It’s getting harder and harder to remember now, but many of us grew up at a time when burgers weren’t all that common in the UK. Back in the early 80s, you might have nipped into a Wimpy every now and then as a treat, but otherwise you just consoled yourself with the thought that Elvis died of eating them.
These days, of course, you can’t move for the blighters. So how can burger joints cater to today’s head-spinning array of dietary needs, and how can they become something special again?
The family-run Handmade Burger Co isn’t the only chain offering a classy burger experience, but they are making a particularly good fist of it. Partly it’s down to the unfussy dining atmosphere, partly it’s the ultra-flexible menu which offers oodles of choice. It’s canny in its offerings for kids and surprisingly decent for veggies, too. The meat burgers are made on the premises from Scottish beef and the buttermilk buns are delivered daily. Such is the array of choice, you certainly don’t have to eat meat, or even a bun, if you don’t want to.
The Manchester branch is on Deansgate in the city centre, not far from John Rylands Library. Indeed, it has a large captive audience of nearby office workers. It’s a simple, neat space up a few steps from the entrance, all tiles and wood, with an open kitchen. Northern Soul arrived, full of good intentions not to overdo it, but took one look at the menu and thought, ‘ah, blow it’.
Our server was attentive and helpful and had glowing things to say about the Jimmy’s Farm Beef Cheese Classic. These patties are made of rare-breed, free-range marbled beef from Suffolk and, sure enough, there’s no arguing with the result: luscious, tasty and soft, generously accompanied with caramelised red onion relish, mayo, lettuce, tomato, red onion and a choice from a range of cheese (in our case, Red Leicester).
We also plumped for the Fried Onion Dirty Burger, a more compact, foil-wrapped option overflowing with cheese, ketchup, HBC house sauce, jalapeño slaw and gherkin. And fried onions, obvs. It was judged to be sheer bliss: messy, scrummy and, yes, dirty, but in a good way. These bad boys were washed down with a couple of delicious milkshakes, strawberry and peanut butter, which were thankfully not overpoweringly sweet but rather stand-your-straw-up-in-em substantial.
Temptation proved too much and we also ordered fancy chips on the side. The Hipster Chips come complete with jalapeño slaw, Sriracha mayo and spring onions, whereas the Denver Chips are topped with slow-cooked marinated pulled pork, melted cheese and house BBQ pit sauce. Frankly, the latter in particular could pass muster as a hefty meal in their own right. We left very happy having vowed not to eat another single morsel for a few days.*
OK, perhaps the humble burger is never going to become a fine dining experience, but then that’s not what Handmade Burger Co are trying to do. In an unpretentious way, they’re raising the bar a wee bit for what so-called ‘junk’ food can be, and they’re doing it with some skill and a degree of élan.
If you want to test out once and for all whether your eyes are bigger than your belly, there are far, far worse places you could go.
*We soon cracked.