We've all heard about the revival of the burger as the fast-food for foodies. Whether haute (with foie gras) or dirty (with, well, everything), Britain can't get enough of them – the trendy indie burger joints and big companies are enjoying queues and profits galore. Now the Americans want a bite of the bun.
Two US chains will fire a fresh salvo in the UK's burger wars when they open their doors for the first time here within 24 hours of each other next month.
The Virginia-based Five Guys, America's fastest-growing restaurant group, will lead the charge on 4 July, with its New York rival Shake Shack in hot pursuit on the 5th, both in Covent Garden. They each want a bite of Britain's booming burger market, which was worth £2.8bn last year, according to Mintel, the market research analysts.
They join home-grown groups such as Byron (currently subject to a bidding war among suitors and said to be valued at £100m), Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Grand Union and Honest Burgers, and indies such as MEATliquor, Patty & Bun and Burger & Lobster in London, and Almost Famous in Manchester.
Scott Collins, one of the masterminds behind MEATliquor, is planning to expand to Brighton in August. He said demand stemmed from "people trading up to better burgers", adding: "People want to eat better, not just burgers, but across the board."
Burger hunger is helping the "fast casual" restaurant market to buck the rest of the eating-out sector with annual sales growth of 5 per cent, according to the analysts NPD Group.
Daniel Young, the food critic behind the BurgerMonday pop-up, where noted chefs fashion their own meat'n'bun creations, said the new arrivals would "raise the bar when it comes to the consistency of lower-priced rivals". He said US-style burgers appealed for their "sweet and salty" qualities and because they were made from meat that "has been chewed for you already, so it's nice and soft and cuddly". He added: "We all want to eat like kids, except better because we're grown-ups."
The family-run Five Guys – all five of the chief executive Jerry Murrell's sons work for the business – has pledged to source its meat and potatoes from the UK. Both its burgers and Shake Shack's are expected to cost between £4 and £5, towards the lower end of the posh burger market.
Meanwhile, such is the appetite for burgers that spin-offs are coming thick and fast. Last week the Japanese-food chain YO! Sushi launched its own riff on the meal-in-a-bun, using rice patties instead of bread. And in the US, Dunkin' Donuts is selling a bacon-and-fried egg combo that uses a glazed donut like a burger bun.