London hamburger taste-off: one man's opinion
With the new wave of hamburger restaurants opening in London I thought I'd do a quick comparison. Not by any means a comprehensive sampling, but I think I've got the general idea.
At each place I got a very standard order: a plain hamburger - just meat and bun, cooked rare, and a chips; the central elements against which all must be measured.
Honest Burgers always seems to get the highest marks in written guides - whether by public survey or private review; and their Tripadvisor marks are good too. They had the best service of the lot - friendly and somehow not quite treating you like a number. In my view indeed that's the main reason to come. The burger, meanwhile, while nice was only a step above what you'd get at a "typical" pub. Which is to say, they made an effort with the meat, which was reasonable if not wonderful, and it did come cooked as ordered, but the bun was fairly bog-standard, and in my view not robust enough. I have a fairly simple test for a bun: it must be able to take the weight of a full 250 g of very juicy meat placed squarely on top of it without any significant compression. Not here, you wouldn't get that. The chips weren't up to snuff; I'm not convinced with the seasoning and they were limper than they should be. So go for the service, but don't be fussed about the food.
Patty and Bun has an enormous buzz factor - you can tell by the tremendous queue outside - which to judge from my experience is completely unmerited. Service was on the surly end of the spectrum, not even as good as you'd find at a McDonald's. Meanwhile the hamburger was the inverse of Honest Burgers. The bun was easily the best - and one of the few I've had anywhere where they seem to be making an effort; it would pass the "patty test" above, and had real flavour. But the meat itself was extremely uninspiring; it tasted like ordinary mince I might have bought from Sainsbury's. The chips, meanwhile, were rubbish, limp, wormlike items with no real flavour and no real substance. I get the feeling there's a reason the kitchen is hidden from view. Why this is so popular is difficult to fathom.
Tommis Burger Joint is almost neighbour to Patty and Bun and is almost the inverse of the latter in terms of experience. Service is perfunctory but friendly enough, and there's not the daft queue of P&B. They offer a "steak burger" as a better option - and I'm looking for the best so naturally it's what I took. The meat itself annihilates the competition. It's so much better than the other two as to be in a separate category. This is the calibre of patty I'm looking for. On the other hand, the bun was definitely the worst - industrial in both flavour and texture. The chips - and they should definitely be called French Fries here, were cracking: hot, crisp, fluffy, flavourful. Again they were in another category compared to the first two, although, it will be admitted, are themselves eclipsed by the chips from the Golden Hind not far away.
The easy winner was Tommis; the only thing they need to to do make it perfect is to get a bun like their P&B competitors down the street. There may be more places to try, but I get the strong feeling this is as good as I'll get in London.
Definitely a case of each to their own!
Patty and Bun is hands down for me one of the best burgers I have ever had - both here and stateside. A beautifully sourced and cooked patty, perfect brioche bun and some inspired burger construction. Rosemary fries and confit chicken wings formed some delicious sides to boot.
Honest Burger was a huge let down. The burger tasted like minced supermarket pork. Bun was a bit stale. Fries greasy. Just not good at all.
Meat liquor, go for the jalapeno poppers....the hard shakes if you can afford....forget the hyped and meh burgers.
Hawksmoor Ogleshield burger was a winner in my book. The inclusion of bone marrow and an innovative cut-list makes for a very rich patty which may be a bit much for some....but I found it an unctious and upmarket burger (oh the juice!) - a definite foil for the great cocktails they serve, and particularly a jug of Shakey Pete's Ginger Brew! Bring your appetite for this one. :)
Tommis is an interesting winner in your list. I remember them being touted as the place to go if you were bored waiting in the queue for the original Meat Liquor around the corner. They were ok....but an inferior product to some of the better sources offerings in the city now.
There are so many other burgers now....haven't had time to get round them all. Would like to try the Bar Boulud offering some time, but never seem smartly attired enough when passing!
I find it interesting that the bun to this author is an afterthought: note:
"according to the factors which matter to you most: burger style (street, joint, pub, steak), patty (size, shape, density), meat (cut, fat content, grind), assortment of toppings, cooking method, construction, consistency of preparation, inventiveness, price, value for money, level of obscene drippiness, etc."
bun is not even mentioned, and later:
A burger bun is a handle protecting our hands from drippy greasy, cheese and condiments.
This seems to be a common reaction. One that I can't agree with; after all, the bun is one of the 2 sine qua non elements of a hamburger - and at the end of the day if it really is an afterthought, why not just eliminate it altogether and eat the result with knife and fork?
Should try Little Social although I confess I've always been utterly underwhelmed by Jason Atherton's restaurants - many rave but I find they seem to be more about technical wizardry than good flavour, so that you'll get something that may have been incredibly difficult to execute, but doesn't really taste yummy. I don't deny his skills as a chef though so worth seeing his interpretation.
Foxeyblue - been to Hawksmoor. I don't think it really fair to evaluate them in the same category because they're a steak and chop house rather than a specialist burger restaurant. Even so, it must be said I've been again faintly underwhelmed. The meat (Ginger Pig) isn't as good as, I think, it should be; in fact, while Ginger Pig is a fine butcher, I don't think they're in the elite class; the meat doesn't have the density or richness of flavour that comes with the very best - be it for beef or pork.
As for Patty & Bun, see above. Foxeyblue, as you see I wasn't particularly fond. Can you identify what you like about it? Because to me why people rave over P&B is mysterious.
The bun is important to me, too. Maybe it's because I'm an American and remember some darn good burgers in my time. Most buns I've had in England haven't been to my liking.
My next outing will be to try Patty and Bun, but I don't live in London and I'm not there all that often.
I loved Atheron's Maze but that was years ago and I know it changed after he left.
"The meat (Ginger Pig) isn't as good as, I think, it should be; in fact, while Ginger Pig is a fine butcher, I don't think they're in the elite class; the meat doesn't have the density or richness of flavour that comes with the very best - be it for beef or pork."
Completely agreed. The beef at o'sheas in bermondsey is at a different level, and the Iberian pork might as well be a different animal.