Tommi’s Burger Joint

Around Christmas time one’s appetite gets a little bit out of hand. The endless Christmas dinners, the ridiculous amount of boozing, and the general increase in the consumption of all things sweet, all add up to one big festive period of gluttony. With a friend coming to Town for our annual Christmas get together I thought I’d add my own touch to this yuletide gorging by having two burgers in the same day. The first burger I had was my Obama-dedicated burger at Kua Aina, the second – and originally the only one I had planned for the day – was at Tommi’s Burger Joint on Thayer street in Marylebone.

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I had been to the Burger Joint a few year’s back in my pre-blogging days and was enamoured by it’s no nonsense approach to serving up burgers. The location had changed since the last visit, but the feel was still the same. As you walk in there is a small queue of patrons ready to order at the till off the black board above. The menu is simple, with four burgers on offer, one veggie, which I duly went for as part of the ‘Offer of the Weekend’ (a special version of their ‘Offer of the Century’). A deal which includes burger, fries, and a bottle of Camden beer – all for £12.90. The trend is continued as you go to sit down, most of the seating is on industrial looking bar and stool set ups. It being a Friday night it was pretty full, with people sitting outside even in December, but my group of mates managed to find a 4 seater all to ourselves. One thing that Tommi’s does put a bit of fuss into though was the condiment bar. Right next to the collection point is a set of what must be well over thirty sauces and and extra burger fillings, which I rightly got stuck into in preparation of my burger.

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When the burger arrived (preceded by a ‘This is a veggie one yeah… just checking’ – people often assume me as non-vegetarian), it was as I remembered both proportion and flavour wise. The patty is veggie based, crispy and a bit spicy, inside a brioche bun with the standard fillings, and holds together pretty well. The additional cheese I got with it when I ordered was needed for my taste, as well as some gherkins which I got from the condiments counter. I couldn’t complain with the chips and the Camden Hells was as inoffensive as the rest of the meal.

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But that’s just the thing, whilst the no frills approach may appeal to eaters of beef, a veggie burger sometimes needs a bit innovation to separate itself from the norm. The burger was good, yes. But as I write this there is no overwhelming memory or emotion that I can recall from eating my burger. The place is cool, don’t get me wrong. Everything from the tunes playing, to the boardgames on offer, to the bearded, tattooed Icelandic burger chefs, makes it fun place to eat a burger on Friday night. All it needs is a slightly better veggie burger. Maybe I’ll leave it to one burger in a day the next time I consider doubling up.

VEGGIE BURGER RATINGS: 6/10 

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

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Big Easy

Despite the fact that quite a few of my friends are vegetarians, the reality is that most – as is the way of the world – are not. What this leads to is on certain social events, for example a friend’s birthday, plans for dinner may be made at not the most enticing places for a vegetarian to go. Some might say that they even are the antithesis of what one would want, but being the good vegetarian friend you are, you grit your teeth and bare it. Never have I not gone to a friend’s birthday because the menu was too meaty – I did once not get invited to one of my best mate’s birthdays because he was going to an Argentinian steak restaurant, but that’s another story for another day – but an invite to Big Easy brought me close. A visit to a lobster and steak restaurant stinking to high-heaven of barbecue sauce is not my ideal, but luckily, after an extensive search of the online menu, I spotted it – the little (v) – alongside the veggie burger.

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The Spicy Black Bean Burger, which comes with chips and slaw included in the price, fits in to the theme of the restaurant in terms of size, if not on the flavours supposedly on show alone. The burger, as a construction, was huge – a thick, crispy bean burger with whole black beans punctuating the patty. The massive burger is dwarfed in comparison by it’s bun, big and bready, both combining to make more than a handful. To round off the ensemble and complete the tenuous link to the southern-US themed, rest of the menu, there is a relatively tiny bit of avocado, pickles and chipotle mayo. Unfortunately the burger wasn’t very moist. The sheer size of it meant that the regular fate of the bean burger (good texture but ultimately too dry) was amplified. The disproportionate amount of other fillings compared to the gigantic bun only accentuated this effect. Whilst the chips and the slaw were tasty in their own right it was, ironically, the aforementioned barbecue sauce that saved the burger, both in flavour and moistness.

