Crazy pub burgers near the British Museum
Following my rather large roundup of 35 different burgers from 25 different independent eateries, I hadn’t expected to be back on the burger wagon so soon. I was tempted out of my self-imposed burger sabbatical by Burger Breakout, a new residency inside The Old Crown pub which lies within spitting distance of the British Museum, Holborn and the eastern end of Shaftesbury Avenue.
The Old Crown is split over three levels with burgers served at the ground floor bar, which has several tables, and a second floor diner which I have yet to visit. There’s also the first floor lounge although it’s designed more for drinking than it is for eating. It’s a handsomely furnished place, although there are quirky touches which may rub some people up the wrong way from the talking lamp, which recites fairy tales, to the men’s toilets which has a urinal decorated with the portraits of dictators while an Italian language tape plays in the background.
First things first
Burger Breakout serves up burgers using patties made from other meats besides beef, but any good burger joint has to be able to do a good beef burger. The beef burger on the menu that immediately caught my eye was The Whiskey Beast. The patty was coarsely ground, juicy and cooked medium rare.
It’s hard to appreciate the quality of the beef though as it’s smothered underneath a ton of other ingredients. There are strips of sweet, crisp and charred streaky bacon as well as a melted patch of tangy, punchy, sharp Strathdon Blue cheese. The peppery mustard has an extra layer of moreish, tangy flavour thanks to the addition of whiskey. All of the flavours work together surprisingly well, but they also overwhelm the beef so that it’s barely discernible. Eating this burger is rather undignified too – the small, crumbly bun did a poor job of holding everything together so I ended up with mustard dribblings and meat juice all over my hands and the plate.
All of the burgers come with a helping of salted, smoked horseradish chips. The thick cut slices of potato were remarkably free from oil and grease and were soft and fluffy. They lacked the crisp, golden exterior I usually favour in chips but I didn’t mind this time around given the wonderfully soft texture. The addition of salt and horseradish gave the chips an extra addictive quality and a mild heat that is oddly reminiscent of the Kentucky fries at The Lucky Chip. Splendid.
A number of alcoholic ‘milkshakes’ are on the menu. They’re apparently more like cocktails than real milkshakes and thus wouldn’t really work if served without booze. I therefore couldn’t have a non-alcoholic version to slake my thirst and I had to be content with a glass of Diet Coke and a serving of deep fried pickles instead. The thick cut slices of gherkin are rather bland, lacking either sweetness or tartness, but they are thick and juicy and encased in a thin, slightly chewy and delightfully moreish batter.
Going back for seconds
Despite my mixed feelings about Burger Breakout, I had to go back for seconds if only to try some of the wackier-sounding menu options. The Bambi Bought It uses a venison patty cooked medium rare and has a relatively smooth grind.
What grabs your attention however is the chocolate and quince sauce. The smooth and thin chocolate sauce is very milky and mildly sweet, but the sharpness and acidity of the quince has been toned down, as has the earthiness of the cubed beetroot. The beetroot might as well not be there, but this does allow the sweet milkiness of the chocolate to stand out, if only for a second, before it too is overwhelmed by the Tunworth cheese. This Camembert-style soft cow’s cheese tastes more like a blue cheese in this burger though. Its sharpness and mild bitterness dominated this burger, only allowing the beef and the chocolate to peek through occasionally.
If all of this sounds like an overly ambitious mess, that’s because it is. Most of the ingredients don’t really work well together and might as well not be there anyway given the domineering presence of the Tunworth cheese. A lot of it also ends up dribbling onto your plate and over your hands. This overabundance of wasted toppings is all the more fruitless given that the patty is more than capable of standing on its own if you can get a taste of it amongst all the faff. A slightly chewy edge gives way to a mildly nutty flavour and a soft, quivering pink centre that’s very tangy and moist. Such a shame.
The accompanying chips were just as soft and fluffy as before, but this time around they had a noticeably more crispy exterior although it couldn’t match the remarkable consistency and sheer golden colour of Hawksmoor’s chips. Although just as pleasingly salty as before, the horseradish heat was oddly muted and almost entirely absent.
I just had to try the onion rings, given my fondness for this deceptively simple dish of battered, deep fried vegetables. Although whole rings of glistening onion are used rather than reconstituted mush, they are covered in an excessively oily batter that obscures both the taste and texture of the vegetable. The batter is at least crispy with a tangy moreishness, but these onion rings are still a disappointment.
Third time’s the charm
The second beef burger on the menu is the OC Burger which is strikingly different from the other burgers I’ve tried at Burger Breakout. The patty is smoothly ground and cooked medium rare. Although a touch greasy, it nonetheless tasted tangy and lightly peppery with a succulent, quivering pink centre.
Unlike the other two burgers above, it was actually possible to taste and savour the qualities of the patty as this burger wasn’t dominated by its other ingredients. The sweet, tangy, slightly smoky onion jam complimented the tanginess of the patty rather than competing with it. The ‘three cheese’ sauce essentially resembled American cheese in its creamy sweetness, but this went down surprisingly well when combined with the onion jam. The bun was still a mess though. It just wasn’t big enough to hold everything together and the bottom half became very soggy due to all the meat juices and crumbled to pieces – a burger faux pas I haven’t seen in a long time.
Sadly the chips seemed to have taken a turn for the worse. Although still pleasingly soft on the inside, their exterior wasn’t soft or even crispy but rather a little leathery. This was almost certainly due to these chips having more of their skin still attached. A bigger problem was the uneven distribution of salt and the almost complete absence of the horseradish heat which had helped make Burger Breakout’s chips so distinctive.
I had high hopes for the burgers at Burger Breakout, but the delicious patties were often smothered under a misconceived mash of other ingredients that obscured their taste. Everything was then stacked into tottering piles that inevitably fell apart due to some poorly made buns. Burgers can be used as a platform for delivering bold flavours while still allowing the meat to shine, as Tongue and Cheek shows, but this isn’t the case at Burger Breakout. It’s not a bad place to catch a quick bite, but with so many other fine burger restaurants near by, including Byron, Tommi’s, Honest Burger and Burger and Lobster, it’s a distinctly second rate choice.
Name: Burger Breakout at The Old Crown
Address: 33 New Oxford Street, London WC1A 1BH
Phone: 0207 836 9121
Opening Hours: Monday-Wednesday noon-midnight; Thursday noon-02.00; Friday noon-03.00; Saturday 11.00-03.00 and Sunday 11.00-midnight.
Average cost for one person inc soft drinks but excluding tip: £16-25 approx.