Berners Tavern / Fitzrovia, London


Pollen Street Social has been on our list pretty much since it opened to kindly reviews. However, the impossibility of getting a decently timed table, lack of a bunned meat menu item, and one of the duos tepid phobia of 'swanky gaffs' had kept us away.

Since then Jason Atherton has opened three more venues, all offering a version of the minced beef sandwich. And so, finally, the reticent one decided to dip a trepidatious toe into the land of ritzy scoff.
 
And it was totally ruddy worth it.

The scene walking into the Tavern is a jaw dropper: the huge, open room is post-Luhrmann grandiose Gatsby glitz.  A single chandelier hangs from an ornate ceiling surrounded by detailed up-lit cornices. Muted colours and low lighting is contrasted by the plastering of decoratively framed artworks on the walls. Modern furniture somehow sits deftly next to an antique design. The only vaguely tavern-like aspect is the echoey barrage of conversations bouncing around the vast space, offering up a strange feeling of communality in an otherwise ostentatious setting.

The cocktail names err dangerously on the side of derisive: The 'Cereal Killer' has Coco Pops milk in it, 'Slap & Pickle' has pickle brine. But shit, if they aren't good. The 'Hipster' is a slightly sweetened tall Old-Fashioned: both tasty beverage and concise social observation. Beers come in heavy pewter tankards, which garner the most bemused attention from other patrons.

The menu offers the contemporary British fare that is promised from the website. The egg, ham and peas is excellent: a soft-centered yet finely-crusted fried duck egg sat next to thin shreds of cured meat with the nicest mild and sweet mushed up peas ever. The perfectly cooked rack of lamb came with a complex subtly spiced and textured couscous that mixed savoury and apricot-tinged sweet bang on.

Burgers are like boybands. Each member brings their own nuance to the group, but a successful one marries them all together neatly so that that octave-raising stool-to-standing moment feels seamless. In most cases though there is always the tone deaf, coke-snorting one that ruins it for everyone else. Then leaves to go solo / do an Iceland advert. The same applies to burgers: if each ingredient works in harmony then a burger is hard to fault, but if the cheese is overpowering or the bun is stale then it spoils it for the rest of the group. The patty would be livid.

This burger is the fucking Backstreet Boys.

Cooked with as much care as the exemplary steaks leaving the kitchen with it, the pink centered patty melts like mallow, so that you find yourself picking bits out to eat by itself. The crust from the searing is the only thing holding the beef together, and cutting it exposes visible gaps from the looseness.

They are visible gaps too in the huge air pockets of the lightly toasted, sturdy but yielding bun which matches the size of the patty neatly. The toppings are simple, yet cleverly executed. Long, warm strands of caramelised onion sit on the bottom bun, a thick chutney-like consistency reminding us a touch of In 'n Out with a flicker more sweetness.  A good wedge of cheese is well melted over chunks of just-brittle crisp bacon and both are topped with the slimmest slices of super moist pickles giving that tart touch.

There are no condiments here. Ballsy. But the burger doesn't need it. The beef, onions and pickles provide the necessary moisture and, in league with the not-overly-salty combo of bacon and cheese, bring a harmonious balance of memorable flavours.

We don't care who you are, where you're from, what you did, as long as you try this. By the looks of it Little Social and Social Eating House offer a similar product.

Knowing Atherton, it should be equally as good.

  • Rob.