|Thanks again to Mr. Hazeel for the photo!|
Shake Shack are one of two American burger restaurants whose chains have criss-crossed the United States and have finally opened outlets this side of the Atlantic, the other being Five Guys. I see this as a perfect example of where the colonies are finally able to give something back to the Old World, though with all the coverage about both places in the local press, it has been pretty difficult to get served without a significant wait time. Undeterred in the pursuit of a good burger, I gathered with a group of friends to see if they could like up to the hype.
The great thing about Shake Shack is that they have definitely not underestimated the demand for their wares and have cunningly bought up space both inside and outside the main market area of Covent Garden. While the ambling tourists might mean that it is difficult to actually get to the restaurant (trust me, I have enough anger to fill a small book on this), at least they have plenty of seats to accommodate the crowds who had gathered on a Friday night.
After a fairly modest 40 minute wait (protip: the queue starts on the Strand side of the market), during which we had plenty of time to inspect the menu. While I eschewed the much-lauded frozen custard in order to concentrate on the burger itself, it did seem a popular choice - perhaps an excuse to go back and try it again? Either way, I enjoyed the attention to detail when I gave my order and I was tempted by the girl serving me to upgrade to a triple on her advice. Well, you do have to do these things properly, right?
Shake Shack operate a non-standard ordering system. You order and pay at a bar and receive one of those electronic order alarm things that vibrate and flash when your order is ready, where you go to a hatch next to the kitchen to receive your food on a tray. I scarcely had time to find a seat and visit the gents before my food was ready, so it's good to know that even during a busy Friday night, they operate a tight and speedy ship. A small point of amusement: the licensing laws means that you have to sit down in a seated area when you buy a beer and the waiters insist on taking it over to you to make sure that you are in one of their designated areas to drink it.
Burger-wise, I could only see one burger worth trying on the menu: the Smoke Shack aka a bacon cheeseburger. Based on the menu, I felt that other offerings might have been a bit spartan and might be lacking as a result. Either way, the Smoke Shack is very much an American affair with that very yellowy cheese typical of US burgers and well cooked strips of bacon separating thin burger patties and a slightly smoky sauce. According to sources, this typical hamburger sauce is not particularly ground-breaking judging from the ingredients alone, but it does the job. Encase this in a decent sized bun and all together you have a good looking burger, sans salad.
On first glance it does resemble a McDonalds burger in appearance and this is mirrored to a certain extent in the taste, though the cherry pepper and shack sauce together with the above-average bacon help pull this forward of the mainstream burger chain competition. The bun in particular was soft and didn't go soggy under the pressure of the shack sauce; exactly what I am looking for in a bun since eating at BRGR. The burger patty itself however didn't seem as if it had much of a taste to stand out, given how the taste of the cheese and burger sauce ended up overpowering any flavour the beef might have had, and in this regard, the burger is somewhat underwhelming.
The same is sadly true of the ridged fries that, though well cooked, could have just as well been crinkle cut oven chips. When other outlets like Honest Burgers try and put a decent spin upon fries, it does raise the bar and put restaurants who don't seem to bother with making an effort to shame, though in this case, at least they are numerous enough to not disappoint.
In summary, it's no really great shakes at the Shake Shack - it's certainly a nice enough burger, but perhaps a little bit overrated for all the press coverage. A double would probably have sufficed, but then again, my gluttony got the better of me.
Where can I find them?
Only one outlet in the UK at present, right in the heart of London's Covent Garden