I’m not always the first to jump on a bandwagon. When I finally yielded to social pressure and purchased a smartphone, I chose a model that looked and felt like it came free in a packet of cereal.
It’s this goat-like resistance to popular hype which has so far immunised me to the new brand of hip chain restaurants – fast-food but good for you, outlets replicated across the country yet full of cheeky hints of quirky individuality usually via zany decor and chatty menus, and casual reminders for you to ‘like’ it on Facebook.
I’m referring to the Nandos of this world; mid-range meal-mongers aimed at those too old for a Happy Meal but as yet unimpressed by the restrictive tableau of formal dining. Fortunately, Gourmet Burger Kitchen – or simply GBK, chill out yeah – is one of the more beguiling of the new kids on the block.
The fate of these places may seem to rest upon their marketing budget – which by the looks of things is ample in GBK’s case – but without quality food it is hard to imagine how customers would be retained.
Thankfully Gourmet Burger Kitchen lives up to its name. The food is clearly fresh, with the beef sourced in the West Country. The staff are well organised and attentive in the face of a very busy Thursday evening, and the beach decking decor, a nod to the chain’s Kiwi origins, is at least unusual, leaving you to assume that the interior designer was equally impressed by both canteen style dining rooms and the underwater levels on Super Mario Bros.
I decided to ‘go naked’, meaning that my burger was served without a bun. It’s part of the summer menu at GBK, a concession to an increasingly health-conscious market and the gastronomic dictates of summer for lighter alternatives to traditional favourites.
Disrobed of its carby companion, the steak had nowhere to hide – either the beef is of a good quality or it’s not. From the first bite it oozed freshness; the patty was reassuringly moist, with a fine-grained crumbly texture. The thickness was just right, and it was cooked to medium-rare perfection.
Presented with a menu which mixed familiar (‘cheese’) with unusual (‘bacon aioli’), I opted for something in between – Gorgonzola – a combination which comfortably matched the best efforts of assorted gastropubs competing in the same field of high-end hamburgers with ambitious toppings. Meanwhile my partner justly described her chicken burger as fantastic, a world away from the tense, dried-up fillet often served at these prices.
Pleasingly, side-orders are not thrust upon you, but can be selected in a mix ‘n’ match style. You can choose between chips ranging from thick cut to razor thin. We opt for the skinny fries (‘unique to GBK’), which arrive in the kind of cup you might slurp Sprite from at the cinema, emerging like amber-coloured blades of grass. As much as I prefer the crispy outer layer of chips over stodgy potato filling, after a few handfuls I’m left pining for the substance of filling – it’s like eating a cake made entirely out of frosting. Still, full marks for the introduction of novelty into the indissoluble wedlock of burger ‘n’ chips.
Gourmet Burger Kitchen isn’t going to redefine the burger. But there is no denying that they get it right. Having munched on hamburgers from motorway Little Chefs to the hushed dining rooms of aspirational haute-cuisine restaurants, GBK offers good value for money and more importantly a succulent burger. You could certainly do a lot worse – even if you’re not a trendsetter.
Gourmet Burger Kitchen
13-14 Maiden Lane
Tel: 020 7240 9617
Image by nickwallen courtesy of Flickr