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Thursday 26 December 2013

Shake Shack - Five Guys - MEATmarket

Just as the Shake Shack & Five Guys burgerbuzz was starting to die down, some numpty wrote an article in The Sunday Times on 2013 food trends, thanking the two American chains for bringing great burgers to London.  I never got round to writing up my trips as I was pretty underwhelmed, but now seems the right time to put it up.

One can only assume this "expert" was living under a rock for most of the year, and somehow failed to notice the pre-existing London front-runners (Patty&Bun, BBQ Whiskey Beer, MEATliquor, Tommi's Burger Joint, Dirty Burger, Honest Burgers, BOOM Burger, Disco Bistro and more).  I appreciate that the average person may not have heard of many of them, but the average person isn't writing a foodie article for a national newspaper.  Surely Byron (who continue to do great things) and GBK deserve most of the credit for pushing burgers forward here a few years ago?  It was a lazy, ill-informed piece of journalism that hopefully won't influence too many Londoners looking to get on board the burger train in 2014. Anyway, here are my thoughts:

Wednesday 17th July -  Back in July, Team List needed to see what all the fuss was about, though not at the expense of 90 minutes of my life on the opening weekend when Murray was powering through his Wimbledon semi-final.  We went along a week or two later, and bravely decided to go to both burger joints in the same lunch time.

Photo from Barchick
First up was Shake Shack in Covent Garden Piazza.  Will and I were ushered into the fast moving queue and given some menus to peruse.  We discussed our eating tactic for the day ahead, and were joined by Taro just as we made it to the front (15 minutes queue at lunch time).  Shake Shack is a well oiled machine, and we were soon handed our food collection buzzers before going off in search of a table.

The collection system works fine until you order alcohol, which they have to serve to the table themselves.  I therefore had a fairly awkward walk to my seat carrying my burger on a tray whilst a waitress brought my pint of Shackmeister Ale, a tasty draught lager brewed for them by Brooklyn Brewery.  There are other interesting bottled beer options too.

The SmokeShack burger (cheese & bacon) was pretty tasty and disappeared within a few seconds. The meat was nicely cooked, the buns were pleasingly squishy and the mysterious ShackSauce held its own. The simpler Shackburger (cheeseburger) also got a thumbs up.  The Shack Stack sounds interesting with both a cheeseburger and a crisp-fried portobello mushroom stuffed with cheese inside. The burgers are fairly good value (£4.75-£9) though they are on the small side.  They also have a range of hot dogs, all under £5.  The crinkle cut fries are disappointing, but don't spoil the meal.

On the dessert front Shake Shack put in more effort than most, serving up a wide range of ice creams ("Frozen Custard") in milkshake and "concrete" formats with some tempting varieties such as the Union Jack - chocolate custard, St.John Bakery chocolate brownie, fudge sauce, Paul.A.Young chocolate chunks and sea salt.  We happily shared a large double (£6.50) between three.  Bizarrely, they also sell dog treats!

Shake Shack Concrete
We moved swiftly on to Five Guys, just round the corner near Leicester Square tube, where we were joined by a hungry Rosie who was sad to miss the first round.  They clearly have their eyes on world domination and have already planned to open a load more stores in the UK next year.  A second branch opened recently in Islington.

Their calling card is free toppings.  Once you have decided between regular, cheese, cheese and bacon etc, the rest (pickles, mushrooms, onions, peppers etc) is on the house.  Naturally, we ordered everything.

Sadly, it was hugely disappointing.  The bun was dry and overly crunchy, the meat was overcooked, and the toppings were average at best.  I can't for the life of me understand what all the fuss is about, there is nothing special going on here at all.  I'd like to see their burgers chucked into some blind taste testing against British fast food chains.  They certainly shouldn't be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Patty & Bun or even Shake Shack.

There are a few positives.  The chips are great, they have Brewdog beers, and there's also a fun soda machine, but they don't begin to make up for an average burger.

Why not instead go just round the corner to MEATmarket in Covent Garden?  Despite being the least impressive of this forward thinking British chain's sites (MEATliquor and MEATmission are both great fun), MEATmarket is still far more stylish than Shake Shack and Five Guys, and their signature burger, Dead Hippie, wipes the floor with them.

Overall then, we enjoyed our time at Shake Shack, and it probably gets both overhyped and overcriticised - it's fine.  Five Guys on the other hand is just not very good - save your money, and go to one of the many fantastic alternatives listed at the top of this post.

One of my favourite burgers in 2013 was from Jamaican-inspired Boom Burger who are finally getting a permanent restaurant on Portobello Road early in 2014.  Not only are their burgers awesome, they also serve up delicious chicken wings with spicy jerk mayo, and incredibly moreish plantain fries. 

What was your favourite burger of 2013?

Square Meal

Square Meal


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