70 with the bacon), it’s actually pretty reasonable value in the grand scheme of fancy London burgers, bearing in mind the Fitzrovia location and the fact that you get two substantial patties in there.
As for the drinks, I had a Drygate Bearface lager (heavy on the hops, light on the tongue it proclaimed on the bottle, and that was pretty much accurate), I liked this, Damian did not, c’est la vie.
I then tried glass of their Forager bottled cocktail that so impressed me a bottle was purchased for a Christmas present for my dad, kind of reminiscent of an old fashioned, but the honey in there was tangible on the tongue, giving it a somewhat velvety mouth-feel, and there was a almost a note of cinnamon or something in there, presumably something to do with the pine leaf tincture? Not that I have the faintest clue what a tincture is. And finally a warm mug of their Yuletide bottled cocktail, which was a great hot toddy type of drink, lovely spiced, warming flavours perfect for the season.
I’m not much of a desserts man, but we got a sticky toffee pudding in too. This was sensational. Probably the best I’ve ever had, and that’s saying something considering how good the Hawksmoor one is. Much lighter sponge than many, the warm sauce and ice cream combined for a delightful sensation. Highly recommended, although there’s no way I’d be able to handle a full one on my own, that would be a bit too sweet for my palate.
So all in all, a bloody brilliant meal. I’ll definitely be back, that’s for sure. The Christmas Burger maybe didn’t quite hit the heights I’d hoped, but the Venimoo is a marvel, and I’m genuinely wondering if it might be my new favourite burger, I can’t wait to try that again.
The rest of the food was excellent, apart from the rather disappointing cabbage. But there’s a heap of other items I’m keen to sample, and I could easily see this restaurant being a regular haunt for me in the future.
Christmas Burger – 8/10 (would have been higher if it was a little more manageable as a sandwich!)
Venimoo – 9/10
Breadcrumb Crunchiness where applicable – 10/10
Yolk sexiness – 17/10
Value – 8/10
Overall – 8.5/10 (Can’t justify it matching the Blacklock score, but a better side choice than the cabbage and it might have matched it)
Simply put, I’ll be eating and reviewing as many Christmas-related items of food as I can lay my hands on in the coming weeks in the gaps between probably the busiest month of my life, while trying to avoid becoming a total blimp.
I’d wanted to start elsewhere as my most recent burger review was a rather unflattering take on their pizza burger, and I was concerned that if I didn’t enjoy this then it would seem like I have it in for them, which I don’t (the Tribute is one of the best burgers in London).
But due to logistics and time constraints, this was the sensible choice, the Soho branch, just up from the theatre where me and my friend were off to watch some comedy later that Sunday night (God bless Leicester Square Theatre‘s work-in-progress events, where I’ve seen Vic & Bob, Stewart Lee and Jack Whitehall, all for about £15 each).
Happily, it looked almost exactly as advertised, which was huge progress after the Pizza Burger Incident. The cheese oozed satisfyingly out of the huge slab of deep-fried camembert when I picked it up and aimed it towards my hopeful mouth.
Generous blobs of thick, sticky cranberry sauce tumbled out and into the tray. I bit in, and while it was pretty tasty, the overwhelming flavour was the cheese, which almost entirely buried Honest’s excellent patty, which was done exactly as I like it, the perfect medium-rare, as requested.
Flavours dominating others is occupational hazard with novelty specials in the burger game, and I’m certainly not saying it was an unpleasant flavour. However, I would have to say that other than the cranberry sauce, there wasn’t much about the combination I was getting that screamed “IIIIIITTTTTT’S CHRIIIIIIISTMAS” in the manner my tastebuds had been hoping. The bacon was a little lost in the mix too, smothered in an unashamedly gluttonous cheese-fest.
Christmas cheese is of course a huge part of the festive experience for many people – my family included. I’m often tasked with bringing several hundredweight of dairy up to the seasonal get together because of my proximity to Borough and Broadway markets. But if you asked me to name the definitive Christmas cheese, it would be stilton. And if you asked me to name the flavours that characterise Christmas, you’d have sage & onion stuffing, pigs in blankets, turkey, chestnuts in that list alongside cranberry sauce, with deep-fried camembert not really anywhere near my radar – maybe I’m out of the loop on that one, but that’s my perspective anyway.
The rosemary fries were standardly brilliant and generous in portion-size, Honest really do put a lot of burger joints to shame with that side of things. We tried their Christmas cocktail too – combined with the burger and fries that was a bit of a meal-deal-steal at £16, the cocktail featuring cranberry, maple syrup and bourbon, and suited the experience nicely.
