Burgers are big business in London.
The Gourmet Burger Kitchen (GBK) was the first group to identify the gap in the market between the Big Mac and the burgers on offer at restaurants. Now it seems every corner of the city is awash with either an upmarket chain (Byron) or a local boutique version (Honest in Soho) of the burger bar.
Meanwhile, every other independent food place offers their own version of free range and organic burgers. SLABS in London have entered the market in Marylebone, one of London’s poshest and prettiest areas. You have to be confident to set out your stall here. SLABS has gone for the industrial chic look, with bare concrete walls, dangling metallic lighting, and high ceilings. The dark wooden furniture exacerbates rather then softens the starkness, bringing to mind a workshop. Albeit one with comfortable seating.
The service is very European, in its charm and attention. There weren’t many other diners when we were there (it was a very hot and sunny Thursday evening), but the mix was in keeping with the area. In our case, well-heeled ladies who lunch, and the odd tourist.
The menu extends beyond burgers to include steak, seafood and salads. We started with the pan-fried tiger prawns and salt and pepper chilli squid. Both dishes were superb. The prawns were sweet and succulent with a hefty, but balanced kick of chilli and garlic. The squid was cooked perfectly tender with good bite and flavor. Our appetites were suitably whetted we ordered the Spanish Burger, which was chorizo sausage and prime beef minced together with melted manchego cheese, Serrano ham, and garlic aioli. We paired it with the waitresses-recommended Wagyu Burger with roasted shiitake mushrooms, Asian-style coleslaw and wasabi mayo.
The Spanish burger was a little on the dry side, and the flavor of the chorizo was lost in the beef mince pattie. The Wagu burger was over-cooked, despite me asking for it medium rare, while the shiitake mushrooms were a little greasy. The sides were fine, but given the fact SLABS is a burger restaurant, and the prices it charges – £13.95 for the Spanish burger, £19.95 for the Wagu – we were expecting perfection, which wasn’t there. (As an aside, the slate plates on which they serve the food are as difficult to eat off as the wooden chopping boards favoured by other restaurants. There’s nothing wrong with an old-fashioned plate, guys.)
Who knows? We may have stumbled across one of those nights when things weren’t quite firing. But I can only write about what appears in front of me, and SLABS’ burgers need to match the excellence of their starters if they want to become big business in London.