The Ship / Wandsworth, London


“The burger is now a star item, not a sorry runner-up to all the ‘proper’ dishes on the mains list…”

After spending about nine hours in The Ship, eating at least three burgers (and much of everything else on the menu) and drinking all the booze you can’t help but get a bit contemplative.

But first things first: that burger. It’s a real looker. Let’s take it all in for a second:

The Ship Cheeseburger
The Ship Cheeseburger Split

The bun is a lovely brioche, baked off-site. It’s fresh, delicately sweet, and holds its contents perfectly well. The beef is excellent. The lineage you would expect and it’s well seasoned on the grill. The most crucial ingredient is the cheese. They’ve taken to melting down blocks of Kraft, adding butter and a few other secret ingredients and reconstituting it into great big slabs. The end result is a thick, clingy layer of yellow joy that leaves no corner of the patty untouched. It’s really superb, and demonstrates attention to detail that most nearby specialist burger restaurants, let alone pubs, can lay claim to.

The burgers are flying out of that open kitchen. A quick glance around the room proves how popular they are. And the fries. God, the fries. They are McDonald’s to the core. Which is funny because there’s a sizeable McD drive-thru at the end of the road. A perfect accompaniment. They still do pub-style hand-cut fries to go with other dishes like the battered cod, so it’s great to see they’ve bothered to accessorise the burger so appropriately.

The chefs at the Ship also churn out brilliance like this rather lovely foie gras and chicken liver parfait:

Foie Gras at The Ship

and this rather inspired scallop with a fennel CLAW that will try to GET YOU:

Scallops at The Ship

Elsewhere on the menu you’ll find pigeon breast, sea bream in Parma ham, Guinea fowl with truffled mash - proper gastro fare. They do a mean Sunday roast. They have enormous riverside barbecues in the summer. The requisite Scotch Egg is a real keeper.

All this proper competition makes the burger even more successful.

It’s a pub we genuinely love, despite it being in stupid Wandsworth. We’re mostly just jealous of those that get to call it their local, and they’re the flipped-collar matching polo shirt brigade for the large part.

The Ship is primarily a Proper Food Pub. The aforementioned attention to detail is resplendent across the whole menu, no matter the time of year. And something interesting did emerge from discussing the burger’s development with manager Oisin, something our burger addiction wouldn’t even allow us to dream of:

Some chefs consider burgers to be a bit beneath them.

And breathe

But when put into that context, especially with gastropubs, things start to make sense. One of two things usually happens:

  1. Chef takes burger seriously, comes up with kick-ass, well-researched sandwich and it becomes a massive menu hit without reducing quality or sheen on the rest of the menu. People travel from far and wide to taste it. Everyone is happy.
  2. Chef begrudgingly churns out lacklustre burger, just because manager says there needs to be one on the menu. It’s a bit shit. Rest of food stays just fine. Burger fans leave disappointed and don’t recommend it to anyone.

So The Ship sits squarely in option one. The burger is great, and will increase long range visits to The Ship. But how many times have we come across number two? All those purveyors of pork belly who spend their research time making amazing things, having to lower themselves to making a hamburger that costs less than a tenner? What a waste of talent!

It’s a sign of the times when so many pubs are adding ill-conceived and poorly executed burgers from reluctant head chefs to their menus. You only need to look at the reputation of The Ship, or The Admiral Codrington to see what great things can happen in pub kitchens. The burger is now a star item, not a sorry runner-up to all the ‘proper’ dishes on the mains list. They can sit alongside each other perfectly well.

There were even murmurings that The Ship’s meticulous take on the pub burger could be rolled out across the Young’s empire. What a thing that would be.

There are probably countless chefs in London who are waiting for this current wave of burger popularity to just fuck right off. Unsurprisingly, we think a corner has been turned, and that won’t be happening any time soon.

What’s more, anyone that truly loves food and their craft must relish the opportunity to stand out from all that mediocrity.

The Ship certainly does.

  • Simon.
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