Look at their lolling meaty muppet faces. Beefy tongue lolloping below mushroom nose and frilly fringe. Check the thousands of photos taken over the last week. Every. single. one. The same. Image after image of those buns tucked neatly, uniformly into their paper sleeves, laughing at us and our sudden, probably short lived, fixation.
I wasn’t going to do this.
There’s already been an almighty and disproportionate amount of coverage on the subject online and I was quite happy, in this instance, to leave it to others. I’ve never had that obsession with Americana that some do, never visited as a child, have no romantic delusions, I love the food well enough but it’s only recently I’ve had much of a desire to visit – and this, I expect, is probably more than influenced by those I surround myself with these days, in real life and online.
But then I got an email from Daniel Young inviting me to a special Burger Monday Shake Shack preview and, well, I’m not strong enough to turn that sort of thing down. My one and only experience of Shake Shack was over this Christmas just gone, and I’m afraid I was sincerely underwhelmed, however I’m aware this was, certainly in part, due to the experience being overwhelmingly marred by the boys grumpiness at having to queue, paired with my having hyped the burger to levels I’m pretty sure a burger can’t possibly ever achieve.
So, back in London, in the heart of tourist ridden Covent Garden, amongst the performers and annoying gathering of painted human statues, I ate my second Shake Shack burger. And no. It’s not big, and it’s not clever, but it’s really very good indeed. I’d say it’s a perfect, even cartoon-like, rendition of the ultimate simple, squishy cheeseburger. Although mine, in my opinion, was over done, the flavours are absolutely spot on and there’s a very good reason those Martin’s potato rolls are fabled; they perform their job exceptionally well, soaking up drippy juices amply whilst retaining structure, they’re light and squashy and don’t over power. Still, lucky I was handed mine on a plate as I don’t think I’d have queued up to two hours as many did. I only ate one. The classic. I saw many filling their boots with other variations; the Smoke Shack and Shack Stack, containing an additional layer of cheese filled, fried mushroom, look all kinds of awesome. I also ate half a Cumberland hot dog, herby and densely meaty, topped with ale marinated, fried shallots; equally excellent as are stupidly crisp and salty crinkle fries.
But, the really outstanding feature? The thing that struck me most and tickles me the more I notice it – is this uniform image. Repeated. Ad Infinitum. Let’s face it, we have plenty of our own brilliant burgers over here and Shake Shack aren’t going to stop me going to Lucky Chip, Patty & Bun or MEATmission etc. No. The one thing that sets Shake Shack apart from the crowd is the faintly ridiculous presentation. How many other fast food places knock out their creations with the same consistent appearance, better even than on posters and promotional bumph. Check back again the numerous images of the last few days. Technicolour, almost plastic, perky perfection. That iconic and enduring Shake Shack burger burnt into our retinas – hype contained in a single image.
The other thing that caught my interest, as you probably can imagine, is their hook up with Paul A Young. Most burger joints offer desserts as an afterthought, understandably you probably don’t need much after sating your junk food craving with burgers, shakes, chips etc etc. Here though, there’s a more than tempting proposition in the form of concretes, something dare I say you might save a little space for. They buddy up with hip Brooklyn chocolate makers Mast Brothers over in the States and they’ve clearly done their research on London’s sweet favourites too. I taste both the Union Shack and Sticky Toffee, the first a mixture of dense and creamy chocolate ice cream with hazelnut brownie chunks, chocolate sauce, chocolate chunks and sea salt, the second is vanilla based with chocolate toffee, chocolate chunks and salted caramel sauce. It needs more salt. Chunks of brownie and biscuits are from St John Bakery and the chocolate shards from Paul A Young – However, unlike The Mast Brothers, Paul is no chocolate maker despite being a very good chocolatier, so why they didn’t go with his signature super ganachey brownie, his own creation after all where the chocolate is not, over maybe more traditional St John counterpart is beyond me.
For a fully comprehensive post head over to Serious Eats, where Ibrahim has written all you need to know and for far better pictures than mine check out A Southern Belle in London and Tuck and Vine’s respective posts. Kate kindly sent the picture of me cosying up to a burger below.