Friday, June 28, 2013

Ribs & Burgers

Burger reviewed: The Original

Venue: Ribs & Burgers

Date: 9 June 2013

An acclaimed restaurant in Sydney, with stores in Neutral Bay and Star City Casino, Ribs & Burgers (R&B) made its foray into Melbourne in 2012 at the rear of the Northcote Shopping Plaza.  Adjacent to the entrance of the carpark and opposite the local skate park, it was the type of location that you would expect to see a Nandos or a Grill’d franchise and not your flagship Melbourne store. While we might have had our reservations as to the choice of locations, the abundance of young professionals in the apartments above and in the neighbouring townhouses provided a steady flow of patrons to the venue and showed that management have found a niche location.

We settled down at an old wooden table to sample the original burger, which came with a primal cut beef mince patty, grilled, basted and served on a freshly baked sesame seed bun with iceberg lettuce, tomato, Spanish onion, dill pickles and special pink and BBQ sauce.  While we waited for our burger (which came at good speed), it was hard to ignore the fitout of a vintage butcher shop.  Meat mincers adorned the walls, staff wore a traditional blue aprons and the traditional blue & white butchers paper was in plentiful supply.   In discussing the décor, it would be remiss of us to not mention the table number which rivals the Jus Burger toy dinosaur for best table adornment.  The half-pot half-kettle, or pottle for short, was an interesting take on the famous idiom, ‘the pot calling the kettle black’.

It is important if you’re going to put yourself out there to be a butcher, with all the connotations that naturally follow, that you get the core ingredient of the burger – the patty – down pat.  This is where you would ordinarily expect to read: ‘to our disappointment’, but on the contrary.  The flame grilled burger provided a perfectly charred and smokey exterior, yet maintained the tender juiceness that comes when meat is cooked to an ideal medium.  Handmade and cooked to perfection, this pattie is a bona fide contender to rival Rockpool (in my opinion) for the best pattie in the business.  A real pleasure.

We were equally delighted when we read the menu to see that this fantastic specimen of meat was to be accompanied by special pink and BBQ sauce.  Credit to R&B for making the decision to take the path less trodden and shy away from the typical tomato sauce number.  The risk in doing so, however, is that if the alternative is not up to the standard of the generic variety then you open yourself to criticism.  To our disappointment, this was the case.  One of our guests likened the ‘pink’ sauce to an off-the-shelf seafood variety, it was hard to argue with.  It has no place on a burger and was bereft of any real flavor.  The BBQ sauce was more of the sweet variety and while nothing ostensibly wrong with it, a smokier BBQ sauce would’ve complemented the charred burger.  The problem here was the combination of sauces just didn’t work.  Perhaps refine the BBQ sauce and that should be more than enough.

While on the topic of improvements, I am going to touch on one of the culinary faux pas’ that has previously gone undocumented in this blog.  The eye of the tomato.  Although its namesake may bring back fond memories of Rocky Balboa in training before going on to triumph against Apollo Creed, there is nothing to celebrate here.  The tomato is staple ingredient of any burger and goes without the plaudits that it probably deserves.  While it won’t get recognition for what it does right, it certainly draws attention when it goes wrong.  There is nothing worse than when a kitchen tries to stretch a tomato that little bit too far and you’re left munching on the wooden eye which attaches to the vine.  It is the type of cost cutting exercise you would expect to see at Subway.  An innocent mistake in this instance, but a mistake that the best restaurants in town are not going to make.

In contrast, the beer battered chips were an excellent example of the industry wide improvement we have witnessed as to the overall quality of chips.  The standard of ‘chippery’ – the art of frying a chip – has improved remarkably in recent times.  Gone are the days of playing Russian roulette in a McDonald’s queue hoping that you might strike gold with some freshly cooked fries.  Standards have improved for the better and the R&B chips can proudly carry the baton on this front.  The R&B chippery was hard to fault; the chips were freshly cooked, crisp, crunchy and generously seasoned.  If I was to have one criticism, it would be to reiterate that the condiments were lacking.

