Never one to shirk a challenge – unless, of course, it involves physical exertion – I have indeed decided to dedicate myself to finding the best burger in London. It promises to be a long and arduous quest, but I am confident of success. At least we know where the second best can be found.
First, a few to rule out. McDonald's and Burger King can go for a start. Sorry chaps. You have been loyal playmates these many years, soaking up many a flagon of strong continental with your magic sponges, but let's not kid ourselves: you're not going trouble the scorers in the gourmet test. And I'm afraid the silly bugger expensive options that make the news from time to time (I seem to remember an £85 job at Selfridges, something similar at Zuma) are also out of the picture, not just because it's a little early in the life of this blog for us to have a generous sponsor to fund the necessary research, but also because they're not what burgers are all about. Of course it's going to taste amazing if you use the best Kobe beef (I tried one in Vegas this year after winning a few quid – very tasty and everything but the main thing I noticed was it was so juicy it was basically impossible to eat without spraying yourself with grease) and of course it's going to cost a bomb if you start introducing foie gras and truffles, but you will not be making a burger. A burger should be something anyone can make at home: simple ground beef, a bit of seasoning, cooked quickly over high heat, charred outside, pink within, some sympathetic sauces and other bits and bobs to garnish and you're there. It's hardly rocket science. So why is so hard for restaurants to get it right?
So, we're talking about standard burgers. Beef, bread and bits. Cheese is the limit of sophistication here, included in this experiment because it is the most consistently used and abused variable.
The search has begun, then, and it has started on the office's Hoxton doorstep, where there is a frankly disproportionate amount of choice. Just about every building round here contains a bar and just about every bar makes its own burgers. Quite right too. Few things work better of a Friday lunchtime than a burger and a bloody Mary or a pint (the choice depending very much on the preceding Thursday).
The official BBIL quest has yet to begin, so it seem a little unfair to start highlighting any contenders, but life's nothing if not unfair, so the results of the unofficial research to date are as follows:
Hoxton Bar & Kitchen – How I wish this was a winner. It is, after all, in the very building. People rave about having a gym on the premises, but imagine having a decent bar. Unfortunately, both the bar and the burgers are rubbish. Very nice to look at (the burgers) but utterly devoid of taste (the burgers and the bar). A waste.
Bluu – Controversially pleasant Hoxton staff have slowly worn me down. Bluu has gradually moved from being a convenient but cold after work pint shop to a warm lunch and evening favourite. We're here for the burgers, though, today, and these are fine if unexceptional. Too easy to get distracted by the creative range of other non-burger sandwiches, and the big Jenga chips are always a disappointment. There's a PhD subject here on the ratio of carb to surface area... another time, perhaps.
Zigfrid – Probably the best of the Hoxton Square bunch burger wise. Big, juicy, well seasoned, cooked to order, crispy chips and good sauces. Hard to fault. Shame about the haphazard service (aren't they a bit old for teenage angst?) and the general Hoxton shit-clowniness that pervades. Still, it's an image they cultivate and revel in so it's not as if you haven't been warned.
Over the road, The Reliance needs sampling again (it's on the list). It's been through a phase of reinventing itself foodwise every other week (mercifully not, as far as I know with an upstairs Thai restaurant yet). If it comes to it, though, I am happy to sample it that often: burgers have been consistently tasty throughout its many incarnations. The beer's usually pretty good too. The quirky Strongroom is also worth seeking out, especially in the summer. Fond memories of an excellent juicy burger in front of an Ashes session last year.
The winner, though, in this unofficial BBIL primary is the Hoxton Diner on Curtain Road. No frills here, but as a stop-off point on the way home it's hard to beat. Great beers and friendly staff: that's two points scored over Burger King already, and the best is yet to come. The burger's really are top notch, great beef, well seasoned, and unlike at Ed's Easy Diner (of which more when the official research begins) they will even cook them rare for you. Fantastic. I understand the milkshakes, while a little on the spendy side, are worth every penny. Vincent Vega would no doubt approve. I will stick with the beer.