BRGR.CO

This summer, Pret a Manger did something novel and exciting. After slowly bringing in more and more veggie options, they have now gone the whole hog (for want of another phrase!) and changed one of their flagship stores, on Broadwick st in Soho, into a vegetarian and vegan only store! The opening happened to land on the same fortnight that I was due to be working in the area – funny how these things work out – and so it would’ve been rude not to at least pop-in.  Three days later, though, with bellies full of tofu salad, paneer and chana wraps, and even cacao nib chocolate pudding, my mind – and stomach – was longing for something that bit more familiar. Of all of Soho’s numerous and diverse lunchtime options there is one place on Wardour street that I myself am amazed I haven’t been to. Until now. Forget a salad, I’d be getting burger and chips from Brgr.co!

The burger joint, originally from Lebanon, looks cool enough, exposed brick walls with a black ceiling purveying a sense of minimal chic to go with their philosophy aka ‘brgrology’, basically some nice words about themselves that they can put on their takeaway boxes. Their USP is something to do with the quality of beef that they use (isn’t that everyone’s), but of course I wasn’t there for that. Of the ten burgers on the menu the one veggie option – unsurprisingly for a restaurant with Lebanese origins – is the Felafel Brgr. I went for this with some sweet potato fries.

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The burger itself was minimal –  a simple patty-shaped felafel made out of broad beans, on bed of lettuce and tomato in a brioche bun. A luminous bed of avocado mayo provided the moisture to the patty, and a bit of zing to compliment the crunchy felafel, which was had a moist and flavoursome middle. Also, due to it’s broad bean base it gave the impression of being a lot greener and fresher than the usual chickpea felafel (I’m still undecided as to which is my favourite, but it was a nice switch up from the norm). The sweet potato fries were crisp and plentiful, and made me think that I probably shouldn’t have had so much fried food on a Tuesday lunchtime. With other side options including parmesan truffle fries, and mac n cheese, maybe I went for the healthiest choice, excluding no side at all of course (I mean…).

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Overall, Brgr.co did provide something different from my escapades to Veggie Pret earlier in the week. The experience, however, was not so novel and exciting as it’s bright green hyped up neighbour. Whilst the felafel burger certainly tickled my tastebuds, and fit in with the Lebanese theme they are so proud of, the rest of the experience was pretty… normal. If the definition of BRGROLOGY refers to a select few who work there, or the entire establishment as industry leaders, I’m afraid neither is true.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 7.5/10

OVERALL RATING: 5/10

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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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East Twenty Bar & Kitchen

I’ve discovered recently that a good way to sample some of the capital’s finer delights for less is to sign up to Time Out offers. Occasionally amongst all the ads for discount yoga classes and west-end shows, an advert pops up for some sort of culinary experience. One that caught my eye recently was a discounted rate to go up Britain’s tallest sculpture and recent addition to East London’s skyline – the ArcelorMittal Orbit tower in the Olympic Park. Always one of for a view, the deal was sweetened much more for me with the ticket price – £20 down from £30 – including a burger and drink at the East Twenty restaurant:

You’ll get the chance to drink in one of the best views in the capital and, with an additional option of a delicious burger and a pint at the East Twenty Bar and Kitchen, you can wash it all down with a nice bit of scoff too.

I could just imagine sitting a top the tower with the whole of London beneath me tucking into a lovely burger and a pint, all for £20! This was an offer that couldn’t be missed.

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Once you actually get up the tower and realise you’re actually miles away from anything apart from the rest of the Olympic site, Victoria Park and the rest of the low-rise sprawl of East London, the second thing you think is: ‘Where is the restaurant?’ to which the answer is ‘Next to the ticket office’. After coming back down to earth in both a metaphorical and physical sense I was then confronted with the less than appealing looking restaurant which fits into the tourist attraction canteen genre at first glance. On closer inspection, though, you notice that menu is actually quite appetising and the veggie burger seems well thought out. Included as part of my ticket, the decision was made easy for me. I opted for a pint of Peroni to go with my veggie burger and fries.

