What does one do on Burger Day (22nd August)? The canteen at work, thanks to our company-wide wellbeing mission, didn’t get on board. They served up chicken on the bone. Nice enough but… no. Luckily, London being London, there were plans afoot.
Step up Street Feast, the multi-faceted union of street food stalls, who have set up markets in Lewisham, Shoreditch, Canary Wharf and Canada Water. Everything they touch turns to gold. Or grease. Or some combination thereof. The European and I especially like the Canary Wharf market, ‘Giant Robot’, which is actually more of a bar, on the top level of the swanky new Crossrail Place. Here, you can gobble down pillowy steamed buns courtesy of Yum Bum, or a Black Bear Burger, all washed down with countless beers (including new our favourite, Beavertown), while waiting for the Crossrail to be finished (insert joke here). We did have a Street Feast location literally across the road from where we live in, the old covered public market (one stall there was Salt Shed, now an in-vogue bar-be-que and burger joint at Boxpark in Shoreditch). Last time we were there, a heavily refreshed gentleman fell off the balcony onto a table of eaters below, scattering their comfort food and beers asunder. ‘Public’, in Woolwich, as the marketers have called it, is now closed until 2020. I’m not sure if the closure and the tumbling drunk are related.
Anyway, a few weeks ago a Facebook ad popped up declaring that Street Feast was organising the first burger festival ever, at the Hawker House, the Canada Water market. I am not one to pay much attention to anything I see through Facebook but seeing the words ‘burger festival’ made me sit up straight. Seeing its name ‘Bundance’ made me buy two tickets.
As the date approached, my colleagues urged caution. Any festival like this, they argued, is a way to cash in. Sure enough, the tickets didn’t include any burgers, just a beer and a shot of something indiscriminate. Nevertheless, we pressed on. Day of, and The European was sick with flu. She expressed misgivings about what we would be paying for once we got in. Nevertheless, we pressed on.
Let’s start with the positives. Bundance was a great idea. The stalls at Hawker House, usually sporting a plethora of goodies such as pizza, more Yum Buns, dumplings, burgers and doughnuts, all turned over their spaces to various burger vendors from both restaurants and food trucks across this great city. Upon arrival, you were given a card outlining who they were and where in the massive, inside-outside space you can find them. The atmosphere was very festival-like, with thumping music, revelry a-plenty, and at least six bars where you wash down the stodge.
We immediately saw a problem. There were fifteen different kitchens, and therefore fifteen different burgers. One of us was ill, both of us have limited appetites these days. Our eyes were clearly larger than our stomachs. Even though at Bundance the patties are served slider-sized, there was going to be an inevitable capacity issue. Logic would argue that if the both of us do not order the same burger, and simply split each one we buy, we could each taste six burgers, maybe eight if our stomachs allowed it. This backfired straight away as we both really wanted to try the same ones, and we’re not great at compromising. And who wants to share a slider burger anyway? We collected our free beer (Bud Light, obviously, the cheapskates), and got to work.
We tried three burgers in the end. How sad. We started off at Bao, who were offering up their ‘Chicken Tsinga Burger’; fried chicken, onion and Sichuan mayonnaise in a sesame bao bun. Pretty damn amazing if you ask me. Rich, tangy and the bun itself was actually kind of half bao, half bread roll. We moved on to another one we were aching to try; Up in My Grill’s ‘El Toro’. This was a simpler affair (standard cheeseburger) but made with a forty-day aged Galician beef, said to be among the best in the world. Studded with green peppers, the patty made its mark – it was indeed fine as can be; tender but firm and deep and rich to taste.
By now The European was ready to pop, two (larger than average) sliders seemingly forcing the snot out of her nose (I imagine). Two burgers out of fifteen! It was going wrong, because our strategy (if we had one) sucked. There were ever-increasing queues for the burgers, as the after-work eaters joined the masses (Bundance opened at 4pm and it seemed better to go early) and though the spirit was great, the hassle of simply finding your own space at Hawker House was getting greater and greater.
One burger joint in London which is very ‘du jour’ is Bleecker. Their food truck this evening was thronging. It was pretty much the first one you would see as you entered Bundance and the queue was already ridiculous when we arrived around six-ish. We decided to grab one to share as we left, around an hour later. We queuing for an eternity, making small talk with a charming, heavyset and very metrosexual guy, who was explaining to the incredulous European that “every meal needs a dessert”. “You should be with him instead” she said to me after he grabbed his Bleecker burger and wandered off. The bun in question was the ‘Cheeseorito’, a messy, gunky affair made with fifty day dry-aged beef, Dorito chips, Dorito house sauce and American cheese. It should have been incredible, but alas, the poor things were unlovingly thrown together by a very stressed-looking sweaty chef, served up to us with the un-melted cheese hanging half-off like the duvet on Tracy Emin’s bed. Against The European’s wishes, I had bought one for her as well. She ate a bite of it, almost threw up in her mouth, and handed the rest to me. We left soon after. We never availed the free shot.
There are lessons to be learned from Bundance. I still maintain that I am getting too old for festivals. I also think we lacked a plan. Dessert-guy said that he was here with a mob of ten other people, and they were quartering each burger and sharing out the spoils. We were following our hearts, not our heads, although it must be said that our heads were screaming, resenting spending £six-£seven on one smaller than average burger at a time (for comparison, Bleecker’s full-size burgers are no more than £eight).
So a 360o failure. Us, for having no plan and being poorly, and Street Feast / the vendors, for some traditionally London-style overpricing. Stick to the normal Street Feast offerings and you can’t go far wrong.