Gourmet Burger Kitchen

Back in the LDN and in search once more of a proper burger so I decided to head to one of the stalwarts of the burger game – Gourmet Burger Kitchen. GBK has been around for as long as I remember and their name is synonymous with the success of UK burger restaurants. Boasting over 60 restaurants across the UK (with a fair few of those in London) I found myself at the branch in the O2. There is a sense amongst the burger going folk that although GBK has been around since the beginning, it has been left behind by the new wave of tastier, trendier burgers on the scene. I had to see whether that was the case with the veggie burger.

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The menu strikes you as different from the norm just due to the sheer number of options on the menu. The vegetarian section boasts four different burgers with three different base fillings, but when you take into account that you can switch out any meat patty from any of the other options with a pan fried bean patty then the amount of veggie options increases four-fold. I went for the Californian, the slightly more alternative option of the two bean-patty choices in the veggie section, along with the fries, the blue-cheese ‘slaw and a coke.

The burger at first glimpse looked pretty impressive. A neat-looking, bean patty topped with cheese and smashed avocado – as well as all the usual trimmings – in a toasted sesame bun. The first bite gives the biggest impression of the burger and, unfortunately for this one, my first impression was one of dryness. Even the avocado and the smoked chili mayo failed to add any real moisture, with the cheese not even melted. On the flip-side, the real killer ingredient was the house relish that packed the most punch of the whole meal, and really was the most enjoyable thing in the burger itself. The fries were delightfully thin, and vindicated my decision not to get my usual favourite sweet potato fries, but the ‘slaw just wasn’t cheesy enough.

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The trouble with GBK seems to me that they are going off their outdated reputation alone. It is down to the fact that they have been around the longest, and are the most visible burger chain on the high street, that they can keep going. What this means, however, is that there is an inkling of a reluctance to remain fresh and keep up with the times. The way you have to order and pay up-front at the counter in such a big restaurant with so many staff seems like an old gimmick – and means that ultimately the friendly and helpful staff will often miss out on tips. Also, to use the example of the bean patty (the veggie patty that they offer to swap in in every other combination), to serving something so dry for your main veggie burger when you’ve been around for the best part of 15 years shows that there’s very little being thought about and updated in the kitchen. I can’t speak for the beef or chicken burgers but in these times when burger restaurants are a dime-a-dozen you need to evolve or become extinct.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 4.5/10

OVERALL EXPERIENCE: 5/10

Yeah! Burger

For what is my last burger (probably!) before Christmas, I decided to finally get over to The Star by Hackney Downs to sample the Yeah! Burger special festive menu while there was still a chance before they moved residency. As luck had it, the day my friend and I decided to go just so happened to be Yeah! Burger’s own farewell Christmas party. So some fun was there to be had, with 2-4-1 cocktails, free sliders, and DJs spinning out some tunes throughout the evening.

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With the promise of trays and trays of free sliders being brought out soon, my mate and I decided to go for a couple of sides as appetisers. We shared a plate of special chilli chestnut brussels sprouts as well as a portion of Yeah! fries off the normal, non-festive menu. Those who aren’t a fan of brussels sprouts on their Christmas table would be swiftly converted by this dish, both nutty and spicy in equally subtle measures, with the sprouts fried to give them a crunchy edge and take away from their inherently mushy nature. The Yeah! fries were also easily devoured – slathered in ‘Yeah! sauce’ (essentially burger sauce) – and fried onions. With both of us being vegetarians though and none of the trays of veggie sliders on the horizon it became apparent that we would have to try the full-size burger.

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The Holy Mary – Yeah! Burger’s veggie christmas option – consists of a few chunks of celery granola-topped, slow-roasted beetroot on top a fat slice of baked camembert and lettuce, inside a brioche bun, finished with a fine mist of Negroni spayed over the burger on serving. For inventiveness, this burger scores 10/10. Inside the bun were some flavours, and flavour combinations that I’ve never tried before, let alone inside a burger. For me, though, the burger was lacking smething. Perhaps there wasn’t enough cheese, although my friend’s burger probably had too much cheese and was breaking apart. The reality was that the burger – for want of a better phrase – was just not meaty enough. The beetroot and cheese would have worked great on top of a christmas  flavoured patty to bite into. Everything in the burger worked, and worked together – the celery granola, for example, was delicious – but in the end the burger just needed something more.

