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 d├ęcor, 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

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