Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Bar Boulud / Knightsbridge

Thanks as always to ardent burger photographer Mr Hazeel
Who are they?

When crossing London town to visit the West End and further onward into Kensington, I am often filled with nervous hesitation. Having spent the majority of my life in the East End and the City, I all too quickly equate the West End as a tourist trap and Chelsea and beyond as the reserve of those trust fund kids who can afford to live there. In both cases, there's the somewhat irrational fear that one might be ripped off by expensive service and overpriced tosh.

Therefore, it was with trepidation that I agreed to take my other half and Mr Hazeel to bar Boulud, though safe in the knowledge that the restaurant enjoys a considerable reputation for excellent food (and burgers). After all, one must try new things!


Sitting mere steps away from Knightsbridge station, Bar Boulud is as far into West London as i have as yet dared for a burger and sits as the ground floor restaurant to the Mandarin Oriental hotel. The somewhat imposing building belies the warm lights of the bar's entrance and even early on a Thursday evening, the bar area was bustling with activity. A good thing that we booked ahead, as places were filling up quickly whilst we were shown to our table by our waiter; willing to make drinks suggestions and overly eager to please. I expect this is the result of coming to a more upmarket establishment and was a welcome change from some of the gruff, indifferent service elsewhere. In fact, all the staff were very much attentive at all times and made sure that our table water was topped up at all times and allowing better appreciation of the more interesting beers on offer.

That makes me moist...
According to the menu, Bar Boulud have a selection of different burgers in New York grill style, each one more delicious than the last and culiminating in the signature "BB": a beef patty with horseradish mayonnaise and topped with both fois gras and red wine-braised beef short rib, contained in a black onion seed bun. Of course, having had a hankering for more fois gras since last going to Comptoir Gascon, this was the burger of choice. My partner opted for the Piggy, a burger that replaces the fois gras for red cabbage slaw and a green chilli mayonnaise, whilst downgrading the short rib with BBQ-infused flavours and adding a cheddar-flavoured bun.

To this we added french fries, with side portions of the truffle-infused mash and potato Lyonnaise to share with the table, just to see what they were like. Interestingly, neither contains either cheddar cheese or bacon in the burger and on ordering we remarked that it would be curious to see how the taste was affected by leaving these ingredients out. 

Before I go on, a quick word about price. At £20 on its own, this puts the BB in the leagues of Burger and Lobster, Slabs and other highly-priced fare. The same goes for the sides, a little pricey at £4.50 a pop, but before you write this place off as over-the-top, decadent, a one-off indulgence or guilty treat, I urge a bit of restraint before forming your ideas.

No sooner had we ordered and enjoyed a sampling of different beers that the burgers made an appearance, like a fleet of rather tall burgers and accompanied by a tin bucket bursting with fries and dainty, well-warmed dishes of potato sides. Our small table struggled with plates and perhaps it was prudent to be placed on a table for four. In presentation, the burger is deceptively thick with beef and fois gras, but definitely a case of quality over quantity here.

Starting with the additional sides we had ordered, I can definitely express a joy for the truffle mash in particular, for obvious, truffle-related reasons. The flavours of both this and the potato Lyonnaise were excellent, though the plate size of both certainly left a lot to be desired and we were indeed grateful for ordering a portion of french fries each to fill the gap. These are a deceptively generous portion of double-cooked fries with slightly crispy outsides to contain their fluffy innards: perfect for grabbing two or three at once. I feel it might be considered a disservice to call them crispier, less oily, more upmarket versions of McDonald's fries, but in doing so it might convey exactly how I feel about their size and taste.

£25 well spent
No matter: this is quite trivial in comparison to the main attraction, where it is clear from the taste of the beef together with the horseradish mayonnaise that this choice has been carefully thought out, again envoking ideas of Sunday roast beef but with enough difference to steer your mind's palette back to burgers. It's almost as if the meat is given space to breathe in the burger, allowing you the chance to savour the taste of the individual ingredients. Yes, the fois gras is not the be-all and end-all of the form and might at times get lost in the other tastes on offer, but there's no denying that it leads to a sumptuous experience. And the beef short rib lives up to its reputation in being both tender and juicy, with the wine brazing only adding to the flavour rather than overpowering it. The BB is a well-considered combination of ingredients rather than a mish-mash or crazed idea, something that is somehow more than the sum of its parts, and the same is reportedly true of the Piggy in its more barbecue-oriented presentation.

One of the more important things I have had to think about when eating at Bar Boulud was whether it is actually measures up to a burger worth £25, having experienced bitter disappointment elsewhere at this price point. There's no denying that it IS an expensive burger and it more or less hits the sort of upper limit in what most reasonable people would actually pay for a burger and chips. However, I'm more than happy to defend the BB, as for the price you get markedly better quality ingredients, excellent table service from the waiters, a Michelin-star recipe and a unique meal that you really can't get elsewhere in London. It's something that you perhaps wouldn't have every day; a guilty pleasure or seasonal treat you might give to yourself to have something quite as special as this. After all, if you had this regularly you would probably grow bored of it.


Watch out Hawksmoor! Monsieur Boulud's BB more than knocks the current champion's safe position at the top of my rankings with an equisite offering. All his Michelin stars are very much deserved and I urge you to splash out on a visit. After all, Christmas is round the corner!



Where can I find them?
A hop, skip and a jump from Knightsbridge tube station on the Piccadilly line.