In London right now, there’s an arms race going on. An escalation with many sides involved and none of them look like quitting any time soon. I am of course referring to the ongoing oneupmanship that is the world of the gourmet burger. Forget Byron, which is so plebian that George ‘Oik’ Osborne can have it delivered as a takeaway. And don’t even think about mentioning the ‘gourmet burger’ advertised on small noticeboards at the bar of your local. Just because it’s priced at £9, it doesn’t disguise it being average meat covered with pecorino cheese.
There are a group of venues in the city that are promising the acme of gustatory experiences with their patties in baps. Meat Liquor, Tommi’s Burger Joint, Maze Grill and Opera Tavern are just four of the many, many places that are trying to offer the unique burger experience. These places are not just offering great burgers but variations on the dish with Iberico ham, foie gras all being combined with the ground beef.
Another player on the field is SLABS, which opened back in the summer. Its interior is austere with high ceilings, low-level lighting and granite tables, like if Hannes Meyer had been asked to provide the interior design for a McDonald’s. I should have picked up on the dour formality way before realising that SLABS is the functional name that the restaurant give for the portions of meat served up. They also offer a decent range of burgers with more upmarket selections in the former of lobster and wagyu beef.
The starters we plumped for were exquisite, the salt and pepper chilli squid had a delightful soy and sweet chilli dressing whilst the pan-fried tiger prawns had been prepared immaculately. It was easy to tell that they had been seared just right and the combination of garlic, chilli and brandy jus had those crustaceans highly juicy and flavoursome.
For main course, my companion ventured for one of the said wagyu burgers, which was made up of wagyu beef, roasted shitake mushrooms and Asian ‘slaw. Whilst the texture of the meat was good, the accompanying ingredients made for an unsatisfying experience. The overflow of oil from the roasted mushroom soon had the bap disintegrating and the mysterious Asian ‘slaw turned out to be nothing more than shredded carrot and cucumber. Things were a little better with my chorizo burger, which mixed in chorizo sausage with prime beef, manchego cheese and serrano ham. The addition of the sausage and ham allowed a greater degree of piquancy but didn’t go the necessary way to making for an outstanding burger.
Another disappointment came with the desserts. Although the menu said traditional Eton Mess, what arrived was an ersatz version with the chief crime committed of the essential strawberries being replaced by cherries. It’s one thing to serve insubstantial burgers but to try and pass off second rate Eton Mess to an ex-public schoolboy ponce? No sir, no. Where I come from, that is grounds for fisticuffs.
My rage was tempered with a tiramisu martini that was luxuriously good. But overall, SLABS needs to up its game, especially given the proximity of highly-rated burger joints in the near vicinity. It’s also a rather uninspiring place to go for a burger, like trying to enjoy some barbecued ribs in an East Berlin canteen.
19 New Cavendish Street
Tel: 020 7486 3121