Walk along Highgate road, and there are no signs of our destination, save perhaps the words “we serve clean burgers” outside a nearby gastropub.
Take a stroll off the main road into a car park and you may still not spot a corrugated iron shed, old and utilitarian looking, tucked away in a corner like a dog house. Dirty Burger, it seems, is a play on ‘dirty secret’; it’s a word-of-mouth affair, and we have come today to learn the word.
The interior continues the bare-bones feel; dominated by a large square old wooden table, and surrounded by a mish-mash of stools bolted to the floor, it resembles a permanent installation in one of London’s pricier food markets, but this isn’t wear and tear – it’s intentional primal simplicity. I take one look at the menu and that’s when it hits me, there’s only one item: Cheeseburger. £5.5.
The recent trend of gourmet burgers (without naming any names) has been lack lustre, and given real momentum by the seemingly primitive requirements of meat-eaters. However their success has been part of the profile boost of the burger, from the dark ages of late 20th Century fast-food, now promoted to a dish served with creativity and wit in many decent restaurants.
The lusting carnivore doesn’t always need the ceremony of a restaurant; after-all what is the point of plates and cutlery when I have hands and teeth? However that does not excuse the quality of the food.
I order my cheeseburger with curly fries and onion fries, because why not. Then I grab a beer, and find a seat. It’s no reservations obviously. Looking around there is a variety of patrons, an elderly couple, a business duo on a break, a family, some teenagers, and many positive remarks on the food. There is nothing pretentious or overly exclusive about Dirty Burger, just a marketing technique consisting of self-confidence. The ‘top secret’ location reminds me somewhat of the Secret Cinema; but thankfully that’s where the similarity ends, no over-subscribed bloated nonsense here.
The food is ready in about five minutes, a burger rolled in paper, chips in paper bags. There is gherkin, take it out if you don’t want it. No fuss, you came to eat right? The standard burger is cooked to medium, and playfully tender and juicy. It isn’t stacked up with fodder like current fashion dictates. It is just the right size. There is too that perfect balance that avoids any drips but creates no dryness from the bun. I am told by the head-chef that it is English beef, and that he would never divulge the recipe – no surprises there.
I am now an educated advocate of crinkle-cut fries. The surface is always the best part, and the crinkles simply extend the surface area: basic science. These crinkle fries are browned on the ridges, not too greasy, and crumble satisfyingly.
This meal has a singular function, which it accomplishes with ease. It’s bloody good, and besides a little deliciousness left on your fingers and perhaps a drop on your clothes, there is nothing dirty about it.
There is something to be said of the success of the small menu trend, of which Dirty Burger is a prime example. Perhaps it’s the refreshing lack of any stale conversations around choice, or the unifying sense of cult singularity or authenticity. The costs are lower and the product is better, but the core asset seems to be that these venues have highly memorable identities. It just seems so friendly.
You may be surprised to hear that the bare-bones philosophy of Dirty Burger is a venture from Soho house, the force behind famously exclusive media members clubs, and founders of hotels and restaurants. The unit is attached to the rear of two other new Soho House enterprises, Pizza East and Chicken Shop. Whilst having the support of a large hospitality company, this small burger shack seems intended to be isolated from the corporate ambition that always interferes with your meals. The prices for example, are from a different era, showing the defiant middle finger to other fashionable burger kitchens. They do a breakfast – bacon or sausage (with a bit of haggis) and eggs – for 3.50, including bottomless tea or coffee. The restaurant is open until midnight and 1 a.m. on weekends, and is popular as an eatery with beer on tap after a night out: a welcome option for many in the battle against kebabs and fried chicken.
I leave completely content, and quite child-like, carrying a vanilla milkshake mixed using ice cream made on the premises. I am confident that feeding is different to dining. You wouldn’t take a first date to a burger shack, or have a business meeting with the chairman, but by producing one superior product, with no ceremony, no pyrotechnics, no pretence, this little burger shop creates a space to satisfy your hunger with a freedom rarely seen alongside real quality.
See more at www.eatdirtyburger.com
words Tom Wratten