Friday, 5 July 2013

Shake Shack, London

Food commentators on Twitter, the London press and even some of my previously oblivious, nonchalant mates had remarked that London’s burger mania had peaked and become dull. Even my Mum is aware of the craze. But this week’s opening of US transplants Shake Shack and Five Guys surely marks the crescendo.

As the debates rage on the limits of queuing, on London’s colonisation by US chains and thirdly on whether the humble burger itself merits all of this attention, it can be difficult to maintain a stance. The ‘to each their own’ mantra so universally appropriate has to be the way forward here.

Personally I wouldn’t like to queue 2 hours for a burger, but if someone does, that’s fine. I wouldn’t sleep rough for a new iPhone either, but I did wait 45 minutes at Frank’s for a lukewarm, assembly line Negroni which I could have bettered for free in my suntrap garden around the corner. So I’m a mug too… or, we’ve all got our weaknesses.

Is London becoming the 51st State in regards to openings? Well, perhaps. We have Balthazar now, and in retail, J Crew and Williams Sonoma are following Banana Republic, Abercrombie & Fitch and many more before them. Nothing new there though. 

I doubt anyone would rather the repulsive Quick of France, or Pans & Co of Spain, and we should be pleased about the employment and investment created. Frankly, heightened service levels might cross the pond too. I’d much rather a Japanese invasion of fashion and food, but that’s another story.

But the burger itself should surely be the main issue. Is it worthy enough of all this hype? Is it just meat within two slices of bread? Yes, of course. But therefore a steak is just grilled meat and sashimi is just sliced fish? Anything can be disseminated for ridicule. If somebody values something to queue for a certain period or pay £15, then that is its value. Simple.

But Shake Shack itself? From the preview: a bit disappointing. They’ve made a huge effort, the team are fantastic and I wish the venture well – but the Smoke Stack burger (with cheese, bacon, peppers and a cloying mayo-based sauce) lacked much depth in flavour. The Aberdeen Angus patties were greyish inside, underseasoned and underwhelming. 

Top marks for the cheesy crinkle cut fries, and the shakes themselves. Kernel beer is decent but I hope they end up collborating with a London brewery here, as with Brooklyn’s Shackmeister. 

Curiously, the Cumberland sausage hot dog was the stand-out dish for me. Rich, gamey flavours and the crispy shallots were a perfect accompaniment and substitution for the usual bog-standard onions. With more of that cheese sauce. Fantastic, and probably the one reason I’d return.

I’ve eaten in Shake Shack in New York, and enjoyed it. The branding is superb and the staff great, but the actual food isn’t memorable on its own merits. It’s not as good as Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien. Or Fanelli’s. Or countless other more affordable burgers in New York.

Let’s be truthful here: that positive Shake Shack NY impression becomes amplified when back home and amalgamated into the joys and vibrancy of a New York visit overall. The superlatives come out, the power of nostalgia becomes inscrutable, the positive memories indelible. But we in London have been busy, and this isn’t a patch on Honest Burgers or Tommi’s.

Shake Shack on Urbanspoon

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