Issue Six—July 2012

Honest Burgers

Beef with the cheese means Brixton falls short of burger perfection

We wind up in Brixton village seemingly every Sunday, but seldom manage to eat anything. Rosie's is always just closing ("sorry guys!"). It'd be weird to eat at Franco Manca with less than an entourage. And then there's Honest Burger, with queues that can span an entire SW postcode.

But we got lucky a few Sundays ago. With three teams of bearded and double–denimed scenesters bulking the line ahead, the odds didn't look good. A spritely American waitress took drinks orders but was soon back with news of a free table for two. "We're gonna seat this couple first, ok?" she told the bemused hipsters.

Honest Burgers' appearance has, like its customers, a considered shabbiness. The more down at heel elements are inherited from the market though—not contrived like many of London's trendy restaurants. The menu—both in ingredients and design—shows an understanding of and investment in quality. The identity elevates the whole environment from potentially unpleasant to really rather hip.

For all the coolness and knowing though, elements of the product could be improved. Our cute lemonades were a joy, and the rosemary–salted chips suitably addictive, but our 'slaw was tired and limp, like it'd been out on the razz the night before.

The burgers are beautiful. Great fat patties fashioned from 36 day, dry–aged Ginger Pig beef. Higher quality meat is hard to find. The intention is clearly to create the best. But, for my taste, they could just do with being a bit dirtier. I'd prefer to swap the mature cheddar for some amber, gooey American cheese; and the toasted bun for a thin, shiny brioche one.

Perfection is, of course, subjective. The closest I've found is Shake Shack; a chain in the US and (eugh) Dubai. They're a large, corporate operation—the very antithesis of Honest Burger. Yet they draw adoration from foodie circles for their beautiful patties, made from quality meat, but served with traditional, processed accoutrements—like crappy cheese. Shake Shack queues snake around Manhattan. It's worth the wait.

Is Honest Burger worth the wait in line? Certainly. It's a fun and friendly and good value experience. To be faultless though, the food needs to be a bit, well, worse in order to be better. Artisanal bread and fancy cheese slightly bely the Brixton Village surroundings. If they were a little truer to them—a bit more honest—I'd be there at opening time every Sunday.