Samuel Muston: It is time to put the gourmet-burger concept to bed?
Samuel Muston is deputy editor & food editor of The Independent Magazine. He writes a weekly food column – On the Menu – which appears in The Independent on Friday and i on Monday. And also travel and general features. Follow him on Instagram at @smuston
Thursday 29 May 2014
It is perhaps apt that in the week after we reached Peak Farage, we fell off another cliff top – we've reached Peak Burger.
It was a slow climb, beginning approximately 13 years ago, when Daniel Boulud, whose restaurants have more stars than Orion's Belt, put the DB burger on his menu. It cost $32 and was made of sirloin, short rib and not a little foie gras. People gasped. $32? He must be crazy. And foie gras, too? It was a brazen liberty to take with a hamburger. But people bought it – and what's more, they bought into the idea of it. He had taken something you found in a diner and lavished on it the same attention, the same love, that he may previously have reserved for his frog-leg fricassee.
That same drive to widen the burger's horizons was copied by a thousand other chefs in the years to come, eventually reaching a meaty conclusion with the gourmet-burger restaurant. These seemed to explode here in Britain in 2012. Outposts of the upscale Byron chain opened on every street corner in the capital, or so it appeared; MEATliquor annexed Brighton in 2013 (Leeds is soon to follow); SoLita started doing the business in Manchester, too.
The chefs were evangelical – "the beef is top-notch", "the buns are always fresh", "the cheese is the best you could buy" – and we, the punters, were happy to queue round the block to buy them. And why not? They were largely true to that same Bouludian vision of taking something simple and improving it with care.
In recent months, though, something has begun to change. We seem to be in the middle of a bun-based arms race. This week, Zagat.com ran an article in which it detailed the eight "craziest" burgers on sale in the UK. There is Tongue 'n Cheek's Heartbreaker burger, which may do just that, given that it consists chiefly of ox heart; Byron's Miami Slice – a burger whose cheese- and sauce-covered patty is garnished with shoestring fries; and then the final proof that the bottom has fallen out of the burger barrel comes in the form of the Pig Salad burger. This creation consists of – deep breath – a minced pork, chorizo and black-pudding patty topped with crispy pig's ears, confit pork belly, smoked bacon and chorizo aioli, and finished with lettuce, cheese and Bramley apple jelly and a pig's tail. Oh and yeah, it comes on a brioche bun.
You don't have to be a raving puritan to think that maybe, just maybe, these monstrosities are an offence to minced beef. Is the party over? It is time to put the gourmet-burger concept to bed?
One could argue that the burgers that Zagat lists are simply examples of comfort food reaching a sort of apotheosis. And, having been hung over myself, I can just about see a grain of sense in that. But in such "comfort food", with its dripping meat and surfeits of cheese and sauce, you find only false comfort – and, to follow, only a needled conscience and possibly indigestion.
A peak has been reached and now we need to walk quickly, and with head held high, down the other side.
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