My Confidence Cracked in the Bistro du Vin Burger

I figured my visit to the new Bistro du Vin at 36 Dean Street in Soho would be uneventful. To update my top 10 burgers in London list I needed only to verify its burger was as good as the chargrilled sensation at the Bistro du Vin on St John Street. I was also curious to see if the chefs had addressed its instability issue. As good as the burger was it didn’t sit all that securely on its layered foundation of tomato, red onion and round lettuce hanging way out the sides.

The Soho version of Bistro du Vin burger, pictured at the top of this post, was an abomination. It arrived as you see it, with a wide crack extending from one side to the other. My initial guess was that a chef had cut the burger open to check it for doneness and broke the fat patty in half, spilling its juices. But the cooking process might have had something to do with its fragility. I finished the job with a steak knife, slicing the burger in two to analyse the damage. What a horror! The burger was impossible to pick up and eat, not that you’d want to. Its meat was hard, mealy and dry – nothing like the crumbly, juicy version on St John Street. It was seasoned with whole peppercorns, not the ideal texture for a burger, and nothing about it tasted right. I dropped the mostly uneaten burger onto its serving board and surrendered.

The hostess came by to ask me what I thought of the burger and I told her. She summoned Keith Shearer, the executive chef of MWB Group Holdings, which operates the restaurants at all Bistro du Vin and Malmaison locations as well as pubs like London’s Fox & Anchor.  Shearer explained he’d been forced to respond to the very real dangers of serving rare or even medium rare burgers. With steaks the exposed surface area of the meat gets seared and bad bacteria gets killed. But when beef is minced any surface contamination gets dispersed throughout the interior. If the burger is cooked medium-rare, as most Bistro du Vin diners want it, the internal temperatures are not sufficiently high to kill all bacteria.

Shearer’s solution is to fry cuts of beef before they are minced, ostensibly killing any bad stuff on the surface before it can be pushed to the interior. The burger is essentially cooked twice, a grave risk to good taste if not good health.

Shearer attributed the peppercorns in the mince and the deep crack in the burger to greenness – that of the young chef who prepared my burger. The restaurant only opened last week. The executive chef offered to prepare me a replacement himself, medium-rare. He raced to the kitchen and returned with a burger 12 minutes later. A photo of the dismal result appears below.


About Daniel

Food critic and events leader Daniel Young is the "Young" behind young&foodish


  1. Anthony says:

    Oh dear…………. The replacement looks about as appetizing as a wet flannel and if anything even less medium rare than the 1st excuse for a burger.

    I am well and truly sick of this medium rare argument, if restaurants are not going to prepare their burgers as their customers request, then they really shouldn’t offer a burger at all.

  2. The bun looks nice

  3. Oh dear, I had such high hopes for this. The replacement looks overtly bready and certainly over-done. Lets hope they can raise their game!

  4. Funny how branches can vary so. I was recently very disappointed by the Kensington branch of Byron after having many excellent experiences at the Covent Garden branch.

  5. Oh dear, oh dear… this is a horror story and these images and words may haunt me forever. BdV has gone very quickly from hero to zero! I’m kinda hoping that in the next few seconds I will wake to find this has all been a horrible dream!

  6. I am so shocked by this – I had an excellent meal here this week and would definitely return. The burger displayed doesn’t look in any way appetising and I’d hope to put this down to teething problems. Becs

  7. Well the FSA advice on cooking of burgers has been in place since 1998 – they advise burgers be cooked to a temperature of at least 70C for two minutes. The only thing that could have changed is the recent e-coli outbreak making companies more sensitive. So the only safe way to make a medium rare burger is to sous vide it. I’ve seen a few vids of people doing it on the internet and as much as I’m a fan of the wonders of sous vide it doesn’t seem right for the burger.

  8. Daniel Young says:

    Becs – Teething problems? That might apply to the crack or the peppercorns, yes. But pre-salting or pre-cooking are another matter. If you do go back to try the burger please report back. I hope you are right.

  9. Daniel Jakes says:

    I must have had several hundred Medium and Rare Burgers in my time and never have I felt ill as a result, (and a lot of these are from the tiny ‘Kitchens’ in Paris that you pass on your way to the toilet upstairs and try not to look in through the serving hatch so it doesn’t put you off your food!)

    I would not pay for either of those especially the one prepared by the ‘Exec-Chef’ and never return…I have always had perfectly cooked Burgers from St Johns st…

    Plus I dont like it when the Stack of Lettuce rivals the thickness of the Patty…Oh Dear…

  10. Hey Daniel,

    Do you know if this new cooking process is being applied (perhaps more recently since you’ve last been there) to their St. John st location as well?

  11. right_writes says:

    I suppose the important question to ask these health fascists is… How many “consumers” (I hate that word!) have died eating a properly prepared burger?

    We had a very similar issue with eggs, for about ten years after Edwina Currie made her erronious statement about salmonella inside them… (an impossibility), wherever one went outside of one’s own kitchen eggs were like leather and completely inedible.

    Anyway, back to the point about medium rare burgers, I was once quite ill and in a high dependency ward in a London hospital, across the way from me was a young girl, who was very sick… Her story went thus, she worked for the police and was working late one night, she hadn’t eaten at all that day, but when she left work went to the nearest McDonalds and bought a MacSomethingorother… A couple of hours later she started to suffer stomach cramps, and this went on for a few days and then subsided… Then they came back and she ended up opposite me, where she had just had 90% of her gut removed… She died, she was 22! But at least the MacSomethingorother was properly cooked.

    As I always say… (being fluent in Latin)… Caveat f**king emptor!

  12. Daniel Young says:

    Bret – This new cooking process WAS being applied at the Bistro du Vin on St John Street, but I’ve been informed by the restaurant that they’ve rethought this policy and want me to return to retry the burger. I’ll investigate and got back to you.

  13. My BdV burger was fine, albeit too large, eaten about 10 days ago. It certainly wasn’t dry as my shirt sleeves can testify, nor were there any peppercorns. You may have been unlucky. It happens even though it shouldn’t. Even the Fat Duck once poisoned its customers I believe.

  14. Went for the BdV burger last night (we’ve started doing our own Burger Mondays working through your top 10 list) – and I’m glad to report that it was nothing like the one above. It was very moist – medium rare and very tasty. One of the group commented that it “tasted like well chopped steak”. No peppercorns found either.

    Not cheap, but very good.

    Just have to get through the other 9 now :-)

  15. Daniel Young says:

    Thanks for the report, Greg. That’s happy news.

  16. Adam Hardy says:

    The fat duck didn’t poison it’s customers. It was because of the noroviris that made it’s way into the kitchens (not salmonella or any lapse in cooking preparations).

    I’ve eaten at the fat duck and the quality of food received was second to none.

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