To digress for a moment and to take a look at something that surfaced on one of the plates of our guests – the old onion ring.  We are creatures of habit at Burger Friday and will not deviate from Burger + Chips, unless out of necessity, so an onion ring is somewhat of a delicacy.  Like the chips, the B&G onions rings were expertly cooked to the point where I fouind myself hovering like a seagull to try and get a second tasting.  It got me thinking, on the lines of process improvement, that the original burger could really benefit from the inclusion of these outstanding onion rings.  The texture, saltiness and bite of the onion ring would just take this burger to a new level.

In light of the patches of brilliance that this burger demonstrated, we are going to christen this burger the Jeffrey Gartlett.  Few players polarize their own supporter base more than Gartlett.  His highlights package is elite, but he has tendencies to go missing for large patches of time and against quality opposition.  If he can iron out the inconsistencies in his performance, he has the potential to be one of the best small forwards in the game.  Equally, the R&B burger has amazing potential but is brought down by a few minor flaws. 

A few tweaks to the accompaniments to the patty – some of the aforementioned onion rings, refine the BBQ sauce and ensure fresh salad – and it will only be a matter of time before patrons visit Northcote Plaza for the sole purpose of sampling the R&B burger.   Don’t let our focus on the areas of improvement curb your enthusiasm for this burger, it is our enthusiasm for the potential of the R&B to compete with Melbourne’s best burgers that drives our constructive criticism.  All things being equal, you will struggle to find a better burger in a shopping centre.  Good value at $18 for burger, chips and a coke – would happily go back.

Burger Friday Rating: 39/50

Ribs & Burgers on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 24, 2013

Lord of the Fries

Burger Reviewed: The Original Melbourne 

Venue: Lord of the Fries 

Date: 14/6/2013 

Today the Burger Friday fellows ventured to the hustle and bustle of the corner of Elizabeth St and Flinders St to visit arguably the flagship store of Lord of the Fries (LOTF). 

Having started in 2004, on the back of a group of friends mutual love of fries, LOTF should perhaps be credited with kick starting the food truck revolution in Melbourne. It was LOTF that started in a van driving around the country selling fries, until they eventually graduated to get a permanent spot in the Melbourne city, expanded their menu to include burgers, onion rings and hot dogs, and the rest as they say in the classics is history. 

Since starting, LOTF has crafted itself a nice niche in the Melbourne food industry in that it serves not only vegetarian food, but also Kosher and Halal; which, in the fast food business, is as rare as trying to find a Melbourne supporter during the opening weekend of the ski season. Having eaten our way through pounds of meat on our journey to find burger nirvana, it was nice to be able to change it up by trying a vegetarian burger.

As is the Burger Friday tradition where possible, the fellows had the signature burger, being the Original Melbourne. The Original Melbourne burger comes with a special LOTF burger patty, grated cheese, pickles, onions, lettuce, Belgian mayo, mustard and ketchup on a freshly baked bun. Being a vegetarian burger, we were as clueless as a camel that had inexplicable found itself at the North Pole, but the combination of flavors was what really surprised.

While The triumvirate of sauces on the beautifully crunchy bun was a winner. There is something to be said for the commitment to bake the buns daily, as this really elevated this burger. And the inclusion of mayo, mustard and ketchup went as well together as well as Bob, Jack and Lou used to in the old days on Wide World of Sport. The pickles on the burger were provided a bit of tang to the burger. The grated cheese was plentiful and provided some bite and texture, but I think the burger would have benefitted had the cheese been melted on the burger.  

Talking about texture, it provides a good segue to talk about the patty. Made from a textured vegetable protein, the patty was surprisingly good and a more than reasonable substitute for meat. Undeniably the best judge of any substitute is the blindfold test – would you notice the difference if you were blindfolded – and I would have to imagine there are many late night patrons who have purchased a burger from LOTF with their beer goggles on and have left fully satisfied not knowing that they have actually been dining on a meat substitute.

