Want to know how did my first burger since becoming a dad turned out? Read on…
It’s Friday evening, 7.15pm, it’s beautifully light, sunny, with a gentle breeze – a fairly normal Spring evening in London. Except this isn’t a normal evening by any means – it’s my wife and I’s very first attempt at a meal out at night with the new baby.
H and I are attempting to dine out with our demanding, unpredictable, gorgeous (of course) 3 week old son, Noah, in tow. We boogy along bumpy pavements towards the pizza joint – pizza’s gonna be easy, isn’t it? If the hungry newborn wakes and demands a feed (and we’re breast feeding him on demand), it’s possible to scoop him up onto the boob with one hand, whilst seriously scarfing a slices of Hawaiian with the other. Easy. However, since he’s just fallen asleep after a big feed, we decide to go one better – burgers (me) and steak (H) at local haunt, Monkey Nuts. Trouble is, if he wakes here, it could ruin the entire meal before it even starts. Yet the lascivious allure of a juicy burger overpowers me proves. So we risk it. So here’s the review…
Background – Monkey Nuts
A reasonably priced local eaterie that’s good for some celeb spotting – Liam Gallagher being a recent visitor along with half the cast of Eastenders – Monkey Nuts averages 3 out 5 stars in reviews. I agree with the middling rating, although I have eaten there several times and have never had the kind negative service experience that some reviewers have. This isn’t a gastronomic paradise for foodies, but is great for relaxed, local munching. Its diner style set-up thankfully offers an alternative to the identikit gastropub invasion of north London. The joint is also kid-friendly, though the youngest here tonight is at least seven years older than our little fella. Noah generously sleeps through the entirety of our meal in his pushchair, despite the jovial, riotously loud atmosphere.
The Monkey Nuts burger
Right, enough with this yawn-inducing scene-setting – let’s get right onto the burger. The last time I ordered here, the burger wasn’t too bad (5.8/10), and far better than Fine Burger Company (4/10) and Gourmet Burger Kitchen (4/10) and the God-awful Haché (3/10); side note – if you put see anywhere with an immodest, intensifying adjective in the title, steer clear. Weird anomaly with the last burger though, an alien addition: a thick dollop of mayo wetting the bottom bun – no one likes a soggy bottom, Monkey Nuts. This time I ask them to hold it all together – creamy mayo obscures the meat’s flavour.
First impression – nice, shapely buns
The burger arrives looking damn good. Nice soft buns, char-grilled patty apparently cooked to a perfect pink, tomato, lettuce and relish all more or less trimly enclosed within the bun’s outer rim.If looks were everything, this would get decent scores.
The first thing I’ll score is the fries. Get them out of the way – just what they deserve. They aren’t homemade, so I immediately mark them down; these bought-in bandits are the classic thin-cut Belgian frites – but a pale, limp version of them. Out of disdain for them, I douse the failed frites in delicious hot Jalapeno Tabasco sauce. (4/10).
(Excuse the shitty quality in my picture)
As for the burger, it’s close but no cigar unfortunately. The bun is beautifully soft, but not quite sweet enough and slightly too doughy, making the texture and flavour the dominant note in each mouthful – only the meat’s strong char punches through it. Thankfully the roll is on the right side of wrong – miles away from the downright deluded view, held by every gastropub I have eaten a burger in, that ciabatta improves actually improves the overall experience. Really, some thoughtful tweaking could make this bun damn near perfect (5.5/10).
The meat itself sports a nice, strong char. However, my one is just a bit on the burned side for my taste – that extra minute on the grill seems to have hurt the patty. Indeed, the charred crust overpowers the otherwise nicely cooked pink meat, which itself lacks flavour. Perhaps these handmade patties were a centimetre on the thin side, or maybe it’s just the lack of moistness from over-cooking. Either slightly less cooking or more fattiness in the meat itsefl would have really punched the flavour up – I suspect both would help. Clearly, some meaty juices would get me salivating more by countering the dryness. (6.5/10).
In terms of the other peremptory burger bits…the tomato is spot on, a thin, inoffensive slice, but the lettuce was a bit wrong. Probably too much of it, with a texture evoking Lt. Frank Drebin eating his way through the escape plans in jail (a mound of paper, in the movie Naked Gun 33 1/3 – misc. clip from that movie here). This left me praying for another beer to wetten my dry mouth. No onion (good, but might have appreciated some on the side), or cheese (in my zombie-like remiss, I forgot to request it, same with bacon – doh), and no relish, which thankfully leaves me free to add my own from Monkey Nuts’ bulging basket of condiments. (5.5/10)
Overall, it’s a fantastic experience just being out for the first time since becoming new parents. The atmosphere is good and props to Monkey Nuts helpful staff for being really accommodating with us, too – happily moving us to the seats we request. The food arrives swiftly, and we’re kept topped up with drinks. I happily pay the bill, no complaints from me, unusually – Haché had clearly lowered my standards to near baseline. Service notches up a 7/10, although I’ll deduct 0.5 for lack of choice of beers behind the bar. (6.5/10)
That Monkey Nuts doesn’t position itself as a burger specialist is clear. (On a sidenote, H was happy with her steak – although that, too doesn’t compete with Highbury’s slightly more expensive Garufa or the likes of Gaucho – but it doesn’t pretend to). That said, all the invididual elements of Monkey Nuts’ burger show potential to nudge close to the quality of specialist Byron, which I would score about 8 or 9/10. So in my view, Monkey Nuts should stop monkeying around and try to ape the best burgers in town at this price point, which you can find at the likes of Byron. I hope it does.
Overall score: 5.6
Footnote – the score in context
If I wasn’t the demanding burger bastard that I am, I’d probably score it higher, incidentally. Also, I might just have gotten a duff version tonight. I’ve had a 6.2 (thereabouts) before. The average diner, as opposed to burger Nazis like me, will might possibly find this a 7-8 scoring burger by the standards in their area.