★★★★☆ / ★★★☆☆ / ★☆☆☆☆ / Burgers

Posh American burger chains in London review – Shake Shack, Five Guys and Obama’s favourite

The most overhyped & overrated burgers since Meatliqour

There’s been an explosion in the number of burger restaurants in London over the past couple of years and I’ve been to a lot of them. If you’re feeling burger fatigue, then that’s tough – the Americans have arrived. Two of the biggest US posh burger chains have opened their first branches in London to a deafening amount of hype, so I just had to try them out. My criteria for what constitutes a good burger is fairly straightforward, but sadly one of these newbies to the capital screwed it up badly.

Five Guys

Five Guys is a franchise that originally started out in Alexandria, Virginia close to Washington DC. The London branch is in Covent Garden on Long Acre, a mere stone’s throw away from Leicester Square. A big draw is that you can order online – at least in theory. Online ordering has been suspended at the time of writing due to massive demand. I managed to sneak an order in before it closed, allowing me to skip the one hour-long line that had formed on the evening of the branch’s opening day.

Not realising that the standard Five Guys burger comes with two patties, I foolishly added another patty creating a tottering three patty monster. Even with only two patties, I doubt this burger would’ve tasted any better. The limp, flat, smoothly ground and slightly chewy patties were cooked well-done. The dry meat was at best very mildly tangy but was certainly too salty and ultimately very bland. The limp tomatoes, pickles and bits of diced grilled onions added little, while the small and excessively soft buns soaked up a little too much grease and did a poor job of holding everything together. It’s little better than a McDonald’s burger.

triple burger at shake shack

Triple patty insult.

shake shack covent garden

Either these guys have been taken out of context or they’re getting a far better burger on the other side of the Pond. I refuse to believe they have such appalling taste.

The ‘Cajun-style’ fries weren’t nearly as bad as the burger and bore a resemblance to proper chips – soft and made from whole slices of potato rather than reconstituted mash. They were also dusted with salt and some sort of muted paprika, but the massive portion – even in the regular size – meant that the cumulative saltiness was overwhelming and hugely thirst-inducing.

cajun fries at shake shack

Do Cajuns really eat fries this way? Really?

The food at Five Guys is overhyped dross that can’t possibly compare to London’s best burgers. It’s little better than McDonald’s, but at over twice the price it’s not merely barely disguised junk but an overpriced insult too.

Total price: £13

Star rating: ★☆☆☆☆

Five Guys Burgers & Fries on Urbanspoon
Square Meal

Kua’aina

Kua’aina isn’t new, with its branch just off Carnaby Street operating for a couple of years now, but a revisit was in order following the arrival of its two bigger rivals. The small restaurant has had a slight revamp since my first visit with the addition of a cramped downstairs dining area and table service that ranges from surly to nauseatingly buddy-buddy.

The Classic burger is now much improved, probably due in large part to the fact that you can now order it medium rare rather than the previous default of well done. The patty had a moderately coarse grind that was moist, pink and tangy. The vegetables are still just as forgettable as before, but the mildly nutty poppy seed bun does a good job of holding the sandwich together. The bottom bun did become a little soggy from the meat juices, but not disastrously so.

kua'aina medium rare classic burger

Kua’aina is allegedly a favourite of Barack Obama’s.

Both potato and sweet potato fries are available. Naturally, I went for the sweet potato fries which were crisp and distinctly sweet. The insides were a little too dry, but nothing a touch of ketchup couldn’t remedy.

sweet potato fries at kua'aina

Even the regular portion is a little too big.

Kua’aina has improved from serving up a merely passable burger to serving up a surprisingly good one that’s far better value than the similarly priced landfill served up at Five Guys.

Total price: £15 approx.

Star rating: ★★★★☆

Square Meal

Shake Shack

Shake Shack is a small chain from New York and its opening in London attracted just as much fanfare as Five Guys’, if not more. The branch’s location in the South Hall of the covered market/shopping centre in the middle of Covent Garden, largely avoided by Londoners and now overrun with slow-moving tourists, raised alarm bells but the food wasn’t nearly as bad as it was at Five Guys.

shake shack covent garden

Tourist land.

south hall covent garden

There are worse views to behold when eating.

The small patty in the Single Shack Burger had a smooth grind and was cooked medium-to-well done. It was moist, mildly tangy and a little sweet with the latter enhanced by the Shack Sauce which tasted similar to the rose sauce you get in prawn cocktail.

single shack burger covent garden

Shacked up.

The small crinkle-cut fries were crisp on the outside, but very bitty on the inside. They were at least free from excess oil.

shake shack fries

Meh.

Shake Shack has a range of desserts based on frozen custard, which is basically ice cream made with the addition of eggs as far as I can tell. The Concrete Jungle combines vanilla custard, banana and both peanut butter and marshmallow sauces. The smooth, taut and slippery white mass of the dessert tasted mildly of vanilla. There were occasional strongly-flavoured hits of tangy, viscous peanut butter and sweet tangy banana but these were relatively sparse and I would have liked more. Not bad overall.

concrete Jungle at shake shack

London’s Concrete Jungle.

Total price: £15 approx.

Star rating: ★★★☆☆

Shake Shack on Urbanspoon
Square Meal

The Winner

The burger from Five Guys was so monstrously bad that the place should be stormed by pitchfork-wielding villagers and put out of its misery. Shake Shack’s burger was decent, but far from exceptional and should be left to teary-eyed expats and tourists. Kua’aina is my favourite of the Yankee chains here. Its burger was easily superior to the publicity-hogging patties from the other two. However, Kua’aina isn’t as good as the three winners of my burger round-up who serve up some of the best burgers in London. They’re far more deserving of your custom.

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2 thoughts on “Posh American burger chains in London review – Shake Shack, Five Guys and Obama’s favourite

  1. Hi PG,

    Been following your burger recommendations on the 2012 list since May/June this year and I must say I’m surprised how similar our tastes and spot on your reviews are. I haven’t had the chance to try out Tongue ‘N Cheek but in terms of sheer taste and value for money, nothing matches Honest Burgers just yet.

    I’ve also just had Five Guys today because a friend bought into the hype and we both found it terribly disappointing indeed. Don’t think I’ll be able to accept another >£5 well done burger henceforth, you’ve spoiled me for life in that regard.

    Another one that I’ve recently tried was the rice burgers from these guys called Galbi Bros (Korean-style burgers). The rice bun was mostly a gimmick but their meats seemed to be the real deal, having been marinated in traditional Korean BBQ sauces and the like. Would you care to give your opinion on them?

    Thanks again for your reviews, please keep them coming!

    • Glad you’re enjoying the reviews and find them useful!

      I’ll look into Galbi Bros, but my schedule’s a little tricky at the moment so I can’t promise anything.

      -The Picky Glutton

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