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Restaurant Review

Restaurant Review :: Vesivärava Grill (Tallinn)

Vesivärava Grill

Verdict: No beer, no indoor seating, but by far Tallinn’s best burger.

Vesivärava Grill is quite a way out from the centre of Tallinn. It’s just by Kadriorg Park, across the road from Kadrioru Stadium. What’s more it’s like a classic American burger stand, in that there is no indoor seating area. You queue up at the order window and wait outside while the burger is barbecued outside. Given the annual climate in Tallinn you can imagine that for most of the year this is a little cold and uncomfortable.

Is it worth leaving Tallinn Old Town just to get a burger from here? No, not unless you have a vehicle and feel like a little drive in action. However, if you are in the area, visiting the KUMU art gallery, Kadriorg Palace, The Swan Pool, Pirita Beach or any of the other museums and attractions in Kadriorg then definitely get over to Vesivärava Grill and grab yourself Tallinn’s most awesome gourmet burger.

It is very popular, lots of people drive up and queue up for their burgers and once you try them you will understand why. Up until this point I had not had a really good, or even a passable burger in Tallinn but Vesivärava Grill are certainly equal in flavour and quality to London’s top gourmet burger joints. The fries were also delicious and top notch.

One last thing to note, Vesivärava Grill was taken over by new staff and management since I visited, the previous management and staff have renamed themselves The Estonian Burger Factory and I think we are all looking forward to their new restaurant opening in 2014. I have not revisited Vesivärava Grill since this change but I have heard nothing but good things in the meantime.

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Restaurant Review

Restaurant Review :: The Beer Emporium (Bristol)

Beer Emporium Bristol

Verdict: A great selection of beer & some freakishly moreish chips. 

In between ordering food, plugging in phone to charge, estimating if I had enough time to eat and walk to the station before the train leaves and tasting an awesome local stout… it occurred to my subconscious mind that the song being sung in a folksy, guitarsy, Joni Mitchellsy way by Sarah R-K was in fact ‘Ice Ice Baby’ by Vanilla Ice. This part of their Unsigned Underground night pleased me very much.

It probably goes without saying that a restaurant modelled after a Belgian beer cellar and specialising in craft beers, has an exceptional selection of beers on tap and in bottle. Over 122 Belgian bottled varieties they claim. The food is good. I mean great, I mean gourmet great. I have to say it was one of the best burgers I have ever had, succulent & tasty. The handcut chips were excellent and whatever combination of cooking oil and herbs they use to season is undoubtedly addictive.

The staff were friendly, knowledgeable about their beers and very helpful in making sure the meal was served with enough time to make the train home. If you are in Bristol I would highly recommend The Beer Emporium.

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Restaurant Review

Restaurant Review :: The Diner (Neal Street)

The Diner, Neal Street

 

Verdict: Very high quality at gourmet burger prices.

The Diner is one of a chain of seven around London, each set up to feel like a 1950s American style Diner, albeit a 1950s American style Diner perhaps imagined by some vague historian in a distant dystopian, minimalist, future, sci-fi world. All the elements are there, the booths, the soundtrack, the americana, the garish lighting, the neon. All just sitting in the uncanny valley somewhere between The Fifth Element and IKEA.

That said, the food is really good. Quality ingredients, well prepared an plenty of them. The sides are huge and well cooked. I have honestly never left The Diner in any way hungry. The selection of drinks is wide, from quality micro brewery beer & cider to ‘hard shakes’. Definitely one of the best burger joints around London but at a price just a bit too premium to be regularly visited, save it for special occasions.

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Restaurant Review

Restaurant Review :: Bill’s (St. Martin’s Courtyard)

Bill's Covent Garden

 

Verdict: Mmmm, I do like Bill’s.

To first of all qualify my bias, I like Bill’s… when it comes to brunch in Central London I think we can all agree it goes, in order of greatness; Joe Allen’s, Kopapa then Bill’s. I have breakfast in Bill’s far too often really and the only thing that now lets Bill’s down is the brand expansion, there are now another four Bill’s within walking distance of the original St. Martin’s Courtyard location, each of them with the same rustic, farmhouse produce stacked, raffia & dried chilli draped, trendy shabby chic design that made London’s first Bill’s stand out.

