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Two men • Ten burgers: Plan of action

As highlighted in the guide image over ten weeks we shall be exploring ten different Central London burger chains in order to crown a champion.

The details are as follows:

WEEK BY WEEK PLAN:
Week 1:     HONEST BURGERS
Week 2:     KUA’AINA
Week 3:     PATTY + BUN
Week 4:     SHAKESHACK
Week 5:     BOBO SOCIAL
Week 6:     BYRON
Week 7:     BIG FERNAND
Week 8:     MEAT LIQUOR
Week 9:     FIVE GUYS
Week 10:   GBK

Other notable locations (which may have to become inclusive in following weeks also):
Burger & Lobster, Boom Burger, Dip N Flip, Bleecker Street, Dirty Burger.

RATING SYSTEM:
• Taste
• Extras quality (.i.e. fries, bun, salad, sauces etc..)
• Meat quality
• Presentation & service
• Value

Each category is given a mark out of five burgers accordingly (half marks may be given also. The maximum possible combined score will be 25 thereby leading to a percentage score out of 100.)

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WEEK 7: Shakeshack

Welcome one and all and god bless America for this is the week that America has once again changed its course of history by electing a right wing fascist imbecile who can not even string a coherent sentence together and here we are striking at the heart of american burger chain Shakeshack to drag them over hot coals, to hell and back and unleash our carnivorous fury.

New Oxford Street the location for todays taste test. Thursday lunchtime and we step into the busy and bustling Shakeshack, looking half modern / half diner in style, the ceilings are high and the restaurant is spacious, we queue up to place our order. Single cheeseburger with all the salad, fries and help ourselves to water, the burger is a bargain price of £5.50 and with the fries comes to a more than reasonable £8.50. The girls on reception are extremely friendly and interested in our challenge, after payment we are handed a plastic buzzer which aptly buzzes violently like Donald T in one of his babbling xenophobic hissy fits.

Five minutes and we are buzzing heading back to the space at the end of the counter where our metal tray lined with branded greaseproof paper with repeated Shakeshack icon print. The burger was separately wrapped in paper and the chips came in a cardboard tray and were crinkle cut and handsomely salted.

Whilst the price of the meal was modest so was the size, the burger was small, perhaps the smallest yet and if we weren’t keeping a level playing field for the challenge we certainly would have doubled up the patties, the fries tasted nice cooked well and the portion was adequate, the burger tasted wonderful, the bun was a little flaccid and seemed battle ravaged but the combination of the flavoursome patty with the texture of the processed cheese and salad and sauce was a winner. On further inspection the patty itself was a little rough around the edges and there was no selection on how we want the patty cooking it was the tiniest bit pink but fully cooked and this was reflective of the inferior meat quality to other places on the list that they will not allow the beef to be particularly pink. Divin was still hungry as was I after the meal and Divin decided to order another cheeseburger to satisfy his needs, taking his meal up to £15. He had the cheesy chips which was processed cheese made into a gooey hot sauce and generously poured over the crinkle chips, to me they added nothing to the chips but made them more sickly.

I like Shakeshack as a quick in and out typical fast food burger and chips meal – it annihilates the likes of Burger King and Mcdonalds, but this isn’t really what this challenge is all about we are talking quality burgers and quality taste, the taste is good but for me the notion of a place like Shakeshack undersells its burgers and it doesn’t deliver what I want from a burger place. In the coming weeks we will putting Five Guys to the test, a very similar set up but with its reputation of great burgers it will be good to throw them into the mix before heading to the more upmarket meat liquor and London favourite Gourmet Burger Kitchen.

