Five of London’s best burgers, one dessert, one free Brewdog beer and one warehouse in Hackney full of good music and fellow foodie hipsters. Obviously, this wasn’t an event that we were going to miss out on.
Five burgers in one night is a huge feat for anyone that’s not Adam Richman, even if the burgers in question are half the size of usual. So we decided to make our stomachs as empty and wanting as we possibly could beforehand. Breakfast at 10am was a flapjack and a cup of tea, then we traveled to Golders Green (a lovely park with some animals in North London, top left corner of Hampstead Heath) to walk our way diagonally across Hampstead Heath to Gospel Oak overground station. It was a beautiful, unusually warm and sunny March afternoon and this was probably the best possible way to make the most of it. The wild and shady forests of the West Heath made way for open green expanses and lakes of East Heath, and the views of the City from Parliament Hill were spectacular. But I wouldn’t recommend trying to do this walk fuelled by just a flapjack — I really felt quite faint with hunger by the time we reached Gospel Oak at 3.30pm!
How do you know an event in London is of the hipster variety? First, it’s in East London (most likely Hackney) and second, there is a huge queue to enter (and further queues once you’re in). Luckily, we are accustomed to such traditions — not to mention willing to do anything for amazing food. So we walked the 15 minutes from Gospel Oak station to the Hackney Studios warehouse and dutifully joined the long queue to get into the building, the unctuous grilled-meat smoke emanating from the building just about sustaining us through the perilously low blood sugar. At the front of the queue, a good 15 minutes later, we were given stickers, wristbands, free beer tokens and the precious booklets containing the tokens to exchange for burgers. It was time to fill our desperate stomachs.
Before I begin, some points should be noted for the sake of fairness:
1. The order in which we ate the burgers was dictated entirely by which stalls were open (Wild Game Co. and Mother Flipper were not yet open when we arrived) and which queues were shortest. And the queues became VERY long — so much so that they snaked around the room and ran into one another.
2. As my stomach became fuller and my hunger subsided, the burgers sadly became less desirable to me. I have tried to be objective in my reviews, but it’s inevitable that the further-down reviews may be less favourable due to the fact I struggled to eat the later burgers from Burger Craft and Mother Flipper! (But it’s your own fault Mother Flipper — we would have eaten your burger first if only you’d been open when we arrived! 😉 )
STREET KITCHEN @streetkitchen
BURGER: Buffalo Bill — well-aged beef patty, soft lettuce, pickled red onions, stokes ketchup, smokey grain mustard mayo, toasted brioche bun
TASTE: Served in a neat wrapped half, this was a remarkably easy burger to eat. The first thing I noticed was the beautiful contrast between the tangy mustard mayo and the sweet pickled red onions, just delicious. The patty was a good medium thickness, medium in colour and very tasty, without overshadowing the burger’s other flavours. All contained within delicate round lettuce leaves and toasted but squidgy brioche. A really lovely and well-balanced collection of flavours, with an overarching sweetness that delighted my tastebuds.
HONEST BURGERS @honestburgers
BURGER: Brewburger — beef patty, ‘5am Saint’ candied bacon, comte cheese, ‘Punk IPA’ and beef dripping onions, ‘Paradox’ BBQ sauce, pickled cucumber, glazed bun
TASTE: This was an adorable little slider, based around a thick round patty served medium-rare and very juicy. On top of this was a gorgeous thick wodge of flavoursome comte cheese – this absolutely made the burger for me. Juicy beef and rich cheese were complemented perfectly with sweet slimy onions, a very slight tang from the pickled cucumber, crispy candied bacon and a thin coating of tasty barbecue sauce, slightly beery in flavour. The burger’s enrichment with beer was only slightly noticeable to me, by no means a dominating flavour. The adorably tiny brioche bun was soft and yielding, rather exacerbating the high-piled burger’s messiness. But sticky fingers are a small price to pay for a burger this delicious, with so many rich flavours to savour. Despite it’s cute appearance, this was a truly sinful burger with a whole lot going on inside it.