I hadn’t tried the burger, or indeed the afternoon in Bill’s before and seeing as it is almost exactly halfway between Shake Shack and 5 Guys I decided to do a quick comparison. The burger is the same price as 5 Guys (except you don’t pay extra for the fries) and the quality is as you would expect a proper London gourmet burger, big, chunky, succulent and flavour full. The fries are a decent portion of standard skinny fries.

Once you pay extra for the fries in Shake Shack the cost is about the same for a burger and fries. The cost actually comes in less than 5 Guys once you add their extra cost of the fries. Given the queueing at these ‘American’ restaurants, sitting at a table with waiting service takes about the same time for the food to arrive and when it does the quality and portion size at Bill’s is far superior. If you are in the area and about to spend £10 on a burger and fries then definitely choose Bill’s. Or head there for weekend brunch, but expect to wait on a table if you haven’t booked.

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Restaurant Review

Restaurant Review :: Shake Shack

Shake Shack Covent Garden

Verdict: Quality Fast Food at near Fast Food Prices, except without the ‘Fast’.

“They just opened a Shake Shack on the block and there’s never a line” said Lily in a recent episode of How I Met Your Mother and within days they did open a Shake Shack on the block, well, in Covent Garden Market Piazza. A mere coincidence, a sign from the universe or targeted brand placement during franchise expansion? I guess we will never know, but one thing is certain there is always a line, a queue, a long queue.

It was my third attempt to eat there when I found the queue short enough for my patience. Average wait at peak dining times is around 30 mins to place an order then 10-20 mins for the order to be ready. Between Lunch and Dinner time on a Thursday afternoon was about 5 minutes to place the order and 8 minutes for the order to be ready, so still not as fast as a fast food burger restaurant.

However Shake Shack are not really a fast food joint, although they resemble one, and they are not really a gourmet burger bar either, although the quality of their food is close to that level. The burgers, hot dogs & fries are all flavourful, the meat is certainly top quality, the bread is succulent, the frozen custard dessert is delish. My main criticism about the food would be that the portions are all very small, and indeed scaled to match each other and the bottles etc, so that in photos they appear full size… like a miniature village. The fries are average crinkle cut frozen fries, the cheese sauce is exactly the fake goo you would imagine and again the portion is small, so I think the cheese fries are ridiculously overpriced. However they are probably the only menu item that is so overpriced, everything else comes in at around standard fast food prices. The Kernel Brewery London supply some very nice bottled beers.

On the plus side you are given a pager once you have placed your order and so you are free to explore the Piazza while you wait and they have certainly installed a lot of seating to accommodate you once the order is ready. Large orders on trays are carried through the Piazza to your table by the enthusiastic, friendly staff, for insurance purposes I imagine. Overall I would recommend them for a quality burger & beer, but skip the fries and try and head down when there isn’t a queue.
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Restaurant Review

Restaurant Review :: Five Guys

Five Guys Covent Garden

Verdict: Only slightly better than McD/BK at Gourmet Burger prices.

The hype surrounding Five Guys first UK franchise opening is incredible. Touted as being “Obama’s favourite burger” and launched with multiple awards and glowing reviews from stateside, I decided the day after opening to give them a try.

The restaurant itself has a garishly 80’s feel, clean tiles with black and white and red all over. The sound system is very harsh, tinny, unnecessarily loud and prevents conversation with it’s middle of the road, soft rock soundtrack. You have to queue to order the food and then queue again to collect the order.

The food is served in a brown paper bag, the burger wrapped in foil causing the grease from the food to spread everywhere. The burger is good quality meat, hand prepared and the bun is decent quality bread, but it seems excessively greasy and even with a selection of the ‘free toppings’ the burger was bland and almost flavourless. The fries are cooked with their jackets still on in peanut oil, trumpeted as a health benefit, being low in cholesterol. As part of this gimmick they also provide free peanuts to customers. This oil gives the fries an interesting flavour, but I found them to be slightly too salty and although there were a lot of them in the regular portion I still don’t believe they are worth the price.

The main standout feature is in the selection of drinks. The premium beers are from Brew Dog and the soda allows free refills from the machines. There are only two self service soda machines, resulting in queues, but the selection of flavours available on the touch screen are many, including Grape Sprite, Lime Coke and several others that I don’t believe are available elsewhere.

Overall the quality of the food was average and bland, around the level of standard fast food chains except being sold at the price of a gourmet burger restaurant, of which there are many better options in the area. Upon leaving my clothes smelled horribly of cooking burgers and frying peanut oil, something that generally doesn’t occur at any of their rivals.