It takes something really special to thrill us these days. The dull thud of American franchises hitting our shores has tempered our excitement and made us weary. The groups of hungry investors rushing out already-tired concepts and pop-ups has tested our resolve. So when it's worth celebrating, when it's something unique, we get that old rush back.
Patty & Bun was always exciting. From the multiple pop-ups to the West End site, we've always had it right up there as an insta-recommend. But then, in all honesty, we've not been for ages. And that's because there's one element that the original site really lacks: convenience. It has none.
A visit to P&B would require military planning, tenacity and lots of free time before and after to ensure an unstressful meal. And someone would have to procure the sixpack for the queue. But the burgers: always perfectly served in all their saucy glory. Those excellent confit wings. So good. We just didn't go that often, because, ugh, queues, and it's so small and we never got the timing right.
As residents of North-East London, the Liverpool Street location has been intriguing. Same burgers, different concept. One where, instead of the customary drunky McD double-cheese, we could pop in to P&B and nurse a fresh Ari Gold on the way home.
And this is the thing that's new: convenience. It's almost too fucking convenient. Every day, on the way home, it's there. And at that time, there's no queue, plus the whole site has been geared to smash out takeaway burgers as quickly as possible.
Out of the wrapper the burger is an enchanting cacophony of saucy, cheesy mayhem. It is decadently beguiling, and a proper mucky number to pick up.
The first hit in the mouth is the well-seasoned salty crust of the patty. But the foundation of the burger is the outstanding house mayo, credibly the best fucking burger condiment out there: A sound level of sweetness comes paired with a smooth smoky chipotle note in a sloppy, but not runny, consistency.
The mild and chewy, precisely melted cheese which jackets the whole patty and mayo seamlessly intermingle into one another, as do the onions (a tempered hybrid of Street Kitchen's) which add subtle note of pickle. The lettuce adds a tiny bit of crunch while the ketchup bangs out some familiar tangy sweetness underneath.
Once all of this begins to subdue do you get the effect of the bready casing. The brioche is supple, aided by some steaming from its paper incubation, but with an enjoyably rippable crust. It has a satisfying pliable chewiness and is perceptibly Mcdonaldian is in its sweetness, fitting considering there is one fucking opposite. It all bonds together to make an intrinsically sweet but very enjoyable whole.
The different burgers use the Ari's base, but kick it up a notch with their distinctions. Small crunchy chunks of intensely salty bacon (which can be added to the Ari) come in the Smokey Robinson, along with a huge helping of thick, gooey caramelised onions. A solid yin and yang. The Jose Jose gets its rocks off from the intensely meaty lumps of saucy chorizo (which is a relish in the loosest sense) and an added spicy ketchup ping.
The confit wings have kept their customary thick covering of molasses-heavy sweet barbecue sauce, and are as fall-off-the-bones soft as always. As are the flavourful chunky thighs, enveloped with an equally dense rich and spicy jalapeno gravy.
The transition in the second incarnation of P&B from restaurant to a primarily-functioning takeaway has been seemingly flawless. Ironic considering that, in their sauciness, both the burgers and sides are terribly to-go unfriendly.
Workers of the city: take a spare tie / blouse / shirt / boiler suit. Patty & Bun will up your dry cleaning by a factor of ten.
The service is quick, as is the production of the food, coming in around the ten minute mark or less on each visit. And we have been a lot, considering it has been open for a week and a bit.
It was all going so fucking well.
To pre-cook or to not pre-cook
Then we witnessed the sinniest of cardinal sins. We watched as the grill boss pulled seemingly pre-cooked patties from some escaped-juice sloshed drawers beneath the grillplate.
We looked on, jaws agape, watching the the grill boss effectively steam them back to temperature under a cloche. It was like stumbling across your mate's girlfriend tongue bashing some other dude in a club. Not you P&B, surely not you...
Why would you reheat, and ultimately compromise, already cooked patties? They will never be quite the same. Crucial moisture loss sits at the bottom of those plastic drawers. The freshness of a newly cooked patty instantly dissipates when it gets placed in them. Reports of the sheer volume of numbers to prepare at lunchtime still doesn't warrant this tactic, speed of service cynically achieved. Yet at the time we visited it wasn't even that busy, it seemed needless. Watching the proposal-worthy melted cheese emerge in a slow rising cloud of steam under the cloche suddenly felt hollow.
So a quick back and forth with the management and we were told the following:
- no pre-cooking, the burgers are sealed to start caramelisation then held to temperature in a thermodyne
- then they're finished off to order
So to summarise, searing and resting to temperature does not constitute pre-cooking.
A cursory Google trawl reveals that these drawers under the grill are the Thermodyne system (a device that instantly makes us feel uneasy as it sounds suspiciously like that company in Terminator 2), "designed for slow-cooking, holding and reheating almost any food".
It sounds exactly like the kind of device used to store pre-cooked food right?
Perhaps this is a widely used thing in restaurants, used on a wide variety of foods. But one of the driving forces behind this very website was the fact that we were tired of poor restaurant burgers that had been nuked to within an inch of their lives, or reheated for the oblivious punter. And a founding pillar in the resurgence of the burger is the commitment to making it fresh, on stalls or in open kitchens in front of people, to show it isn't just another restaurant burger.
Maybe we are naive, maybe every restaurant uses them and we don't know it because you can't peer into the kitchen from the pavement outside. This we find really hard to believe though. Please enlighten us, internet.
While the patties were not as juicy on our previous visit, we can honestly say that it didn't diminish the taste that noticeably. But then the flavour wallop of P&B is arguably in the patty's accoutrements.
The sheer convenience and quality of product means we'll probably still be in there five times a week. But we will be requesting a freshly cooked patty. Don't worry, we can always wait for the next train home.
- Simon & Rob.