shakeshack-scores

WEEK 6: Big Fernand

The queue is out the door and it’s a Thursday – a good sign if it’s busy, I see vacant tables at the back after waiting five minutes and I plough down the narrow gap between the counter and tables to find a member of staff, there are seven behind the counter but instead I’m left clueless if we are waiting for a table or to order, a girl is walking around cleaning dirties and she struggles to comprehend the rapidity of my English, she is French as it transpires everyone working at Big Fernand seems to be. I figured out that you have to pay for your food first, the reason for the line, in essence they should have a sign up or a member of staff greeting people to inform the waiting people who haven’t been before how the system works as it will no doubt lead to a level of frustration in not knowing as was my case. Another five minutes and we are ordering the standard cheeseburger is its namesake “Big Fernand” and comes with tomme de savoie cheese, sundries tomatoes, parsley and their own homemade cocktail sauce, with seasoned fries a straight £10, pay upfront, no outlandish service charge as was “optionally” stipulated in previous weeks. Downstairs was busy and luckily we were lead to a wonderfully light and airy space upstairs decked out like a kitch 1960s French boudoir style living room complete with typewriter and all the trimmings – enough room to swing a tiger, the room was empty apart from two guys sat at the end of the long table in the centre of the room. We took our positions at the other end of the grand table. Five minutes later our burgers were arriving. A quick turnaround as they had burgers cooking downstairs in the long open plan kitchen on the way in, they are cooked in rows and of varying times ranging from blue on the left to well done on the right side of the cooker, the chips must be cooking constantly so to take the order according to how we want the burger cooking and get it ready to serve seems like an efficient and streamlined process. When it comes to food the French know what they’re doing, arguably French cuisine is revered as the best in the world and to knock out a few burgers here and there seems like the most unlaborious endeavour for those culinary French wizards.

The food is served on a classic wooden board, the chips standing tall and chunky in a cardboard holder and the burger comes in the form of a large seeded bun with the patty inside smaller but substantially chunky, on closer inspection there is a substantial mound of savoie cheese mounted and melted on top of the burger with some parsley and sun dried tomatoes scattered on top, a homemade burger cocktail sauce has been spread evenly on the seeded bun. With the meal was served some water in a branded bottle and a trio of homemade dips to compliment the meal barbecue, Mayo with herbs and more of the cocktail sauce.

We started eating and immediately it became apparent that the combination and ingredients had been carefully crafted through trial and error, the meat was perfectly cooked and slightly pink, the melted cheese whilst very light in flavour was the perfect addition to the meat with its texture, the parsley worked well with all ingredients complimentarily and the sundried added that sharpness to complete the balance of flavour and texture. The cocktail burger sauce was recessive in flavour but present adding a creaminess to every bite. The bread bun was a little crispy on the outside and fresh and soft on the inside. Every mouthful had that wow factor we had been looking for and it seemed effortless, like suddenly there was this perfect symbiosis

between the meat and its new home – a house made from bread, a mushy cow wearing a seedy little hat, it was like the purpose of the meat had been to ultimately become this very meal and provide this experience for us to relish. The chips were also outstanding with some salted paprika seasoning it seemed on the outside and with a slight crunch. We had struck gold and on every level Big Fernand was suddenly punching so far above everyone else in the current field that it seemed we had already reached the gates of burger heaven and the burger god had winked and given us his particular approval to sit as his honoured guests for one day only beside him on his cloudy throne.

The wow factor had us truly wowed and we were suitably full at the end of the meal. I hope something can challenge this but Big Fernand is truly a huge act to follow and maybe I’m speaking to soon but we may just have a winner.

big-fernand-scores

 

 

WEEK 5: Bobo Social

Two burgers in one week, who would have thought it? Well its happened. Read onward and find out how our first and potentially only independent restaurant fairs against the established bigger hitters.

Prior to going we had some nice correspondence telling us about where the burgers are from and also I was enquiring about the situation about burgers being cooked pink and the grey area regarding the legalities surrounding it.

BOBO SOCIAL supplied this information from media clippings:
Our food is all sourced in Britain and is of exceptional quality. Our beef changes weekly and always comes from a rare-breed herd from across Britain. We know each cow’s journey from birth to arriving at Bobo! Our burgers are cooked in a Kopa Charcoal Oven which is basically like an indoor barbecue, cooking at temperatures of 300 Celcius – this seals the meat immediately keeping all the succulent juices locked inside. These are cooked over single species wood which enhances the flavour through the smoke. Again, this changes weekly, so we hope to give a slightly different experience each time a guest visits.

