Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Guerilla Burgers, Marylebone


The first time word started circulating on the Twittersphere that a new, independent burger bar was opening in London, serving "authentic West-Coast" American-style burgers, I was mildly ecstatic. I realise that in London the bar is set pretty low for quality burgers, and I was probably being hopelessly naive to assume that anywhere would open to challenge the prevailing mediocre orthodoxy, but I did, I admit, allow myself a short period of frantic optimism. My God, imagine if somewhere actually got it right? Brioche buns, multiple thin beef pattys, Kraft cheese, crispy bacon? How wonderful would that be? I dared to believe.

And then, as so often happens, the inevitable hammer of reality falls and shatters my fragile dreams. Press pictures appeared on Facebook of what looked depressingly like a pub house burger accompanied by lurid crinkle-cut chips. Floury, brittle white buns sat atop cheddar cheese, and there was even a hideous rabbit-food concoction to keep the vegetarians happy, as if vegetarians are ever going to be happy about anything that doesn't involve lentils and homeopathy. The disappointment was like being kicked in the gut, and yet to avoid accusations of being closed-minded and unnecessarily dismissive of a restaurant which had, to be fair, not even opened yet, I decided I would probably have to go anyway. After a few days wait to give them a chance to bed in, I slunk along to Guerilla Burgers on James Street.

It's a nice enough room, airy and bright and decorated with ironic food-based revolutionary slogans ("Power to the patty" and so on). Service, too, was eager and smiley, all tasks performed with the minimum of fuss and in a timely fashion, although being the only person in the restaurant at midday I suppose this could be expected. In the interests of fairness, I decided to order their plain burger and a small side of fries, thinking that any major issues would be more apparent in their basic product than anything involving (bleugh) cottage cheese or (barf) avocado (I'm not making this up - they do a burger with avocado, cottage cheese AND coleslaw in it. It's insultingly called the "LA" burger).


The Oreo milkshake was straightforward but pleasant - I'm not a huge milkshake expert but I didn't have any major issues here. I suppose it could have been thicker and icier but perhaps this was just a different way of doing things. Only with the arrival of the burger itself did events take a serious downturn. First of all, that bloody bun. It would be bad enough if they had just stuck with the floury buns from the Facebook photos, inauthentic and dull though they are. But instead, my patty came inside what looked like a sourdough muffin that someone had spilled Bran Flakes on. It was chewy and dense, fighting with and providing no sweet counterpoint to the (admittedly rather nicely cooked and seasoned) beef. Pickles looked like they had been sliced quite a long time previously, and were shrivelled and chewy. Salad was a salad.


The problems didn't end with the burger, either. Crinkle-cut fries, having a much larger surface area than normal fries, tend to soak up a great deal of whatever they're cooked in - this means that they have the potential to be nice and crispy and full of flavour, but they require good fat. These tasted strongly of cheap cooking oil, and despite having a nice texture inside and out weren't pleasant to eat. I was glad I only ordered a small portion.


I wouldn't have a problem with any of this - well, as much of a problem at least - if I wasn't led to believe from early press activity that Guerilla Burgers would be attempting to serve "authentic, West Coast" burgers. Have they ever been to Los Angeles, I wonder? Or perhaps it's a case of some Giraffe executive (the owners) going to In'n'Out during a Californian holiday, deciding there's a market for them in London (there is), then on return realising you can't get any of the ingredients in the UK and having to compromise in almost every department.

Simon Majumdar, one half of the Dos Hermanos blogging crew, has a little tradition when faced with yet another mediocre London burger - he finishes the review with a shot of a double chilli cheeseburger from Marty's, his favourite Californian burger spot. That simple juxtaposition of the Real Thing next to whichever poor UK imitation he had tried that week says more than any accompanying text ever could. And so, in tribute, I shall do the same. Guerilla Burgers, that pictured above is not a burger. This is a burger:


(Hodad's single bacon cheeseburger, $6.25)

2/10

Guerilla Burgers on Urbanspoon

29 comments:

nickloman said...

Just so depressing.

Ibzo said...

Enjoyable read, this one. Such a shame, but not that surprising. My visit was a little more successful; I enjoyed the sliders, and the bun used was less offensive than those on the full-sized burger.

The crinkle cut fries are really horrible. The sweet potato fries are actually very good, but I'd give it up if they could just get good, normal fries like you get in Five Guys in America.

Maybe I should send them my copy of the In-N-Out Burger book once I'm done with it...

Simon Doggett said...

Couldn't agree more. I was so incensed by my visit I actually felt compelled to review it.

Grim... said...

I would like to submit my photo of the best burger I ever ate: http://www.flickr.com/photos/grim/85726990/ (and this was the view from my chair: http://www.flickr.com/photos/grim/85726978/in/photostream/ )

I agree that it's properly hard finding a good burger in London. Some places don't even ask you how you want it cooked =[

The Happiness Project London said...

Oh dear poor Guerilla. I went on the skaters night and quite enjoyed the wee tasters but the full burger doesn't look that appetising. Martys on the other hand looks quite ridiculously good - nom nom nom.

Out of interest, what's your favourite burger in London? I'm trying to find my favourite for my blog. Many bloggers love Byron, I'd also love to try Ed's Diner and also the American Bar at the Stafford Hotel - apparently served on a silver tray!

Sasha @ The Happiness Project London

spiltwine said...

Dammit.

Might still venture there tonight though.
But between you and hermano it makes me think I should just wait for my next burger next time I'm in Cali (t-minus one month!!)