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Ultimately, though, I enjoyed my evening. Aided by the 2-4-1 deal on cocktails, me and my mate made our way through the list of celebrity-named drinks whilst the music got better and better – we were even plied with a free glass of rum punch. To cap it all off the the tray of veggie sliders finally came out and we got to try the miniature version of the burger we had already eaten. The additional mini round of burgers, coupled with the extra sides we also ordered, meant that a fun time was had, and it certainly was a great way to cap off the festive burger season. The Christmas menu may be over for now, but I’ll definitely be trying out Yeah! Burger at their new residency at The Star of Kings and look forward to what they’ll be coming up with in the new year.

 

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 7/10

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

Follow me on Twitter: @LdnVeggieBurger

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

Follow me on twitter: @LdnVeggieBurger

Travel Post: Hans Im Glück vs The Flying Shuttle

I have been out of London the past couple of weekends and thought I’d use it as an opportunity to try out the burger scene, both nationally (Suffolk) and internationally (Germany). The two burger eateries I visited are from completely different ends of the restaurant spectrum. The first one I visited was a place called Hans Im Glück (translated as Hans in Luck) in the German city of Cologne. I was over in Cologne for the christmas markets and read about Hans Im Glück in a New York Times article which describes them as serving ‘probably the best burgers on the continent‘ – I couldn’t miss out on that! The following weekend I was up in Suffolk for a different reason, but again a burger caught my eye. The Flying Shuttle in Haverhill – a Marston’s pub – serves a mac n cheese burger as their veggie burger. The only person I know who has tried anything similar is an American, when he was back in America, so this was another opportunity I couldn’t pass up on.

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Walking around in Cologne on the Sunday before the Christmas Markets started, I was shocked at how few places were open and how few people were out on the streets. Therefore, the first thing that struck me about Hans Im Glück was just how busy it was. The aforementioned NY Times article was 2 years old, and you can never really judge just how popular a place will still be – but it was. Very. Even for an early Sunday dinner the place was packed and we had to join a queue to wait for our table, luckily as the only group of two waiting, we got offered some seats quickly. The english menu was brought over and it soon became apparent that there were 10 different veggie burgers to choose from(!) Most, if not all, veggies will understand the excitement/panic this instilled in me as I actually had to make a choice – especially as I may never get to try another one, on another occasion. Out of the four different patties with different topping/flavour combinations I eventually settled on the Heuernte, a walnut patty with blue cheese and sun-dried tomatoes, in a sourdough bun.

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In Suffolk I was presented with no such issue as to what I was going to choose. The Flying Shuttle is one of those places where a party of four could each have a dinner from a different cuisine – my focus was solely on the burger section, there in bold letters – MAC AND CHEESE BURGER – which I ordered with a side of sweet potato fries.

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The burgers themselves were delicious. The Heurente‘s walnut patty was delightfully, subtly nutty and was of perfect consistency – moist enough to not get stuck under your tongue and dry enough to not break apart in your hands. It also felt like it had been pan-fried, rather than deep-fried, which is rare for a home-made veggie patty of any sort. The blue cheese and sun-dried tomatoes worked wonders with the late summer feel of the burger, and if you thought I was missing out on the usually trimmings, they were in there as well, just tucked away underneath. Surprisingly, the Mac and Cheese Burger held together pretty well also. What caught me off guard was how un-sickly it was. At no point during eating it did I think ‘wow, there is a novelty to this, but really it’s gross’. Not too cheesy, nor too liquid, the breadcrumbs giving it a veggie burger feel – I was pleasantly satiated. Sides-wise it’s pretty hard to go wrong with sweet potato fries, but the onion rings were cold by the time I ate them – not great.

