In recent weeks I've been tipped me off by a couple of well informed peeps about a better-than-decent burger being served at Workshop Café & Dining Room on Clerkenwell Road...
Described on the menu as a "rare breed hamburger" it's priced at £11.50 and served with fried ratte potatoes thus:
Here's the deal: a Miller's demi-brioche bun houses a course-ground, aged, rare breed patty (served medium rare as standard); a layer of perfectly melted Comté cheese; lettuce; red onion; tomato; and a gently spicy chipotle mayo. Bingo!
My dining buddy Pete initially bemoaned the lack of French fries, but the spuds turned out to be like lovely little roast potatoes. Pete also bemoaned the lack of juiciness of his burger, not least because of the unstoppable juiciness of mine. Which brings me to a slight architectural niggle that regular readers will probably guess before I mention it... Yup, it's the sheet of lettuce at the bottom of the ensemble. Juice from the burger gathers on it and when you pick it up, the juice all simply drips straight out. In my case, being a pro, I made sure it dripped out all over my potatoes. Rather than my lap.
It's a minor design flaw, and one this well-seasoned burger detective was able to spot and counteract quite easily. I can forgive it too because every other aspect of this burger is well thought through - the big individual flavours of the brioche, the beef patty and the Comté balancing each other well with a nice twang of sharpness from the red onion and that gentle chilli warmth you get from a chipotle mayo. Bingo indeed!So how come a café and dining room in Clerkenwell best known as a place to get a great breakfast and a killer cup of coffee is serving such an excellent burger? I put this question to Workshop's director of operations Tim Williams, who, it turned out, was precisely the right person to ask:
"To be honest, the real drive and impetus for adding a great burger to our menu came from my time living in Los Angeles, and the cult of burger that exists there," Williams explains. "A friend of mine in LA once made be a burger so good, I've been chasing it ever since," he continues. "I've never quite gotten there, but it's undoubtedly the reason we put so much time and effort into the burger at Workshop.
"After I moved back to London, burgers had escalated in popularity here, but I felt that a lot of them were almost caricatures of a burger – loads of toppings, with heavy and acidity-forward sauces and garnishes that inevitably ended up masking the quality of the meat and bread. And if a burger is truly anything, it's a meat sandwich, rather than a conduit for the most obscure sauces one can obtain." Burgerac concurs!
"Our burger is actually the product of a burger programme, really," reveals Williams. "We work with our good friend and extremely talented butcher, Nathan Mills of The Butchery, to source and prepare 190-200g rare breed patties, double-ground on a 6mm plate, and gently formed to maintain a crumbly texture. These are ground and delivered three times a week."
So the beef isn't a fixed breed or blend of cuts? "Every 10-12 days, we cycle through a different breed of beef, from Ruby Red, White Park, Dexter, to Belted Galloway," Williams explains. "We use predominantly chuck, rump cap and brisket, though this varies from time to time. The beef is always well aged.
"From time to time we experiment with adding dry-aged fat to the mix, for quicker rendering and an extra level of umami in the patty," adds Williams. "Once seared either side, we add Comté cheese, and melt it under the salamander, which allows the patty to rest a little, too. The Comté has a nice, gentle nuttiness, great texture, and doesn't overpower the meat."
As is, I hope, evident from the above, Workshop burgers are imbued with that most vital ingredient required for a truly awesome burger: love. Bravo, Tim. Bravo, Workshop. I shall return - every couple of days to see if I can detect the changes in breed! Of course, I don't expect I'll be able to - especially if I inhale every Workshop burger like I did my first.
27 Clerkenwell Road
Tel: 020 7253 5754