The annual Wellington on a Plate restaurant fortnight ended yesterday. I didn’t have a single dish. That’s because the annual Burger Wellington competition also ended yesterday, and I had eleven of those instead.
Nearly 100 restaurants put up an offering in Burger Wellington, mainly matched with hipster-level craft beer from Aro Valley’s Garage Project.
I refused chicken and vegetarian burgers on principle. This principle is so powerful that it’s not necessary to talk about it. Among the remaining surf and/or turf selection, amusing titles sent places up my list, while pretentious descriptions sent them sliding off the bottom, no matter how amazing their restaurant is otherwise. If you’re going to call your fries “WBC chipped potatoes,” or say your salad greens are “Cuba St Fruit Mart vegetables,” I’m going to call your competition. But if you’re serving up an “Aporkalypse Now” or a “Ba ba baaa ba ba bar lamb,” I’m in.
Of course, being foodie-bait, some of the burgers came in inexplicably overpriced. Some burgers, with no fries and only a couple of exotic things, were going for $25. My Stateside drive-thru go-to, the In’N’Out Double Double Animal Style would pull a solid top half finish in Burger Wellington, but it costs $3.50.
Through my two weeks of gluttonous endurance, I think I’ve learned a few things about what makes a great, classic burger.
A steamed bun tastes luxuriously soft, but it turns very quickly into a soggy bun, which tastes like tramping. All buns, even steamed ones, are better with a bit of crunch, from a walk under the grill or across the griddle.
Meat patties need some burny crunchy bits on the outside, even when they’re beautifully pink in the middle. And unless you’ve really got tartare quality meat, two thin patties are better than one thick one. More patties, more crispy bits.
Bigger isn’t always better.
Even in a world of truffled brie and cave-aged blue, there’s a special place for a strong, thick, melty slice of cheddar.
The veggies that pop are a little different, like fried pickled onions or beetroot relish.
If you’re going to pimp-up your special sauce, be aggressive. Nothing’s as underwhelming as a not-tangy-enough sauce.
Always serve some pickle. On the side, sliced in, it doesn’t matter. Serve it up.
Last, if you’re trying to stand out, dare to be different. The burger’s a pretty forgiving platform if you’re keen to experiment.
Five Boroughs in Mt Victoria is my winner. They didn’t do a classical burger at all. They did Vadereqsue all-black dish, plate and everything. The bun was squid ink. Black garlic mayo. Charred venison. Deeply sautéed mushrooms peeking out the bottom. The only bright ingredient was the truffled brie, which they gave us lots of, but hidden under the lid.
It tasted even better than it looked, with the la-de-da fancy cheese melting through the crunchy top of the venison patty, and garlicky mushrooms soaking up any juices that spilled. The ink bun tasted just salty enough to be different. It worked perfectly.
One of my client’s staffers wasn’t a believer. She thought only proper fancy restaurants could do a proper fancy burger, and Five Boroughs was just a mid-range burger joint trying to play up a league. Then she went there, and saw the light. Several staffers made multiple trips after that.
My second place wasn’t a classical burger either. Ti Kouka café’s Aporkalypse Now, geniusly matched with a beer called Death from Above, was more porktopia than aporkalypse. There was chilli oil on the side, pork crackling floating around because, well, why not, and an amazing pork shoulder-and-bacon thing in the middle. The only downside was a borderline soggy bun. A hamlicious, pigtacular mess.
It wasn’t only oddballs that floated to the top of my rankings – Egmont St Eatery, The Bresolin, and Bin 44 were all twists on a classic red meat cheeseburger, all done really nicely, and that rounded out my top five.
I’m counting down to the start of next year’s two week burgergasm. 350 sleeps to go.
And now… time for a run.