Are burgers junk food? Yes if you follow the McDonalds approach to piling them high and flogging them cheap, but they certainly don’t have to be. Contrary to popular myth, fast food does not have to be synonymous with junk food since it can be made freshly from top notch ingredients, and if it’s cooked to order it’s not even instant anyway.
Steak haché is a well-loved delicacy even in the home of gastronomy, France, but the thing is you have to choose ingredients with care, cook a point and pay equal attention to detail with the accompaniments. Choose a mass-produced meal and you know precisely what to expect, and for what that costs you will not be awe-struck with admiration.
The first thing I love about Honest Burgers is the name, since it is effectively a guarantee that they do simple things well, never deceive or serve anything below their standards. This is reflected in the mission stated clearly on their website:
We set out to do one thing well, a simple burger menu inspired by great British produce, with our homemade rosemary chips.
So no mechanically-recovered meat, nasty chemicals or other additives, just top quality produce. What you see is what you get, and for that alone they deserve our full support. If it failed to deliver, then customers would have every right to complain and demand improvement in the name of honesty and integrity, but luckily that was merely a hypothetical contingency.
The fact that my lunch was served in rather a characterful restaurant near Kings Cross (one of several around London) added to the good feeling, but best of all was the joyful serving by a waitress whose name was not advertised by a name tag, but who shared the rare distinction with very few others of making me feel good to be alive, merely by taking my order and returning it from the kitchen and by virtue of a dazzling smile. She appeared to enjoy her job and appreciate when customers are satisfied. That may be an act to win tips, which surely works brilliantly, but it makes a vital difference to the positive ambience of what could have been just another humdrum eatery.
In-keeping with the Honest philosophy, it was welcome to find an excellent craft beer, a pale ale brewed in the east end of London, which proved a refreshing way to wash down my meal, served with a good old half pint mug with handle – nice touch.
The food itself took a little longer to arrive; not excessively so, but it was unquestionably worth the wait. In the same way, I always feel that it’s worth waiting to have fish and chips fried fresh to order rather than being put out if you can’t get your grub without delay.
The waitress had told me the burger would be served pink, and so it was – medium rare, juicy and succulent, topped with proper mature cheddar (as opposed to the yellow melty stuff that masquerades as cheese in many chains), crispy bacon, and good onion chutney, on a bed of lettuce and gherkin, contained with a good brioche bun that still erred marginally on the side of softness rather than texture and flavour. All the food was served on those old-fashioned enamelled tin plates that your mum used to give you on scout camps, to my mind a welcome touch of nostalgia.
But that was a minor detail – this was a product that exploded the widely-held view that the phrase “gourmet burger” is an oxymoron. Done properly, a burger can be an excellent and tasty treat. The question is why we accept so often flabby and insipid mass-produced replicas. Cost should not come into the question, since I would willingly forego 3 or 4 bad products to get one worthy specimen – and I suspect many others would too if they tried the real thing.
Anyway, back to the meal The rosemary-salted chips were crisp and tasty, and from the well-chosen sides I selected a freshly-made beetroot and apple slaw. On an neighbouring table the onion rings and dressed salad also looked to be fresh and excellent, further evidence that the originators of this chain thought through their concept and carried it through to the letter.
Just one more nice little touch: my bill arrived in an antique Bourneville chocolate tin, which seemed apt. In fact, I’m struggling to think of anything to criticise, so I’ll leave it at praise and with a ringing endorsement. It does what it says on the tin, it’s unpretentious and as good as any you will find. For my London lunch I was well impressed, and how often can you say that?