Monday, 11 January 2010

The Fire Station burger, Waterloo

You will find very few bigger advocates of London dining than this blog. Even 6 years since I moved down from Liverpool I am frequently pleasantly surprised by the variety, skill and passion of London restaurants, if not quite so often by the prices. But it's also fair to say that I spend most of my time thinking about, writing about and organising my life around food and eating out, and with research (and let's face it, borderline obsession) eventually comes a trained eye for a decent menu, a kind of food sixth sense which steers me away from anywhere touristy or chainy or indeed anywhere likely to be mediocre, overpriced or a combination of the two.

But what would your experience of London's restaurants be like if you weren't armed with thorough research? What if, like any number of the millions of tourists London hosts every year, you had nothing to go on other than a nice looking space, somewhere near a major port of entry, with a reassuring menu of modern standards? Can you really blame any hapless tourist for dismissing the food here as rubbish after he or she made the honest mistake of sitting down in the nearest All Bar One or Angus Steakhouse? On Saturday I had a terrifying glimpse into the alternative reality of London dining when, meeting friends for drinks near Waterloo, I fought hard against my better judgement and paid for a "burger" at the Fire Station.

First things first, this was not a cheap burger. At £9.50 it's at what I would call the upper end of acceptable for a sit-down restaurant burger (the superb Hawksmoor burger notwithstanding), and with this price comes a certain weight of expectations - that the meat will be premium, the patty competently cooked, and the sides generous and/or good quality. Any hope that the sides would be any good were dashed with the use of the term "fat chips" on the menu, but what the hell I thought, I can just leave them.


I could probably write a number of paragraphs on why this burger was just so, so awful, but I'll try and keep it brief. The meat, first off, was very odd indeed. It smelled very strongly of raw beef, but slightly stale raw beef, a bit like the whiff outside a closed butchers shop on a Sunday. It was also both dry, as if it had been overcooked, and quite pink, something which should be impossible so perhaps the less I know about how this bizarre effect was produced the better. Salad was nondescript and slathered with far too much cheap mayonnaise, and why they had decided to put the tomato relish in a separate pot I couldn't tell you. But worst of all, the bun - a bland floury bap better suited to a cheese and tomato sandwich than a burger - was so over-toasted it splintered apart on the first bite, rendering both its texture and its purpose as a vehicle for the beef completely unsuitable. And yes, the fat chips were dire - huge, flat, wobbly and reeking of old oil, they slumped across the huge plate like a pod of lugubrious sea lions.

The important thing to remember here is I wasn't going out of my way to find a bad place, I just happened to be with friends somewhere handy and open and near the station, and I ordered some food. And it occurred to me, as my dismal burger in its crispbread bun splintered and shattered into a thousand pieces in my hands, that this is what eating out must be like for a good number of London residents and tourists. If you're not a food obsessive, you won't know that just around the corner is Masters Superfish or the Anchor and Hope and you'll order your crappy £10 burger and hate it and then tell all your friends that London food is rubbish. And that makes me sad.

Way over on the other end of the burger scale, however, better news. Byron Hamburgers, of whose existing product I still have niggles with but are nevertheless well worth their very reasonable price, have teamed up with master butchers O'Shea's of Knightsbridge and produced a brand-new 8oz premium burger. Little details have emerged of this exciting new venture, but it will be available from this Thursday exclusively at the Wardour St, Kings Road, Kensington and Gloucester Road branches and chances are it will be well worth checking out. I'll see you there.

Fire Station 1/10

Thanks to @gastro1 (Dino) for the Byron tipoff

Update 12/01/10: I'm not entirely sure of the difference, but I've been told by Byron that the meat is in fact coming from O'Shea's of Knightsbridge and not Jack O'Shea's. I'm as confused as you...

Fire Station on Urbanspoon

19 comments:

ginandcrumpets said...

I awarded The Fire Station a prize for "Worst Meal and Service In London" several years ago after a dinner there as part of a group of 10.

