With the new wave of hamburger restaurants opening in London I thought I'd do a quick comparison. Not by any means a comprehensive sampling, but I think I've got the general idea.
At each place I got a very standard order: a plain hamburger - just meat and bun, cooked rare, and a chips; the central elements against which all must be measured.
Honest Burgers always seems to get the highest marks in written guides - whether by public survey or private review; and their Tripadvisor marks are good too. They had the best service of the lot - friendly and somehow not quite treating you like a number. In my view indeed that's the main reason to come. The burger, meanwhile, while nice was only a step above what you'd get at a "typical" pub. Which is to say, they made an effort with the meat, which was reasonable if not wonderful, and it did come cooked as ordered, but the bun was fairly bog-standard, and in my view not robust enough. I have a fairly simple test for a bun: it must be able to take the weight of a full 250 g of very juicy meat placed squarely on top of it without any significant compression. Not here, you wouldn't get that. The chips weren't up to snuff; I'm not convinced with the seasoning and they were limper than they should be. So go for the service, but don't be fussed about the food.
Patty and Bun has an enormous buzz factor - you can tell by the tremendous queue outside - which to judge from my experience is completely unmerited. Service was on the surly end of the spectrum, not even as good as you'd find at a McDonald's. Meanwhile the hamburger was the inverse of Honest Burgers. The bun was easily the best - and one of the few I've had anywhere where they seem to be making an effort; it would pass the "patty test" above, and had real flavour. But the meat itself was extremely uninspiring; it tasted like ordinary mince I might have bought from Sainsbury's. The chips, meanwhile, were rubbish, limp, wormlike items with no real flavour and no real substance. I get the feeling there's a reason the kitchen is hidden from view. Why this is so popular is difficult to fathom.
Tommis Burger Joint is almost neighbour to Patty and Bun and is almost the inverse of the latter in terms of experience. Service is perfunctory but friendly enough, and there's not the daft queue of P&B. They offer a "steak burger" as a better option - and I'm looking for the best so naturally it's what I took. The meat itself annihilates the competition. It's so much better than the other two as to be in a separate category. This is the calibre of patty I'm looking for. On the other hand, the bun was definitely the worst - industrial in both flavour and texture. The chips - and they should definitely be called French Fries here, were cracking: hot, crisp, fluffy, flavourful. Again they were in another category compared to the first two, although, it will be admitted, are themselves eclipsed by the chips from the Golden Hind not far away.
The easy winner was Tommis; the only thing they need to to do make it perfect is to get a bun like their P&B competitors down the street. There may be more places to try, but I get the strong feeling this is as good as I'll get in London.