While the burger phenom has reached epidemic levels in London and other big cities in the UK, out in the districts they have yet to become so ubiquitous. So opening a half decent trendy burger place in a small town practically guarantees a pretty decent turnover. Naturally when visiting Hastings we coerced the fam into coming to check out the premier (only) burger establishment in St Leonards-on-Sea.
Marine Court is a delight of architecture, as you walk towards it from Hastings you marvel at the fact that some construction pioneers thought it would be a fucking awesome idea to make a building look like a dry docked art deco cruise liner. The parade of shops at the bottom of it is in flux: piecemeal 'regeneration' means derelict stores are intermingled with relative newcomers like Half Man! Half Burger!, like a minute Dalston 6 odd years ago.
We like the cut of HM!HB!s design jib: The logo is simple (You can never have enough exclamation marks!!) and the illustrated tattoo-rockabilly burger mascot is cool as shit. The restaurant is delightfully simple - sparse weird light fittings and nice pendant ones illuminate a dinky plain white space with a few framed concert posters. Add some trendy chairs and it is the just right side of dolled up for us. Nice work.
We hit up the signature Smokestack. The patties and cheese were decent enough: the two discs of meat were cooked to the edge of pinkness and seasoned well, and lavished upon by a bunch of Monterey Jack melted to a volcanic ooze flowing down the beef - pleasing in it's quantity of presence and stringy texture. But neither were the most flavourful. It is the other facets of this burger that excel it.
The self-lauded smoky bacon and onion relish is a hell of a condiment. It is at once intensely sweet with a faint of bitterness, and also warm and savoury from the addition of the onions and bacon, with a smoky edge aftertaste coming from the addition of liquid smoke. It mixes with the beef and cheese to reveal different notes in each bite, a distinctly rich umami vibe. They should bottle this shit.
The bun needs plaudits also. It is impossibly soft, like it should break apart from a harsh stare. But is awesomely robust, staying in tact throughout whilst being almost bao-like spongy, a great host to the stuff inside it. Together they make the burger. Decent sharp American cheese and more depth of meatiness from a better crust on the patties would make this very good indeed.
As sides go, the chilli cheese fries are pretty sweet too. The double cooked fries crazy crispy and the rosemary salt, reminiscent of the Honest fries topping, ups the moreish factor while the chilli has a good warming heat and meaty richness. The coriander and chopped fresh chilis on top border on overkill, but it is a great burger consort.
This is a great neighbourhood space filled up by hipsters and families alike. A real nice vibe and great staff. Yup, St. Leonards has a pretty solid burger joint, for 'The Sticks'.