London Larder was devised in 2012 to bring you the ultimate eating and drinking guide to London. It was borne out of a need for up-to-date, quantitative and whole-heartedly recommended places to eat and drink.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Five Guys

Covent Garden

The ‘dude food’ revolution has changed the face of the London restaurant scene almost beyond recognition. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last couple of years, you can’t have failed to notice that fast food has gone upmarket, with burgers, fried chicken, BBQ ribs and other hearty comfort food becoming socially acceptable, moving out of cheap takeaways and into some relatively fancy restaurants. What started with the establishment of venues like MeatLiquor, Patty and Bun and Tommi’s, led to a Byron on every street corner by 2012, and now, in 2013, the Americans are getting in on the act.

This summer has seen two giants of the US burger scene move into Covent Garden with Five Guys and Shake Shack opening no more than 200m apart. Having experienced great success on the other side of the Atlantic, both have opened to huge fanfare and aim to make a big splash. The premise of both is simple – high-grade quality beef and a large selection of optional toppings served in fresh bread. Great burgers are not rocket science, but there’s a world of difference between a McDonald’s and a MEATliquor Dead Hippie burger With the amount of competition in London at the moment, new burger joints have to hit the ground running, so we dropped into Five Guys for lunch to see how they were settling in. Don’t worry Shake Shack, we’ll be in to visit you soon enough…

Since the launch, a queue has snaked from the door of Five Guys to half way up Long Acre so when we found ourselves in Covent Garden on a weekday lunchtime, the opportunity to walk straight in with no queue was too much to resist. Situated on the site of the old Long Acre bar, it’s a natural tourist trap, as well as tempting in burger enthusiasts such as us. The menu is simple – burgers with optional cheese, bacon or cheese and bacon. All the burgers come in two sizes, ‘little’ or regular. We ordered the ‘regular’ cheeseburger, but the sizeable portions meant the ‘little’ would have been sufficient. Fries are served either regular or Cajun style (we went with Cajun), and in the not too distant future, hot dogs will be making their way to the menu as well.

Given the hype that Five Guys has received, we were expecting an exceptional burger. What we had was good, but not great; always a danger when expectations are set high. The beef was chunky and tasted less processed than some other burgers, but was ultimately lacking a little in flavour. A little seasoning would go a long way. Those in-the- know claim the Scottish beef used in the London branch is inferior to the beef used in their US operations, but having not visited them in their homeland, we’ll have to take their word for it. We opted for simple toppings of lettuce, pickles, ketchup and mustard, but there are 11 others on the menu, with 25,000 different combinations meaning you can really personalise your meal. If you like your burger tall and sloppy, order it ‘All the Way’ to include mushrooms, onions, mayo and tomato on top of the four we had. Just don’t try and eat it while wearing a white shirt.

Unlike the burger, the fries were excellent; red hot, crispy and smothered in spicy, peppery Cajun seasoning. And a special mention must go to the Coke Freestyle drinks vending machine – a regular soft drink can be customised to your exact specification. It contains all the regular Coca Cola products and variants like Fanta and Sprite, but also interesting new flavours like Coke lime and Coke raspberry. 150 different variants means you can be really creative and mix drinks together – we had half Coke lemon and half Coke lime to create something which lasted essentially like a Coke/Sprite hybrid. Great fun to play with, and £2.50 for unlimited refills is great value.

Ultimately, Five Guys is a victim of its own hype. It’s good, but not great. We definitely recommend it and will definitely go back, but it doesn’t come close to touching our favourite burgers in London at Carnaby Street’s Kua ‘Aina. It will be interesting to see what Shake Shack have to offer to compete with Five Guys. The quest for the ultimate burger goes on…

1 Long Acre, WC2E 9LH

Average price of burger and fries: £12
Average price of beer: £4
Food/Drink: 4/5
Value: 3/5
Service: 4/5


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