Red Dog Saloon

Lent has arrived and, although I’m not religious, I see it as an opportunity to diet within an achievable yet challenging timeframe but without having to sheepishly explain why. This year I have given up… no, not burgers, but quite closely linked to that, bread – which you can see clearly affecting my burger eating patterns. I imagine waiting staff at burger restaurants across London thinking ‘what’s the point?’ when I order a ‘naked’ veggie burger. Anyway, I digress. On Shrove Tuesday, with a bread-less forty days on the horizon, I decided it was time to get in one more bunned burger. The honour was bestowed upon Red Dog Saloon.

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Red Dog Saloon on Hoxton Square was my first experience of the ‘brew-n-cue’ cuisine that took over the capital about 6 or 7 years back and, as someone who was raised in a veggie household, it was the first time I had ever heard about pulled-pork. With a very meaty menu you may not think it the ideal stop off for the vegetarian but nestled in the burger list of the menu, you can spot the quite-appetising sounding Spicy-Bean burger. A younger me, with my eyes opened to a new culture, used to find this burger up there with one of my favourites. It was now time to see whether the veggie burger was up to scratch. Because I’d been there before, and was getting the burger on a solo trip I decided to get the burger on collection. Calling up, I was directed to order from their sister restaurant, Red Dog Sandwiches’ website. For some reason they don’t sell the Spicy Bean burger next door so I called back up, where I got an apology as they took my order. With an evening of pancakes in mind, I went for the Wedge Salad (with blue cheese dressing…) as a side.

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I collected my order and went across to the sun-soaked Hoxton Square to enjoy my alfresco lunch. The burger was slightly different to what I remember it looking like. Quite a lot of mayo was on show and I feared that the all the ingredients that made it so appealing before had been left by the wayside. On the first bite however, all my fears evaporated. What the 5-bean and quinoa patty is deliciously moist and well spiced, and is contrasted perfectly with the bed of guac and crunchy gherkin and jalapeño. My initial fear of the mayo overpowering everything else was also banished as it added yet another layer of juiciness to a flavour-packed burger. The salad, on opening, was a bit disappointing as it was 8 quarter chunks of baby-gem lettuce with a little pot of the blue cheese dressing. I wasn’t complaining though as I munched through the crunchy wedges once they had been dressed – the right balance of fresh and cheesy.

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Red Dog Saloon didn’t disappoint. As one of the first burger restaurants that emerged in the now burger-saturated Hoxton/Shoreditch area, Red Dog has stuck to its guns and kept true to its Tex-Mex barbecue theme. Although the menu is overtly meaty, they haven’t shied away from providing a decent vegetarian option. Red Dog was initially one of my favourite burgers in London and I have to say, on this evidence, that isn’t going change anytime soon.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 8.5/10

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

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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

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

Bleecker St. Burger

It’s getting cold this time of year, and the prospect of eating outside isn’t everyone’s ideal when it comes to lunchtime. One thing these wintery climes do crave are some strong flavours, especially some spice to cut through all that yuletide congestion. So naturally when I read that Bleecker St. Burgers put a spicy, east-asian twist on their veggie burger, I jumped at the prospect.

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The Bleecker St. veggie burger is the first soya burger I have tried for the sake of this blog, and the first out and out tofu burger I have had in a long while, if not ever. Vegetarians and meat-eaters alike are skeptical of tofu. As an culinary entity it takes a lot of getting into. This is usually through a case of not knowing how to cook it, or having had a bad experience eating it, of which anyone who has, has. Those who have had a good tofu experience know two things; one, it has normally been fried to provide the best texture, and two, it is usually a conduit for flavour rather than having a distinct one of its own.

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Bleecker St’s burger did just this and I have to say it was a pleasant surprise. Their deep-fried tofu cuboid slice is taken straight out of the deep-fat frier, dunked into a bowl of their buffalo sauce – a sweet, tangy chilly sauce, enhancing the asian feel of their burger – and placed in a toasted sesame bun with american cheese and lettuce. It may have been the cold talking but a bit of mustard didn’t go amiss. The texture of the burger was the most notable aspect of it, the crispiness of the skin of tofu offset by the generally meaty nature of the body as a whole, absorbing all that spicy goodness as it’s bitten into. On the side, I had some ‘mixed fries’ – half sweet potato, half normal – an idea so novel, yet simple in its concept that I don’t know why more places don’t do it. To wash it all down I got a bottle of Bleeker St. Brew Iced-T Lemonade – another half-half concoction – which, although a very interesting and enjoyable drink, was a bit pricey at £3 a bottle.

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Overall I enjoyed my Bleecker St. burger. They claim to bring NYC style burgers to our London streets, but their veggie burger hails more from Kowloon than Manhattan with the flavours on show. For me, the jury’s still out when it comes to Tofu as a burger base. I’m just not sure as to whether it’s a truly innovative attempt at something new and different, or an easy meat-eaters take on what a vegetarian would eat. Ultimately though, the burger was tasty and, really, that’s all that matters.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 7/10

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10

Follow me on twitter: @LdnVeggieBurger

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

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