Wednesday, 5 December 2012
Pity the poor vowel. One minute London can't get enough of you (Mamounia, Kua 'Aina, er... Umu?), the next you find yourself at the wrong end of restaurant naming trends and you're dropped like last season's truffles. Smart Piccadilly bar DSTRKT was one of the first to go 100% consonant, then followed STK (a "female-friendly" steakhouse whatever the hell that means) in Aldwych, and now we have BRGR in Soho, joining an increasingly competitive (to say the least) market for gourmet burgers.
It's easy to eyeroll and grumble about yet another new burger place but actually, unless you're one of those tedious contrarians who will deny yourself any number of nice meals for fear of having anything so traumatic as the same opinion as someone else, who cares how many burger bars, or chicken shops, or ramen joints we end up with as long as they're good. And it's perhaps because so many new restaurants in London have been so astonishingly good in recent months that I'm afraid BRGR's offering seems a bit... crap.
That's not to say there aren't things to like about the place. Only Soho restaurants can get away with squeezing so many tables into such a small room (or rather rooms - there are two), but the low ceilings and open kitchen create a nice bustling atmosphere and the staff are all as cheery and smiley as you'd hope for in a business in its first full week of trading. I perched on a stool in the window and ordered from the depressingly large menu. And it wasn't long before my "6oz Gourmet Signature BRGR" arrived.
This strange, flat thing, looking like it had accidentally been sat on, cost £9.85 if you include the gruyère cheese and jalapeño options (the basic burger comes without cheese). The meat was cooked precisely medium-rare but was surprisingly bland considering this was supposedly the premium blend, and though the cheese was properly melted it didn't taste of anything more than supermarket cheddar. The bun was good though, a glazed, gently-sweet brioche that held firm to the last bite.
Onion rings, though, were a disaster. They tasted of nothing, and when I say nothing I mean absolutely nothing - they were completely devoid of any organic flavour whatsoever, like rings of baked sand. The little cheese dip they arrived with was inoffensive - it at least felt like it had come from planet earth - but nothing could have made those rings worth eating. They would have been expensive at any price but at £3.95 they were an insult, and an Oreo milkshake also for £3.95 was fine but about half the size of the one that Byron charge the same for.
As the second cynical, lazy proto-chain attempting to ride London's current food obsessions to success I've had the misfortune of eating at in the space of a month, I hope that BRGR isn't around for too much longer; I hope it fails. But the rules that govern which restaurants do well and which don't are far too complex for an armchair pundit like me to predict. Look at poor old North Road, which this week went into administration despite the kind of critical reception many places would kill for, and St John Hotel which seems to be struggling not long after winning a Michelin star itself. So who knows if BRGR will survive. All I can tell you is there are better burgers to eat within spitting distance, and if BRGR think they deserve a spot in amongst the likes of MeatLiquor, Patty & Bun, Lucky Chip et all, they're out of their FCKNG minds.
Someone has pointed out that the onion rings are £2.95 on the bill, not £3.95 as they were on the menu. Either way, that's either £2.95 or £3.95 too much.