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Whilst I would normally avoid places like this like the plague – they sometimes feel like a (obviously inadvertedly) massive F-you to my vegetarianism – I will keep going to them if invited. The atmosphere of the restaurant was cool, and it was packed out for a Sunday evening, all the diners there to enjoy the experience as well as the food. The unfortunate truth is that the world has not quite fully opened it’s arms to vegetarianism. And whilst I feel that Big Easy has done well enough to include one veggie option on their menu, it barely scratches the surface in terms of the amount of effort they have put into the rest of their menu. It doesn’t matter though, because as long as I have friends who eat meat, I will come, and as long as they serve veggie burgers, I will come.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 4.5/10

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

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J.D. Wetherspoon

When I started this noble quest a few months ago there was never any remit which stated that I could only go to gourmet or trendy burger restaurants in the posher or hipper corners of London. No, the point of the blog is (*checks about this blog section*) to eat and review the veggie options in places that sell burgers, and compare to them in relation to what I know, namely other veggie burgers. Like it or not, Wetherspoon’s falls into that category and it is as much my duty to try out their veggie option as any of the ‘pulled-porkeries‘ or ‘meat-chiceries‘ (Matty, V., 2015) in Marylebone or Shoreditch. The chosen drinking hole in question was the Montagu Pyke on Charring Cross Road in Soho.

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The Pub, which backs onto Greek Street, is a former music venue and, due to its location, attracts a large crowd which leads to some sort of character and atmosphere not found at most Spoon’s. Also – presumably to due to its location in the heart of the West End – it has a much larger array of beers on tap than the usual spoons, and the prices, annoyingly, reflect that. The menu is much the same as you’ll come across in all other spoons – the burger menu split into classic and gourmet sections which, through various combinations, make up about nine different burgers. The only outwardly veggie options is the aptly named ‘vegetable burger’, but I decided since the difference in cost was negligible I needed to go gourmet. On closer inspection the Mexican burger – which comes with cheese, salsa, guac and fresh chili, as well as three onion rings in the bun(! – due to it’s gourmet moniker) – had the option of having the vegetable burger as its centrepiece.

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The veggie burger patty (after I removed it from it’s unappetising looking sesame bun – lent rules still in play) was crispy and flavoursome – it avoided the generic veggie burger taste that you might associate with your usual home-brand, out-of-the-packet variety – but certainly wasn’t smashing through any culinary boundaries. The guacamole, although perfectly smooth, along with the chilli added a zing which cut through all fried elements and the cheese, was pretty bog standard, but worked nonetheless. The smattering of lettuce and onion which the burger rested on, and the pot of salsa added some much needed freshness, and another layer of crunch.

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The thing about Wetherspoon’s is that you know what your getting. Cheap but edible food, straight out the freezer into the fryer and then onto your plate. You can walk into any Spoon’s in the country and be served the same meal. Yes, the guacamole was highlighter green and the consistency of tahini but that’s only a side effect of the amount of processes it’s been through, and yes, the cheese was perfectly square, but the bottom line – and the uncomfortable truth – is that I actually quite enjoyed my meal. What’s more is that it was so cheap. My burger including chips and pint of Brewdog lager (which I bought again after the burger for £4.25) came to £8.29! I will say this though; it’s probably the only burger you’ll eat that’s better without the bun.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 6/10

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

The Breakfast Club

The first thing that comes to your head when you think of The Breakfast Club (aside from the excellent 1980s coming-of-age movie) will most likely be breakfast. Many might be surprised that there is another opportunity to eat at the restaurant that doesn’t include eating eggs and/or standing outside, queuing in the cold nursing a hangover on a Sunday morning. The Breakfast Club does actually serve lunch and dinner and for those who can resist ordering from the ‘Late Late Breakfast’ section the main cuisine on offer is *drum roll*….. burgers!

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Another thing that the people might not know about TBC is that their Soho restaurant is BYOB. This makes it a great place to start relatively boozy birthday celebrations – the reason that I was there. With drinks sorted, my attention switched to the menu where there are five burgers on offer, one vegetarian (don’t let the Mushroom & Swiss burger fool you) – the Don’t Have a Cow, which consists of butternut squash and halloumi stack, topped with avocado, sour cream and Sriracha hot chilli sauce. With lent still in full-flow, my bread-less torment continued so I ordered it and waited for my beautifully disassembled burger – skin-on chips and ‘slaw included – to arrive.

