Friday, 15 August 2014

Ham Holy Burger, John Lewis Oxford Street

So, you're a restaurateur and you want to open a burger bar. Well, of course you do - everyone does; even the really useless ones are making a fortune, and the good ones have them queueing down the street. You could just pick a name off the shelf like "burger bones" or "dirty patty", put together a selection of craft beer and salads for the non-meat-eaters, sit back and watch the money roll in.

But where's the fun in that? No, what you need is a USP, a reason for people to talk about your burger bar over any other. You could try and make the best burger in London, but let's face it, you're never going to beat MeatLiquor or Patty & Bun on the food front so that's a non-starter.

"I know!" said the Rossopomodoro managers, who are bankrolling this new burger operation because, well, they can - "How about we have people order off iPads placed on each table? It'll mean we'll need fewer staff, any wrong items will be the customers' fault, and it'll give the kiddies something to play with between screaming and throwing their food on the floor".

"Brilliant! Let's do it."

And so it came to pass that I and a friend were sat in the corner of the kitchen department of the Oxford Street John Lewis, having the operation of the Ham Holy Burger iPad app explained to us at great length by a member of staff who, had he not been saddled with such a task, may have been making himself useful with such old-fashioned pursuits as, oh, I don't know, asking us what we wanted to eat then bringing it.

Eventually he left us to it, and we half-heartedly browsed the list of house burgers. The standard "Holyburger" comes with cucumber, no pickles, and no cheese, but would have to do as a control variable. We also ordered a "Youthburger", in which, to test the "substitutions" option on the app, we had swapped out the dreaded rocket for lettuce. A glass of wine, a bottle of Italian craft beer, all fairly straightforward to add to the bill as well. Until we realised we'd like a couple of glasses of tapwater, at which point the shortcomings of a fully electronic ordering system became apparent - water wasn't on the menu.

Staff weren't hard to get hold of, and we didn't stay waterless for long, but it does beg the question, if the iPad doesn't solve any problem that needs solving, in fact if in most cases it made the ordering process more long-winded, what's the bloody point? What are you really achieving?

Anyway, the food. "Fries chips"[sic] were, in fact, what us British call crisps, something perhaps would have been clearer if we'd asked for "chips" from a human as opposed to an iPad app written by an Italian. They were OK, served with a watery tomato dip and some commodity mayonnaise, but not exactly a bargain for £4.

Burgers were, well, fine if you'd set your expecations sufficiently low, which by this point we very much had. The Holyburger was underseasoned, underpowered and desperately needed both pickles to cut through the sweet bun and some cheese to season the meat, but it was nicely pink and easy enough to eat even if once you had done it completely removed itself from the memory banks.

The Youthburger (I think that's what it was anyway; the menu exists in various different forms across the website, app and in print) was very slightly more flavoursome thanks to some salty slivers of fried parmesan and cured ham, but still suffered from that same problem of being a collection of "gourmet" Italian ingredients coerced into a format that didn't do any of them justice. I can sort of see what they were trying to do; the crispy cheese trying to add texture as well as flavour; the ham standing in for bacon; but it just didn't work. Attempting to re-invent the burger from the top down with silly rustic ingredients is what got us into this whole horrible "gourmet burger" mess in the first place. The most successful burgers, such as MeatLiquor or Patty & Bun, work because they stick with what makes a good burger (seared beef, melty cheese, pickles, ketchup, mustard) and try and make the best version of that they possibly can. Simply emptying the contents of an Italian deli into a brioche bun is somehow simultaneously an insult to Italian and American food cultures.

You can't pay the bill via the iPad app. Perhaps that's the idea eventually but for now we had to do it the old fashioned, tried and tested way, and were presented with a piece of paper with what we'd ordered listed on it (just over £40). You wonder whether whoever's idea it was to do away with the nice, friendly human touch really had the customer's best interests in mind - service is just as much a part of any dining experience as the food; having a room full of iPads with the stated intention of making Ham Holy Burger as impersonal and depressing as possible says very worrying things about your attitude to hospitality.

So I protested in the most obvious way I could think of. I took a photo of myself, set it as the background wallpaper, and then password protected the iPad so they couldn't change it. That'll teach them.


Ham Holy Burger on Urbanspoon


- said...

Ha, all seems vaguely ridiculous. Also, expensive, no?

Andrew said...

Looks shit Chris, and reminds me of another place doing this kind of codsbollocks, the Thirsty Bear pub.

I actually went to the Thirsty Bear to watch England play Uruguay in the World Cup earlier this summer, the have iPads fixed to the table and taps on each table dispensing chemically-enhanced-urinal-run-off like strongbow and stella. The iPad magically tots up how much you've spent - it's a bit like playing candy crush but more addictive because pressing buttons gets you pissed off your brain, more fun than reaching level 412 of a pointless game with fake boiled sweets.

ANYWAY my point is, if there is a point to this at all, that while we were watching England vs Ukraine there were many large tables of white shirted wonkpats who probably claim they work in the city but no doubt do something in insurance or auditing shouting expletives at a referee in Brazil. I didn't tell them how pointless it is to call a man 28,000 miles a way a cheating c*nt, but I felt like it.

At some point in the second half England scored. Much jubilation. Men in white chirrs stand on chairs and hump the fetid air before their crotch and then order 16 jagerbombs on the instant gratification iPad machine like lab rats fixing for another mechanically administered dose of heroin.

BUT HAHAHA the iPad is connected to a person behind a bar who has to read, and pour and navigate a busy pub and probably have a fag and a chat first. So the Jagerbombs arrive just as Luis Suarez scores the winner.

16 jagerbombs to drown your sorrows you stupid chumpwaffles. Wrap a larsons & jennings round that and stick it up your powder keg.

