Review: Shake Shack, London England

Yes we had Shake Shack, one of the great four American burger joints, while we were in London. Forget the English fish and chips or the pies and mash, once we walked past Shake Shack near Tottenham Court Road, our hearts were set on trying it out. After all, who knows when we’ll get a chance to go to America given that we’ll be virtually broke after this European trip?

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The Shake Shack on New Oxford Street looks very new – and indeed, once I looked it up, Google informed me that it had only opened up two months earlier. Despite its novelty, the restaurant was surprisingly quiet when we went. Of course, we were there quite early for a pre-theatre meal which may explain it. I certainly hope that it’s not a sign of how successful Shake Shack will be in its international endeavours!

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From what I can tell, the menu seems to be fairly consistent across different countries. There are some nods to its new location with the use of Scottish Aberdeen beef, some English sausages in its hotdogs, and a “New Oxford Street” concrete drink with proceeds to a local charity. For the most part however, the basic burger recipes remain unchanged from the American originals – the signature ShackSauce is still widely used.

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Between the two of us, we ordered a basic single ShackBurger, a vegetarian ‘Shroom Burger, one serve of the fries, a Fifty/Fifty lemonade and iced tea blend, and Creamsicle float using Shake Shack’s signature ‘Frozen Custard’.

The fries were tasty but nothing on the fries we’d tried at Five Guys in Belfast. The Fifty/Fifty drink included the fizzy sweetness of lemonade and the strong flavour of pure iced tea which was a surprisingly excellent combination. Enjoying my Creamsicle float was like being a child all over again – mixing the ice-cream into the lemonade to create a fizzy volcano-esque mix that spilled over the top of the cup.

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The burgers are where it’s at though. The ShackBurger essentially defines a good simple cheeseburger. Kids these days are all about the monster stacked burgers with fifteen different ingredients that defy gravity but there’s something to be said about a nicely grilled beef patty, some healthy green lettuce and a slice of tomato, and a soft toasted brioche bun. Simple. Tasty. Winning.

The vegetarian ‘Shroom Burger was surprisingly tasty with a thick and juicy breaded and deep-fried portobello mushroom that perfectly mimicked the juiciness of a beef patty. I guarantee that even non-vegetarians will find the ‘shroom burger to their liking.

Having now tasted both Shake Shack and Five Guys, I have to say that Shake Shack wins it in the burger stakes. Simple is best. Shake Shack does simple well, while Five Guys tries to impress with an overload of ingredients. Please come to Australia Shake Shack!

At the time of writing, there are three Shake Shacks in London. We went Shake Shack at 80 New Oxford Street, London.

Review: Huxtaburger, Melbourne CBD

I won’t pretend to be a burger aficionado. All I know is that I prefer simpler burgers over crazy ‘dude burgers’ loaded up with ingredients, the softer the bread bun the better, and a beef patty better be smoky with a good number of grill marks.

Huxtaburger has been lauded as one of Melbourne’s best burger joints since it first opened in Collingwood. I finally managed to get along to their CBD branch with K one evening after a donation at the Red Cross Blood Service (Don’t forget to make an appointment for your next donation!).

Small Jaffa Milkshake, $6.50 and Ginger Beer, $5
Small Jaffa Milkshake, $6.50 and Ginger Beer, $5

After ordering at the counter, we ordered a drink each – a small Jaffa Milkshake for me and a Ginger Beer for K. I loved my milkshake, which was equal parts orangey and chocolatey, one of the best flavour combinations in the dessert world. The small size was more than adequate for me, as it was quite rich and creamy – there’s no skim milk used here, it’s all about the rich full cream milk!

Huxtaburger (beef patty, cheese, mustard, mayo, tomato sauce, tomato, lettuce, pickles), $9.90 with Chipotle Chips, $3.50
Huxtaburger (beef patty, cheese, mustard, mayo, tomato sauce, tomato, lettuce, pickles), $9.90 with Chipotle Chips, $3.50

I chose the classic Huxtaburger, their version of the simple cheeseburger with nothing more than the beef patty, cheese, dressing, tomato, lettuce and a sweet and tangy slice of pickle. Simple is king – this was much more palatable when compared to ‘dude burgers’ like the pizza burger I had at Captain America’s. While it’s simple, it’s done beautifully with a soft toasted brioche bun (the sesame seeds on top are a real bonus), crisp and fresh lettuce and tomato, rich melted cheese and just the right blend of sauce. Plus – don’t forget to order a side of spiced chipotle crunchy chips!

Bills Burger (beef patty, bacon, egg, pineapple, beetroot, cheese, mustard, mayo, tomato sauce, tomato, lettuce, pickles), $13.50
Bills Burger (beef patty, bacon, egg, pineapple, beetroot, cheese, mustard, mayo, tomato sauce, tomato, lettuce, pickles), $13.50

K opted for the Bills Burger, awkwardly named after sexual predator and rapist Bill Cosby (other burgers on the menu are also named after Cosby Show characters). I’m disappointed that the owners of Huxtaburger haven’t seen fit to bow to public opinion and rename the burger. The quotes given to goodfood.com.au in 2015 about their decision not to rename the burger were weak to say the least.