All-in-all, I’d class this as a good burger, but other than the cranberry sauce, not really a very good Christmas burger.
I have a laundry list of places I’m aiming to try out – Lucky Chip, Blacklock, Mac & Wild, Patty & Bun, Meat Liquor off the top of my head for starters – but if you have any London-based suggestions feel free to add a comment below and I’ll try to include them too!
I’ve got a lot of affection for Honest Burger, and regularly mention them when asked about my favourite burgers in London. I visited their original Brixton site when they only had one outlet, and have been impressed by the speed they went from 1, to 2, to 16 restaurants in under 5 years. What I’ve been less impressed by is the negative impact this has seemingly had on the consistency and standards across the group. Today, sadly, falls into that 2nd category.
At 11.05am this morning, while taking care of a bit of life admin, an email pinged through. And I was faced with this glorious sight…
Now, this is a sexy looking sandwich. My Facebook post received dozens of salivating replies from similarly smitten fatties. Check the description
“From the bottom to the top we kick off with homemade walnut pesto, add a 30 day dry-aged beef patty, bubbling hot smoked mozzarella, homemade marinara sauce, crispy pancetta and finish with a twist of black pepper.”
The phrase “get in my belly” has never been more apt. My mind was made up – dinner was at Honest. A few text messages later and it was arranged. 6.30pm at Honest Burgers’ Bank restaurant.
Now seems a decent time to clear the air. I’ve had very mixed experiences with Honest since they commenced their rapid expansion. When they nail it, they are in the very top tier. Their Tribute burger, when done right, is superb, a cheese & bacon burger of rare brilliance. But a few too many times things have not quite been right; burgers overdone, underdone, oversalted, fries burnt, one diner’s bun toasted, the other not, and so on. But when they have got their ducks in a row, it’s good enough that I take this chance on being disappointed. To their immense credit Honest once even found a tweet to a friend where I made some very mild criticism of a burger there and gave me a free meal on my next visit, and their staff are always friendly and attentive, and they have never had a problem with fixing things if they are wrong.
Back to today.
Me and my friend Charlotte arrived exactly at the same time, 6.30pm on the dot. Londoners, it really isn’t that hard. We always do it, and as a result we are always the first people by ages in our groups. How do people find it so hard to be punctual? Anyway, I digress. The restaurant follows their usual wooden and steel design, pretty basic but comfortably so, and we went downstairs to our booth, the restaurant having maybe only a dozen diners across 2 floors, which surprised me somewhat at that time midweek in The City.
Charlotte ordered the Tribute on my recommendation, I ordered the Pizza Burger, a bit of bacon ketchup to help the party along, a beer for the lady, and for me a very nicely presented bottomless supply of sparkling water, a bargain at just a quid (this year it’s my 4th Sober October in a row).
The burgers arrived, and first impressions weren’t great. I mean, I knew it wasn’t going to look like the advert, but I expected something vaguely close. I was expecting a messy beast of a burger, cheese oozing out of the sides, gravity pulling it down the sides, marinara sauce dribbling alongside the molten trails of smoked mozzarella, something more Patty & Bun than Honest’s usual style.
What I got was this.
Now, this is where I have to be honest with myself, and you (no pun intended).
I should asked whether the mozzarella should be melted. Smoked mozzarella is a funny beast, very different to regular mozzarella balls, or the grated hard stuff you get in supermarkets for pizzas etc. But tbh, I just wanted to eat. And I guess part of me was thinking “I want to judge what they serve me, not what they serve me 2nd time round”. Also, I had managed to completely forget that they’d claimed it to be “bubbling hot smoked mozzarella”, as I was engrossed in a typically in-depth conversation with Charlotte.
I’d asked for medium-rare, and this is how it came – I’d say this is on the rarer side of things right in the centre, but nothing I’m offended by, and I’d rather this than overdone.
You can also see that the mozzarella is a long way away from being melted – it was also cold. And again, I should have just said something – I had ample opportunity, as we were asked 3 times if everything was ok, an unusual situation. I’m not sure if this was overzealous staff (one came before we’d taken a bite, and again after, then another staff member a few minutes later), whether it was because they’d noticed me taking pics and were getting paranoid, whether it was because they weren’t confident in the chefs, or what. But either way, it’s on me that I didn’t send it back, which I should have done, as it wasn’t what was advertised and what had brought me out for the night.
