Bloomsbury. Hotels at every turn.
So many, in fact, that you trip over their inhabitants meandering through the streets and pavements with oversized wheeled luggage. The only places more populous are university buildings, for an array of different colleges of various brick colours. We swear we passed a menacing group of roll-sleeved RADA freshers finger-snapping on a street corner, making sure no marauding UCL Civil Engineers were invading their turf.
It’s a virtual venus flytrap of potential revenue for any corporate food serving establishment. Heretofore, many a visitor has been bedazzled by such cultural gems as the ‘London Pub’ and ‘Poppodom Express’, or fallen into chain restaurant sinkhole, the Brunswick Centre.
So, to say that Burger and Shake is well located is an understatement: it is going to fucking rake it in from fast-food deprived American tourists alone.
The interior of this snug bistro-cum-diner; with it’s tiled walls, deco-ish lighting and simple furnishings, is modest and inoffensive. Like a budget Automat.
The menu echoes the decor in it’s simplicity, with just three burgers to choose from. Refeshingly uncomplicated. Upon further perusal, a wry grin is shared at the fact that the ‘house burger’ was the only one not to contain ‘house sauce’.
The cheeseburger arrived; pretty, but small. The six ouncer boast coming as a bit of a surprise. The bun was cushiony, bouncing back delightfully upon generous onslaughts of prodding, with a rich, milky sweetness. The American cheese was brilliantly sticky and gloopy in equal measure, congealed to a patty that boasted pinkness surrounded by a nice MEATliquor-esque crust.
But like the 100-1 shot you stupidly put that fiver on last week, it gets off to a roaring start, but loses momentum quickly. The meat had very little taste and lacked seasoning, especially in what you would hope to be a salty, flavourful crust. The house sauce merely acted as a thin, tangless mayo lubricant. Mixed in with the shredded lettuce, the two became a sort of limp, inoffensive coleslaw. As in taste, it also lacked in volume, leaving it all a touch dry. Even the pickles lacked, well, pickliness. It was ok, but you found yourself forgetting about it whilst eating it.
As I shamelssly papped away, the waitress placed a House Burger down for my compadre announcing “This is the one you want to be taking a picture of, it’s got bacon in it.” She’s fucking lucky we didn’t, as the bacon was flabby and undercooked, leaving chewy, fatty streaks across it like ‘back bacon cooked at a dodgy Holiday Inn breakfast buffet’1. Desperately unappealing.
Eight wings arrived jointed, a pleasant blessing, but making the menu description of four/eight a needlessly baffling and financially unpalatable option. Vibrantly orange, the sauce was instantly recognisable as a Franks Xtra Hot/butter mix (helped by the fact that there was a bottle of it on the table next to us): classically tangy, spicy and rich, just like we make at home. We munched through them with occasional mouth-airing aplomb.
Painstakingly deliberate and detailed study has gone into the hatching of Burger & Shake. The name is a simplistic mashup of Shake Shack Steak ‘n Shake on the one hand, and more obviously the much closer (for now) Burger & Lobster. The Lobster Roll on the menu hits this comparison home, as does its price, which is identical.
Rare indeed it is that we talk about actual prices and turn in a review during opening weeks.
It seems no coincidence that the hamburger and cheeseburger weigh in at exactly the same as Byron’s offerings. Like, to the fucking penny. The enamel bowls delivering the wings and fries look like they’ve been smuggled out of Byron, Honest, Pitt Cue and MEATLiquor. The hard shakes… well, you get the general gist.
The money behind B&S have attempted to reproduce all the popular elements, without capturing the essence of what makes a good burger and burger joint.
Even the doltish pre-launch copywriting of ‘sexy burgers’ and ‘triumphant hot dogs’ reeked of branding agency oversteer. Which is a shame, because a little less slavish facsimile and a bit more genuine vision could really steer this place in the right direction.
As if it matters though: Bloomsbury is the barrel in which many potential burger-eating fish lay and, if nothing else, the safe, innocuous B&S will welcome them with arms wide open.
Maybe if this had opened a year or two ago we’d have liked it more.
Times have moved on. Quality has gone up.
It’s sobering how very close can sometimes be so very far away.
- Now that we’re facing multiple burger openings every other week, we felt it was worth getting this one out on time, so to speak.
- Dan also thought it “looked like a public toilet by the sea in Majorca”. Bit harsh, Dan. ↩
Even the doltish pre-launch copywriting of ‘sexy burgers’ and ‘triumphant hot dogs’ reeked of branding agency oversteer…