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)