There’s an episode of No Reservations, season 1, episode 5, where Mr Bourdain travels to Malaysia (timestamped at 00:34:53) with a bunch of locals and hunts a pig in the wilderness. It’s only then the viewer is informed that it is traditional for the guest to sacrifice the pig for the village’s feast. If that doesn’t sound like a great watch, it’s because it isn’t. No one likes seeing animals killed. But this bit is actually interesting to watch. Because the camera centers entirely on Anthony, with close ups of his wincing face, pushing through the awkward and his own moral compass before finally pushing a spear through the hog’s neck. He then goes to sit on his own. Staring pensively into space and chomps down a fag to steady himself. Killing an animal should have an effect on you.
But the locals took that pig and fed everyone in the village. They don’t have butchers, markets or superstores. Variety is a little thin on the ground. It’s a hunter-gatherer society. Conversely, a million miles away this is a Fullers establishment, to some people that would merit an eye roll. Our mentality is nothing really is too good for the blog, as long as there is a story there to write about.
Gastro-pubs are a much maligned beast. If you believe in the Ron Swanson line of ‘never half ass two things, full ass one thing’ then the gastro-pub is a please everyone, please no one sort of situation. Amongst every menu, for some reason the burger has come out on top as the standard prestige meal. We’re quite interested in why. Surely pizza would be easier? (And less margin for error?) Pasta is classier. But for some reason burgers have come out on top as the piece de resistance. So instead of having one or two, there’s three that cover a range of different styles. Which to me gives more questions than answers.
We agonised over what to choose, but decided on the burger. When coming to eat at a pub I usually end up eating the burger and London has truly spoilt me. No more a need to eat typical British food when the roster is so much larger than (groans) “pub grub”. The menu has this description: Chalcroft Farm beef burger, Fuller’s HSB Gouda, lettuce, tomato, pickled onion, secret sauce, triple cooked chips.
That sounds exactly like what I wanted to write about. A classic gastro-pub meal. Let’s make a post about the burger and it’s place in the modern world. It is interesting to note than nothing else on the menu had that degree of detail. This burger amorously takes centre stage with that description filling up the most space. And let’s face facts, it does sound good. . .
There’s some debate over the gastro-pub burger’s status. Is it artisan, is it gourmet? Is it a speciality? Is it pandering to the willing customers? I’d wager that because the burger and fries as a meal straddles that line between all respective fields. You can get a classic 100% beef chuck mince burger with bacon, cheese with lettuce, tomatoes and grilled onions. Or you can get that fancy vegan burger made from mushrooms and ‘slaw and avocado. The variety and tone you can get is huge.
The Maitre’d is bubbly and polite and the backing music is a mix of classic soul, Stevie Wonder and James Brown. We’re seated at the gorgeous outside area that overlooks a part of the Thames. Polite minimal greenery hangs about. The decor is lightly European, with a large mosaic floor. Clearly, this is a summer pub. Some pubs are cozy; polished and varnished wood affairs, rustic and closed in. Others are like a dancehall. Sociable and spaced out made to pack numbers. And some are all see through glass windows for walls and funk classics, and then some others have the Thames thrust upon them.
As you dine the joggers, bikers and roamers glide through as you sit stationary. The weather, as we’re out in the elements, is gently overcast. And an even gentler lull of seagulls lull you into relaxation on the Greenwich tide. It’s a pleasingly muted performance for a tuesday afternoon but there are more than a fair few here. The staff aren’t idle, as they obsessively cleaned and sanitised every surface in the place during spare time.
I’m told the Old fashioned (£9.50) had a smell that was a punch in the face, the citrus got washed away with the bourbon, which also evaporated the brown sugar, leaving the angostura bitters and whiskey to battle it out together. Effectively an expensive grapefruit juice kind of taste.
Wish I timed these guys as the burger came to my table in an impressively tight window. The plate comes to the table and initially it looks fantastic. Cutlery, salt packets and sauces follow. I left the burger alone to sit while chomping through the chips. Rustic parts of potato skin attached, still warm to hot, in that sweet spot of soft in the middle, crispy on the outers. The chips were actually decent. The trouble starts when I flip the plate around and I see this congealing drip.
So, we’ve had an unofficial rule about food on this blog. If you’re confident enough to bring it to the table you’re presumably confident enough to have it scrutinised. And I didn’t even get the opportunity to scrutinise it. It fell apart harder than the McCanns’ defense case.