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Horrendous choice of name aside, the burger itself was everything K could have wanted in a good old Aussie-style burger – fried egg, sweet pineapple, juicy beetroot and a thick slice of crispy bacon. It’s a real get-your-hands-dirty kind of a burger, as the juices and egg yolk run down your hands with every bite you take.

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I can see why Huxtaburger have the reputation they have. They seem to have perfected the art of the simple classic cheeseburger, and turn out an admirable Aussie burger as well.

My question is whether or not it’s worth the price you pay. At approximately $10-15 per burger, it’s actually quite a steep price for what ends up being a relatively small burger that won’t keep anyone with a big appetite full for long. I’ve known people to actually order two burgers to satisfy their appetite.

Nevertheless, Huxtaburger is worth at least a single visit to try what must be one of the best simple American-style cheeseburgers in town. I might go back occasionally, but I’m more likely to drop into any one of the many other burger chains in Melbourne for a more satisfying burger in the future.

Huxtaburger is located in Fulham Place at 357 Collins St in Melbourne. There are other stores in Collingwood, Prahran, Hawthorn and Eastland.

Review: Mammoth, Armadale

I have a small connection to one of Melbourne’s leading families in hospitality. My dad is a house cleaner and some of his regular clients include various members of the Sahely and McBride families who own cool cafes around Melbourne – Touchwood, Pillar of Salt, Barry, BAWA Coffee and Food, Square and Compass and Mammoth.

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Dad’s always updating me on how his clients are going (all about the new babies in the family!), and telling me about their new cafes. He makes it sound so enticing that K and I decided to drop into Mammoth for Sunday lunch one weekend before an afternoon window-shopping in nearby shopping villages.

Mammoth is understandably popular and we ended up waiting about ten minutes before getting shown to a four-person table which we shared with a mother and daughter duo. The clientele is a mix of preppy locals and others more like us who fit in the “Asian food blogger / food-obsessed traipse-all-over-town-for-a-good-meal” category.

Salted caramel hot chocolate and a cappuccino
Salted caramel hot chocolate and a cappuccino

I ordered a hot chocolate from our waitress before K drew my attention to the Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate on the specials board. Say no more – I flagged our waitress down to change my order. This was an inspired choice and even K who tends to shy away from salted caramel products had to admit that it was a far superior drink to his simple Cappuccino.

The trick is to create a blend that enhances the smooth caramel and chocolate tones on the palate, before ending with a short and sharp salty bite that doesn’t linger. A heavenly combination, and I hope they add this drink to the regular drinks menu!

North Shore (smoky ham hock, flame grilled pineapple, jalapeno popper, tabasco, poached eggs), $21.50
North Shore (smoky ham hock, flame grilled pineapple, jalapeno popper, tabasco, poached eggs), $21.50

As a Sydney North Shore boy, K was immediately drawn to their North Shore breakfast of ham hock, grilled pineapple and poached eggs. Clearly the name of the dish refers not to Sydney North Shore but more accurately to the surfing mecca that is the North Shore of Hawaii’s Oahu island. The featured pineapple and ham is a definite nod to the Aloha state.

My favourite element of this dish was most definitely the fresh pineapple, enhanced with a sweet caramelised brulee top that shattered with a tap. The sweetness of the pineapple went well with the spiciness of the cheesy jalapeno popper, and the savoury meatiness of the fried ham. It’s definitely the type of dish where each individual element works really well on its own, but really shines when combined.

Doughnut burger (chicken katsu, green mango and papaya slaw, cucumber jam, chilli mayonnaise, salt and pepper doughnut), $20
Doughnut burger (chicken katsu, green mango and papaya slaw, cucumber jam, chilli mayonnaise, salt and pepper doughnut), $20

Much has been written about Mammoth’s famous lobster doughnut burger. Some are doubters – in fact K thought it sounded a bit gimmicky though he ended up changing his mind! The menu had changed slightly, and as of early August, they were serving up a Doughnut Burger with a chicken katsu filling. Don’t be disappointed – without having tried the lobster burger myself, I’d venture a guess and say that this version with chicken katsu is as good as the original, if not better.

Like K’s meal, this was really all about individual elements that stand out on their own, that come together to create something even better. The chicken katsu was hot and crispy with beautifully tender chicken fillet. The green mango and papaya slaw had the right touch of sweetness, sourness, and just a bit of crunch. The savoury yet somehow sweet doughnut was light, fluffy and springy. Combined, it created a burger that was just absolutely delectable. If there’s any downside, it’s that the bottom of the doughnut does soak up all the sauces and juices of the burger very quickly, so it does get a little bit soggy. Not a big issue!

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Mammoth is a cafe that deserves its high reputation and glowing reviews. While the menu is innovative in the way that it reimagines the classics, enough of the core ingredients remain to make it familiar to a wider audience. Meals are beautifully presented, wait staff are friendly, and service is prompt. Prices for meals are a little bit higher than your average cafe, but you do get what you pay for.

Now to visit the other cafes owned by the same family…

Mammoth is located at 736 Malvern Road in Armadale.