The burger patty itself was typically flavoursome, the strong, savoury beefiness that I’ve come to expect from Honest, seasoned just right. I would say that next time I’d order it medium, but given that I’ve had them come well-done when I’ve ordered medium-rare, I don’t really know how to offset that level of erratic production. It’s really strange, as these guys are superb maybe 70-80% of the time – I guess it’s just a numbers game, there’s only so many staff who are reliably able to hit the mark every single time, and when you expand this quickly it must be tricky to maintain the highest standards. But they risk becoming the next Byron if they don’t arrest this trend – well known, but a 2nd division player. Byron is just a bit average – in Honest’s case, they have brilliance in their locker, but too often slip up.
The bun held together well and was pretty neutral taste-wise – it didn’t fight against the flavours it was holding, although the walnut pesto offered nothing much that I noticed (I literally forgot it was in there until Charlotte asked what that was like!). The marinara was pleasant, and had a zesty tang to it. But there was nowhere near enough of it – much had absorbed into the top half of the bun, and I was expecting it to be a messy beast to handle. Look at the photo at the top – you know full well that if you squeezed that and bit down on to it, the marinara is going all over the shop, and that’s what I thought I’d signed up for! Same with the pesto – it’s spilling all over the shop in the advert! The pancetta was great – I really liked that – very thin, with a lovely crispy crunch, and I think that makes for an excellent substitute for bacon just as a general observation, if done this way. Sometimes bacon for burgers is underdone and the fat becomes something of an obstacle to be chewed through.
The rosemary fries were outstanding, as they almost always are. They seemed ever so slightly thicker than I remembered, although that might be a trick of my memory. Cooked to perfection, cripsy outside, fluffy inside, just the right amount of salt, a decent kick from the rosemary. And the bacon ketchup… the sooner Honest start selling that stuff, the better! Amazing. This stuff is actually possibly even better – highly recommend it, I picked up a jar at home in the Peak District last Christmas, yet turns out it’s made up the road from me in East London!
I demolished every last crumb in my dish, but there’s no getting away from the fact that this was a crushing disappointment. I was entering tonight thinking that this was a possibility for my favourite ever burger, and I got… that.
It wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t particularly good either. This has happened before at Honest actually – at Spitalfields I had a special (I forget which), and again was bitterly disappointed. I should just order the Tribute, it’s genuinely superb, but they keep creating these Instagram-friendly beasts, and I keep falling for it!
A friend who works for Street Feast says she’s had it, it looked nothing like mine, and was delicious – and that may well be true, but then just adds weight to the other issue, the wild inconsistency from kitchen to kitchen. Hopefully they can address this, as Honest have it in them to be the top burger joint in London.
So, one of the fringe benefits of my job as a DJ is having my days relatively free. I obviously still have Stuff To Do, but the deadlines are often quite nebulous and regularly have to be self-imposed. As such, when I heard earlier this week that legendary LA Burger chain In-N-Out Burger were coming to London for a 4-hour pop-up, I was pretty sure that I would be there to check it out.
In classic style I managed to accidentally get a little drunk at the gig I had the night before, but mercifully, the texts I sent to various friends looking for the next pitstop got negative responses, and no further drinking, dancing or debauchery took place. Although I did get my ass handed to me by my flatmate when I tried to play him on the new FIFA 17 demo before bed.
The plus side of this poor planning was that I was goddamned starving on Wednesday morning. Coffee was purchased from my favourite spot (Pavilion Cafe, by the lake in Victoria Park), and then my burger buddy for the day arrived (the wonderful Ben Gomori of Turned On Podcast, who’s made an appearance in my Mixtape Monday series). Off we trotted, heading westwards to Swiss Cottage, where the pop-up was taking place.
When we popped back above ground and wandered down towards the venue, we were met with a substantial, but not intimidating, queue. We took our place at the back of the line after stocking up on the essentials for a potentially long wait, and settled in. Arrival time was 10.15am or thereabouts, and the pop-up was scheduled for 11am-3pm. The venue itself seemed to be fairly large inside from what we could see, although strangely little effort had been made to transform the front-end, just one banner in the window, and various In-N-Out staff members in their distinctive uniform milling about, and then a counter inside that looked like some effort had gone on making it pretty close to how they presumably are stateside.
The queue grew steadily as we waited patiently. Various baffled passers-by took photos and asked questions, numerous reporters and journalists came by to ask questions or livestream the thronging crowd of knobheads waiting hours in line for “fast” food.
I made my first appearance within Vice and marked it with a truly awful pun. Getty interviewed me on video, I have no idea if that was used, and frankly I hope I never find out [Edit – thanks to u/RichardJohn over on Reddit for finding this, turns out they not only used me, but I was the only interviewee used! http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/license/609839490%5D.