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In Cologne, to wash the burger down, I had a cheap pint of Erdinger. Unfortunately I hadn’t grown accustomed to drinking the local Kölch from small glasses yet – as the locals do – but actually drinking Weissbier in Germany felt suitable enough. At The Flying Shuttle they had a few real ales on tap, I settled on the Marston’s own Pedigree Bitter.

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Honestly I think my burger at Hans In Glück was one of the best I’ve ever had, and it sets a benchmark for what a burger restaurant can do when it comes to a veggie burger. Although the menu looked a lot more clogged up than those of the american-style burger joints we have here in London, every burger that came out looked delicious. The Mac and Cheese burger, although also tasty, was a unique thing to try but I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to get it again.

For a vegetarian, the Christmas markets in Cologne offer up surprisingly a lot of veggie fare amongst all the brätwurst and meat-on-a-stick. As flavoursome as the schupfnudeln and the flammekuechen were, the winner of my German foodie sejour – and this international battle of the burgers – was the Heurente at Hans Im Glück.

COLOGNE

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 9/10

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

HAVERHILL

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 7.5/10

OVERALL RATING: 6/10

Dirty Burger

My brother is in town for a few days, down from his first term in uni up at Leeds, so I decided to kill two birds with one stone by catching up with him over a burger. I was looking forward to visiting Dirty Burger because it seems like a place that carries a no-frills vibe about it, but still presumably puts a lot of thought into their short-but-sweet food menu. The restaurant itself, just across the road form Boxpark by Shoreditch High Street station, is more of a take-away spot but they do have a bar running along the outside of the restaurant where you can sit.

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To give an idea of just how short the menu is, Dirty Burger only serves three burgers, of which one is vegetarian.  On the board, the veggie burger held no clues as to what it entailed so I was ordering blind. Unfortunately called the Dirty Cop Out (although I imagine whoever came up with that finds it hilarious) I tried as hard as I could to only refer to is as ‘the veggie burger’. My resistance proved futile, though, as the order was shouted back to the kitchen: ‘One cheeseburger and one Cop Out!’… ha ha. We decided to get one each of the crinkle cut fries and the onion fries – the only two sides availble.

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My first impression of the burger itself was that it was smaller that the usual. Also, just by looking at it I still couldn’t tell what it consisted of. The first thing I noticed was a disk of something hard and fried so I thought maybe a fritter, but on closer inspection (and a peak inside) I realise it was a mushroom covered in fried cheese! Taking a bite into it provided a surprisingly large burst of flavour for something so small. The cheese – smoked applewood – had been fried over and around the mushroom and it certainly packed a punch. A few slices of gherkin and a bunch of rocket were thrown in to counter the grease without much success, but the taste of the rocket worked well with the mushroom.

With the richness of the burger meaning I could only eat it at a bite a time before putting it back down, it was almost comical that the portion sizes and nature of the sides were how they were. Both the crinkle cut fries (double fried) and the onion fries (essentially, straight onion rings) were both delicious at first – especially the onion fries, which were made in a light batter and used red, rather than white, onions – but became harder and harder to face as we got through them. Coupled with the fact that my drink was a milkshake off the specials board (spiced apple and cinnamon – recommended), it quickly became one of the most calorific weekday lunches I’ve ever had.

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Simple, quick and flavoursome, Dirty Burger wasn’t too far away from what I imagined. However, my overriding memory of the experience was constantly having to grab another one of the many napkins they provided to wipe the grease off my fingers. As a lover of cheese, and to some extent grease, this was even a bit too much for me. I can picture it as the perfect late meal to catch on the way home after some afterwork drinks and the simplicity of the menu, and the layout of the restaurant, lends itself to that. Probably not the best spot for lunch then, especially for my poor little bro craving to catch up on his vitamin deficit whilst on his short break for student living.

 

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 6.5/10

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10

Honest Burgers

If you ask people who like burgers to name their favourite burger restaurants, Honest is always one of the names mentioned.I have tried to go to Honest a few times before, but due to ridiculous waiting times – and one time even a power cut – I have never actually eaten there, until now. Date at the cinema with the girlfriend to see Nightcrawler preceded by some delicious burgers – I was excited to say the least.

