I have no doubt that many of m'regular readers will look at this image and the 5-star rating and wonder what the heck I'm playing at. Yes, there is rocket. Yes, there is mayo spilling out the edge of a large white bready and heavily floured bun. And yet this burger is nothing short of spectacular. Let me explain...
I was over in Belfast for the MTV Europe Music Awards (I didn't win anything) at the weekend and while there are many highlights of the trip, lunching on Sunday at The Barking Dog restaurant is the pick of the bunch. There's only one burger on the menu - a tweep by the name of @Paul_Designer suggested I check it out - and I can't thank him enough. His recommendation made six rather hungover party people VERY happy indeed.
OK - so The Barking Dog is about a 20 minute stroll from Belfast's town centre. Head south towards Queen's University and it's only just beyond the main college building on the opposite side of Malone Road. We were greeted with smiles and shown to a big round table in a bay window. We were already pretty pleased with ourselves, but then we were handed menus and everything looked really good. Great choice of typeface too ;)
We decided we'd order some pints of the black stuff, but they only had bottles. Our waiter then told us that they had their own beer, Barking Brew, on tap - so we ordered that. Turns out it's brewed exclusively for The Barking Dog by the Whitewater Brewery in the Mourne Mountains just outside Belfast. The BD's Richard Stitt explained: "It's basically a cross between two of its existing brews - Belfast Lager which is a pilsner lager that uses the original yeast culture from the Old Belfast Brewery, and its Copperhead, which is an earthy, hoppy red beer."
The beer is the result of the restaurant giving the brewery the brief that they wanted a beer that perfectly complimented its best selling dish: its legendary 8oz Beef Shin Burger. BINGO!
Seeing as I was hungover, and very excited to be in an environment where the food was reputed to be good, I thought I'd start with a bit of flaked crab with creme fraiche and chive on sourdough toast. Very nice indeed.
The truth is, I probably (definitely) didn't need a starter. Because the Beef Shin Burger, with Chunky Chips is one heck of a main course. Here's how it arrived:
Under that generous blanket of perfectly melted cheddar is an 8oz shin burger (more on that in a moment) which sits on a bed of caramelised onion on a perfectly toasted, if rather floury, bun. The chunky chips are served in a miniature fryer and the top of the bun is upside down, smeared in a creamy horserdish "mayo" (it's more like freshly grated horseradish and creme fraiche) and a nest of rocket on top. In for a penny, in for a pound, I popped the lid on the burger and tucked in.
First impressions taste wise was good - but I was kind of amazed that various things I normally don't like were combining to deliver a really super taste sensation. Rocket in a burger? Usually I'd say no thank you. But here the peppery rocket is complimented perfectly by the freshly made horseradish "mayo".
The beef patty itself isn't of the pure beef variety. It's got an almost sausage-like depth of flavour - there's beef, chopped onion and garlic, mustard, ketchup, breadcrumbs and very probably some binding egg here. Yet, this slightly stuffing-like patty is forgiven because, combined with the cheese, caramelised onions, rocket and horseradish the toasted bun, it's bloody delicious. And just as I was wondering how beef shin factors in this burger, something amazing happened... I found it!
Yes, in the centre of a tasty but fairly standard burger patty is a mind-blowing beef shin centre that's positively bursting with a deep, rich beefy flavour and that just-fallen-off-the-bone texture that comes from slow cooking such a cut. The Barking Dog's Richard Stitt told me a little of the meaty processes involved in creating this tasty shin burger...
First the beef shin is marinated in red wine and celery, onions and carrot overnight. Then it's seared off and braised overnight in veal and chicken stock. The next day meat is picked (falls) off the bone while hot and the juices are reduced until it becomes a thick syrup. This is then combined with the loose meat and rolled in cling film and then tin foil in a sausage shape and chilled in the fridge - this becomes the centre of a big burger sausage that is sliced into discs to become the final, 8oz burgers. Richard tells me that each patty is about 6oz burger mix, and 2oz glorious shin magic in the middle.
The Barking Dog has created an unusual but delightful beef burger experience that makes for a brilliant alternative Sunday lunch. If you live in Belfast, or are just visiting, you HAVE to check this place out. And don't even think about having the burger without an accompanying pint of Barking Dog Brew. Absolutely delicious. I hope I get back to Belfast soon!
The Barking Dog
33-35 Malone Road
Tel: +44 (0) 28 9066 1885