December is always full of Christmas celebrations – parties, presents, festive cheer and oh so much turkey. It’s the time of year when everyone wants to catch up with you all at once. Not that I’m complaining per se (I love catch up with friends), but after 4 weeks of poultry, pigs in blankets and one too many sprouts I was relieved that an alternative venue had been picked by this particular group of friends. It also finally gave me the chance to sample another of London’s burger joints, a wave of businesses that have decided McDonalds and Burger King simply weren’t doing justice to the burger and have come across the pond to show us Brits how it’s really done.
Five Guys has been in business for 30 years, but only opened up in London in 2013 and now has franchises all over the U.K. In my head I associate it with the slightly more expensive burgers that London has to offer (Patty & Bun, Bleecker Street and Honest Burgers spring to mind straight away). But I suppose since it’s a franchise with multiple stores, you could also compare it with GBK or Byron – all have a similar price point at £7 and above for the basic burger. So, can the restaurant that claims to have started London’s burger revolution stack up to newer, younger & fresher competition?
You enter the Covent Garden store and immediately feel like you’re in a 50s style US diner – red chrome stools, red & white colour scheme and smiling faces at the counter ready to take your order. Except in this case, being London, you’re also faced with a huge queue that a poor member of staff is trying to control… whatever he was doing, it wasn’t working. So we grabbed some complimentary monkey nuts (always reminds me of GBK) and took our place in a line, to be told after 5 minutes that we are in the wrong queue. Not a good start Five Guys.
The menu is pretty standard for a burger place. There isn’t the variety of toppings and flavours that GBK has and you can’t request how your burger is cooked; a big problem for me, they insist on cooking them ‘well done’ when in my mind ‘medium rare’ is how beef should be cooked (be it as steak or in patty form). Health & Safety gone mad unfortunately. Although you can specify how your meat is cooked at other burger places…
Given the limited choice of toppings and restrictions on having a well done patty, I was in need of some extra meat so naturally a Bacon Cheeseburger was top of my list. Add in some BBQ sauce and we have a winning, classic combination… Except that they had run out of BBQ sauce. I’m sensing a disappointing theme here. One friend of mine went down the hot dog route (always a brave choice) with a Bacon Cheese Dog, adding some grilled mushrooms for extra earthiness. Another of my friends is gluten intolerant, so was pleasantly surprised to find that they could do the burger no bun and instead was greeted with the burger encased in extra lettuce leaves. It reminded me of the lotus leaves that often encase rice (except an edible version of course).
Verdict – totally average. Yes, the burgers are better than fast food rivals, but that is because they taste of beef. A sesame seed bun I have no qualms with, whilst I enjoy a brioche bun if the sesame seed bun is of good quality it can be just as successful. This bun didn’t fall apart, which is a plus. But it was stale and a bit too crumbly for me. The cheese was nice (but how can you get melted cheese wrong!) and the bacon crispy – a bit too chewy for my taste though, I like my crispy bacon to have a snap when I bite into it. My friend was happy with the hot dog (at £2 cheaper it does seem better value for money). But if I were to stack these burgers up against London rivals in a face-off style competition, this one would not be coming out on top. Hmm, burger face-off… Not a bad idea!
Five Guys UK
Franchises UK-wide; this branch at 1-3 Long Acre, London WC2E 9LH