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The burger itself was presented as nicely as it could have been, almost fully disassembled on the plate. The only thing that remained as it would have been in the bunned-burger was the stack, two donut ringed slices of roasted butternut squash on either side of a few thick chunks of halloumi. The other contents of the burger were placed neatly around the stacked centrepiece creating a colourful array of delights ready for me to tuck into. When I did, I was actually reasonably disappointed. Whilst the butternut squash and halloumi worked well together, the butternut squash felt too thin and the halloumi too thick. What this meant was that the thin, soft butternut squash didnt really register, whilst the halloumi dominated – which I didn’t mind at all – but was a bit squeaky on the old gnashers. The avocado was a bit timid and ended up being washed out by the huge dollop of sour cream next to it, the lettuce, as well, missed any serious crunch. The Sriracha, I ended up using as a dip for the skin-onchips – which were pretty tasty – and the coleslaw was nice and flavoursome too. The sides ended up becoming the most enjoyable part of the dish (which isn’t a good sign!)

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The Breakfast club, with its vast array of unique and filling brunches, comes up short when on the veggie burger. The argument could be made that because it was missing the bun it didn’t work but I don’t think that putting it all together in a bun would have made it any better. A burger’s patty or centrepiece should be able to hold it’s own, bun or no bun, and when the booze is flowing – as it is in the TBC’s BYOB soho restaurant – the flavours need to stand out more than ever.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 5.5/10

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

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Patty & Bun

Meeting up with some North West London-based mates gave me a reason to shift my Easton London-centric burger hunt to the West-end. If Shoreditch is the heart of East London’s burger scene, then Marylebone is the same for the West. Of all the joints in this densely burger-populated area, Patty & Bun seems to be the name on everybody’s lips. From what I’ve heard, they seem to focus on what is most important of all, making sure their burgers are something to behold, so I had to see if their veggie burger was up to scratch.

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Even early on a Tuesday evening, Patty & Bun has a small queue out the front which could only be a good sign. Their restaurant on James St – one of two in London – seats about 30 covers, so when we were seated as a three we were squeezed round a two seater table, the distance to the next table somewhere between cosy and intimate. The menu boasts an impressive looking and sounding list of six burgers (one vegetarian) as well as some specials on the board. The Portobello ‘Dig It’ Mushroom burger looked interesting enough, (not that I had a choice to make!) but what I found unusual was the lack of hot veggie sides. Only the rosemary chips were available, and even they come in a non-vegetarian option – with chicken salt. There is coleslaw and salad available but both effectively come in the burger, so it was a Dig It burger with chips for me (and every other veggie in the house).

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My gripes were swiftly forgotten when the burger arrived, though. Oh my, what a burger! The Dig It burger puts a unique spin on the tried but tested ‘shroom burger by making it a ‘mushroom fritter’ – essentially making it a giant breaded mushroom. Breaded mushrooms are delicious in any form but when one’s freshly made and consists of the juiciest and most flavoursome mushroom of them all, then you have something special on (in) your hands. The first bite into this thing is one experience I will cherish for a long time, the first sensation is the flavour burst from the mushroom itself, then comes the waves of the cheese, the tarragon mayo, the herby garlic butter all being cut through by the fresh coleslaw on the base of the perfectly-sized, glazed brioche bun (which held together until the very last bite). The colours that dripped out of the burger, mixed with the ketchup, mayo and bloody tasty house hot-sauce that I had with my chips onto the paper wrapping – or should I say canvas – that the burger came in, resembled that of an impressionist painting, but at Patty & Bun, the chefs are the artists.

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I did have a few qualms about P&B though and it’s not just concerning the lack of veggie food to choose from. First of all, there is no beer on tap, only small cans or bottles, which just isn’t the same as a freshly poured pint. Secondly, I’m still not overly enamoured with the whole everything-in-paper vibe, sometimes it’s nice to have a plate. Lastly though, and most importantly was the fact that I felt like we were being rushed through our meal. There is a fine line between good service and feeling hurried, and I felt they were just the wrong side of it. Coupled with the fact that we weren’t allowed to be seated until our whole party of three had arrived, we ended up being seated, served, fed and paid up in just over half an hour. However, it’s clear that the reason for this is because demand for what Patty & Bun serve up is so high. In this burger game, one thing is always going to guarantee the return custom, and that’s damn good burgers.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 9.5/10

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

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