Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Honest Burgers, Brixton


Three or four years ago I used to work in Brixton, in a strange, bohemian loft-office above a furniture workshop on Saltoun Road. I liked that arrangement, at least for a while - the commute was just one bus from Battersea, meaning I could save a fortune on tube fares, and there were plenty of really interesting (if not always 100% safe) options for after-work drinking. What wasn't quite as easy, at that time, was lunch - there was a very worthy (and very expensive) organic cafe on Coldharbour Lane which did a BLT sandwich for the best part of a tenner, a smattering of Japanese places that while not brilliant were at least reliably OK, and a strange place called Satay Bar whose confused menu of Japanese, Indonesian and Chinese "things on sticks" played second fiddle to a sickly cocktail list. I'm probably exaggerating slightly - there were a few more and probably better places to eat, but options were certainly limited.



How times have changed. Brixton market, sorry "Village", used to be a weird area full of strip-lit halal butchers, mobile phone accessory stalls and greengrocers selling massive yams and baskets of giant African land snails. And in fact, to a degree, it still is. But now, in amongst the odd stubborn clinger-on from the early days are an astonishing number and variety of smart food outlets. Marina O'Loughlin has already given a far more eloquent and comprehensive summary of what you can find there than I ever could, but everything she says is true - it is a wonderful little place for a wander, and I spotted at least a good half dozen exciting ways of spending my lunch money. This time though, and like so many other times in my life, my money - and my mind - were on one thing - a burger.


Honest Burgers is an artfully designed little place, and despite having space for no more than a handful of people it feels airy and comfortable rather than cramped. I hardly ever talk about interior design, through a killer combination of apathy and blinkered food-autism, but Honest Burgers is really nicely done, all solid wooden furniture and Spuntino-style hanging lightbulbs. The menu is short - another massive pro point in my book - and straightforward, just chicken or beef burgers in a couple of different styles. And it all seemed very good value too - £6.50 is a great price for a mid-range burger, especially when you consider it comes with chips, which are often extra elsewhere.


This, though, is the Honest Burger itself (£8), their flagship offering. Inside a glossy (if ever so slightly crumbly) brioche bun is an aggressively seasoned beef patty (cooked from raw mince pressed by hand onto the hot plate) under not-quite-melted cheddar, sweet red onion chutney, sliced (and excellent) pickles, some token lettuce and a nice crisp layer of streaky bacon. And it was good. Not brilliant, but good - great textures, juicy beef, probably a cut above the standard Byron burger for example, and for the same money, although Byron have already hit back with their Uncle Sam, a take on the traditional US cheeseburger and also featuring a brioche bun. I could harp on about the problems with the Honest Burger - I'm not sure onion chutney has any place in a burger, and the bits of cheddar that hadn't melted were rather cloying and overpowering - but really, it was a solid, enjoyable, and yes, honest, effort. Rosemary-salted triple-cooked chips were top notch though, all crunchy and twisted like calamari.


The problem, in fact the only real problem that Honest Burgers have, is the continued existence of a mobile fast food van currently operating out of the kitchens of a Peckham pub. You're probably sick to death of me going on about the Meatwagon, but comparisons are inevitable due to the very similar cooking methods (I think I even saw them use a cloche to melt the cheese onto the beef, although not to steam the bun) and however much I'd like to judge Honest Burgers on their own terms, the fact is, Meatwagon do this kind of thing better. I ate my Honest burger thinking about how I'd like to see the pasty cheddar replaced with Kraft cheese, to lose the chutney, to add a bit of ketchup and French's mustard. And perhaps with a firmer, greasy sourdough bun instead of the crumbly brioche. And then I realised, what I actually want is a Meatwagon. Honest Burgers, simultaneously to their great credit and sad detriment, have created a product that evokes memories of better things without quite the sparkle and - let's face it - black magic that others have managed. But you know what, it's still a good burger and you can still do worse. So, good luck to 'em.

7/10

Honest Burgers on Urbanspoon

17 comments:

DevonEmma said...

What's a klosh please?

Chris said...

DevonEmma: Sorry, that was a placeholder spelling I forgot to update! I meant "cloche" (now fixed). A cloche is an upturned metal (or glass) bowl with a handle to steam things on a hotplate.