In terms of the pink/rare situation – this is an EHO* demand. To legally serve beef rare/pink there’s about a 3 month process to go through to prove the quality/origin/journey of the beef from slaughter to serving. As our beef is of the quality it is and we can trace the whole journey, (to the point each burger is from one singular cow, not a minced mix of many) we are one of the few restaurants allowed to serve it as we wish – even completely blue!

The information was a great precursor to our visit, adding clarity to some details we wanted to find out and I must admit, I was very much looking forward to the visit.

We were promptly shown to our table on arrival in the upstairs room, a long, narrow fairly chic looking room with a bar, serving hatch where we could see the three chefs fluttering around and half a dozen tables of which all but ours was taken. We ordered some water which came in three tumblers and studied the menu, handwritten at the top was the type of wood they were using this week to cook with ‘Cherry’ and the location where the meat was from ‘Hereford’. The prices were a step up from anywhere we had been previously as a cheeseburger alone with the addition of +£1 for cheese would come in at almost £10 and just over £3 for chips. Luckily Monday to Wednesday offered burger and side for £10 which became a much better value proposition. For the sides we chose our usual fries which were described as ‘skin-on’ cooked in beef dripping and for the other – sweet potato fries with truffle salt. The burgers were 6oz rare-breed beef.

After waiting quite a while the food arrived and there were several errors in the order between the two of us and our cameraman. First error was the onions on our camera man’s burger when he asked for no onions, secondly they forgot his truffle shavings on his burger and then when they arrived after prompting them after they had forgotten they were just big chunky pieces and didn’t even taste like truffle, the same for the fries – the sweet potato fries claimed to be with truffle salt but there was not even a hint of it on there, these were plain and ordinary but not half as ordinary as the beef dripping fries which were very poor, a small portion of thin fries with their skin-on, extremely skinny and tasteless and we certainly didn’t taste the beef dripping, we were wondering if these stylish menu claims were claims and they were more style over substance.

As for the burger the meat was very, very good no qualms about that, the only problem really was the size, I finished the meal and I was still hungry, the novelty brioche bun with a Bobo ‘B’ burned into the top tasted fine and was an ok size itself but the surface area of the patty would be lucky to cover 70% of the bun and it wasn’t overly thick. The salad was minimal in the burger and the cheese was complimentary as per usual in the bun despite the added £1 charge for cheese. Condiments were sitting already on the table – mayo and ketchup but there wasn’t really enough if the table was full of people to go round. Chips were served in cups of various sizes and shapes and the plates were all different, this was the intention I am sure as part of the style but leads to unequal portions of sides and all just seems a bit wayward. Anyway on a lighter note the burger was cooked perfectly and tasted very nice but in our opinion it wouldn’t warrant return visits given pricing, especially with the 12.5% service charge added on at the end of the meal which under usual circumstances already bumps up an over inflated price tag on the food. Onward and upward for our next outing where we will opt for either Shakeshack or Big Fernand. Tune in next week for Week 6.

*EHO=Envionmental health officer Google tells me

bobo-scores

 

WEEK 4: Patty & Bun

We’re back after our hiatus while we were off sunning and funning ourselves – we are proud to be back with what everyone has informed us is one of the big hitters in the burger world – the ever expanding Patty&bun chain and it’s rapid rise to fame with several new outlets opening up in a short amount of time. I must admit – I like the branding and in my mind I was very hopeful with high expectations before stepping foot inside rightly or wrongly, not that I would let that sway my decision either way.

We entered the small restaurant and selected our seat shortly before 1pm in an almost empty establishment, it was Monday and for that reason we thought had the best chance of being quiet given its small and cramped seating arrangement inside (later on it did get fairly busy and quite cramped). The menus appeared as part of the rustic approach with a sheet of branded greaseproof paper as a placemat and wooden tables. It seemed like a slightly more budget version of Honest burger with their organic approach taken from there, something that many burger chains are jumping on the bandwagon of as part of the interior and brand feel.

