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Filtering by Tag: 2/5 stars

Gourmet Burger Kitchen The Windsor

Burgerac

£11.95 GBK invited me to come and try their latest menu addition, The Windsor, made with aged beef from the Royal Farms in Sussex...

I never go to Gourmet Burger Kitchen. I went once about six or seven years ago but found its burgers to be woefully tasteless – around the same time I also discovered that another burger joint, Ultimate Burger, served anything but. However, when I was recently invited to go along and check out GBK's latest limited edition addition to its menu, The Windsor, I was intrigued... 

Rather than create a kind of PR burger that would take advantage of the Diamond Jubilee, GBK explained to me that they have looked to create something a bit more special in The Windsor – so called because it's made using beef form The Royal Farm's Sussex cattle reared in the grounds of Windsor Castle. According to GBK, "The Windsor is 8oz of unrivalled beef".

Perhaps, I thought, GBK is actually taking note of and responding to the burger revolution happening around them. Interesting. But what can they add to the scene, I wondered – hence accepting their invitation to go down to the Soho branch and try one out. Here's how my burger arrived:

So what is a Windsor Burger? It's an 8oz 100% beef patty (made with a blend of chuck, rib cap and brisket) served in a brioche bun with a mustard mayonaise – with a lettuce leaf, a slice of tomato and a ring or two of red onion on the side so you can add what you want. There's also some "smoky chipotle ketchup" served in a ramekin. I tried some. It was like some foul tasting jam. So I didn't add any! I brought a friend along for the ride so we cleft our Windsor in twain to have half each:

It looks kind of juicy here which was promising, but of course, you should never judge a book by its cover, as Alex and I found out shortly after taking this photo. Alas, the burger wasn't juicy to eat but was on the dry side of things. Even worse than that, it was bland. Bland beyond belief, given the spiel.

A combination of factors, I assume, were to blame: it was under seasoned and the patty itself didn't have a high enough fat content to actually taste the age-iness of the beef and make it juicy throughout. In fact, rather than taste the beef, the predominant flavour was that of the rich buttery brioche, then the hot English mustardy mayo. Beefiness played no discernible role in the overall taste of the Windsor at all. And for £12 (er, that doesn't include fries) you can get a far superior burger (and fries) from numerous places in town. Disappointing.

In the name of science, Alex and I ordered a regular GBK burger, to see how it measured up to a Windsor. It looked like this:


And it tasted of ABSOLUTELY NOTHING AT ALL, bar the tomato and relish in it. The very definition of bland. So here it is: if you like regular GBK burgers (which taste of precisely fuck all), the Windsor will possibly seem like a step into the realm of gourmet luxury. If, however, you've had any of the four or five star burgers reviewed on this blog, then I'm afraid that there is a very real danger that The Windsor will seem like an insult to your sensibilities and intelligence.

I definitely want to say THANK YOU to the guys at GBK who, it should be noted, looked after us extremely well – apart from serving us bland burgers and beyond-weird dipping sauces (below). Will I go back? Er, probably not. I simply don't feel GBK caters to my needs as a consumer of high quality, well conceived, lovingly made burgers. In this day and age, serving bland burgers just isn't on, quite frankly. As my dining buddy Alex said as we left GBK: "I feel sorry for the cows." Quite. Cows, especially Royal cows, shouldn't be slaughtered only to end up as mouthfuls of poorly conceived blandness.


Under-seasoning a burger (or over-seasoning, for that matter) happens. I can understand that. Although when GBK's Head of Food (no less) is personally preparing a burger for you (and you're an invited burger blogger) you'd think they'd get it just right. Sticking a very mildly beefy patty in a bun that out-flavours it - now that DEFINITELY shouldn't happen. Adding a creamy-but-hot mustard mayo as well? I just don't get it, there's no concept, this just isn't a dish in they way it ought to be for the price.

Please, please, please GBK, I beseech you to go out into London (ahem, use my iPhone app if you must) and sample the burgers that are being raved about in our glorious city by us, the diners, bloggers and tweeters who really love burgers. You describe the Windsor as a burger "of unrivalled quality and exceptional taste" and also as "a connoisseur's dream" but these words are nothing but hollow PR hyperbole. Until you understand what you're up against, you can't possibly hope to compete.

