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Burger review: Monkey Nuts, Crouch End, London N8

16 May

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).

Patty hurts

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).

Lettuce pray

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.


Burger news: New York’s finest burger

16 Dec

I work in the same office block as UK national newspaper, the Daily Telegraph. Here I dream about burgers all day and figure out new excuses for eating them.

Somewhat strangely it seems that, as I awoke from my latest pattie-laced reverie, rubbed my blinking eyes and chased the dream out of my sleepy head, I unconsciously gave birth to an amazing burger review.

Clearly, the dream left me, strolled down the corridor, subtly slid into the lift, pressed the 1st floor button, got out, and swum through the air into the Telegraph’s offices, finally settling into a sleeping Andrew Pettie’s sub conscious. This is where I lose track of the thing – who knows where it went hence?

However what I do know, is that the dream, a collective dream perhaps,  has helped Petrie help you and I by locating the best goddam burger in all of New York. You know what they say: if a burger can make it there, it can make it anywhere. What a lucky burger! And what a tasty burger, too, a must-eat taste treat.

A burger in an NYC eaterie, by Flickr user wallyg

Here’s what my fellow dreamer says about the thing:

“You can barely find a restaurant in Manhattan that doesn’t serve a decent hamburger (at least by British standards) so you’re certainly spoilt for choice. However the best burger in the city – at least according to locals – is served in a restaurant so small and tricky to find some tourists fail to locate even when armed with detailed directions and map. It’s called, simply, Burger Joint and it looks like any other friendly, rough-and-ready burger bar, seating about 25 people in a series of 1950s-style booths. The burgers are cheap ($6.89) and delicious and they ought to be: Burger Joint serves nothing else. The tricky thing is getting there: Burger Joint is located, or rather hidden, beneath the foyer of the swanky Le Parker Meridien Hotel (119 West 56th Street). Walk into its plush, marble-floored foyer and look for a large grey ceiling-to-floor curtain. Just to the left of the curtain you’ll see a gloomy corridor illuminated by a flashing neon burger sign. Follow the sign down a flight of stairs and you’ve reached beef patty nirvana. For details and the full Burger Joint menu go to: www.parkermeridien.com”

Well, what are you waiting for? Go get that burger.

Submission guide and judging criteria

21 Nov
Food gives you a sense of place. Whilst biting into a  greasy doner kebab might transport you straight to the gutter, munching on crab and  watermelon cubes can spirit me away to a garden bathed in sunshine in  Perth, Australia.
Burgers should evoke Americana and the best brand of American optimism – not the sneering apathy of old Europe – we’ve got clasic French cooking for that; nor damp hopelessness of dark, wintery Britain – we’ve got roast dinners for that.
The burger can be high concept or humble – doesn’t matter. As Alan Richman, who compiled GQs list of ’20 burgers you must eat before you die‘, says: “A great burger, regardless of regional differences, instills a sense of optimism and fulfillment, that all is right at the table or the counter or the woodgrain, screwed-to-the-floor, fast-food booth.”


I’d love to have any of your burger stories, news and particularly reviews to help people in the UK find the best burgers we have to offer, and to avoid the tasteless morass that serves as our standard.


Honey, I shrunk your burger

Burgers can start at 2oz, and can go up to any size you can fit on a grill. However, somewhere between 8-12oz is typically ideal. The cricket ball sized, ‘Botham burger’ promoted by the likes of Jamie Oliver partially represents  everything that’s wrong with burgers in this country. Over-large, over-English takes on an American classic. Less is more, folks. You gotta save room for fries, shakes,  and/or beer.


The bun should enclose the burger and any other ingredients. Half a ciabatta loaf perched atop a  wobbly tower of unevenly chopped tomato, onion, gherkin, relish does not a good burger make. If there’s a tomato slice, it should be cover the burger. Same goes for the onion. Cheese can melt over the side of the patty, but not flop around forlornly outside the roll.


You should be able to pick it up in your hand. If you need a knife and fork to eat the burger, it just ain’t a burger.


Mmm, grilled buns

Sadly, it’s rare to get a good burger roll. Particularly in Britain.Yet it’s crucial. The bun is what seperates a hamburger from steak haché. It’s what enables you to eat it with your hands.
The single most important factor is freshness. A fresh bun is a happy bun.
It should be soft like brioche, yielding easily to the touch, but not as sweet. There should be some sweetness, however, and some flavour, albeit subtle.
Toasted or grilled doesn’t matter – as long as the top yields, and the inside doesn’t sog from any liquid ingredients like sauce.
As  mentioned elsewhere, size is important. It should envelop the patty but not overwhelm the star of the show – the meat.
Aside from fast food joints, pubs/gastropubs are the main places where you eat burgers. Yet these places so often serve rolls that need to be sawed through by steak knife. By the time your teeth get to the meat,  they’re encased in dough, and your jaws are tired. These places should be named and shamed into getting it right.
The star attraction of any burger is the meat.
A bit of a purist, I think hamburgers should use, uh, beef. However, if you want to submit a review chicken, fish, buffalo, venison, ostrich, eagle or gerbil, be my guest. But I can’t guarantee I’ll feature it.
When it comes to meat, I don’t think cut matters – sirloin or ribeye, porterhouse or fillet, brisket or chuck all produce good results. Same thing for breed – kobe and wagyu may command the highest prices – and publicity seekers like Harrods add foie gras to bost the price and ad a sense of luxury – but there’s absolutely no reasong why a £2.50 burger can’t beat a £250 one. Indeed, in San Francisco’s Burger Joint, my $8 (around £5) burger was one of the best I ever  tasted.
What does matter is that the cooked meat can be safely served medium (or rare), and is juicy and succulent. To achieve this, patties should be hand-moulded from coarsely ground aged beef, and seasoned judiciously. Flavour is all-important – extras such as sauce, relish, ketchup shouldn’t need to be added – only if they can possibly add to what is already a beautifully tasting piece of meat.
Forget the frying pan, chefs, make sure you serve us grilled or bbq’d beef. We’re looking for a smokiness, at least a nice char. So the outside should be slightly hard, the inside beautifully moist (so the meat should have enough fat that can render) and soft.

Fries are the only crucial accompaniment. Chunky fries don’t go well with this dish. If I wanted a quartered baked potato I’d go to Spud-U-Like. Steak frites are ok, but ‘steak cut’ chips are a bit big – something in between and handcut, possibly skin-on, is good.
But it doesn’t matter too much as long as it’s served with good tasting fries. Whether they’re straight up, garlicky, cheesy, spicy or herby – they’re a crucial accompaniment.
Accompaniments and condiments
If your burger comes filled with a sauce, relish or jam (e.g. red onion marmalade), it might indicate that the beef is too dry without a sauce. Which is a bad sign.
That said, you should fill it with what you want. And restaurants should give you that choice. Anyone that sends out a burger with a pickle – the all too familiar sight of that greying, sheepish looking interloper makes me want to send the whole lot  back – doesn’t deerve to cook or serve burgers in any establishment.
Over to you


And that’s about all for now. Hope that the above serves as a useful guide for tasting and critiquing any burgers that you eat and review. If you have any views on the above or advice for reviewers, let me know.