It's taken months for me to get this post together, mainly due to a complete lack of enthusiasm for Five Guys and its fare...
The place is kind of horrible looking from a design / branding perspective. Ill-chosen type combined with black, red and white makes for a bland, joyless interior, which is further uglified by really annoying quotes printed in yet more horrible, sometimes stretched type and stuck to the walls here and there on what might as well be bits of A4. As a fan of good design, this place makes me feel queasy, I just don't get it.
Why would you come to London and set up in Covent Garden – a well-to-do part of town, after all – but allow your restaurant to look like some business students (with no design student friends) took over an old McDonalds restaurant site for a pop up experiment only to find that they've no idea whatsoever about how to make it appear welcoming or friendly or anything other than blandly functional? I'm guessing the answer is simply "it's for tourists, not Londoners".
So, what to order? Well, I was hungry and I didn't want a "little burger" so I opted for a Bacon Cheeseburger which consists of two beef patties, American cheese and crisp bacon and nothing else. The whole concept of Five Guys is that all its burgers come plain and you can pimp them to your particular tastes with a range of free-to-add toppings which give, apparently, over 250,000 possible ways to order a burger.
So basically, the concept is that Five Guys has no specific recipe for a blow-your-brains-out awesome burger - just an army of T-shirted folk on hand to delve rubber-gloved hands into plastic buckets of whatever-you-want and shove it into your plain ol' burger of choice. The plastic-tubbed toppings available to add to your burger are lettuce, onions, tomato, pickles, green peppers, jalapeño pepper, grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, ketchup, mustard, mayo, relish, HP sauce, BBQ sauce, and hot sauce. I opted for grilled onions, lettuce and tomato.
Then, once your burger has been hand built to order, it's wrapped in tin foil and placed in a brown paper bag along with the rest of your order. If you order fries, be aware that a small fries is ENORMOUS. If only they'd been crisp.
As for the burger itself, it steams and continues to cook in the foil wrapper so you need to get that package open pronto. I found a seat and unwrapped it mere moments after I'd been handed it at the counter but the bun already looked like someone had sat on it, which in a way actually suited it quite well as it was of the cheapest, white seeded variety – the kind that does its job of housing a burger without contributing to the ensemble's flavour profile. To be honest, this is one of my favourite type of burger buns - but my first bite kicked thoughts of burger bun types into touch and instead raised some concerns about the viscosity of the just-melted cheese. With just a little more R'n'D, this sticky yellow stuff could just negate the need for all forms of welding.
OK, look, the burger wasn't awful. As fast food burgers go, it was pretty substantial and when I totted up my score, it got the bare minimum to scrape a three star status. BUT at £11.50 for burger and fries this meal demands to be compared, not to fast food burgers, but to the "posh" ones served by Byron, Honest, Patty & Bun and the like. And the simple truth is that nothing about what Five Guys is doing stands up to the offerings of our more talented homegrown burger vendors.
If it had arrived on these shores say ten years ago when only McDonald's and Burger King were the main burger players in the UK, then maybe Five Guys would have been seen to raise the fast food burger game. However, in the age of the gourmet burger and in the wider context of British gastronomy in 2013, Five Guys seems to be something of an anachronism: last decade's food, served today. But with zero enthusiasm or verve.
1-3 Long Acre