If I was to have one gripe, it would be that the pattie was perhaps just a little too soft in that it melted into the rest of the burger. I would have liked to have seen something with a little more crispiness/chargrill to it to emphasize its substance and prove that it should be the star of the show.

Talking about stars, the real ones of this show were the ones which the store was named after. Crispy, double fried, and presented with an array of sauces – these were fantastic. Kudos to the Lord on these glorious things.

Overall this was a very tasty burger and would gladly give a few more of the burgers on the menu a crack. While it is the first vegetarian burger we have tried, we were pleasantly surprised (particularly in light of our known carnivorous bias).

In honour of its vegetarian status, I am going to dub the LOTF Burger – the David Zabriskie. Zabriskie is a professional cyclist and also a vegan. He is known for his quirky nature, including singing before stages and the interviews he does with fellow riders in the peloton. Besides all that, he is a very good rider, and practically the Lord of the US time trials, winning the US national title 7 times. The fact that he is a little bit different resonates well with Lord of the Fries and its originality.

If you are a vegetarian, or if you are not, it is worth giving this burger a go as it will definitively open your eyes to some new horizons. Although we advocate burgers are made for a Friday afternoon, we are also fans of a bargain – so why not head down on a Monday afternoon for a LOTF two-for-one special (all Mondays in July – subscribe to their twitter account for other deals) and try something a little different.

Burger Friday rating: 32/50

Lord of the Fries on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 21, 2013

Mr Burger

Burger Reviewed: Mr Meat

Venue: Mr Burger CBD - 428 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne 

Date: 7/6/2013

Today the Burger Friday fellows ventured to Little Bourke St to visit the new permanent home of the infamous food truck Mr Burger. Whilst the food truck market in Melbourne has blossomed like a colt on spell in a good paddock, Mr Burger has now set up permanent digs to complement its growing fleet of burger kitchens on wheels. 

If you haven’t heard about the array of food trucks proliferating Melbourne’s northern suburbs in a new location each evening, you might have as well been living under a rock. Serving various cuisines, the Fellows have sampled a few of the burgers served up by a couple of these trucks and not once been disappointed. The Mr Burger truck is no exception and it was with great excitement when we learnt that they had decided to stop permanently in one spot.

Located outside the famed Queen Street legal chambers, in what was previously the Chaplin bar, the venue chosen by Mr Burger is barely larger than what would be found in a food truck. But that certainly did stop a long line of eager burger lovers queuing out the door when we had arrived on a brisk Melbourne Friday.

Whilst the size of the menu, with just 3 burgers on it (the aptly named Mr Burger, Mr Meat and Mr Veg burgers), chips and drinks, echoed the diminutive venue, it would be easy to write off this place as being a one trick pony. And to be honest you should. BUT, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The ability to serve a simple menu and do it damn well is a primary reason for why food trucks are making a killing. Let’s call this the Ray Allen principle in honour of the famed three point shooter. When you can be a master of one, you do not need to be a jack of all.

The burger we had today was the Mr Meat. Whilst our usual preference is to have the signature burger of the venue which in this case would be the Mr Burger, we thought that it would only be fair in light of our burger rating system which scores points for the inclusion of bacon to sample the Mr Meat burger. While the Mr Meat may be the second burger listed on the menu, it has a fair case to argue that it is the superior. One fellow likened it the Scott Pendlebury to the Mr Burgers Nick Maxwell. Whilst this probably undersells the quality of the Mr Burger, as both burgers are exceptional, its hard to argue on paper with the pedigree.

The Mr Meat comes with a hand made juicy meat pattie, butter lettuce, crispy bacon, caramelised onions, pickles, bbq sauce, mayonnaise and topped with a whole heap of oozing American cheese on a soft bun. As can be seen from the photo, the burger literally oozes. This burger was juicy, almost to its fault. Fortunately the foil wrapping of the burger was able to assist in keeping the juiciness of this burger in control.