We were approached by our server enquiring about what we were doing with regards to the challenge and to take our order. The server started telling us how he used to work for Byron burger as a manager and down-talking them regarding an antibacterial disinfectant used on the salad there which was actually detrimental to people’s health. I don’t know how much truth there was in it but it seemed like a wild claim for such an established chain.

We ordered our usual two cheeseburgers with the two forms of fries on offer – one type which were rosemary salted and the other which came with chicken salt and chicken skin mayonnaise. Our server asked us the questions “Burgers are served pink, is that ok?” We agreed to it as we assumed that this was house standard and they were optimally cooked like this. A short time later a different server asked the table beside us “How would you like your burgers cooked?” That in itself was contradictory to serving output and was a point of contention. The servers were not able to fully inform us of where the cows were from but spoke of the meat being from a butcher called HG Walter in Kensington and thinking that the beef must be locally sourced.

A short time later when our burgers were served, Divin’s burger in particular was very bloody and a stream of blood came out after biting onto the greaseproof paper. The meal was served without plates as we dripped blood and grease around and dipped chips into sauce around the greaseproof on the table. I think in effect when a meal is this messy and there are so many sauces involved there should be some kind of bowl or plate for serving, we just didn’t feel completely relaxed eating it. On the flip side of the messiness and overly intimate setting is the burning question, how were the burgers? Well for starters the extras were excellent, the chips were an exceptional addition, they tasted great and were cooked perfectly. Besides the usual ketchup and mayo on the table there was a chipotle smoky chilli sauce which was sensational both to add to the burger and the fries. The burger was tender and free from any hard chewing gristle or fat, the meat was wonderfully tender and flavoursome and for them to cook it so rare they must be confident in the quality of the meat, the burger itself was served in a standard brioche bun and had some pickled red cabbage inside which complimented very well, the cheese was passively minimal but sufficient, there could be more inside for texture but i didn’t really miss it. In terms of size of the burger, it was a little small for a combined cost of £10.95 each including fries. The carafe of water with cucumber and lemon served was welcomed.

When the bill came a 10% optional service charge was added to the bill – this is the first out of the restaurants to do that and in our opinion was completely unnecessary, I should not be dictated to and feel obligated to pay for service if I am not happy for service so this brought the burger and chips to over £12 each, marks down for value. In essence we feel this could have been a lot better, the whole experience and food did not live up to the hype that the chain has gathered and there are teething problems as to process as highlighted above. Is it the best yet? Perhaps marginally as our scores would suggest but we are still waiting for the wow factor we know exists out there. Maybe on a different day or a different branch the meal would have scored higher, maybe. But as for now we like you Patty&Bun, we do, we just don’t love you and therein lies the problem.

pattybun-scores

 

 

WEEK 3: Byron

So it is week three and after a false alarm with some misinformation on the Patty and Bun website about their Goodge restaurant opening we defaulted to Byron, a chain which has been growing steadily in popularity for the past few years with many new stores opening but one which I always eluded to visiting. Riding on the wave of bad press after the chain was accused of selling out workers in their restaurants with the home office in tow who may not have had the correct documentation to work there, I expected an empty restaurant.

It was busy however for a Monday and we squeezed into a table after waiting for a short while, the interior was lovely, spacious inside and set in an old renovated building just off Oxford Street with high ceilings. The open kitchen is a nice touch as it is always nice to see where your food is cooked and who is doing the flipping.

The menu had a fair selection but tally-ho, in we went with our typical order for trusty cheeseburgers cooked the house standard of medium (note we could have had the burgers rare in Byron unlike last week), the price totalling at £11.20 was on the expensive side. The staff member who served us appeared to be in charge from his demeanour but from the get-go there was a nonchalant dismissive attitude which was evident. Even after finding out about what we were doing with Two men, Ten burgers he was just the same… cold, sharp and to the point with mandatory politeness lacking any hint of sincerity. He informed us that the meat was from “a Scottish supplier” but could not elaborate on that unlike previous places where they informed us of specific farms in the counties where the meat was obtained from.

