£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
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.
Unit 61 Boxpark
Bethnal Green Road
London E1 6GY