The ingredients are definitely there, the beef is hard to describe. . . dry? Lean? But that’s when I realised, it’s hard to describe because it utterly lacks flavour. Overcooked. The bacon jam is interesting, just about failing to keep the whole thing together in a kind of way it really shouldn’t have to. The lettuce sticks out like when you don’t know anyone at a party and you awkward limber about hoping for something to happen. But, objectively the damn thing falls apart and not in a good way. It falls apart like Voldemort at the end of the Deathly Hallows part 2 ( I omitted the same kind of gasp he did, too). That drip, which I’m guessing is some sort of fry sauce, leaks out the more and more is consumed, along with grease and fat. And because of that the flavour gets weaker with every bite. All the flavour dripped and drowned the crumbs on the plate. The HMS Fuck Everything is now making its final destination. Wish I took a picture of the middle of the meat. It was almost clear. To cook something and miss the mark this much is almost impressive.
Holy fuuuuuuuuuccckkk. A cow died for this?!
Let me deconstruct that last statement. All the meat we consume comes from an animal capable of sentience and sapience. Emotion, attachment. Love, even. An animal that most likely had be raised to be old enough to rear their own children to replace them before being ripped away from their young and then churned into mince or steak. I’m an omnivore who is aware of this. However, I bring this up on the off chance than whoever cooked this attempt at a burger might be more aware of the sacrifice that is made for their work. Life ended for this meal. And it’s not justified. I don’t view beef as cheaply as whoever cooked this. I expect a little flavour with my death. And it doesn’t end there, farmers and butchers have to then dissect the carcass into a cookable or edible cut, which takes skill, precision and not to mention a lot of brute strength. The point isn’t strictly speaking a point about the morality of eating meat. The point is more about the disconnect about how something ends up in our kitchens. This “ingredient” came at a high cost. It’s not something to be thrown onto the hotplate thoughtlessly.
Not sure how I would fix this burger. I’ve seen higher stacked burgers held together in chains such as Honest Burgers – their bacon plant burger is the best on the menu btw – and Five Guys. And even a Wetherspoons burger stays together better (and dryer). The Tattershall Castle, another big company chain pub, nails the classic bacon and cheese burger. Maybe toast the buns, crispen up the bacon and change the amount of cheese and sauce for a start. What I suggest is the kitchen staff go to a farm and get up close and personal with a cow. Watch that being give birth, being all vulnerable and precious. Then look that mother right in the eye before you kill her. Watch the life pour out of her. Then get a sharp knife and chop that living, loving thing up into sellable bits of edible, cookable flesh. Or failing that particularly dramatic example, go read some Plutarch or something. Maybe then they’d be a bit more aware that this isn’t good enough. You don’t just manufacture a beef patty out of nothing. It is a costly and messy affair. The disgust I feel is so profoundly bad. How dare you not cook the corpse of this mother adequately enough.
We left our plates to one side to focus on conversation and after dinner drinks for the next hour or so. Disappointingly, those plates were still uncollected by the time we left. Perhaps that’s part of the COVID rules, limiting the amount of times the servers visit a table but they were happy to attend to the table in front of me which they had to pass me to get to. So while I can’t rule it out, I’m not buying that much either.
When I started this blog I had one agenda, to stretch my writing ability. In my food research I unexpectedly got caught up and partly persuaded that meat eating isn’t actually a good thing. Hence I am a carnivore with a slight partisananal bend towards plant based food and will review whatever I feel can be written about. I don’t want to limit this blog’s potential but would much prefer it if meat free food was the best everytime. So, I’m a meat eater working from the inside. Another point to make is I’m not trying to be spoilt, starchy-smug Michael Winner and am happy to err on the side of generosity or un-objectivity. And when I was passing pictures of this around a friend did say “But that’s why you get a burger! Bit of grease! A bit of dripping! Nothing better!” So let’s not presume this blog is the sole arbiter of decent food. However, if you want a competently made burger. . . this ain’t it.
This burger is a bete noire. A burger to avoid. A bete burgoire if you will. Avoid.
“I have been a restaurant critic for over a decade, written reviews of well over 700 establishments, and if there is one thing I have learnt it is that people like reviews of bad restaurants. No, scratch that. They adore them, feast upon them like starving vultures who have spotted fly-blown carrion out in the bush. They claim otherwise, of course. Readers like to present themselves as private arbiters of taste; as people interested in the good stuff. I’m sure they are. I’m sure they really do care whether the steak was served au point as requested or whether the soufflé had achieved a certain ineffable lightness. And yet, when I compare dinner to bodily fluids, the room to an S & M chamber in Neasden (only without the glamour or class), and the bill to an act of grand larceny, why, then the baying crowd is truly happy?” – Jay Rayner.
Do you like your burger with juice and drippings? Did you always silently resent Michael Winner? Have you been to the Sail Loft before? Agree? Disagree? Comment below and let us know. . .