IT was poetry. Pure poetry. And is in a very ineloquent comment the reason why I think iPads are both a good and bad idea in restaurants/pubs/etc.

Great gag with the password lock. As Eric Cantona might say "Très drôle"

SarahC said...

Strange how John Lewis (one of my very favourite shops) really doesn't get it about food, whether it's this nonsense or their usually rather shambolic and fairly overpriced in house cafes. Odd, for a company that gets it so right so often.
Not tempted by this, although in principle not averse to the ipad ordering idea if it works well.

Hollow Legs said...

HAHAHAHA. Brilliant.

Also, 2 sandwiches, 2 drinks and a packet of crisps for £40. You got done, dude.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Andrew. Thandrew.

Mark said...

Brilliant sign-off though - perhaps we should crowdsource an attack and do it all of the iPads and shut them down!

Only joking but you have to admit it would be fun.

Anonymous said...

Don't really see how buggering up someone's Ipad is a reasonable response for not liking someone's cooking. Makes you look like a bit of a prick non?

Chris Pople said...

Anonymous: Of all the things I've done that could have me labelled a prick, I think temporarily inconveniencing the owner of an iPad must rank fairly low down the list.

There are far worse things I could have done. I've never lapsed into pretentious French at the end of an anonymous trolly comment on a food blog, for example, so I do have that going for me.

Anonymous said...

Ha, Poople calling other people pretentious.

And yeah, messing with their iPad is what an arrogant prick like you would think is "crazy".

Winerackd said...

C-train.... did you very comically terrorise the eye-pad because of the cooking or because of the eye-paddyness of the whole experience, oui?

Chris Pople said...

Anon: Are you just upset because it was you had to factory-reset it after I left? If so, sorry. But if it makes you feel any better, I doubt you'll be working there much longer.

Winerackd: It wasn't the food so much as the idea they could do away with normal service for the alienating and awkward business of ordering via iPad. It was a sort of protest.

Winerackd said...

I feel sorry for the eye pads who work there

Anonymous said...

Hi Chris I don't work for John Lewis and do enjoy your blog but it was a bit of cunt move to mess with the iPad settings.

If it was the person who came up with the whole concept who had to fix the iPad then I can see how you might get enjoyment from it. But instead it will be probably the wait staff having to deal with it. It struck me no different then people who gloat about leaving a 1p tip on a huge bill because they had an issue with the meal.

I think Joe Warwick was right when he said your head is disappearing further up your arse each year.

Anonymous said...

God I didn't even have to read this review only look at the pictures to tell that wasn't a good burger. What are John Lewis thinking?! Why are they trying to enter a market already full with affordable great options - maybe they should have focused on something a bit more niche. Also why have they put Sloth from The Goonies as their iPad background?! Not exactly appetising!!

Hatch said...

If they didn't want their iPad settings messed about with they should have done a proper job and had the iPads set up so users can only access the menu and Safari, it's easy enough to do and the fact that they didn't bother only says to me that they're half-arsed about their own concept.

A worthy protest and one I'll never get to try myself, as I wouldn't go anywhere near this cynical posh supermarket cafe. £6.95 for a 33cl bottle of beer? Behave!

Anonymous said...

I've always thought you were a prick but have to give 100% respect for the iPad effort. Very very well played.

Alex C said...

I've seen the concept work pretty well in Japan, in bars where they have little walled off sections with tables dug into the floor. You tap in anything you want into a non-iPad thingy, and it duly arrives with none of the going to the bar or looking around for a waitress required. If you're too pissed or Luddite to use it there is a simple button you can attract attention, for simple, old fashioned and ever so friendly service. Most terrifying is a tap at your table that dispenses beer on a silent meter, so you can have as much as you like whenever you like, which seems awesome till the bill arrives.

Anonymous said...

I love what you did with the ipad. Clearly several people disagree but I find it hilarious and wish I'd thought of that.

Unknown said...

So if a restaurant has an issue with one of your reviews and, for the sake of argument, hacks your blog, you think that's fair enough?

If you didn't like a gimmick at somewhere more salubrious, or credible in the industry, I somehow doubt you would do something similar

Chris Pople said...

John Smith: If I left the password for my blog on the front page, then yes, it would be "fair enough".

Anonymous said...

I fail to see how you regard a comment on buggering someones Ipad up as "Trolling"? maybe you spent too long thinking up a vaguely witty retort that completely swerved the whole point of the message - who knows.

I'm sure you and your alcoholic pseudo "I write like I'm down wiv the kids" fellow blogger had good laugh though. Bravo.

Oh and comments like this to anon people "Are you just upset because it was you had to factory-reset it after I left? If so, sorry. But if it makes you feel any better, I doubt you'll be working there much longer."

Really, are you that arrogant?

You mentioned in an interview earlier this year, and I'm quoting directly - "No plans to quit the day job, and no sign of writing becoming lucrative enough to live on."

Remember that when the people that read your blog decide that you're an arrogant prick.

Chris Pople said...

Anon: It was a prank, a little joke on a blog post. As it happens, I had a change of heart and unlocked it before leaving because, though I still think ordering on iPads is a stupid, impersonal gimmick, I didn't want to inconvenience anyone too much.

As for the wider charge of arrogance, all I can say is that I haven't changed a single thing about the way I go about things since the my first ever blog post. The only difference is now SOME people give a shit, whereas back then, nobody did.

It's all just a bit of theatre, you know. It's not important. It's a food blog. Nobody died.

Anonymous said...

I think your reviews are bang on and read because your not up your own arse,genuine,informative and occasionally quite witty

Anonymous said...

restaurant bloggers're total cunts at the best of times, but it's nice to see you're pushing back the boundaries. twat.