CaliBurger is the upcoming burger chain aiming to bring a taste of California-style fast food burgers to Shanghai and beyond—which would be fine if they weren't also trademarking In-N-Out's burger names outside of the US. As the legal battle continues, In-N-Out responded with a one-day pop-up in Shanghai.
(With the restaurant set to open early January 2012, and legal matters still ongoing, we've focussed this report solely on the space and the food and we won't cover any contentious issues until they are resolved.)
Caliburger is located in the Jingan district of Shanghai, close to the main down-town area of the city. It lies on Yanping Road, on a street with a wide selection of restaurants. The decor is still work in progress, but the space itself has capacity for 108 seats. There is ample room to sit, relax and enjoy the food, whilst also allowing for enough area to queue for orders.
On that subject, all food is made to order, with a plastic number card designated to each customer. There is a separate station for refillable soft drinks and ice tea, plus a station for sauces. A space for merchandise is also on display, with polo shirts, caps and mugs all for sale. The restaurant will offer free WiFi for its customers.
Being in China there is always going to be questions about both hygiene levels and the quality of the produce. We're happy to announce that everything is to a very high standard, although to be fair it should be seeing as this is a brand new joint! The kitchen has separate sections for peeling potatoes and frying them in flavourless sunflower oil, plus a dedicated griddle section for the meat, buns, onions and cheese.
The buns are locally baked sponge buns, made to CaliBurger specs. All the vegetables are locally sourced and delivered daily, while the chunk mince is freshly imported and never frozen. All the water systems are filtered, and we can't criticise anything from a cleanliness perspective at this stage.
So, what of the food? Today the selection was limited to Hamburgers, Cheeseburgers and a Double Burger. We've kept any names out of discussion due to the legal situation.
We tried the Double Burger which is basically two patties, two slices of American cheese, lettuce and tomato. We added grilled onions and pickles to the mix.
The burger, for all its notoriety, was pretty bang on the money. The bite had a good depth to it, with the outer softness of the bun balanced by its crispy grilled innards, while the lettuce also added some crunch to the softness of the meat, cheese, and grilled onions. At a testing stage, the burger was very close to being the perfect homage. Some early criticisms would be that the bun was a bit too flimsy, the tomatoes a touch too cold, whilst the cheese and onion medley was hot enough to burn my mouth. Nonetheless, it's a good start and these minor imperfections can be smoothed out prior to launch.
So, despite any controversy surrounding copyrights and intellectual properties, the fact remains Caliburger has a quality product, and that is a great starting point. One hopes any legal wranglings can quickly be sewn up and that these burgers get a name that doesn't offend anyone. Similarly, the real test will come when the business opens and how they can keep standards up if and when all those 108 seats are filled.
Still for now, there is an equal degree of excitement and resentment in my heart as Caliburger is a mere 10 minute cycle ride from my home which means that both my burger and cholesterol intake is going to go through the roof in 2012. Just as well I haven't made any resolutions yet!