The pattie was cooked to a beautiful medium rare, but the real star for me was the cheese. Melted onto the pattie as part of the cooking process, this American jack cheese provided both saltiness and savoury. Melting the cheese on the pattie just binds together the burger and ensures each bite combines all the various flavours. All in all the Mr Meat was a delightful burger, deceptively simple and mouth wateringly tasty.

If one criticism was to be forthcoming, it wouldn’t be the burger, but just the periphery, being the lack of any where to sit, and the lack of beers available on the menu. Being a fan of a froth, the selection of soft drinks did not quite hit the spot. And then trying to find a place to eat the Mr Burger, left the Burger Friday fellows wandering the alleys like Brendan Fevola after a big night out. But when you do find a place to park your kester, boy is it worth it.

At under a tenner for the burger and $2 for a small chips, this unpretentious burger is a serious takeaway front runner. In light of its excellent quality, but lack of support from the periphery we are going to dub this burger the Ryan Griffen. Griffen, the Western Bulldogs midfielder, is a genuine jet, who put in another team may have been able to take his game to another level. Similarly perhaps if Mr Burger had some spots to eat, this would be even better. But let’s be honest that is a relatively minor complaint and is not a knock on the burger. The comparatively inexpensive price of the burger would also be of appeal the cash strapped Bulldogs.

If you can chase down a truck, or find the permanent location, do yourself a massive favour and get to Mr Burger now.

Burger Friday Rating: 40.5 

Mr Burger on Urbanspoon

Burger Monster

Burger Reviewed: Hamburger + Cheese and Bacon

Venue: Burger Monster

Date: 24/5/2013

This week the Burger Friday fraternity journeyed into uncharted waters and made the trek down to the Harbour Town shopping centre. Located in Melbourne's infamous Docklands, where tumbleweeds would not be out of place on the best of days, it is fair to say that the ambience surrounding Harbour Town is far from perfect.  Former Victorian Planning Minister, and dual Carlton premiership ruckman, Justin “Harry” Madden has a lot to answer for here.  Sadly, he is more likely to be remembered for his role in approving this desolate shopping district rather than his loping two bounces and goal from fifty (while being chased through the centre of Waverley Park by another of the great dinosaur ruckmen, Shaun Rehn) – well worth a look:

Despite the adversities of its surrounding, for which the BM can take no blame, the BM franchise remains passionate about rekindling the nostalgic memories of the "Great Australian Burger".  It proudly displays its burger mantra (which other venues could learn a thing or two from):

-A Great Australian Burger is a juicy burger that’s cooked on the grill only when you order it.
-The Great Australian Burger originated in the Milk Bar’s and Fish & Chip Shops of the Seventies.
-Australians love a good Burger. And we’re not talking junk food mass produced in a factory.

Against the backdrop (and excitement) of a traditional Aussie burger, we ordered the Hamburger + Cheese & Bacon for a reasonable $7.95; add in small chips and your fish & chip shop-style can of soft drink and the price came to a round $14.

Sure enough, as soon as we ordered the chef threw the pattie on the grill, staying true to the BM values of no pre-made produce. We prayed that this was a sign of things to come.

The burger consisted of a fresh ground beef pattie, tasty cheese, lettuce, tomato, grilled onion, bacon and the BM special sauce.

The bun was a light, thin and pleasantly grilled, with dead horse spread on the bottom and the special sauce on the top. The special sauce was a winner – a somewhat smoky mayonnaise, it provided a nice balance to perfectly charred burger and was in generous supply.

The pattie was all it promised to be, juicy and charred to perfection. Along with its loyal companions of grilled onion and crispy bacon, this was burger was to form and was one of the most Aussie tasting burger we've had so far.  It brought back memories of summer days of throwing a pattie on the BBQ while watching the Aussie Open in 30 degree heat.

