Friday, 5 July 2013

The US burger invasion: An Honest retaliation

Much has been made of the ever growing population of burger joints in London and the much deliberated 'fast food for the middle class'. With select cuts of rare breed beef, medium rare patties, brioche buns and fries doused in rosemary salt are common place, it has really taking off with the most popular places like MeatLiquor, Patty&bun, Honest burgers have hour long plus waiting times. Clearly this trend hasn't escaped the attention of those across the pond with Five Guys opening to align with Independence day, and Shack Shack from NYC, already synonymous with queues, the day after. Oh yes, and they happen to be within 300 metres of each other.
Both couldn't have asked for better burger beating news storm that surrounded George Osbourne and his Byron burger last week, with Five Guys and Shack Shack's openings being named dropped at the drop of a hat in every news article.
But what of the UK response, is there room for another 2 huge burger joints? Honest Burgers got ahead, under the radar, opening another branch this time in Camden Lock Market and hope to open another soon near Kings Cross. It was a heavy week for me, Meat Market on Sunday, the BurgerMonday from Youngandfoodish (including an phenomenal pastrami poutine), and then these three. I think I need a lie down...

Five Guys @FiveGuysUK
1-3 Long Acre, Covent Garden

Smack bang in the heart of Leicester Square, a USA and UK flag hanging outside, red and white bold colourings Five Guys ave chosen somewhere that definitely makes a statement. Queuing up for the first opening was similar to those Apple fanatics that queue all night long to get the latest iPod. One guy had got there at 4am, on that note, the vast majority of the people queuing were guys, maybe there is subliminal messaging in their name, or maybe girls just less excited than the latest artery clogger to come out.

Burgers, burgers, burger - their dogs off the menu
On walking in you are confronted with bags of potatoes, clearly did not leave room in the design specs for a store room. Five Guys concentrate very much on freshness with all their potatoes cut into fries onsite and not a freezer in site. It's quite expensive though, £8.75 for a bacon cheeseburger and £2.75 for the smallest fries. At £11.50 for burger & fries it is more expensive than forementioned UK independents. This is a different pricing strategy to the US, where it is ~$8 for the same. Although London rent dictates alot

The staff are sort how to queue

Explaining how to push a button

One main thing they have brought over from the US, is the option for refillable drinks, now a fast track way for DMII. With their fancy automated machine with a push of a button (after the software crashes and has to be reset) you have the choice of any drink you wish

But what of the burger? Well it's rather a messy affair. Mine came 'All the way' with pretty much all the toppings. It's quite a handful and a mouthful. It's a good burger, but doesn't compete with others in London, especially at it's price. Also, The cajun fries are too over powering with the cajun making it slightly unpalatable. It's more for tourists and a great food stop after a few drinks. What is very innovative is that you can skip the queues and order online HERE. Very good advice if the queues that I saw last night are anything to go by. 

Free peanuts anyone?

Shake Shack @ShackShackUK
The Piazza, Covent Garden

The opening of Shake Shack has been much anticipated with the well traveled amount the twitterati at fever pitch drooling at the prospect of not only their burgers but their infamous shakes and concretes, a dense frozen custard mixed at high speed with fine add ins from St.John's and Paul.a.Young's chocolates. Nearly every one I've met who has been to their NYC branch goes into long lengths describing how good it is. It's no mean feat they've managed to mix great fast food with a classy joint that will no doubt will a destination for many.

Shack burger with cheesy fries and chocolate milkshake

Shake Shack have gone to great lengths to source all their ingredients properly, with their beef chosen from the highlands, Aberdeen Angus, bacon from Wiltshire, and their collaboration with the highly regarded St.John's and Paul.a.young is assurance of very high standards. For the me the SmokeShack (£6.50) is definitely my burger of choice, fantastic hit of flavours from the cherry peppers and the sauce, encompassed within a soft potato bun. The patty isn't that exceptional though, cooked mroe towards the well done end of the spectrum, it's the other ingredients that carry it

ShackMeister sausage with Shakemesiter ale marianted shallots
Without doubt the concretes are well worth any length of time queuing. As desserts go I'd have this breakfast! This is more than just a shake and definitely not straw-able. There is never any time to get bored of them due to their 'Custard calender' with a flavour for each month.

Shake Shack will do well as it caters for everyone, even dogs (not joking, they have dog treats on the menu). With a great selections of wines and beers, including Meantime brewing company. It's perfectly situated for the pre/post theatre dinner crowd. Whats more the staff have brought with them that first class american hospitality, hopefully the UK staff will be well versed in this, rather than the miserable spotty teenagers that grunt at you from other popular fast food joints.
 It appeals to suits, tourists and burger fanatics alike, no doubt it'll be rammed for now and the distant future.

Honest Burgers @honestburgers
Unit 34A, Camden Lock Place

Honest has to be one of my favourite burger joints in London, great tasting burgers, very consistent, and there is always an intriguing special to get my filthy hands on. However, such is it's popularity it's often unlikely to get a sit without at least an hours wait. So Was great news for me that they have now opened not 5 minutes away from me in Camden Lock Market, no doubt looking for a similar vibe than they have in Brixton Market. The open plan set up looks great, and fits well with the rest of the market. Anyone walking past the kitchen is going to find it hard to resist with those burger smells.
When I went it was fairly quiet, mind you it wasn't even 12 yet, and with the fanfare from the US branches opening, this has past a little under the radar for some. No doubt it'll be another success, but no fear as your waiting time can now be tracked on an iphone app, a fantastic innovation perfect for these no reservation, popular places

I went for their special for this month with Brindisa Chorizo, jalapeno puree and chimichurri, with rosemary salt fries on the side. Another great burger from Honest. Consistency is the beast, and again they deliver a perfectly medium rare patty, delicious and juicy.

For the burger alone Honest Burgers are still my favourite, however for the whole package Shack Shake wins. While Honest is still up there, the new US openings have the edge in terms of the scale of operation, and hence their turnover, is poles apart from that of any of the independants. There is enough room, despite this monster of a US invasion on our soil, their demographics mainly due to their locations are substantially different for them to co-exist quite happily. As a customer though, it's good to see everyone uping their game. Long may it continue.


Shake Shack on Urbanspoon Five Guys Burgers & Fries on Urbanspoon


  1. 3 burgers in 1 day??
    I yet to try the new US offering but pretty sure Honest Burger still has the edge:P

  2. Had them all (including BYC SS), have to agree with the verdict. Honest Burgers/London Burger scene in general stands above the imports. That Smoke Shack is a humdinger and some of them concretes work it hard. Shakes and Fries let Shake Down. 5Guys was poor on my visit that may have been my topping combo, relish was not what I was expecting..


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