I'll be hitting up my two favourite haunts btw - Carney's and of course Pink's.

Chris said...

Ibzo: You definitely should. Someone up there needs telling.

Simon: Good review - seems we agree on most points. At least my beef was well-cooked, seems they didn't even manage that on your visit.

Grim: That does look wonderful. And actually Guerilla didn't ask how I'd like it cooked, but most US places don't either. They just assume you want it pink, which I think is fair enough.

Happiness: My current fav burger is Byron. My opinion has been known to change however :)

spiltwine: The fact that there's just SO much choice in California and most are pretty decent just shows how far we've got to go.

Grim... said...

"They just assume you want it pink, which I think is fair enough."
And if they did that with steak?

eatmynels said...

Shall we get a group togther and try and recreate the In&Out burger??

Chris said...

Grim: Then they'd be wrong, of course.

Paul said...

Hmmm that Hodads burger looks ace... Shame Guerilla burger doesn't seem to meet up to it, it's annoying when a resto can't get a simple concept such as a burger right...

WTF is going on with the crinkle cut oven chips as well?

Paul
http://www.hownottodoafoodblog.com/

Lizzie said...

Seriously - what the fuck is on top of that bun?

Chris said...

Lizzie: Pretty sure it's bran flakes.

ginandcrumpets said...

Poor the Guerilla Burgers although it does look like they've put a burger into some kind of healthy bun (or pseudo healthy bun), which sort of misses the point of a burger. And while I have a deep fondess for crinkle cut chips (my favourite as a kid), they don't really seem right with a burger.

Looks like your search continues.

Gav said...

"and there was even a hideous rabbit-food concoction to keep the vegetarians happy, as if vegetarians are ever going to be happy about anything that doesn't involve lentils and homeopathy"

Genius

You have convinced me to never set foot in the place, I am happy with Byron @ The Intrepid Fox although and very sad the Big D is no more.

Burgers in the UK are a pale imitation of the US variety and we get charged about 3 times as much for something which is the quintessential fast food.

Humf

Please In and Out come and save us.

PS Crinkle cut fries are just wrong

Patrick said...

This post http://www.parlafood.com/london-burger-breakdown/ suggested The Union in Greenwich as one of their favourite burgers in London. As someone who lives very close to this I'll check it out at some point but I'm rather skeptical as would never had imagined it would do fantastic food.

p.s. this is my best burger ever http://tinypic.com/r/13yqvk9/6 from Shake Shack in NYC. Mine's on the left, my girlfriend ordered the mushroom burger (don't ask) on the right. The burger prob cost something like $7. And that was for a double.

p.p.s. the bun in your picture looks awful.

Ibzo said...

Come on Patrick, the mushroom burger from Shake Shack is amazing. I'd rather eat it than any beef burger in London.

Let me also submit a picture of my (two) best burgers:

Shake Shack as well - http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_WNBJQk8C0KA/S3Hg-wiCW1I/AAAAAAAAAKw/LuWmjgH0s68/s1600-h/shakeshack.jpg

and Corner Bistro - http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_WNBJQk8C0KA/S3Hfqq-G6uI/AAAAAAAAAKI/5einVzlU-VY/s1600-h/cornerbistro.jpg

Su-Lin said...

I was way too harsh on my Shake Shack burger when I had it. I want one now: http://tamarindandthyme.wordpress.com/2008/10/01/shake-shack/

That bun looks WRONG. And cottage cheese?! *shudder*

Mr Noodles said...

You should start tracking down burgers in boozers. There may be some shockers but I've found better burgers in pubs than the so-called gourmet chains. Places like Guerilla Burgers are out to attract the yummy-mummy market rather than the burger lover.

Anonymous said...

The Bountyburger at Bountiful Cow (on Eagle St near Holborn) was pretty good, if I remember. I can't compare it to a real yankee burger but it looks closer to it than it does that awful bran flake burger you've got there. No seeds on the bun, a large juicy patty cooked to order, and very simple ingredients - no blue cheese or thousand island dressing. Just a choice of cheddar, bacon and egg.

Greedy Diva said...

That bun says it all for me. You could have just posted the picture of it really - but glad you didn't! - entertaining write up!

Ollie said...

The bun is simply shameful. Thoroughly approve of your Hodad's pic - chalk and cheese.

Helen said...

*SIGH*

Bob said...

The bun is just bizarre - I've seen a few in my time but nothing like this one. The seeds look like mouse droppings no?!

Kavey said...

What Greedy Diva said...

Malcolm Eggs said...

In London I've had great burgers at Joe Allen (I keep harping on about this but it's true) and also, a little unexpectedly, at The Bishop in East Dulwich. But the one that still keeps me awake at night occasionally (for good reasons) was in Miami Airport, early in 1999...

catty said...

I still haven't been to Guerilla Burgers and might still do (just so I know what it's like first hand). Still hankering for In-n-Out to really bring a branch here though... i wonder if that will ever realistically happen! sigh.

Robecca said...

I just wonder if it's not worth accepting that you'll have great burgers while vacationing in America and great fish & chips in the UK?

My husband is Scottish and when we visit his family, we have the most amazing black pudding. Here, though we've searched high and low, it's all mediocre. I've come to accept this and just enjoy stacks of American pancakes and BBQ before the big move.

Anonymous said...

best burgers in town are by far Automat in Mayfair !
I am surprised no one mentioned it !