With this memory in mind, we must dub this Burger the Wayne "Uncle" Arthur Burger.

During a long-spanning career on the international Tennis tour, Wayne Arthurs portrayed everything that Australian sportspersons strive to stand for. With a never give up attitude, the Aussie battler always left all he had on the court, and despite his shortcomings as a player drew unmatched popularity from the Australian public. Sensationally Uncle Arthurs won his first tour title at the ripe age of 33.

Like Arthurs, the Burger Monster burger portrayed everything we love about Australian sportspersons, albeit in cuisine sense. Notwithstanding the fact that it' still a fair way off our top rated Burgers, we are proud to say we loved the Burger for what it was, a good Aussie feed. We believe with more exposure and time the Australian public will fall in love with this Burger franchise as well.

Burger Friday rating: 34.5/50

Burger Monster on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Maha Restaurant

Burger Reviewed: The Gus

Venue: Maha

Date: 6/6/2013

Today the Burger Friday fellows ventured on a #spicejourney to once again visit Shane Delia’s Maha Restaurant in Bond St, Melbourne.

After wowing the Burger Friday fellows on our previous journey to Maha with an amazing lamb burger (complete with an olive tapenade, prosciutto, freshly grated cheese and a beer included!) we were very excited to be visiting the mysteriously dark middle eastern basement once again.

After dreaming about the lamb burger for weeks on end and knowing it was only a short term special, there was some minor trepidation that perhaps we had seen a deal that was too good to be true and would fall into our distant memories aka John Georgiades. Georgiades, after kicking eight on debut and seven the following week, disappeared into obscurity, playing only a dozen more games for the Bulldogs, leaving AFL fans scratching their heads forever more about what they had witnessed.

But it was with very great pleasure when we discovered that the burger special was back and there was not a chance that Shane Delia was going to be serving up anything less than spectacular and most certainly not Georgiades style one hit wonder.

This time the burger special was with the Gus, a deliciously tasty angus beef burger with some of the most innovative and interesting flavors the fellows have ever tasted on a burger.

Coming on a buttered, toasted and seeded brioche style bun, the Gus burger is a substantial and glorious angus beef pattie, topped with pickled lettuce, onion, coriander and the piece de résistance, smoked bacon mayonnaise. Far from the traditional, beef, cheese, bacon burgers we often see, this deliberate selection of flavours fused seamlessly to create burger synergy.

The beef pattie was beautifully cooked to a juicy medium rare, and just had a melt in the mouth/butter type consistency. As the key ingredient in a burger, the quality of the meat was outstanding and consistent with the attention to detail expected of a hatted restaurant. The accomplishment of being able to cook a pattie as thick as a clenched fist so well should also be applauded.

The pickled lettuce and onion provided both bite and tang, and special mention needs to be made to the smoked bacon mayonnaise. This gave an oozing richness to the burger and provided a salty offset to the savory of the meat pattie.

The Gus burger comes ably accompanied by a 961 Lager, which is European pale lager originating from Lebanon, and was a perfect partner to round out our #spicejourney. And all for only $18, this felt like we got away with stealing game one of an NBA Finals playoff series away from your home court as the massive underdog.

The bold flavours, the quality of the ingredients, the exceptional price tag all combine to make Gus one hell of a great burger.

In honour of the most famous Gus to make his name in the Australian sporting public, I am going to dub this burger the Guus Hiddink. After being appointed the manager of the Australian Socceroos in 2005, Guus took the Australian public on an epic journey, leading through to the World Cup finals. While Guus was a little bit different, not unlike this Gus, he was a winner and the public loved him, even creating slogans such as "No Guus, No Glory", and "Guus for P.M".

In light of that, we highly recommend you get to Maha and experience this burger now, because all the Burger Friday fellows can say is “In Gus We Trust”.

Burger Friday rating: 42.75/50