My initial disappointment with Dirtyburger, a prototype for a new burger joint opened this week in London’s Kentish Town, is more my problem than theirs. And it may not be your problem either.
When I heard Soho House would be entering the burger fray I imagined a California copy like the hotel and restaurant group’s Pizza East. The fact that Dirty Burger would take shape in a corrugated iron shed wedged directly behind the third and brand new location of Pizza East seemed to support such a scenario.
For Pizza East Nick Jones of Soho Group apparently targeted a superb and wildly popular LA restaurant doing a style of pizza unavailable in London, luring an ex-sous chef from Nancy Silverton and Mario Batali’s Pizzeria Mozza to London. Bryant Ng, now the celebrated chef/owner at LA’s the Spice Table, helped set up and oversee the pizza operation at Pizza East. For Dirtyburger I thought Jones might turn to one of LA’s great burger restaurants, perhaps even Silverton’s Short Order, for inspiration.
My best guess is that in this instance Soho House chose what is perhaps a more honourable path, sampling burgers here and there, taking notes, experimenting with various components and combinations and ultimately positioning a safe, scalable and satifying £5 burger for the lucrative category of higher, hipper fastfood: higher production values, hipper environment.
The best thing about the £5.50 Dirtyburger cheeseburger is the crust its mustard-fried patty (see: California’s In-N-Out Burger and London’s The Meatwagon) acquires on the cooktop. You feel a delightful crunch of light, crumbly resistance when your teeth sink beneath the superb white bun and the toppings to make contact with a patty. When you hit the prize you know it.
The patty is commendably thick given its overall volume and the quality of beef in it seems good for the price. Regrettably, the result is rather unjuicy, especially given the name on every burger wrapper. I suspect if Dirtyburger were willing to cook its patties to a deep-pink medium-rare, WHICH THEY ARE NOT, the burgers might actually ooze some serious grease.
The inevitable drips on your shirt will be pale yellow in colour, from the mustard mayo that turns this into a double-mustard single burger. After the mustard and the mustard you pick up ground black pepper, salt, the pickle (gherkin) and then beef. The cheese doesn’t even enter into the taste profile. It’s not even melty. Or drippy. Or dirty.
Let’s be clear: I don’t ordinarily condone taking other people’s ideas without their permission and without giving them their due. But if you’re going to steal, steal the best.
79 Highgate Road (enter from Carrol Close, London NW5 1TL (map)