And so it begins. Our version of the Best Burger in London hunt is now officially on and
the first place on the list was Haché, tucked away behind Camden Town tube, and proud owner of Time Out's equivalent accolade.
First, though, the ground rules. We've steered well clear of numerical ratings for restaurants in our reviews to date, preferring to rate the overall experience qualitatively, but if we're really going to identify a winning burger we've decided we need to inject a little objectivity into proceedings. So after a protracted, at times heated, discussion we've gone for a simple, two-part rating, with one score (out of 15) for the burger (including bun, default garnishes and cheese) and a smaller rating (maximum five points) based on the venue. The burger is the most imporant consideration, of course, but the environment it's consumed in must play a part. If it was just the burger, I'd enter the competition myself; anyone who's seen the state of my kitchen will understand why the secondary category would rule me out straight off.
Which is all well and good. The trouble is I think we may have peaked too early. Haché was fantastic, the burgers magnificent. it's hard to know where to go from here.
Haché is small and friendly, too small to seat three of us when we arrived but friendly enough to look after us with a bottle of lager while we waited. The menu is a no-nonsense, diving straight into the main event, Aberdeen Angus steak burgers with classic topping combos and a short list of standard extras if you want to make your own. Prices are somewhere between a fiver and a tenner, excluding sides (it's a burger so unless you're in the Boxwood the price doesn't matter much). There are some other options (the veggie burger looks suspiciously good) but to be honest we were salivating by now so it was hard to pay them much heed.
Fi and I ordered standard burgers with mature cheddar, mine "rarish" and hers medium rare. Howard went for the cheese and bacon option. We also ordered a bottle of Rioja from a shortish list that loudly proclaims a single varietal policy. Difficult to see how this really benefits the consumer, to be honest, and in any case the "high percentage of grenache" in the Chateau Neuf du Pape rather suggests it has a low percentage of something else. Whatever, the Rioja was OK and as sensibly priced as the rest of the list.
The burgers arrived after a short, anxious wait... and were awesome. We all confessed afterwards to being doubtful that ciabatta would work as a bun, but we needn't have worried. It was scrupulously fresh, not too chunky and, as you would expect, held itself together perfectly from first bite to last. The meat was juicy, well seasoned and very tasty, the Haché mayonnaise creamy with some welcome citrus notes, the slab of beefsteak tomato fresh, the rocket good and peppery and the red onion sweet and tangy. The cheese came properly melted and the bacon nice and crispy. The sides of frites (they also do chunky chips) and onion rings were spot on. In fact the onion rings were better than that: light batter and doubled-up rings of succulent, translucent flesh. A rare treat.
It really was hard to fault, but we can't go giving top marks to the first place we try so I'm going to have to be a little picky. Fiona's meat was definitely a little rarer than medium rare... The wine wasn't as silky as the menu promised... There are no starters on offer (OK, it's first and foremost a burger joint but if you're going to serve bottles of wine and puddings, aren't you encouraging people to settle down for a "proper" meal?)... But I'm already scraping the bottom of an empty fault barrel. This place will be hard to beat.
Haché, 24 Inverness Street, NW1 7HJ. 020 7485 9100