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When the burger came I was pleasantly surprised. The bean burger was massive, served in a toasted sesame bun on a bed of all the usual trimmings and topped with avocado and a tangy relish (chipotle jam). The whole thing barely fit in my hand, but was impressive to look at, to say the least. When I bit into it, my initial reaction was that of a very standard bean burger – a bit on the dry side, under-seasoned – but then flavours that I’m not used to, and – quite frankly – rather enjoyed, started coming through – namely sweetcorn. Even with these new flavours, though, the size of the burger meant that I had become bored of it by the end of the meal. Whilst the Peroni helped me wash it down, my surroundings meant I didn’t really want to hang around.

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On paper (or specifically, email), this seemed like a great way to spend the afternoon. Whether I was mis-sold, didn’t understand the ad properly, or was merely blinded by my excitement at the idea of a attraction-cum-burger offer, I don’t know. What I do know is that ultimately I felt let down. Even if the restaurant was – as it happened – not up the tower, the experience could’ve been saved by a great burger in a welcoming environment. As it was, the disappointments just kept coming – from the view from the tower, right down to the burger – and I was ultimately happy to head back west(-ish).

(All that said – not bad for £20!)

 

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 6/10

OVERALL RATING: 4/10

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The Advisory

The Easter weekend brought a momentous occasion for the relationship of my girlfriend Rach, and I, as finally after over two years together our parents finally met. Another momentous occasion for the both of us, and one which I was slightly more looking forward too was the end of lent and with it, the end of our bread sabbatical. Keen to show Rach’s parents a piece of the local culture, we decided to have our meal at one of Hackney’s many burger joints causing a stir – specifically The Advisory – on Mare street. The Advisory first peaked my interest when I saw it on a list of Time Out’s best burgers in London, but I’d never had a chance to try it out – until now.

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The Advisory’s location on Mare Street is fairly unassuming, away from the main hub around Hackney Town Hall and nearer London Fields station, nestled amongst a few other restaurants and pubs. The restaurant itself is fairly small and, as a result, it’s probably wise to book in advance, which we did. Before we turned our attention to the food menu we had to decide on some drinks. Aside from the beer and wine menu, you are presented with a cocktail menu, and a list of alcoholic shakes. The Vanilla White Russian immediately caught my eye.  A chance to have one of my favourite cocktails in an even more indulgent form, was to good to pass up on. I went for the one veggie option the menu – the sweet potato, halloumi and avocado burger – whilst ignoring the spicy bean burger on the specials menu and, due to their being six of us, went for a selection of the sides including poutine, fries, onion rings, and mac and cauliflower cheese.

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When the burger arrived my first thought was: ‘have we ordered too much?’. This was one of the biggest burgers I have even been served. The fat homemade sweet potato patty with a thick slice of grilled halloumi and a few slices of avocado (as well as the other burger filling usuals) inside a thick brioche bun was certainly something to behold. With my plate filled with sides – minus the poutine, which sadly was made with a meaty gravy – it was time to get stuck in. The patty actually didn’t offer much resistance against my mouth, with the halloumi and gherkin offering a little. What this meant – also partly due to its sheer size – was that the whole thing kind of fell apart in my hand. Flavour-wise the burger was pretty tasty, the sweet potato delicately spiced, with a mixture of seeds and herbs running through, adding a bit more depth to the patty. In terms of sides, the onion rings where made in delightfully light batter, whilst my favourite – hands down – was the mac and cauliflower cheese, if not a bit gluttonous.

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Our family get-together meal was ultimately a success, parent and food-wise. The advisory didn’t quite live up to it’s top burger moniker but it’s certainly not anything to be scoffed at. My dad is a vegetarian too, and he went for the spicy bean burger special, but I think I made the right decision. The end-of-lent-nature may have got to me a bit making me go slightly overboard with food. In fact, I was probably even full by the time the food arrived, having necked half of my deliciously boozy – yet very filling – milkshake. In the end I had to sacrifice something and ironically, after more than a month of craving it, I took the bun off my burger and left the bread on the side as I polished off the finer elements on my plate. There’s always next time, eh?

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VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 7/10

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

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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