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Even on a Thursday night at one of their more out-of-the-way restaurants on Pentonville Road in Kings Cross, there was a wait (this time ‘only’ 20 minutes). We used the opportunity to get some drinks and I decided to try the house lager – Honest British Steam Lager – one of only two beers on tap. It’s a good, dark, hoppy lager, the kind you’d expect to get served in such a burger restaurant.

On to the burger, and deviating away from the norm, the Honest vegetarian option is advertised as a fritter rather than the usual patty or bean-burger. The fritter consists of spiced cauliflower, sweetcorn and shallots, and resembles a large vegetable pakora. Presumable made in the same way as a pakora (deep-fried), this delectable delight was neither too dry nor too oily, and was served with a raita-esque sauce – which I felt there could’ve been a bit more of – continuing the asian theme.

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The burger is served in a brioche bun which was a bit on the thick side. Quite often a bun is too small for a normally oversized, and easily broken up patty. But, with the light nature of this fritter, this bun went the other way. The burger comes with rosemary fries included, which were delicious (if not initially a little salty), and cost only £7. On top of that Rach and I shared some smoky-flavoured onion rings and some dilly coleslaw – both slightly different to the standard, but both definite improvements.

One last thing to try was the Honest Cocktail. I’d drank half of my beer in the wait for the table so needed something to cut through the burger and fries towards the end of the meal. This gin, apple juice, cucumber and lemon puree concoction seemed to perfectly fit the bill. Personally, though, it wasn’t to my taste. The cucumber was too overpowering and the drink overall was far too sharp – like taking the subtle parts of a G&T and amplifying them ridiculously. It grew on me as it went down but I’d attribute that to the dilution from the ice.

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What is clear about Honest is that although they experiment with new flavours and ideas, they keep everything simple. Keeping things simple means that they can focus on what they do well and they certainly achieve that. From the stylish decor, to the delightfully light veggie fritter, to the delicious beer, it’s clear why they are always packed out.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 7/10

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

Nando’s

Quite often, at one of the places I work, we go to Nando’s for lunch – which I am a big fan of. You may think it strange for a vegetarian to enjoy going to a speciality chicken restaurant, but then the same could be said for my enjoyment of visiting burger joints. The reason for this is my great appreciation for the Nando’s Veggie burger, one of three vegetarian options on the menu. For this visit though (mainly for the sake of this blog) I decided to break the habit of a lifetime and try the Beanie burger.

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Nando’s used to have a neat little slogan on the veggie section of their menu that read ‘We love vegetarians – all of our chickens were vegetarian!’. Meant facetiously at best, this was a bit of an insensitive dig at the veggie section of the population, especially as their chickens never see the outside and are dead within six weeks – clearly not a lot of love shown there.

Anyway, I digress. The burger – as is often the case with vegetarian fast food – was last to come out of all the food in our party. I ordered it with Peri-Peri chips, and both the burger and chips were separately brought to me, and taken back and different times. The patty looked very artificially formed and resembled a cheap burger-shaped veggie glamorgan sausage that you would get with a fry-up at a greasy spoon. It is probably one of the worst bean burgers I’ve ever had.

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The extra cheese I ordered hadn’t melted and the lettuce and tomato looked like it was from the bottom of the bag. Even the portuguese bun that I normally love somehow seemed unsatisfactory. On top of all that, the peri-peri fries gave me heartburn (although that could have also been the three glasses of coke that I had with it…).

I do like Nando’s, honest. It’s just that this time it wasn’t very enjoyable. Moral of the story: When it comes to places like this, stick to what you know and love, and you won’t be disappointed.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 2/10

OVERALL RATING: 3/10

Giraffe Stop

As selections for a quick dinner on the move go, the recently renovated Kings Cross station has a few of my absolute favourites. Ignoring the likes of Wasabi and Leon for an quick pre-alcohol stomach-lining dinner – mainly for the sake of this blog – I opted for Giraffe’s fast food restaurant option, Giraffe Stop.