Wristbands were handed out, enabling people to chip off and come back at their allotted hourly slot – I was given gold, the 12-1 slot. The burger tab on these wristbands made it pretty obvious that we could only order one burger each, a mortifying realisation after having skipped breakfast.
So far, I’ve said an awful lot without getting to the point. Well, here we go. After 2 or so hours of waiting, we approached the front of the line, and were greeted warmly by Eric, a genuine American fella. He was fantastic, and superbly dealt with the multiple late-comers who tried to blag their way in to get a shirt without waiting in line like the rest of us losers.
This isn’t Eric
Neither is this
In we went, and order we did. Disappointingly, the only side available was crisps. I want to thank my friends on Facebook for asking me why a mere 91838172581 times. Apparently it was something to do with not being able to ship the fries over or get them right in the UK or something, but whatever it was, it was very disappointing to have ready salted crisps as the accompaniment to a burger you’ve queued several hours to sample. The prices were cheap as chips, ironically enough, £3 for a double double (two beef patties, two slices of cheese) which I had “animal style” (basically with a quite sweet sauce with grilled onions), a diet coke, and those bloody crisps. I was given a key-ring and a sticker, and decided to fork out £3 for one of their t-shirts, so the whole lot clocked in at a very reasonable £8! So clearly, this wasn’t an exercise in making money…
So down we sat with our drinks and goodies, and waited for the food to come to our table. One thing I was struck by was just how many empty seats there were given how slow the queue had been moving. They were clearly managing the numbers very closely to avoid any snafus with the service I guess. The food took maybe 5 minutes or so to arrive, with Ben’s being the first to land.
I have to say, the burgers looked excellent when they arrived at the table.
And now we get to the important stuff. The burger – yes, it was good. If I had to try and describe it in a very simple way – it’s like the best possible Big Mac you could make. Does it get a place in my top 10. Nope. Was it worth waiting 2-3 hours for? Not really, if I’m brutally honest.
But it was very good. I would happily eat these on the go at the right price, the sauce, the beefburgers, the cheese and the bun were all lovely and complemented each other well. The salad – well, the lettuce was fine, but the tomato was almost ice cold. It wasn’t a huge issue, but it definitely detracted from the burger in the final judgement. The animal sauce was really enjoyable – I may well have a crack at making something like that at home, having discovered various websites who think they have the recipe worked out.
I’m glad I made the decision to check it out, as I’ve never previously really “got” this type of burger – I prefer thicker patties with them nicely pink in the middle. These thinner patties make for a totally different mouth-feel than the “gourmet” style big burgers that dominate London’s burger restaurants – often they are overdone to the point of being unpalatable meat-biscuits, but as you can see in the photo above, these are done to perfection, allowing them to remain moist and juicy, something which the melted American cheese and Animal Sauce only serves to amplify. Even as I write this out now, I’m starting to crave another one, so maybe they did make more of an impression on me than I realised – or maybe its just because I skipped breakfast again. The crisps/fries debacle… the less said the better, I don’t really understand how they can go to all the effort of this and not be able to put a proper side on the menu. And thank you to my friends for hammering that point home, relentlessly.
In truth, it’s a little unfair of me to compare In-N-Out to the top-end London “gourmet” burger places – its niche is as a really good, but really cheap, burger. A kick-ass McDonald’s. Five Guys occupies this niche in the USA too, yet is inexplicably (and totally unjustifiably) priced as a premium burger in the UK. £3 for a Double Double, animal style… now that’s phenomenal value. If they opened up over here permanently, with prices in that ballpark, they would absolutely clean up, and rightly so. If they were a tenner… just don’t bother, please. But seeing as the last pop-up was in 2012 (4 year cycle, this year in a Brazilian restaurant… I’m guessing that in 2020 they will take over a sushi restaurant…), its reasonable to guess that they are in no rush to head over to the UK – after all, they are still limited to relatively few states in the USA, which in itself probably plays its part in creating the aura that creates such daft queues as the one I was part of yesterday.
That time of the year when I decided, on a whim, to attempt the triple chilli challenge at Meat Mission, and didn’t even finish my plate, let alone do it within 10 minutes. Yorkie Josh is clearly a freak of nature (he’s done it in not much above 2 minutes!). I could barely walk for the rest of the night, such was the bowling ball in my stomach thanks to my lack of adequate preparation (ie, maybe don’t eat 2 hours before attempting this challenge).