Waiting a short while we noticed standing pools of water in the condiments tray but at least there was a hot sauce on the table, more than I can say for 90% of other burger chains I have ever visited. The jug of water came with ice, lemon and chilled glasses so bonus for that.

First came the burgers, followed by the fries. A brioche bun again, shiny and fresh, the burger was an adequate size and as I tucked into the fries they tasted great, could be slightly more cooked but wonderful flavour. Each was served lined with a paper inlay in a similar style as other chains but without the branding that one would expect to see. As for the burger taste test, the patty was a great consistency, certainly the softest patty thus far, perhaps lacking some flavour all in all, the burger I would describe as nice, not great, not poor just nice, a plentiful helping of cheese inside coupled with a gherkin outside the burger initially, sliced tomato and a few scraps of red onion completed the burger. The salad complimented the burger nicely although the saving grace for me half way through was the addition of the chilli sauce which served to enhance the all round flavour. For the money it was overpriced as I was not particularly full afterwards and on the whole there is no real draw to go back there which would define Byron as any better than current competitors. This particular branch looked nice inside but we are talking about the food primarily here and how we would recommend the chain in its entirety, another encounter on the way out with the dismissive staff member capped an unmemorable visit to one of London’s big hitters, the end of week 3 and Honest is still punching above it’s weight… just.

Next week will feature a visit to one of the most hyped restaurants: Patty & Bun, the new store open on Goodge Street. High hopes and high expectations for this one.

BYRON SCORES.jpg

WEEK 2: Kua’aina

Week two couldn’t come soon enough for us and here we are on a Monday craving another burger. Today’s stop is Kua’aina, a Hawaiian themed burger joint on Goodge Street. I had heard mixed reports on this one so we were keen to try it out and make up our minds for ourselves.

The interior was small and cosy and the tables were tightly packed in, it had a rustic feel like Honest burgers but the interior wasn’t quite as polished or comfortable. The place was bustling and most tables were taken. For a Monday that was a strong initial sign that the food was good. The menu was a decent size with plenty of options but we opted as per schedule for the standard cheeseburger and a portion of fries each. A selection of cheddar, swiss or monterey cheese were given but for consistencies sake we opted for the cheddar, there was an option of two buns on the menu but we were never asked which we wanted so default became the standard seeded burger bun.

On the menu were two burger sizes separated in price by a little more than a pound offering two different size burgers coming in at 1/3lb and 1/2lb sizes, the larger option was of course our choice but at £8.95 for the burger and £2.95 for the fries, it wasn’t a particularly cheap combination for £11.90, especially when considering that Honest burgers have their burger for £9 including fries. In terms of how they cook the burgers we weren’t offered to select how we wanted them cooking but we were told that they arrive by default as medium, which sounded perfect to me, we were also informed a reason by the waitress as to why burgers should not be cooked less than medium, relating to the bacteria on say the outside of a piece of meat where the majority lives, for a steak you cook the outside and the middle can be rare, but if a burger is minced from steak then the bacteria will become mixed throughout the burger and if the middle is not cooked sufficiently then there becomes a possibility for food poisoning, I have never heard this before but it does make some sense so will have to read more about it, handy knowledge to have as we throw ourselves further in subsequent weeks into the wonderful world of burgerdom.

The beef in the burgers is sourced fairly locally from a farm in Hertfordshire and all produce we were told was fresh and not frozen. A short time later our meals arrived and we were given a variety of dips and sauces including ketchup, mayo, BBQ and mustard. The food was presented neatly in a flower pot like container lined with printed paper for the fries and a wooden long bowl with the same branded paper for the burger which was presented open in half ready for action, a nice touch.

