21 February 2010

Burger Musings


Is there a more divisive food subject than the burger? Having already come in for some good-natured ribbing over my feelings for this humble sandwich, I thought I should maybe try and state my case.

The thing is, I like a burger. When done well, it's a thing of meaty beauty, a handheld snack of quite marvellous potential. When done badly, it's a huge letdown and one of those baffling mysteries. It's meat on a bun, people. How bleeding difficult can it be?

The difference of opinion though seems to boil down to this: I don't worship the American version of the burger. There are a few reasons for this. First of all, I've not eaten that many US burgers. Secondly, I don't intend to. In the UK, when our farmers were responsible for bringing BSE to the market (who knew that feeding sheep to vegetarian creatures would cause problems, eh? Oh yes, that's right. EVERYBODY WITH A FUCKING BRAIN), the problem was identified and steps - proper steps - were taken to try and eradicate the problem. I very much doubt we've got rid of it completely but we're doing better than the US.

Yes, I know the US doesn't "officially" have a BSE problem. But do you know why that is? Because the responsibility for reporting BSE in the US lies with the farmer. As soon as that switch was made, rather than, say, being monitored by an independent body with the public interest at heart, the BSE problem in the US disappeared overnight. Remarkable eh? Who'd have thought it? Farmers who one day had a BSE problem cured it all overnight. It's a modern day farming miracle...

As great as I'm sure the In N Out burger is - and people whose palates I generally trust clearly love them - I can't see how you can sell that amount of beef for that price without it being mechanically recovered. Or, given their claims for the meat, by screwing a few cattle farmers to the wall. Either way, it's not something I find particularly appetising. Accordingly, while the sort of burgers served up across the UK by the "quality" chains might not be "authentic", I don't really care. In several cases they taste of decent meat on a bun, and, while provenance might have become a bit of a cliche, I'd rather that than potentially disease-ridden beef.

Then there's the bread issue. Again, people with palates I trust extol the virtues of the brioche-style bun and I'm sure they're right. Well, for their own palates. The thing is, I don't particularly care. The bread, to paraphrase Anthony Bourdain, is wasted real estate on my plate and in my stomach, and the bit of the burger I'm most likely to leave. For me, it's all about the meat. If shunning the bun means I can manage more of the beefy joys within, then the bun will be shunned. End of.

And finally, there's the issue of the "trimmings". I like cheese. I can just about see the appeal of the Kraft slice: it's so far removed from being cheese it's actually a product / taste in its own right, much like banana-flavoured things. But, if a decent piece of beef has been minced for my dining pleasure, I want a decent cheese sitting on top. Some cheddars are too strong and I'm not mad on the Stilton approach. It's easy then to see why Ogleshield, my former colleague at Neal's Yard Dairy Bill Oglethorpe and Jamie Montgomery's "British raclette" invention, is the cheese of choice in so many restaurants. It melts perfectly and adds flavour and texture without overpowering the main event.

All of which brings me, eventually, to my experience of the Guerilla Burger. It's clearly not the anticipated "authentic West Coast" experience (it features real cheese for starters...) and I can understand the disappointment that brings. But, as I hope I've made clear from the above, I don't really give a proverbial about what sort of burger it is, whether it's even remotely similar to a burger I've had before and whether it can help me recreate a past holiday experience. For me, the question is does it taste good? And, while it apparently puts me in the minority, I'm saying yes. The burger was beefy and satisfying. The bun was dense, decently chewy and nicely flavoured. The cheese was good: strong but not overpowering. The pickles etc were of good quality. Sweet potato fries were a very tasty twist. The Oreo cookie milkshake was creamy and rich. And crinkle cut chips: a) make me feel like I'm eight again; and b) made me smile.

Funnily enough, while others have celebrated the service for its smiling efficiency, we got very happy but utterly shambolic and around a 25, 30 minute wait for lunch. Still, I guess that just proves it's all about individual experience, right? And hell, it would be boring if we all liked the same things.

6 comments:

The Happiness Project London said...

Hurrah! So pleased someone's been nice about Guerilla - I was too.

Isn't there a saying "why have a burger when you can have steak"? Well sometimes you just want a good old burger, and if its just a burger then who cares that much about the bun.

It's only because I'm a fan of being positive about things :) And like you I'm jealous as not been to the US enough to try their burgers!

Sasha @ The Happiness Project London

meemalee said...

Great post Neil, but what gives - no boiger picture??

Although the crinkle chips do look cute :)

Neil Davey said...

I just figured that the burger had been snapped enough by others! Besides, it was the chippy stuff that gave me the most pleasure!

Kavey said...

I agree with many of your points.

Not least it's good to hear someone else tell it like it is about the American claim that they don't have BSE! I got shouted out of town last time I pointed the same thing out to an American going on about not eating our mad cow beef! Gah!

I don't always and so what is important to me is that it's soft enough for me to bite into without having to RIP the damn thing apart (like the ciabattas Hache insist on using) but firm enough not to disintegrate whilst I'm holding and eating the burger. That and it not being brown bread and I'm happy.

I've missed the news about Guerilla Burger... and no doubt lots of other new openings too. Dang it.

eatmynels said...

Nice one! Nuff' grumblings about burgers...

Chris said...

Thanks for the links Neil!

I do take your point on the cheap US beef, although I still can't see how it would taste SO good if it was all just mechanically recovered crap. My Guerilla post was essentially fuelled by disappointment that what I had been led to believe would be a proper US burger in the end just ended up being an identikit UK pub burger. It's the lack of ambition that bothered me - you can get burgers as good as Guerilla pretty much anywhere else - even at the mothership Giraffe. It was transparently a business decision masquerading as a restaurant, with 'rollout potential' stamped all over it. It was everything that's wrong with London restaurants.