Thursday, May 12, 2016

Bunsen Burger

Sometimes, you read so much about something in the media that you sort of get bored of it before you can even experience it yourself. I am sure you have by now read the approximately 7 billion reviews of the Making a Murderer documentary series, or at least seen some of them. It was so over-hyped that I got sick of it before I ever saw one second of it. I’m sorry for the makers of the programme, or my friends and colleagues who want to talk about it, but I won’t watch it. Or at least not now. I may at some point in the future, say, 2 years from now, decide to have a look at it, but if I watch it now, it can only be a disappointment because every review gives it 10 out of 10 and, well, it simply can’t live up to the hype. The same thing happened with Breaking Bad. When it originally aired, between 2008 and 2013, it was so overloaded with praise that I chose not to watch a single second of it. When the show finished, I gave it another year so that everybody could cool down and get back to their day to day lives, and then I started watching it. This worked. I am enjoying Breaking Bad very much. Yes, I still haven’t finished it but I’m getting close so don’t give away any details about the ending.
                                                                      I'm not even fucking joking

Today, however, I don’t want to talk about TV shows. I want to talk about hamburgers.
When, like me,  you have a serious interest in the hospitality industry, and read every article and publication about it that you can get your hands on, and follow dozens of social media accounts related to the subject, you start to recognize certain trends.

Anybody can tell you  that burritos have become big business in Ireland over the past 5 years or so. What started out as a niche business for a couple of hobbyists who were thinking outside the box, has now turned into a multi million Euro business model. Boojum, who make the best burritos in the country, was recently sold for a figure that is believed to have been somewhere between 3 and 4 million Euros. That is serious money, and Boojum isn’t even the biggest burrito company here.

                                                                   They're the best though.

Craft beer, likewise, has exploded since I arrived here. When I set my first steps as a proud new inhabitant of Dublin, The Porterhouse was pretty much the only place to go for beer that wasn’t made or distributed by one of the big behemoth breweries like Guinness, Carlsberg or Budweiser. These days, most pubs in the city claim to be craft beer specialists and even though not all of them are, the choice is overwhelming.  Even within craft beer, trends are emerging. While IPAs were all the hype a few years ago, these days sour ales are the cool thing to drink.

And so it goes. A certain style of drink or food becomes the next big thing, everybody jumps on it, and then it either becomes mainstream or it slowly recedes into the background and becomes the preserve of connaisseurs again. All those big bushy beards you see around at the moment are another example of people jumping on a trend. 90% of those guys did not have a beard this time last year, and nearly all of them will have shaved it off a year from now.

The big overriding trend at the moment though, is that most people appear to be sick of mass produced anything. Everything has to be craft or artisanal or small batch. Which is good, because that way more money will go to local small scale producers rather than global corporations that create bland, mass produced crap. Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to our subject of today: hamburgers.
If there is a single food that is perceived the world over as bland, tasteless and mass produced, it’s the hamburger. The blame for this lies ofcourse solely with big fast food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King. No matter where in the world you walk into McDonald’s, the food tastes exactly the same (horrible). So it was with some excitement that I noted in recent times that quality hamburgers are sort of becoming a new trend in the world of casual dining.
Hamburgers have, ofcourse, always been a staple of the pub food menu but, more often than not, these were uninspired burgers with not much to distinguish them from a frozen burger on a supermarket bun. (I am looking at you, Captain America’s).  But things are looking up. There are several burger restaurants that serve serious meat, like Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Bobo’s Burgers. In the light of their success, Eddie Rockets, a chain of faux-American theme diners, has launched a sub-chain, imaginatively called ‘Rockets’ (don’t ask) where they serve more upmarket food, and beer. The Workmans Club, a bar that also operates  The Bison Bar, Dublin’s premier barbecue spot, have recently opened a burger place inside their bar with a menu sporting artisan burgers and hot dogs. Hell, even the pub in the parking garage next to my office has seriously upped their burger game and now serves  legit juicy burgers. (Yes, this is Ireland, you will even find a pub in a parking garage if you know where to look)

                                                                   There's one in Boston too

There is one place, though, that has powered its way to the front of queue, when it comes to generating publicity: Bunsen Burger. Bunsen Burger has been open for a good long while now, but I somehow never got around to eating there, and now I regret that.
They currently have 3 restaurants in Dublin, and I went to their original location on the account of it being across the street from Against the Grain, which is one of the best craft beer bars in Dublin.
I found a couple of people sitting in the windowsill at the front of the restaurant and wondered why they were sitting there exactly, rather than at a table. It soon became apparent to me that this was a queue to be seated. As I was in no mood to wait, I exited promptly and made my way to the location on South Anne Street. The place consisted of one bare room downstairs with just a couple of tables and another room upstairs with another ten or so tables. I was seated and handed a business card, which turned out to be the menu.
The menu, you see, has 2 items on it:
You can also elect to have a double, and there are 3 types of fries, but that is it.

The upstairs room was bare, just like downstairs, with the exception of a big chalkboard showing the beer menu. One of the first reactions I got from a friend who saw the photos I made was ‘hipster hut’. Which, I must agree, is a pretty accurate description of what the place looks like.
Bare decor, a chalk board on the wall with a list of craft beers and school cafetaria furniture all add to the atmosphere.
More than the lay out of the place though, the question that kept me thinking was “How good can a cheeseburger really be?
As it turns out: Very.

I had ordered my cheeseburger medium rare, was told that they would not go below medium and then was served a medium rare burger anyway.  It was packed in the kind of burger wrap you see at In-and-Out Burger and the fries came in a cardboard container. Together with my can of Brooklyn lager, it was served on a plastic prison cafetaria tray.
I took a bite of my burger and after 3 seconds knew I was on to a winner. How they do it, I don’t know, it’s just a burger, slice of cheese and some pickle on a bun, but Bloody Hell it was Amazing.
The skin-on fries were equally good and the next 20 minutes I spent in a cocoon, enjoying my meal intensely, and completely ignoring what was going on around me.

A week later, I went back to the Wexford Street location, managed to get a table straight away and again had a great meal.
I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys burgers, but I don’t want to queue at Bunsen so don’t go. It really is overrated.
No, seriously.

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