Thursday, 23 August 2012
Dirty Burger, Kentish Town
There's a fair amount of huffing and tutting amongst street food purists whenever an established restaurant or company launches a mobile van. If you've bought into the whole independent, counter-cultural ethos of queuing in the rain for your lunch then the idea that some faceless corporation can buy their way into direct competition without spending years building up a rabidly loyal following could, I suppose, be quite irritating.
But if the food's still good, what's the problem? Byron's mobile shack serves burgers just as good as any of their restaurants (which are very good indeed), Wahaca's taco van is actually only the natural next step for somewhere that only ever claimed to make "Mexican street food" in the first place, and now we have Dirty Burger from the guys behind Pizza East, operating in true street food fashion out of a converted shipping container in the car park in Kentish Town.
And Dirty Burger is very good as well, I'm pleased to say. The menu is short, in fact outside of breakfast hours there's literally just the one main course option - a cheeseburger, and very reasonably priced, the burger being £5.50 and a side of crinkle-cut fries or onion fries an extra £2.50. It's all served well wrapped-up in a branded paper bag and greaseproof paper whether you are going to eat it in the industrial-chic premises or not, and indeed plenty of people from the surrounding area, builders from a site at the bottom of the road and various office workers, seemed to be taking advantage of this and had their burgers to go.
I don't know how many people out there are desperate for a forensic analysis of a cheeseburger, so I'll try and be brief, but it's probably worth pointing out why, though very good indeed, this just falls short of the very best in London. Firstly, I noticed the mince was stored in drawers in the kitchen, pre-divided into neat little cubes. I can understand why, of course - for consistency of burger shape and to save time during service - but they looked rather unappetisingly grey thanks to exposure to air and there's probably a reason MeatWagon (the van at least) tear their mince from a large block as and when needed. Perhaps due to this then, or maybe just down to a leaner mince, the beef was slightly on the dry side and didn't have a huge amount of flavour. Also, although well melted (thank God) I hardly need to tell you that good old American Yellow would have been a better cheese choice than the strangely bland Cheddar-a-like seen here.
But! But. With a good kick of mustard mayo, a subtle layer of sliced pickles, a very nice slice of tomato (first time I've ever been able to say that in this country, I'd like to know where they get theirs from) and - most impressive of all - a firm, glossy bun that held its shape until the very last bite despite a river of tomato juice spilling out with every bite, the burger as a whole worked. It's a great size, not too tall or too wide, the ingredients packed neatly inside (thanks to the takeaway packaging) and with every element weighted perfectly. Ironically, then, for something called a Dirty Burger it's perhaps the least messy of any of the "new wave" London burgers to eat, and certainly compared to the Day-Glo Americana of MeatLiquor or Lucky Chip, one of the more conservative. But it is impossible not to enjoy the process of eating it - and enjoy it I most certainly did.
I also enjoyed a portion of wonderfully crunchy crinkle-cut fries. A million miles away from the depressingly uniform style you may have seen elsewhere, these were golden brown and charmingly irregular, full of flavour and dangerously addictive. To say they're the best crinkle-cut fries I've had in this country isn't much of a compliment, so I'll just say that a visit to Dirty Burger would be wasted without a side of these little beauties.
It's a testament to the staggering pace of improvement in London burgers that even so recently as a couple of years ago Dirty Burger may have enjoyed a position at the top of the tree. That there are now a tiny handful of outlets doing this thing very slightly better, though, doesn't mean that it's still not very much worth the journey to NW5 - for £8 you still get a lunch worth grinning about, and if you're lucky enough to live or work in the area you should feel very smug indeed. And if you're a street food pedant and you've already decided to boycott the place based on the fact it's run by the Soho House group, well, it's your loss. I'm sure they will do very well regardless.
I visited Dirty Burger during soft opening, and everything was 50% off.