Go ahead, salivate, that’s the carnivore’s natural response to my list of the top 10 burgers in London. But, please, if my voluptuous burger snaps lead you to envy my adventures as a burger taster, think again.
The quality of burgers may be improving, but getting them cooked as ordered is a crapshoot, even from the burger elite: Of the combined 38 burgers I’ve tried at the top tenners featured below a good third were either overcooked or, more rarely, undercooked. A few might have been overcooked by design in response to concerns expressed most vocally by Westminster Council linking increased risk of E. coli infection with rare and medium-rare burgers.
Exhaustive as my investigation was, not just of the top 10 burgers but also of many that didn’t make the cut, the sampling was ultimately too small to be statistically significant: I can’t predict with any certainly the likelihood of your getting a burger cooked the way you want it. Most of these kitchens have good days and off days. The ranking is based solely on my days, my first-hand experiences, my luck.
With many ways to judge a burger it’s too bad you can’t click a relevance tab to arrange this list according to the factors which matter to you most: burger style (joint, diner, pub, steak), patty (size, shape, density), meat (grade, cut, fat content, grind), quality and assortment of toppings, cooking method, consistency of preparation, value for money, construction, inventiveness, level of obscene drippiness.
Absent a re-sorting mechanism I’ve resorted to taking into account all these factors, chief amongst them consistency: Had I rated the top 10 burgers at the top of their form and not according to past performances the ranking order would look very different. One burger not on the list, from Burger & Lobster, would be in the top 5 had recent standards of preparation matched its ambitions and £20 price.
In the end I relied most on a single consideration: pleasure. My top 10 burgers in London are the ones I’d most want to eat.
The Top 10 Burgers in London
10. Joe Allen
Imagine the name of Orson Welles missing from the credits of The Third Man and you can begin to appreciate one’s astonishment at not finding the Joe Allen burger anywhere on the restaurant’s menu. The cross-charred burger, like Welles, may not be the star of this production, but once it makes an appearance atop that house-baked brioche bun, cloaked in melted Monterey Jack, its commanding presence looms in your consciousness. Befitting its unlisted address in a discreet West End celebrity haunt, the burger is a performer of measured stature: big but not obscenely so, lean but not dry, tender but not mushy. When the London Burger Hall of Fame is built the Joe Allen off-menu burger – the West End’s best worse-kept secret – must be its first inductee. £8.50 not including chips.
13 Exeter Street, WC2E 7DT
9. Electric Diner
A “single” cheeseburger contains two patties at Electric Diner as well as at Au Cheval, the Chicago diner that inspired it. Eat one and you’ll know why. Its toasted glazed bun, a beauty if ever there was one, stabbed and steadied in the back with a steak knife prior to delivery. The soft three-ounce patties, expertly fried on a chrome flattop griddle, are deep-pink throughout, their crevices oozing red globules of fatty juice. With gooey Monterey Jack, Dijon mayo and dill pickle chips as their mortar the twin patties are as one. Single cheeseburger indeed. £10, not including fries.
191 Portobello Rd., W11 2ED
8. Lucky Chip
Is it finally time to draw a line in the salt? The hot-off-the-truck burgers from Lucky Chip get their kick – and we’re talking a Steven Gerrard kick – from the Murray Hill Australian sea salt encrusting its patties. As difficult as it is to put these fabulously middleweights down, figuratively and, yes, literally, the heavy-handed salting has gone over the top, literally and, yes, figuratively. There’s no disputing the appeal of the patties, with their desirably rough contours and fat-soaked crevices. When cooked right the buzz you get from the first bite is so great you can almost feel your ears ringing. The smoked back bacon, however, can border on chewy, occasionally with tiny hard white bits, possibly cartilage. Lucky Chip is in residence at the Sebright Arms pub every night except Sunday. On Saturdays you’ve find the guys parked at the original Netil Market location from 12:30pm to 9pm. £6.50-£16 not including fries.
Lucky Chip at Sebright Arms, 31-35 Coate Street, E2 9AG
Lucky Chip at Netil Market, 13-23 Westgate Street, London Fields, E8 3RL
There are two pairs of hands you want to see around this big and deceptively powerful burger: yours or Hawksmoor‘s. Others have tried to duplicate the lush mince mix, which is said to include bone marrow and obscure cuts like beef shoulder clod, but these imposters have left me and their burgers crushed. Fat fills the grooves within the Hawksmoor burger as it cooks, basting its internal structure with deep, beefy flavours. The wet patty rests over an untidy raft of lettuce interruptus. Squeeze the burger too firmly or not firmly enough, I’m never sure which, and the patty will slide out from its housing, greasing your hands and breaching the bottom of the bun even before you’ve taken your first bite. But, oh my, what a first bite! Danger. Implosion. It’s all there, except, in recent instances, any significant char on the surface of a patty cooked to medium rare. £15 including chips.