Sid Miller said...

Where do I find this meatwagon you speak of, next time I'm in London I think I'll try and hunt it out.

Chris said...

Sid: Currently the Meatwagon is in residence at the Rye pub in Peckham.

Gregory said...

I confess, I have not been to Meatwagon, Byron, Hache or Honest Burger. But I still really don't get the big infatuation with burger joints.

For me it is something every decent pub should have in it's repertoire and burger joints are also tough if you are with someone with gluten issues.

Don't get me wrong, I often crave a burger and will enjoy crafting a burger myself. I s'pose it also helps that my local (The Landor) also does a decent burger which is probably why I struggle with the concept of travelling across town or waiting ridiculous amounts of time for a burger.

Perhaps I need to hoss it over to Peckham and prove it.

Anonymous said...

Triple cooked chips are great but I find you need to have a slightly thicker cut chip (not a fry) to achieve their key attributes i.e. very crisp outside and fluffy inside - maybe 70% crisp to 30% fluffy middle.

If you try to triple cook a french fry you mostly end up with just really crispy chips all the way through. It's just a picture I'm looking at but those chips look too thin cut for triple cooked - double fried might have been better.

My probably misinformed chip rant aside, the burger looks good. Brixton village does seem to have a lot going on these days.

Andy K said...

If I ever decide to write a food blog I'm going to call it "apathy and food-autism"...

Richard said...

Burgers, BBQ, hot dogs - I am interested (and pleased) in the upturn in good quality US-influence "fast food" (he deliberately writes in brackets. Hopefully fried chicken will follow: how was the fried chicken place I recall you saying you were planning on visiting?

Lizzie said...

I usually find people who said 'I don't get this burger obsession' usually follow up with 'but i've not been to the meatwagon'... I think the meatwagon are obsession-makers.

Alas, they have ruined all other burgers for me in their deliciousness.

Anonymous said...

well im happy that bryons finally done something like that, its abt time. i do love it how in that press release theyre like 'we just had this crazy idea' when surely thats the style of burger that everyones been going on abt for aaaaaaages

The Grubworm said...

It sounds like it's worth a try if I'm down that way. I wonder if Meatwagon, Byron et al are slowly dragging the quality of 'decent' burger joints up. If so, that can only be applauded. Even if we have a long way to go before reaching the level of burgers they serve as a matter of course in the US.

Let's Go Swimming said...

I liked Honest Burgers but I totally agree that the cheese lets down what is an otherwise excellent burger.

Anything other than american cheese has no place in a burger, it just doesn't melt properly and therefore you don't get that lovely gooey cloak around the patty.

I think I just vastly prefer fast food style burgers to these 'gourmet' varieties.

simonsayseat said...

Gregory in response to your comment regarding gourmet burgers.
I used to think the same thing until i had a medium rare burger.

The extra juiciness of a medium rare burger adds a lot of flavour.

Chris said...

What Lizzie said.

Gregory: "I confess, I have not been to Meatwagon, Byron, Hache or Honest Burger. But I still really don't get the big infatuation with burger joints."

The reason you don't get the infatuation with burger joints is literally because you have never been to any of those places :)

(Particularly Meatwagon. Start there.)

Anonymous said...

Some of us haven't been to the Meatwagon so won't be comparing the burgers. I understand they have revolutionized burgers in London and all that, but it would have been useful to read a bit more about Honest.

Do they grill medium rara as standard? What kind of beef? What's the provenance of the meat in general? Did you only try one burger? Do they all come with onion chutney?

Most of this seems to be you restating your choice in condiments and then talking about the Meatwagon more. You managed to give us this info when you talked about the Hawaiian place in town, why leave it out now? I don't feel like I know that much more about Honest than when I started reading....

Chris said...

Anonymous: Try having a closer look at the menu (2nd picture down), which should answer most of your questions. But yes, I only had one burger and they come medium rare as standard - they don't ask you how you want it.

Matt said...

Brixton was a shit-hole and a hideous place to work.
I'm going to glare at you next time I see you for craving French's "mustard", too.