The New York burger that started it all.
Last week I was invited to take part in a focus group for mums in Covent Garden. I jumped at the chance, not because it would have been a chance for a lovely quiet train journey – ALONE – but because it was in Covent Garden. And do you know what’s new in Covent Garden? American burger heaven, Shake Shack!
When I went to New York a little while ago Shake Shack was my all-round stand out restaurant. I literally woke up dreaming of the burger I ate there for weeks afterwards: the brioche bun, the juicy beef patty, the shack sauce. It was divine, like no other burger I’d ever tasted before. So when I heard that Shake Shack would be opening in London I vowed to visit as soon as possible. Or, as soon as possible when I could guarantee the ridiculous queues wouldn’t be there anymore.
Because looking at pictures of food is almost as good as eating it I made sure I spent my weekend Googling Shake Shack reviews. Some good, some not so good. But I kept coming across reviews comparing Shake Shack to another new American burger import, Five Guys, which also opened in Covent Garden this month.. And if Grace Dent, someone who ranks very highly on my list of ‘people I’d like to be when I grow up’ ate at two burger joints in one day, well it seemed like a sensible thing to do.
I started Burger Monday at Shake Shack, in the Piazza at Covent Garden. I ordered the Shake Burger (cheese, tomato, lettuce, shake sauce), fries and a coke which came to £10 exactly. I sat and ate in a baking hot piazza, the glass roof gave it somewhat of a greenhouse effect, to the sound of an opera singer warbling away. Bit different to McDonalds.
Sad to say that I wasn’t that impressed. The burger was very salty, too salty for me and I am a salt-loving lady, and the tomato tasted of nothing. The bun was nice but too soft and the whole thing felt 20% smaller than its american counterpart. The fries were too crispy and left most of them. The ambience of the place itself was great, the position in the Piazza makes for excellent people watching, and the staff were nice if a little too chirpy.
So onto Five Guys next. This really did feel like a burger joint; all red formica and black and white check means it feels a little soulless. The brilliance of Five Guys is that you can add whichever toppings you like to your burger, completely free of charge. I plumped for mustard, ketchup, lettuce and pickles. I didn’t opt for fries this time because I’m not a monster and didn’t want to vomit on the street: I even picked a Coke Zero. Carlorie counting, innit (ahem).
My burger arrived and looked a lot more impressive. It had two patties and the cheese was melting in the most delightful way down the side of the burger. It was one of those burgers that just makes you smile at how delicious it looks. This meal was a little more extra at £10.50 though this didn’t include fries.
If the Shake Shack burger was too salty, then this one wasn’t salted enough, though for normal non-salt fans the probably would have tasted fine. The patties were cooked wonderfully so they were ever so slightly crunchy and the toppings were generous. Again the bun (sesame) was a bit too soft and bland, a bit of a disappointment. The lettuce was good and crunchy and the burger dripped a nice amount of grease. Oh yes, you need a bit of grease with your dirty burger. I liked it.
Of the two I preferred Five Guys. The atmosphere was not impressive but the burger was great and the chips are hand-cut; though I didn’t taste them they looked brilliant. I liked that you were able to enjoy your drink before your food arrived (at Shake Shack your whole meal arrives together and it can be a bit of a wait) and let’s face it, everyone likes a self-service coke machine. I was pretty disappointed that I’d decided to try Shake Shack first; should I do burger Monday again (and why wouldn’t I? It’s an excellent concept) I will be heading to Five Guys prior to Shake Shack.
If you’re going for a leisurely sit-down burger, do give Shake Shack a try. The ambiance is great, if you like opera singing and street performers, and you can enjoy a glass of wine with your meal as you watch the world go by. But if what you want is a dirty great burger with drippy cheese and grease, I’d head for Five Guys. You won’t be disappointed.
And here endeth my 800 words on the subject of burgers.