Its that time when burger outlets nationwide offer 20% off their wares. Simply go here, choose your restaurant, fill in the form for the voucher, print out the voucher from the email you get, go stuff your face.
Its that time when grown men starve themselves all day so as to eat a minimum of 6 of the burgers below at Hawker House.
Its that time of the year where burger restaurants out-do each other with weird and wonderful one-day-only creations to moisten the palate and excite the loins of red-blooded men (and women, lets not be sexist here) across the land.
In short, it’s the most wonderful time of the year 🤗🍔
If you see someone at Hawker House with this t-shirt on, come and say hello, as it’s me! I may not be able to reply, as it’s likely I will have a burger in my fat face.
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.
Sticky, messy wings.
Beautifully cooked so it just fell away from the bone with no effort at all, and very meaty.
These confit potatoes were awesome.
Really crispy, fluffy on the inside – would have liked a touch more rosemary seasoning though.
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…
Despite Dirty Burger being one of the more established players on the London burger scene, I had somehow inexplicably never actually been until a few short weeks ago, when a friend insisted I join him there for lunch, with the promise that it would blow my mind. Seeing as this one is walking distance from where I live (I don’t mind walking long distances), it seemed a sensible way to spend a lunch time.
So on a bright winter’s day we met around 1pm and grabbed a bench inside. Its not exactly a restaurant – much like the Patty & Bun at Liverpool Street it has a few seats if you want, but really seems to be aimed at a grab-n-go clientele. I ordered my standard order for when testing somewhere out (cheeseburger and chips/fries) and sat down to catch up with my mate. The food was ready very quickly, and so to business.
The prices were an interesting mix of very reasonable and sort of expensive feeling. £6 for a cheeseburger is very decent in one of the new-wave fancy-pants burger joints. At Meat Mission that’s £8, which is closer to typical than the price at Dirty Burger. But then by comparison, £3.50 for fries suddenly seemed rather expensive, even though £3-4 is about standard for a side like that in most places I frequent. I guess this is all perception though, and less than a tenner for a good quality cheeseburger and fries is a decent price, especially in a location like this (right opposite Boxpark in Shoreditch in The Tea Building, home of Shoreditch House, the same people who apparently are also behind Dirty Burger).
But I’m getting ahead of myself – was this a decent quality burger? Well, the fries were very good I thought – nice and fluffy inside, crispy outside, and well seasoned. Would happily accept those at any place, and you’d be amazed how many places do poor quality sides that seem to be a complete afterthought. These were a very good example, even if £3.50 for some cooked potato vs £6 for a cheeseburger seems a bit lopsided.
The burger though… sadly I can’t be so kind. I won’t say it was overdone, as I didn’t think to ask how they routinely do them. What I can say is that by the standards of the competition it seemed overdone. The pic below makes it look a lot pinker than it was, and the patty, despite being in a very messy, somewhat greasy setting, was a fraction dry and heavy. Compared to the likes of Patty & Bun or Bleecker Street Burger, it was a pale imitation of the glorious heights a juicy beef burger can reach. Of course, whether it was done to the level intended depends hugely on what mince they were using, whether they prepare it on-site from their own cuts or whatever – as I understand it legal requirements for the cooking of burgers are slightly different depending on how the beef patty is prepared. All this is speculation, I refer you to my “About” section and the fact I am not a professional food reviewer – hopefully I’ll get better at this and remember to ask these questions in future!
Another disappointing aspect is that a reasonable sized corner of the bun was stale – maybe less than a quarter, but noticeable nonetheless. In terms of taste, it was a decent burger patty, nice savoury beef flavour and seasoned to the right level, and I enjoyed the messy, somewhat mustardy sauce in the sandwich. But I found the texture a little on the heavy side compared to my personal preference, presumably as a result of it being well-done. The bun held together very well despite the saucy mess, and wasn’t intrusive to the flavour of its contents
My friend concurred that it wasn’t a fantastic experience, and this is something that has happened to me before – big somewhere up, take a mate, they serve up a plate of disappointment, feel foolish for being so bold about what they were going to eat. Really I should have asked about the burger and mentioned about the bun while I was there – I’m not the sort of Englishman that quietly chunters about these things, I’ll happily send things back in a restaurant if I’m unhappy, but for whatever reason the thought didn’t occur here. Maybe was because its more of a canteen/grab-n-go vibe, maybe because I was conscious of aiming to review it. I expect I’ll try them again – £6 and local to me is a heady combination of factors, and it certainly wasn’t a bad burger, just a bit of a let-down and not really pushing the buttons I feel need pushing to be a genuinely good one.