Understatement alert: Americans have something of a bad rep when it comes to invasions. But you cannot deny that the latest influx of American burger chains has added even more depth to the already burgeoning scene in London and the rest of these beloved Isles, regardless of how enthusiastic or maligned your opinion of them may be.
KNOWLEDGE BOMB - The UK has almost as many Five Guys per square mile as the US (UK - one per 3,243mi², US - one per 3.193mi²)
Five Guys and Shake Shack led the first wave of the invasion with the former executing a meaty Manifest Destiny approach to expansion by opening a noggin-boggling 29 stores in two years, gracing such obviously auspicious locations as Ashton-under-Lyne. And Harlow.
And the second wave is beginning: With Smashburger heading over soon spearheaded by a dude called Tim*, in the mean time L.A. chain Fatburger has just opened the glass portal at its first store. And this lot have some big fucking stones too, as it is in Camden - next door to Byron, two doors down from whiners The Diner, and around the corner from Honesty B's. There are so many places to eat a beef bun you could rename this place 'Burgden Town', AMIRITE? If you wanted a more ballsy inaugural location you'd be hard pressed to find it (unless you opened next to Five Guys in Harlow).
Fatburger works in the Look-like-McDonald's-but-act-slightly-like-a-restaurant places where you order up at the counter and then your food is brought to you, or 'fast-casual' if you want to use the official moniker. This looks exactly like all the ones in the States we have been to: one wall showcased all the exotic places they are located, red and yellow panels line the ceiling, seating is basic fast food stuff with a couple of booths at the back. Standard.
A double with 'The Works' is reassuring in its classic American-ness. The condimental triplet of American mustard, mayo and relish contribute the sharp-sweet-rich amalgam that is fondly familiar. The shards of onions, masses of lettuce and thick lumps of pickle dispense that mouthful of crunch, rawness and piquant tang around the soft, unremarkable smashed patties there more as savoury texture than something to flavour focus on.
You'll need a double. There is no point ordering the single here as the meat easily gets swallowed amongst a colossus of toppings and bun, which is soft, sweet and shiny but a tad too substantial. And you need to add cheese, the gooey sticky binding of ingredients it provides is always more satisfying. And thus you achieve a competent effort with a familiar make up.
There will be inevitable comparisons with Five Guys, and fair enough, they do similar things: You order in the same way; 'The Works' here is 'All The Way' there and the flavour profile is largely identical; you can add and subtract pretty much any ingredient you want, some of which are free and some extra. In a contest it is close, with Five Guys edging it with better patties and foil-steamed messiness.
In an embrace of the American way of combining fast food places, because who doesn't want to have Taco Bell and KFC in the same place (one bite Double Down to one bite Crunchwrap Supreme - the dream), this unit shares the space with wingslinger Buffalo's Cafe. So of course we tried some.
The frankly insane number of sauces is off-putting, but the 'hot' is the go to classic buffalo - with decent heat and sweet piquant flavour, but lack of quantity. The accompanying blue cheese sauce had a strange Ranchy-like sweetness to it . The wings themselves were fucking embarrassing though - tiny, malnourished tiddle-fingers with more bone than meat that made the accompanying carrots more protein-laden. The boneless were more gratifying, not massive but a solid coating with moist meat.
The disappointment continued with the miniature portion of curly fries which was undercooked, and not in the awesome floppy, squishy way. The thorough cajun covering on another portion improved them no end.
Comedy of errors
The biggest let down, uncharacteristic of an imported American chain, was the comical mismanagement. Only one server slowly took orders for an ever lengthening queue, and other staff were experts at ignoring it. The trademark hollering of the orders from server to kitchen were there, but they were recited back with the vigour and memory retention of an indifferent classroom. Every order was questioned, leaving cooked burgers languishing in front of the dressing station while the dressers tried to figure out what the fuck had to be put on them. Even after the server took our buddy's receipt back to the kitchen to show what toppings his order needed, his burger still came out missing one. And that was after time too.
Training had not, it seems, been rigorous.
Five Guys and its subsequent success has seemingly laid the benchmark for dollar/pound equivalence in pricing of The American burger in London, and the ensuing unhappiness amongst some. But this is the new era in which we live, and we must embrace it. It comes with the crushing realisation that the two chains we really want to come over the most, In-n-Out and White Castle, just aren't going to. And so our out-of-nowhere uncontrollable bouts of sobbing will continue.
*Coincidentally, this is the guy who had a hand in bringing both Shack Shack and Five Guys over here and, if his Twitter account is anything to go by, was employed for a time last year by Midwestern burgermakers Steak n Shake in an effort to launch them in the UK market. Conspiracy, or just lucky dude?