I have a mild obsession with burgers. I think that —when executed right—they are a perfect food. Juicy, chargrilled beef; soft, yielding buns; and savoury toppings come together in a glorious explosion of flavours and textures.
When I found out that I would be in London just in time to check out a round of Young and Foodish’s London Burger Bash, I jumped at the chance to go. There are 4 rounds wherein 6 burgers are pitted against each other in a fight to win a Golden Patty Award. The four winners then go on to the finals to compete for the ultimate award: Best London Burger.
The competitors ranged from dedicated burger makers (Bleecker Street Burger) to established pubs (The Drapers Arms). I’m not sure if the crowd had favourites going in to the judging, but for me, I had no expectations—I’ve never had burgers in London. Then all of a sudden I had six half burgers.
The burger rundown:
Chris Golding’s UnBEETable Burger: Golding is the head chef at Apero, a Mediterranean brasserie. I’m pretty sure he’s a little obsessed with beets considering the bright red beetroot bun and beetroot mayonnaise. I like beets, but this burger was overly sweet and had no textural contrasts. I thought the pink bun was beautiful, but I overheard some people who were slightly turned off by the colour.
Q Burger by The Quality Chop House’s head chef, Shaun Searley: This was definitely a step up from the UnBEETable burger, but I didn’t get that super juicy, flavourful beefiness I was looking for. Instead the truffled Tunworth cheese overwhelmed the whole burger.
Bleecker Street Burger’s Double Cheeseburger: This was a classic American-style burger: two aged beef patties, American cheese and special sauce on a toasted bun. It was quite good – Zan Kaufman is a NYC native and she knows how to make a burger. It was my favourite of the night so far, but I still had three other burgers to try.
Roti Chai Street Kitchen’s Toddy Shop Burger No. 4: Infused with star anise, curry leaves, cinnamon, coconut and red chills, this was in no way a traditional burger, but it tasted fantastic. The meat was seasoned perfectly and I liked how the cheese was brûléed with a blowtorch.
The Drapers Arms: It should be fantastic with its aged chuck and bone marrow patty, but it was solidly in the middle and unfortunately, kind of forgettable.
The Troll’s Pantry’s Legend of Smoky Mountain: My least favourite of the night. I’m not a fan of barbecue sauces on burgers and this burger basically had one flavour note: sweet barbecue sauce.
Six half burgers is a lot to eat. At the end of the night, the burger stickers were tallied. It was a close race between the two crowd favourites: Bleecker Street and Roti Chai, but in the end, the Americans prevailed and Zan was announced the winner of the night.
For myself, burgers are a nostalgic food that brings me back to a simpler time in life: backyard barbecues, bike rides at sunset, and the sprinkler on a hot summer day. It may be my North American sensibilities, or a pull towards childhood tastes, but I thought that none of the burgers compared to my most favourite burger of all time: Shake Shack.
Yes, there is a Shake Shack in Covent Garden now. But truly, it is not at all on the same level of Shake Shack in NYC. It may be because of the meat used (Angus from USA versus Aberdeen Angus from Scotland), but I’m pretty sure it mostly has to do with the lack of sear on the meat. It was much the same at London Burger Bash. The patties were good, but they didn’t have that deep caramelized maillard reaction crust I was looking for. Even so, it was a fantastically fun night and I got to enjoy some pretty tasty burgers. I definitely wouldn’t turn down another go at Roti Chai Street’s Toddy Shop Burger No. 4.
PS: The burger in the lead shot is The Q Burger.