Gourmet Burger Kitchen
St. Pauls, Unit 4, Condor House, St Pauls, London, EC4M 8AL; map); (020) 7248 9199; gbkinfo.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: Inconsistent but potentially decent burger using fresh ingredients and grass fed beef.
Want Fries with That? Yes, they are crispy and flavorful
Price: Hamburger £5.85, cheeseburger £6.85, variations priced from £6.80 to £7.85
Notes: Mon. to Sat., 11:30 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sun., 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
48 additional locations throughout England, Scotland and Wales
I have never had much luck dining at Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK). It frustrates me because the UK chain started, somewhat improbably, by a chef from New Zealand, seems to have the potential to deliver a decent burger. Yet something always seems to come between me and such an experience. And I assure you it is not for the lack of effort on my part: I have visited GBK's on Maiden Lane and St. Paul's in London as well as in the lovely seaside town of Brighton. Last year an otherwise commendable burger was marred by an odd, gassy flavor from the grill. More recently a burger ordered medium rare (only because they "don't do rare") was closer to medium well, with half of the patty being completely cooked through. Despite the fact that GBK ostensibly does not cook burgers rare, that is precisely how another burger, which was actually ordered medium, was delivered. It was a happy accident as it was the best burger I had there.
The inconsistencies are maddening because there is much to like about GBK. The restaurants are clean and modern, the system—order at counter, take number, food is delivered to table—is efficient and speedy, and the kitchen lives up to the restaurant's name by using only fresh ingredients. GBK's website proclaims, "Our freezers are for ice-cream," which is how things should be. The basic burger at GBK comes with lettuce, tomato, onion, mayonnaise, and relish. In order to further live up to it name, GBK offer all manner of variations on the basic burger, such as Mexican (sour cream, avocado, spicy kidney bean salsa) or Pesterella (pesto, mozzarella). How about a Kiwiburger (beetroot, egg, pineapple, cheese)? I generally avoid such burgers, preferring to focus on the basic beef or cheeseburger.
The beef is grass fed Aberdeen Angus sourced from Laverstoke Farms. The grill can put decent hash marks on the burger as well as a nice crust, but only at the expense of rareness. While the burger achieves a respectable level of succulence, when not over cooked, it has, by virtue of using grass fed beef, a rather rubbery texture. It also lacks the the rich, full mouth feel of corn-finished beef. In terms of flavor the GBK patty is milder, with a restrained and subtle herbaceousness, than other grass fed beef I have tried.
The sourdough bread is fortunately neither very sour, nor too doughy. Impressively studded with sesame seeds, it is pliant and golden-hued and provides a good vessel for the sandwich innards. There is no denying the quality of the supporting ingredients: Vibrantly colored tomatoes, crisp lettuce, and crunchy onions are all very fresh.
If you get a cheeseburger don't expect the cheese to be melted. The thick slab of tangy, nutty cheddar sweats a little, causing the exterior to get mildly gooey but the inside will be firm. The cheese is too sharp and flavorful for a burger, obscuring the beef. The synthesis of burger without the cheese is good, the beef-to-bun ratio is close to perfect, and the rabbit food is also in good proportion. The burger does not really benefit from the tomato relish that is applied by default, but it is innocuous enough to not detract from the overall experience.
The skinny fries are decent by UK standards and very good by US ones. While I have yet to sample a burger here that comes close to even a run-of-the-mill burger back in the US of A, the chips in the UK are universally excellent. The ones at GBK are flavorful and crispy. They also offer thick cut chips that also looked very good, although I did not try them. The milkshake, on the other hand, was about the worst I can remember consuming. It had a disconcerting saccharine-like sweetness combined with an odd flavor that reminded me of the generic, watery supermarket brand ice cream sold across the UK.
GBK would be easier to recommend if it were more consistent. At its best it is a decent burger using fresh ingredients, served within a clean, pleasant environment. It won't compare favorably to most burgers in the US, but within the context of UK burgers it is certainly near the top of the food chain.