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www.gbk.co.uk

Bukowski Cheese & Bacon Burger

Burgerac

£7.50 Bukowski's menu (and food) functions as an unfortunate lesson in How Not To Do A Burger Joint in London. Alas, more bullshit than burger

Bukowski has just popped up in Box Park, a stack of shipping containers being used as retail spaces just outside Shoreditch overground train station. Bukowski describes itself as a "new-school fast slow-food American diner serving delicious burger innovations". What the heck that means is anyone's guess, so I decided I should head to Shoreditch and investigate...

Shipping containers are big if you're packing them full of canned food. Packing them full of a diner set up makes them feel very small. When I say "diner set up" imagine a diner created by a carpenter who only has chipboard as a material to work with. There are four and a half booths on the right hand side and a countered kitchen at the far end of the unit. 

We took a seat and checked out the menu and read this:


Well, that certainly lifts the spirits and raises expectations. I ordered a Cheese & Bacon Burger and asked for it medium rare. Me and my dining buddy also ordered a large portion of "hand cut Heritage Organic Chips triple cooked and fried in beef dripping" (£2.50) to share. They arrived first in a wide but shallow bowl lined with grease proof paper. Good job too. These were soggy, greasy bastards. As soon as you picked one up, just the slightest of squeezes made grease flow from each "chip". And rather than tasting all nice and beefy, they just tasted like the chip oil hadn't been changed since the venue opened.

Another thing they tell you via the menu at Bukowski is that all the condiments are homemade. Organic Heritage Tomato Ketchup made from single estate organic San Marzano Tomatoes can be found in small  glass jars on each table. Nice idea. Shame it doesn't even vaguely compare to Heinz. It's a strange texture and the chips seem to positively repel it. Also on offer is Organic Horseradish Mustard (not what you want on a burger, but rather what you want with a steak or slices of roast beef), and a Scotch Bonnet Relish - which is also a very strange texture, but tasty enough. Blending this with the ketchup made for something almost worth putting on your chips. Heinz please!

The Josper-cooked burger is served in a bun way more buttery than is necessary for a burger. On a more positive note, the inside is toasted to perfection. The patty sits on a slice of ridged gem lettuce, on top of which is a slice of Double Gloucester cheese, a couple of rashers of smoked Gloucester Old Spot streaky bacon and then some slices of oven dried tomato. There is no sauce or condiment in the burger, so I smeared some of the homemade ketchup on the inside of the top bun.

And so (at last) to the eating... My burger wasn't a bad medium rare - but if indeed this was a patty made from rare breed beef, it was a shame I couldn't taste it. The brioche bun is very buttery and a strong flavour. Perhaps this is why the patty has been imbued with a mustardy flavour. The cheese is an odd choice for inclusion in a burger as it doesn't become one with the burger patty but simply sit on top like a cheesy duvet, ready to slide out of the ensemble under its own weight at any moment. The bacon, however is cooked perfectly and tastes great.

But tasty bacon didn't save this burger from being a huge let down. The bottom part of the bun broke along the line of the ridged piece of lettuce under the patty when I was approaching half way through. I persevered. I sampled a bit of the patty on its own. As I suspected, although very bland, mustard was the strongest flavour in the mix, maybe with a hint of onion. Very little in the way of a discernable beef flavour at all. And the point of a Josper charcoal-burning oven is to deliver a lovely char-grilled flavour which was also lacking in this burger.

I just don't get it. Why bang on about the provenance of your beef if you build a burger that totally disguises its flavour? Why make your own tomato ketchup if it doesn't compare to the public's favourite Heinz? And why boast about the triple cooking of your beef dripping chips only to serve soggy spud sponges soaked in week-old chip fat? And why the heck would you cook thin burgers in a Josper when they'd be much better cooked on a flat grill? The whole thing smacks of "on-trend" kitchen gimmickery rather than the bunch of well researched burger-making decisions that the Bukowski owners presumably think they're showcasing. And why say "we're more typewriter than harp, we're more Bukowski than Byron" and then say in the same breath (press release) "we don't do Heinz". So let me get this right - Bukowski is down to earth, but incredibly snobby at the same time? All this makes no sense to me at all.