Hawksmoor Spitalfields – 157 Commercial Street, E1 6BJ
Hawksmoor Seven Dials – 11 Langley Street, WC2H 9JG
Hawksmoor Guildhall - 10/12 Basinghall St, EC2V 5BQ
6. CUT at 45 Park Lane
Ask £22 (roughly $34) for a not very large burger and you must include at least one luxury add-on: foie gras, black truffles, gold leaf onion rings. A selection of three mustards, however impressive, won’t cut it. At CUT you’re ostensibly paying Beverly Hills prices for the beef, a hybrid of Australian wagyu and black angus; the name, chef Wolfgang Puck; and the address, a Dorchester Collection Hotel in Mayfair. The sumptuous, softly packed, deep-pink patty is anointed with garlic aioli (fab), melted Ogleshield cheese, caramelised red onion and a shallot-jalapeno marmalade that’s London’s finest burger condiment. The air bubbles in a bun densely dotted with poppy and sesame seeds is ideal for compression. When gently queezed between your fingers the bread closes in on one juicy, beefy, beautifully constructed burger. £22 including fries.
45 Park Lane, W1K 1PN
5. Honest Burgers
In a makeshift burger luncheonette in Brixton Village Market built with hammer and nails, Tom Barton and his able sidekicks stick to the fundamentals. They form 5 1/4 ounces (150 gr) of coarse, fatty mince into marbled beef balls and flatten them with their hands (not spatula) on their sizzling flat-top griddle. Only then are the burgers seasoned top and bottom with coarse salt. The crunch of the Honest, their best daily burger variety burger, comes from the level layers (important) of sliced homemade gherkins and crisp streaky bacon; its tang, from griddle-steamed Cheddar; its sweetness, from red onion relish; its oven-browned polish, from a brushed white-flour bun; its juice, from marbled meat put through the most minimal of workouts. Burgers are not like boxers: If you want to develop a middleweight champion, as Honest has done, you mustn’t overwork ‘em. £7.50-£9 including chips.
Honest Burgers Brixton – Unit 12, Brixton Village, SW9 8PR
Honest Burgers Soho – 4A Meard Street – W1F 0EF
4. Patty & Bun
A burger bun is a handle protecting our hands from drippy greasy, cheese and condiments. Patty & Bun‘s Joe Grossman did not get that memo. His burgers are not so much over-the-top as all over the place: Open the wrapper and you can’t tell where the orange cheesy stuff ends and the runny orange house sauce begins. Beneath the radioactive goo is an appealingly plump, deep-pink, hand-packed patty just shy of six ounces but not shy of fatty juices. It’s a genre bender, successfully combining classic elements of both joint burgers and steak burgers. Grossman has named burgers after Ari Gold and Smokey Robinson but for me a more voluminous luminary comes to mind, Oliver Hardy. “Well,” you’ll be telling Grossman as you unwrap yet another Ari or Smokey and lick mayonnaise off your fingers, “here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into!”. £7-8.
54 James Street, W1U 1HE
With beer-braised onions, aged Comté melted as if for a gratinée and bread overhead, Elliot’s burger is outfitted in the manner of French onion soup. The accoutrements enhance but do not smother each 160-gram mound of aged, coarsely minced beef shin and rib cap from Borough Market neighbour The Ginger Pig. (The cheese is from another Borough Market trader, The French Comté.) The plump patty is smartly shaped for height at the expense of diameter. Its shape and fit over a house-baked linseed brioche bun brushed on its cut sides with acidulated dill butter is in the Bar Boulud mould, whereas the meat’s beefy creaminess belongs to the Hawksmoor school. My only beef with the burger is that it’s only available at lunch. £12.50 including chips.
12 Stoney Street, SE1 9AD
The caramelised crust of what is essentially a charred chopped steak glistens beneath the custom-fitted brioche dome that crowns the Goodman steakhouse burger. The bun’s top half teeters over molten Cheddar and crisp, easy-to-chew streaky bacon, beckoning you to close shut the sandwich with your hands and devour it. But you will need to stretch the C-shaped brackets formed between thumbs and index fingers to make a go of it. The coarse texture of the patty is firm but not dense, making it a joy to break down the beefy, juicy goodness in your mouth. To capture the benefits of pre-salting the ground beef without breaking down its proteins and suffering the sticky consequences Goodman substitutes salty fish sauce for salt. The swap is usually successful: Blasted in the Josper Grill the Goodman medium-rare burger is a study in pink on pink . £15 including chips or fries.
Goodman Mayfair – 26 Maddox Street, W1S 1QH
Goodman City – 11 Old Jewry, EC2R 8DU
Goodman Canary Wharf – 3 South Quay, Discovery Dock East, E14 9RU
1. Bar Boulud
Some vertical burgers are larger but none is more stable or stylish than Boulud’s: Its patty sits snugly beneath a thick layer of toppings inside the domed bun. It’s as if the bun’s bottom half had a contoured seat, like an Eames moulded side chair. Coarse mince, best for improving inner texture and expanding surface area, is hand-packed into chubby patties most would want to flatten out further. Not the Boulud chefs, who are right in their depth, not out of it. Order one medium rare and it comes to you with charred shell, pink interior, no grey fringes. The burger gives easily to the gentlest of finger squeezes, first lubricating the bun and fixings and then your mouth with juices. The Frenchie, with melty Morbier, Dijon mustard and pork belly confit, is a splendid Gallic riff on a bacon cheeseburger. Even better is the Piggie, which transforms Bar Boulud into Bar Becue with its layers of red cabbage slaw, japapeno and pulled pork. But it’s the lavish BB, as in Best Burger, that halts conversation: Something monumental happens when the succulent braised short ribs, foie gras, horseradish mayo, crisp fried shallots, red onion confiture, black onion seed brioche and patty are crushed between your teeth. £11.75-£20 not including frites.
66 Knightsbridge, SW1X 7LA