Black Bear Burger

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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.

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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.

Burger – 8/10

Nuggets – 9/10

Overall – 8.5/10

The Holy Cheezus – Shoreditch Blues Kitchen

I’ve a backlog of various food reviews to finish and publish on here, but I thought I’d get this one out there as it’s a limited time offer, and so anyone interested will need to act fast! And I imagine that burger obsessives will be very curious to try this one out – the Holy Cheezus from Shoreditch Blues Kitchen.

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The carefully assembled and photographed promo version of the burger!

The venue is an old haunt of mine – before the site was bought by The Columbo Group, it was known as Bar Music Hall and I used to play there a couple of times a month as either Santero or Little 15 depending on the night. It has been completely transformed, and my dining companion and I were hugely impressed by the attention to detail they’ve gone to in sourcing the weathered and worn furnishings, decor and assorted nick-nacks to give it a run-down, rustic bluesy Americana feeling.

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I used to DJ over in that corner!

On to the food – the lunch menu was full of things I liked the look of, BBQ and burgers dominate, with nods to jambalaya and gumbo. I was on the verge of ordering the Beef Rib Sandwich (which my friend had, and was by his account fantastic), when I paid closer attention to the special. I’d initially kind of glossed over that due to the hefty £15.50 price tag. But when I properly read it and clocked that instead of a bun, it was encased in grilled cheese. So basically, its a pair of grilled cheese sandwiches with a burger inside. I ummed and ah’d for a good 15 seconds before settling on that as my order.

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Before we get to the main event, a word about the service – this aspect was absolutely spot on. Really friendly welcome at the door, I asked to be seated by a window but was made to feel entirely comfortable about them preferring to sit me on a smaller table due to the expected lunchtime rush (I arrived around noon), then without prompting they brought tap water and glasses with ice to the table, and unobtrusively kept checking in while I waited for my friend to see if I wanted anything. I interacted with probably 5 members of staff and they were all brilliant, so gold stars all round. At the end a guy called Toby who I assume was the duty manager came over to ask us how we’d enjoyed it and we had a lovely chat, exchanged names and recommendations for some hot sauces and seasonings, all in all that side of things was absolutely flawless. I also fell slightly in love with one of the waitresses, but that’s another story.

So, on to the food.

The burger arrived, alongside a decent portion of seasoned fries. It didn’t look anything like the above promo picture – although I just downloaded that now so there was no aspect of feeling cheated!

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I’d been asked for how I’d like it and had gone with medium-rare, however the patty seemed to be slightly lop-sided and as a result was only pink on one side really, not a big deal in the grand scheme of things but worth noting. The toast had just the sort of crunchy bite I’d been hoping for, to keep it manageable they’d used thin slices of white bread, while inside the cheese was a pleasant addition but in my view could have used something a little sharper in there to add a little zip – either a bit of a strong cheese added to the mix, or maybe some diced onions/shallots or something, a la Kappacasein‘s famous cheese toastie. The burger itself was pleasingly beefy, too often these days I find some joints seem to have virtually flavourless patties and mask this with outlandish toppings and sauces (I’m looking at you Byron…). As with the bread, the patty was thinner than the average, presumably for 2 reasons – to make it possible to fit the thing in your gob, and also as it needed to cover more real estate than on a bun while still clocking in at 7oz.

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The bacon added a salty punch and was pleasingly crispy (I really can’t be doing with soggy bacon in my burgers). The béchamel and glazed onions allied with basically 2 cheese toasties around the burger made it a touch too rich for me at first, but then I clocked the generous selection of sauces – the addition of their mustard BBQ sauce (according to Toby a mix of wholegrain, Dijon and English mustard cooked up with their BBQ sauce if memory serves) took it to another level, gave it that little bit of sharpness that it had been missing. I think there’s a decent case for either some mustard in the fillings, or onions in the cheese toasties, or maybe even both, to embed that extra element in the recipe, but it wasn’t a hard puzzle to solve.

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As for the fries, I was impressed – often these seem a bit of an afterthought, and often rather stingy in how many you get considering the relative cost of some spuds cooked in oil. They were seasoned with a gentle cajun spice mixture, just the right mixture of crunchy exterior, fluffy interior, and stayed warm until the last one was munched. I have no idea how the science of that works, but that seems to be an achievement in itself based on previous experience.

So in conclusion, a very enjoyable lunch time trip. The price tag is a little steep vs my usual orders, but then it’s a bit of a novelty and a hell of a filling meal. It’s not perfect by any measure, but certainly good enough that I would happily recommend it to people wanting to try something a bit different, and I will certainly be back to try a good handful of the other things on their excellent looking menu. The service was exceptional, the atmosphere and decor spot on, and its a 5 minute walk from my studio. Looks like I might be needing to go on slightly longer runs than previously to work off these calories…

7.5/10 (with 10/10 for the service)