Everyone is, I assume, already aware of the bitter burger battles. Waged between ones’ friends, the apparently ceaseless and bemusing as hell wrangle over In ‘N Out vs Habit burger joints has spilled out of California where it belongs and spread to encompass Five Guys, as typified by a spread in A Popular Marvel Comics Title which had Clint Barton and Spider-man squabbling about the relative burger benefits. Even a Kiwi friend of mine has pitched in, blurting that Murder Burger is the best selection of additions to a patty of minced meat that the planet can offer.
I’m growing kind of tired of burger chains. Years ago I was briefly excited by the first Byron Burger place, because the burgers were genuinely a cut above the usual glurge, and Hache’s gourmet burgers are worthwhile, but since then everything has either been “okay” or “why are you wasting my time with this rubbish”, and nothing has lived up to the hysterical Twitter hype.
Recent months have seen the aforementioned spat movement into comics, a disappointing visit to the much-lauded Shakeshack in Covent Garden, and a report from Delightful Boyfriend that Five Guys was “nothing to write home about”. I’ve quizzed the sparring Californians (North vs South, of course) and the Kiwi and the other burger noisemakers and much to my perennial disgust have discovered that none of them are even arguing about the burgers.
They’re arguing about the “fixings”. The accoutrements. About Animal Style. About beetroot. About sauces. About, in short, Not-Burger. Personally when I’m squandering precious calories on burger, what I care about is the burger, but this kind of meat puritanism is, I am assured, the province of Beard Hipsters With Stupid Tattoos Who Care Too Much About Cow Lineage.
This suits me, as but for the shocking lack of testosterone and agricultural college qualifications, I am a Beard Hipster With Stupid Tattoos Who Cares Too Much About Cow Lineage.
Tuesday night my brain/melatonin levels hadn’t quite recovered from the rigours of a week on night shift being disappointed by the national press in exchange for coins, and I was awake between the hours of 1am and 5am inclusive, pondering the nature of existence and, repeatedly, burgers.
Pop Up London
A thing has happened in recent years, to my city.
The rents have turned into the kind of deranged joke that boggles the fucking mind and which ought to be left on April Fool’s along with ideas like “UKIP Majority”; it’s murdering Chinatown, done away with Food For Thought (a forty-year-old vegetarian restaurant in Seven Dials), and will probably hasten the end of Soho if property developers and Crossrail don’t nail the coffin shut first.
Because the denizens of this rat hole are historically enterprising and inventive people, we’ve gotten around the impossibility of renting a permanent food-making space without being an actual nation with our own GDPs each, and done it by acquiring an unceasing flow of pop-up eateries.
Here one day, gone in about three months, they rock up in warehouse spaces and converted double-decker buses, in food stalls and markets, out of the back of cars, on scooters. The foodie militia. The concept corps. They’ve come and they’ve pushed Gloucester Old Spot sausages with silly names and vegan brownies that you can only find once a month and everything has a tie-in blog and half of them have an app and all of it requires more organisation than someone like me can muster.
On the one hand, I applaud wholeheartedly the response to the rent bullshit and the problem of money in this city (the problem being almost all of it is in the hands of complete pricks); there’s an adventurous feeling in blundering through rows of stalls in an alleyway in search of comestibles new, a victorious pioneer sensation in uncovering some new delicious vendor. However – and I realise this is very fuddy and non East-London of me (because I don’t live in East London) – sometimes I want to eat the same thing twice.
I’d like to be able to take a leisurely approach to eating, or take an occasional visitor to the metropolis out for dinner to somewhere I know is good and have it still be there. Leisurely is, now, expensive. Haste is cheap. Well, cheaper. This is, after all, one of the most expensive places on earth.
Frustrating though the pop-up scourge occasionally is, it is exactly the right low-risk climate for what I have in mind regarding burgers. Maybe the space in Granary Square that recently hosted the Winter Sun bar.
Mongolian Barbecue, Tiger Lil’s, Have It Your Own Bloody Way
It seems to have gone out of fashion now, but about ten years ago there was a time-slot approach to all-you-can-eat buffet cooking. You took your bowl, you dumped whatever you wanted from a vast line of options into it, and you left it with a cook, who either shovelled it across a hot plate with massive flat knives at the Mongolian Barbecue, or pranged it about a wok at Tiger Lil’s. You gorged yourself, and you went back for more as many times as you physically could in your two-hour time slot.
The possibilities were endless. Customisability at its height, the choice economy in glorious food formation. I think I put on about three stone in one evening.
BurgerBurger; Hipster Pop-up Meat Heaven
The background laid, here is the brief:
I want a fully-customisable, assembly-line burger place that focusses on the meat. I want to be able to go in and make my selection from a variety of bowls of naked mince (lean, fatty, extra lean), of different meats (beef, pork, ostrich, kangaroo, llama), of different breeds (longhorn, Hereford, Highland), to different amounts (small, medium, large, custom-charged-by-weight). To be able to set how much egg is used to bind it (or what egg substitute), what is added to the patty (onions, capers, chives, spices, chopped garlic), then select how I want it cooked (rare, medium, well done, basically-steak-tartare, cinderblock, no-thanks-just-bag-it-i’ll-cook-it-myself-at-home), then a bun (plain white, wholemeal, granary, ciabatta, brioche, gluten-free, tortilla, no thanks), then hot toppings (egg, bacon, portabello mushroom), then cold toppings (salad leaves of several types, tomato, gherkin, cheese of several types, beetroot, pineapple, cucumber, whatever). Then take the damn paid-for construction to a sauce table for eating-in (ketchup, relish, mustard, mayonnaise, djionnaise, that disgusting liquid cheese people like, ranch, salad cream, hoisin) or squirted in before it’s dumped in a bag.
I mean you can go somewhere else for fries. Get your stupid can of Coke from the fridge. But I think it is a bit weird that there’s all these Exciting Burger Chains that are fixated on fixings, crazy about chips, mental over their milkshakes, and not one of these fuckers that I’ve seen has taken the obvious, sensible route of ensuring their burger is brilliant before they start plastering it in everything else. Where is my red-centred tennis-ball of Special Cow Parts?