WILD GAME CO. @wildgameco
BURGER: WGC Classic — venison patty, caramelised onions, melted gouda cheese, crispy bacon, redcurrant jelly, dijon mustard, toasted brioche bun
TASTE: Too large to be a slider, this burger seemed larger than the other ‘half’ portions. The brioche bun was toasted more than the others, giving it a wholemealy taste. This combined with the well-done venison patty to result in a gamey, almost nutty flavour, noticeably less sweet and juicy than the other burgers. The creamy gouda cheese was my favourite part, in fact I would have liked more of it! Besides the surprise of a whole, skinned cherry tomato hid in there (a welcome explosion of juiciness), no other flavours stood out to me. A shame, because I’d been looking forward to the redcurrant jelly! To me, this burger tasted ‘healthier’ than the other burgers; this is not what I look for in a burger.
BURGER CRAFT @burger_craft
BURGER: The Juicy Bastard — two beef patties, double american cheese, lambs lettuce, tomato, smokey BBQ sauce, brioche bun
TASTE: Another half burger, but served very differently: side down on a ‘china’ paper plate. This gave it a fun ‘work of art’ appearance! True to its name, this burger was VERY juicy and saucy, making it impossible to eat without becoming slathered in juice and sauce yourself. What really stood out to me was the sauce created through the creamy, gooey american cheese melting into the tomato salsa — totally finger-lickingly decadent. However, the two medium beef patties proved too much beef for me, and rather overwhelmed the other flavours. The little bit of lambs lettuce I did notice was peppery, adding to the beefiness rather than contrasting with it a sweeter lettuce would. The brioche bun was very soft, easily falling apart. This was a simpler burger suited perfectly to lovers of beef and cheese, but too one-track for my tastes.
MOTHER FLIPPER @motherflipperuk
BURGER: Double candy bacon flipper — two beef patties, bacon fried in maple syrup, lettuce, red onion, dill pickle, american cheese, ketchup and mustard
TASTE: Taking the form of slider, piled high with contents, this burger fell apart almost immediately. A combination of grease, meat juices and sauce began dripping (almost pouring) out of it the moment you picked it up, making this the messiest burger of all without question! The two beef patties in here were the rarest yet, darkly charred on the outside and bright pink on the inside, which after all the beef I’d consumed already wasn’t especially appetising. What really stood out was the candied bacon, which through its maple syrup treatment had become sweet, hard and chewy — more like toffee than meat! This burger also had the most salad of any other, contributing a welcome freshness and tanginess to the rich, sweet and meaty mess on top of it. Overall this burger had many different flavours to enjoy, but for me personally the beef was too plentiful and too rare, and the burger overall too wet. Probably a dream come true for many burger fans! I think I definitely would have enjoyed this burger much more had it been the first I’d eaten, rather than the last.
And for dessert…
CUPCAKES AND SHHHT @cupcakesnshhht
BURGER: Veggie burger — A tiny ‘burger’ made of yellow and brown spongecake, cream frosting and jam; joined by a few cookie ‘fries’
TASTE: There was also an option with tiny bits of bacon added, but after the meat marathon I’d just completed I had to opt for the veggie option. I also have to confess that I couldn’t eat it that night, instead taking it home (in a little box shaped like one for a takeaway burger!) to eat this morning. Funny how something that seemed impossible to eat last night now seemed cruelly too small! Though little more than a mouthful, this ‘burger’ was truly a delight: moist, almost sticky sponge stuck together with creamy frosting and a little raspberry jam; followed by sweet, chewy, cookie-texture batons with a slightly vanilla/apple flavour. And its cute and deceptive appearance definitely contributed to the pleasure of eating it.
DRINKS (because I may as well)
My first drink, the free beer included in the ticket, was Brewdog’s Punk IPA: a fizzy, bright and refreshing India Pale Ale that went great with the rich burgers. That encouraged me to try the other Brewdog on offer, Dogma. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a strong dark ale flavoured with honey and not to my taste at all. For my final drink I decided to try the alcoholic iced tea: this was fizzy and refreshing, with distinct tea and citrus flavours. Very nice.
Thanks to my love of food and fast metabolism, I have a pretty healthy appetite for a petite woman. I can eat a lot in one day, as long as it’s spaced out in small portions. So I knew that Burgerfest would be a challenge, and it was. The first two burgers went down a treat, the third slightly less so, the fourth and fifth were admittedly a struggle (after a few initial bites, I left most of the patty and ate the remaining ingredients). But this is still better than I expected to do! I came away extremely full but very glad to have sampled five of London’s best burgers in one go. In conclusion? It was totally worth it!
All text and photos (c) Juliet Langton, 2014. All rights reserved.