To be honest, I thought the days of hyping everything up in the burger business was over. Banging on about how great your produce is and then serving a burger that doesn't compare in any way to the competition is the practice of yesteryear. Everybody knows this business model is dead. Wouldn't it be far better to call the place Bukowski, branding it (as they have) with a slightly distressed typewriter font and then NOT bang on about how everything is cooked or sourced but let the food (and its consumers) do all the talking instead? 

The big irony here is that's EXACTLY what Byron does. And Meat Liquor. And Lucky Chip. And Honest Burgers in Brixton. Keep it simple, do it well, stay humble. All the "organic this" and "homemade that" posturing in the world doesn't mean shit if you can't deliver a tasty burger. Actually, that's not strictly true, it does mean something, it means you've embarrassed yourself. And, even worse, you've pissed off your target demographic by insulting their intelligence and taste buds.

My Bukowski experience (can you tell) literally left a bad taste in my mouth. Which is why me and my dining buddy jumped in a cab afterwards and let five English pounds take us to Lucky Chip.

There we ordered the weekly special burger, the Rude Off - a tribute, apparently, to Rudolph. It consisted of a dry aged venison patty, smoked bacon, stilton, garlic aioli and a homemade berry and gin compote (Heinz doesn't make that). Here's a picture. Now THAT is what a truly awesome burger looks (and tastes) like. Yes, it really was as good as it looks:

It would seem that Lucky Chip (and Byron on Hoxton Square) still haven't got any decent burger competition in Hackney. 

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Bukowski
Unit 61 Boxpark
Bethnal Green Road
London E1 6GY



Bukowski Grill on Urbanspoon

All Star Lanes 1/2lb Prime Beef Burger with Fries

Burgerac

£9 with fries included. Bacon costs an extra £1.50 and Swiss cheese a further £1. Neither addition rescued this from bland mediocrity


Wooden board: check. Silver cup o'fries: check. Little pot of burger sauce on the side: check. By serving its burgers thus, All Star Lanes invite comparisons between its burger offering and similarly presented burgers at some of Burgerac's top London burger spots such as Bar Boulud and Rivington Grill.
However, if my experience the other night is anything to go by, ASL's burger totally fails to walk the talk...

Here's what happened: I took a hoard of peeps to All Star Lanes on Brick Lane after the other week's Burgermat Show opening at Beach London on Cheshire Street around the corner. We all needed some food and another drink or two and it seemed only right that we went for burgers. All Star Lanes twitterer-in-chief has been tweeting me for a while asking me to do a review so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to sample ASL's burger offering.

The truth is it probably wasn't the best night for me to do a review. I was so hungry by the time we headed over there, I could have eaten a cow pat in a bun and convinced myself it was the best thing ever. I was also a little tipsy and giddy from the joy of putting on the Burgermat Show. We got a table for ten, placed our orders and waited hungrily for our burgers to arrive. Took about 40 minutes. Fast food, this ain't.

When the food finally showed up I wasted no time assembling the burger adding pickles and the least frilly piece of lettuce on the board. I added a scoop of the thousand island dressing and also added a splodge of the barbeque sauce that was on the table. I was super-duper hungry so practically inhaled the first mouthful or two, before realising that actually, there was going to be no WOW moment with this burger. Here are the notes I took:

Bread stale, dry and chewy. 
Patty beefy but overcooked, chewy
Strange acrid bitter taste I can't put my finger on. 
Bacon, tasteless, soft. 
Fries limp, soggy, cooked from frozen? - taste of old chip fat. 
Thousand island sauce with finely chopped gherkin is quite nice.

When we'd all done eating, I asked Roxy, one of my dining buddies (and my favourite ice cream blogger), why she only ate half of her burger. Her response summed things up rather well: "I was chewing a mouthful of burger and I couldn't work out whether the thing that was chewy was the bread or the meat." 

I was also in the company of fellow Burgerac contributor, the enigmatic Cheeseblogger. He too had noticed the strange bitter taste that pervaded our burgers. He had a theory: "It's that barbeque sauce. It's off." I gave it a sniff and it did seem to have an aggressively acrid smell. Did I, you might well wonder, try a little more of the sauce to work out if that was indeed what had saved the burger from total blandness, (though obviously not in a good way)? Hell no. I rallied the troops, we paid our bill and we fucked off. Probably never to return.

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All Star Lanes
95 Brick Lane
London E1 6QL

Call for opening times and bookings: Tel : 020 7426 9200