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I used to go to Giraffe quite a lot with my family when it first opened up about 15 or so years ago, and the felafel burger has been etched in my memory as an old favourite, and one of those choices one makes before even setting eyes on the menu.

Much to my joy, the felafel burger was still on the menu, called the ‘Felafel Deluxe’, so I duly ordered it. The Giraffe Stop has a sign outside it promoting ‘Fabulous Burgers!’ and have a whopping 9 variations on the menu. However, the Felafel Deluxe was the only veggie one (there’s a fish finger burger on the menu, as well, for those that way inclined) so not much deliberation was needed, which is never normally the case anyway.

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I’ll hold my hand up here, I fucking love felafel – I’ve probably had more felafel than veggie burgers in my time – so I’d like to say that I know a thing or two about them. The flavour and taste of these were unfortunately rather bland and fell into the all-to-regular trap of being quite dry. What was odd as well – and different to the heavenly Giraffe felafel burger of those halcyon days – is that instead of a felafel-formed patty inside the Felafel Deluxe they use individual felafel, which in my eyes defeats the point in having it as a burger in the first place. Needless to say, a fair few soldiers were lost in the journey from bun to mouth.

The rest of the burger itself was a pleasant surprise, aside from the bun, and the red pepper hummus particularly worked well with the felafel. A welcome and unexpected treat (I didn’t full read the menu) was the halloumi which added some much needed saltiness to the burger. The dill-infused pickle also burst with flavour.

To wash it down I got a bottle of the Peruvian beer Cusqueña – a pilsner-type lager similar to mexican beers like Pacifico and Modelo – which went down a treat under the eerie, blue Kings Cross lighting.

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Food and drink aside, with Giraffe Stop being a majority take away restaurant I didn’t expect the best of service, but I felt the guy who served me was strangely robotic to the extent of being rude, and my burger was served in a take away wrapper, rather than a burger basket, even though I told them I was sitting outside.

All in all though, it was a fairly pleasant burger, but I don’t think I’ll be going out of my way to eat here again, especially when a Wasabi tofu curry is waiting for me next door.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 6/10

OVERALL RATING 4/10

Bun & Bar

What better place to start than in my own back yard?

Bun & Bar has been open since the end of August and is one of the latest additions to the Harringay wave of gentrification along Green Lanes. With Live music there on weekend evenings and a generally cool vibe otherwise, it’s quite an enjoyable place to wile away a couple of hours enjoying a few cocktails to go with your burger. It’s a quite a laid back establishment and you have to order at the bar but this adds to the relaxed mood.

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Amazingly, and almost unheard of in the burger restaurant world, Bun & Bar’s burger menu is 1/3 (ONE THIRD) vegetarian. Having sampled the B&B Vegetarian Burger before (which is delicious – especially with a bit of added stilton) I decided to go try the Portobello Veggie Burger.

I’m usually not a fan of a ‘shroom burger as I feel it’s a bit of a cop out for a burger chef who doesn’t want to try their hand at creating a truly tasty veggie patty. As the aforementioned B&B Vegetarian Burger proves, this is not a problem at Bun & Bar so I put my gripe behind me and got stuck in.

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Inside a brioche bun (why change a classic?) the portobello mushroom is served with a large roasted pepper, big slab of goats cheese and B&B yogurt sauce. The mushroom itself was big, juicy and full of flavour, whilst the richness of the goats cheese was counteracted by the pepper and yogurt for a very pleasant overall veggie burger experience.

At Bun & Bar the price of the burger ( < £10 ) includes rosemary fries but you can upgrade to sweet potato fries for only a quid more (although I had to ask for my gherkin!). They have a small but appetising selection of sides – one of which is a so far untried by me, yet delicious looking, slab of mac n cheese. I didn’t go for a cocktail this time but instead opted for a pint of the Crate Pale Ale – an American style, hoppy pale ale, brewed in London – which accompanied the burger perfectly.

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For a new business, out in the relative sticks, Bun & Bar is fairly busy most nights and I can see why: affordable, great burgers and a friendly atmosphere. This wasn’t my first time here, and it certainly won’t be the last!

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 8/10

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10