The burger itself was certainly slightly more cooked than medium, the meat was even texture and free from any pieces of fat and gristle and had a slightly charred taste to it, pleasant enough but certainly it lacked the wow factor, it wasn’t the tenderest nor juiciest of burgers and required some chewing to get through the meat but in chewing released a lot of flavour from the meat which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, the patty itself was a good size and was deeper in comparison to Honest Burgers the week before.The bun was very good, certainly fresh and the classic sesame seeds scattering the top of the bun added a subtle and welcome flavour to the overall taste. The salad was more substantial and seemed fresher than the whimsical scraps of lettuce we had received the previous week at Honest. All in all we both enjoyed it but there did seem to be some room for improvement particularly in the overall dynamic between meat, cheese, salad and burger. The fries were a modest portion but tasted pleasant, very standard salted French fries as per usual working as a great compliment to the star of the show, they were enhanced with a spiced salt on the table bearing the name “da secret salt,” this seemed more London street talk than Hawaiian themed for its namesake.

After the meal the waitress was as per during the meal very informative and paid a lot of interest as to our mission as we talked through the meal and drew up our results after discussing. By this time we had also been gifted mini cocktail umbrellas and Hawaiian Leis which came in magnificently for the customary photo with the staff. As we received the bill the manager came over to talk to us and declared that he would like to make the whole meal for us complimentary as part of our journey, a wonderful offering which we paid great thanks for, we chatted with him and he was very passionate and enthusiastic about the restaurant and the fresh qualities of the produce and we talked of a monumental burger challenge of which a free meal can be had for completing the feat of demolishing a huge burger plus extras within 15 minutes. A short time later we left satisfied but craving for something that really hits home.

Would I recommend Kua’aina? perhaps, the problem is as we are learning there is such fierce competition with what I gather is a strong field of big established hitters and to gain real traction and growth you have to push the boundaries of what is on offer in terms of taste with consideration to price and in contrast to say Honest Burgers last week Kua’aina falls slightly short of the hurdle. Saying that I will certainly visit again in the future to try one of the more experimental and exotic options which follow the Hawaiian theme as I feel there is more to deliver with the extent of variety present on the menu.

KUA'AINA SCORES

WEEK 1: Honest Burgers

The honest burgers experience was a supremely pleasant one from start to finish. After an inquisitive member of staff inquired as to what we were doing filming our entrance video, we were shown to our seats and greeted with a single sided hard menu board with a paper sheet attached. The selection was limited but refined. What struck me initially was how fries came inclusive with every burger rather than the usual +£3 to have them initially, this immediately scored bonus points for value in my mind.

The interior of the restaurant was decorated in a rustic fashion with a lot of wood but looked clean and stylish, the tables had sufficient space around them and the atmosphere was a pleasant one with 3/4 of tables taken by diners.

Each week we will be selecting the traditional standard cheeseburger and fries option so that comparisons can be kept as fair and level as possible. None of the Honest produce is ever frozen and they have daily meat deliveries of their chosen beef from farms in Yorkshire, homegrown beef is a definite plus point. An enquiry was made by the very friendly waitress as to how we wanted our burgers cooking we opted for the standard medium. There were several cheeses on offer including American, Red Leicester and cheddar of which we opted for the classic English cheddar.

In under ten minutes our burgers arrived to our table served with the complimentary rosemary fries. The burger wasn’t particularly large but at £9 with the fries represented excellent value.

The brioche bun was quite plain and ordinary – nothing special at all but it certainly put more focus on the contents of the burger itself. A small amount of salad inside largely went unnoticed and only served to add some texture to the burger, the patty was solid and substantially deep, cooked to perfection. It wasn’t too greasy nor too dry and was pure meat with no sign of gristle or fat anywhere inside. The burger was very tasty but it fell somewhat short of having that wow factor.

On the table was the standard Heinz Ketchup/Hellmanns Mayo combination to compliment the meal.

The fries were slightly on the soft side but the rosemary and salt complimented and enhanced them, they appeared to be odd shapes and sizes leaning towards a hand cut style treatment. The portion all in all was sufficient and just the right amount for lunch despite the burger bun looking a little on the small side initially. All in all a great start to proceedings.

HONEST SCORES

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