Some people ordered starters, some didn't. Starters took an hour to arrive, the mains another hour (some nearly two hours) after that. Assembly food, badly cooked. White wine was warm, red wine was chilled, no ice available (huh?) and they still put a service charge on our bill.

When we asked for it to be taken off, the manager came over looking completely perplexed - what had they done wrong, he asked. Er, everything.

I've been dragged back a couple of times by friends for drinks and every time they screw something up. And it's so pretentious. Hate it!

Lizzie said...

Ewwww. That is all.

Mr Noodles said...

Whilst it's great that Byron are blinging up their burger, I think they have a greater need to team up with a master baker as I find their buns are a bit below par.

Manne said...

Work around the corner from there and have colleagues saying the same thing as you and Ginandcrumpets. Would not spend my hard earned money or my time there if avoidable. ;)

Masters Super Fish on the other hand, OMG! Gem.

tehbus said...

I studied in the area and I swear I have only been in the Fire station once in my life. My friends made me and I didn't enjoy paying through my nose for average beer. I guess I am just glad I didn't eat there.

Ibzo said...

Interesting to hear about Byron/Jack O'Shea. Was in there earlier today and had a lengthy discussion with the lads about their favourite burger blends. A few of them favoured the Heston one (brisket, short rib, chuck) but one of them wouldn't reveal his as he said it was too good. Let's hope Byron have gone for that one, eh? Agree with Mr Noodles though that the buns are below par (I'd say downright shoddy) but look forward to the new burger.

Browners said...

Shame on them. Sounds shambolic. And how hard can it be to serve a decent burger?

Philippa said...

I totally agree about Byron, delicous burgers and shame about the bread BUT their service has always been fantastic. I had my first burger at Mess on the King's Road this week - well worth a try.

Greedy Diva said...

We all feel your pain.

DeboraJane said...

Hello, oh I so feel your fury. Burgers are just not that had to do right, and so easy to get amazing. To recover from your experience try my recipe: http://deborajane.wordpress.com/2010/01/07/happiness-burgers/ very straight-forward happiness burgers.

Your Chum Matt said...

A certain company you might have heard of went there for their Christmas meal in 2008. Yay.

Now, a question: Did you complain? And if not - why not?

Helen T said...

Like lugubrious sea lions ranks up there as my favourite food insult of all time!

Chris said...

G&C: None of that surprises me. And yet is so, relentlessly, inexplicably popular. It's depressing.

Noodles/Ibzo/Philippa: Agreed. Why they don't use a brioche bun is beyond me.

Manne: Masters is great. In fact I need to go back ASAP

Matt: I didn't complain, for the same reasons most people don't complain. Didn't want to embarrass anyone, didn't want the fuss, didn't want to make a scene. I refuse to feel guilty about it though, they should have got the damn thing right in the first place.

Helen T: Thanks!

Everyone else: Cheers for the comments guys. If you're ever out round Waterloo just try and avoid it OK? :)

Gourmet Chick said...

Really good point about dining in London as a tourist - you really need to have your wits about you. I think Krista has done a really useful thing for tourists at Londonlicious by listing the best places to eat around Leicester square as that is an area with lots of tourist trap places that actual Londoners don't eat at very much.

Douglas Blyde said...

The o'Shea thing is a very big deal.

Gastro1 said...

I'm afraid I had the mifortune of trying the same poor excuse for a burger some time ago sorry for not warning you maybe we should all pull a list together of really dodgy places.

BTW O'Sheas in Knightbridge will make to order the burger they developed with Heston - you may have seen the programme -

The one developed for Byron is chuck steak based, which I'm told has the right levels of fat in the meat itself - as opposed to added and it's their mainstay free range Perthshire Black Angus beef. The one I had today in Chelsea was perfectly cooked achieving the crusty caremelised exterior - aka Maillard Reaction

Helen said...

I suppose you gave it a 1 out of 10 just because they actually managed to produce food?!

Eva Lai said...

You have my sympathy......

Eva Lai said...

"as my dismal burger in its crispbread bun splintered and shattered into a thousand pieces in my hands"

wow that's rather poetic.