Brew Dog Camden: London’s best value burger?

The lack of interest in the burgers at London’s Brew Dog bar surprises me, if only because their menu – which also features a small selection of pizzas – was designed by Tim Anderson. Tim was the slightly nutty, totally loveable American Japanophile and craft beer fiend who triumphed on last year’s edition of Masterchef. With sliders. You read that correctly: he won the most prestigious amateur cooking competition in the United Kingdom, neigh the world, with mini-burgers.

They were hardly ordinary sliders, mind, with his tribute to Los Angeles including a German smoked beer to invoke the city’s smog on the palate. It was his ability to create this kind of bizarre gastronomic nostalgia and his madcap but genius deployment of unusual ingredients in even quirkier ways that helped him on his way to becoming the show’s youngest ever winner. So you would think that the prospect of burgers conceived and endorsed by the wacky Wisconsiner, accompanied by some of the finest brews in the land, would have London’s burgerholics flocking to Camden Town faster than Liverpool would reign on their £35m purchase of Andy Carroll.

Yet to date, only Burger Anarchy seems to have launched an investigation into the state of affairs in NW1. Are bloggers and beef patties falling out of love? Hardly. One needs only to witness the rapid evolution of a project like Patty and Bun, which went from pop-up to taxable address in roughly a year, to know that this is a gluttonous liaison with some serious shelf life. The blogospheric neglect is even more surprising because, in more ways than one, it’s a pretty decent burger.

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I’ve munched Brew Dog’s ‘Bad Ass’ burger on two occasions. The first was following a lunchtime knees-up at the new Camden Brewery bar not long ago and was not the most instructive experience to judge by. Not only was I was I gradually becoming over-refreshed, but it’s kind of cruel to pronounce on food after yamming down two Big Apple Hot Dog’s in the sun. So a second bit of ‘research’ was clearly in order and while somewhat surprisingly I hadn’t missed anything too important, I was able to clarify a number of points. The three main ones were: it’s extraordinarily good value, the patty and its accompaniments – especially the sauce – are better than fine, and the bun is absolutely fucking awful.

 In terms of producing the specified cooking level, round two was an improvement – for a thin patty, it was a pretty damn solid medium-rare compared to the alright medium that came out of the kitchen the first time. Everything else was similar and more or less enjoyable. The American cheese was suitably processed without tasting too crap and provided the appropriate smooth texture on top of the beef, thought it could potentially have gone a bit more gooey. Still, I’ll sacrifice a bit of extra ooze on the dairy front in the name of a pink inside any day. Pickles were unremarkable if decently sweet, while iceberg lettuce was as bland as ever but did exactly what it was supposed to, helping provide the crunch. Tomato is an unnecessary augmentation but one that I ultimately like – though I have less time for the inclusion of items not advertised on the menu.

The burger sauce was a minor revelation and brought everything together – with it’s added Punk IPA, it obtained a kind of sweetness that really complimented the acidity present in the coarsely diced onion and reminded me of those carefree days when I ate at McDonalds and thought it the best thing in the world. With this awesome, nostalgic sludge in the backdrop of every bite, things moulded together into a pretty desirable final product – lettuce folding into sauce becoming burger draped with cheese leading to more sauce and finished with the fine chopped onion. Everything more or less pulled its weight in this happy orgy of fast food, except that rotten apple – the bun.

I don’t really know where to begin with these pathetic bits of bread. Cardboard-like and dry with far too many sesame bits on top, the toasting process exasperated everything, especially the ideally characterless seeds that should only ever serve as window dressing – their pronounced nutty taste when browned enhances many a dish, but a burger is scarcely one of then. I’ve struggled to try and identify the reason for these faults and how they conspired to produce such a ghastly final product. I have narrowed it down, I think, to two possibilities. Either the buns were a bit stale and the only way to prolong their life was by way of a toaster – or an oven on grill setting – thereby producing the brittle texture and unwantedly rousing the flavour out of the seeds, or it’s just a really low-quality burger bun to begin with. Which only riles me so much because, again, the rest of the burger wasn’t shabby at all…

Now, I know a thing or two about cheap, mass-produced bread, having beautifully sabotaged my (admittedly inflated) kitchen reputation amongst friends by making sliders with Kingsmill dinner rolls not too long ago, toasting also adding to my misery. In fact, it could be both, which would help to explain why the inside contents of the burger were so unhappy they wanted to leave their casing almost immediately. It wasn’t so much a classic case of the bun being weak and falling apart as it was an unhappy marriage that promptly produced a bitter separation.

The Masterchef champ endorsed burger isn’t at all bad – parts of it are really rather good and there’s some nice touches like how they sever it down the middle cleanly for you, not to mention the beer on offer. Things like these must always be taken into account. But the bun is such an essential part of burgernomics it’s mind-boggling that they seem to have got it so wrong. The absurdly low pricing -– you can hardly piss in the street in London for £4.95 anymore and you can easily spend a lot more in rank chains – means I would order it again, probably specifying an untoasted bun so as to get to the bottom of this mystery once and for all. Failing that, it would be a case of employing Dan Young’s BYOB (bring your own bun) policy and while I appreciate that it’s very much a bar burger and so not suited to some on trend glazed artisan sourdough brioche deal, anything would be a better home for it than this. As burger buns go, it could only be less appealing if it was served at Feltham Young Offender’s Institute.

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