The restaurant itself is quite large but nevertheless cosy, being the opposite of brightly lit, with exposed brick walls covered in illustrated theatre posters from both London and New York shows going back to the mid 60s - which is when Joe Allen opened his first restaurant in New York. The London restaurant has been forging its excellent reputation since 1977. The tables are very simply set with paper tablecloths and paper menus and in the evening there's a guy playing a piano next to a defunct but still impressive jukebox. The service is friendly and informal. Unfussy, relaxed bistro vibes.
Now then, if there was a burger beauty pageant, the Joe Allen burger probably wouldn't be allowed to enter, let alone have any chance of winning. It's not a conventionally good looking burger. But actually, this is part of its enormous charm. Rather than concerning itself with what it looks like, the Joe Allen burger is all about what's on the inside: a really juicy, plump meaty treat comprising a coarsely ground, unseasoned 100% sirloin steak patty – that's only about three inches in diameter but at least an inch thick – smothered in melted cheese and just the right amount of perfectly grilled smoked bacon, served on a suitably sized soft glazed bun with no frills, just a thick cross section of white onion and two spears of pickled gherkin on the side so you can add what you want. I like a ring or two of onion and all the gherkin in there for maximum flavour.
Another thing to note is that there's also no sauce in the burger – but simply ask and Heinz ketchup and French's american mustard can be brought to your table – as can almost any other bog-standard condiment you care to request.
The burger squashes down well and really the 100% sirloin patty is the star of the show - but as I mentioned, I strongly recommend you order it with cheese and bacon as they partner the otherwise plainly served burger perfectly – as does the ketchup, mustard, onion ring and gherkin spears that I like to add.
In summary, the Joe Allen burger has no pretensions or illusions of grandeur, which naturally endears it to me – and somehow ordering off-menu makes me feel like the burger has been concocted specially for me. Yes, it's undoubtedly delicious but beyond mere taste and texture, it makes me feel good. This burger is big on pleasure and light on guilt. Joe Allen, I will be back. Very soon. And as regularly as possible. Ad finitum.
13 Exeter Street
020 7836 0651