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Want to be top dog?

By Noli Dinkovski

- Last updated on GMT

burgers and hot dogs feature 2015

Related tags Burger Hamburger

Noli Dinkovski looks at ideas for still on-trend burgers and hotdogs

Give them personality

A former MasterChef champion, Tim Anderson is as serious about food as they come. But as his winning entry into ETM Group’s Slider Decider 2014 competition showed, the US-born chef clearly also has a playful side.

“The Dalstonburg Disaster was meant as a satire of sorts,” he explains. “I wanted to poke fun at food-trend bandwagon jumpers by including as many faddy menu buzzwords as possible in my slider's description. It was meant to be more ridiculous than delicious, so I was surprised when it won!”

And Anderson’s winning slider – which featured aged mince with bone marrow and umami butter, brisket braised in craft beer, chipotle, and tonkotsu ramen broth, fried fermented onions, fermented heritage carrot and locally-foraged seasonal nasturtium burger sauce with gochujang hispi cabbage slaw and kewpee mayo, served in a craft beer gua bao-style bun – was certainly a mouthful in every sense of the word.

“I guess it goes to show that so many ingredients and ideas become trendy because they actually do deliver great flavour,” Anderson suggests.

“Ultimately, I think people are drawn to burgers that have a unique personality and flavour profile, however it is achieved.”

Keep it cosmopolitan​ 

Burger joints have always had a masculine feel, but when Berry and Suzie Casey’s three daughters bemoaned the fact there was nowhere for them to enjoy high quality burgers in a more relaxed environment, the couple decided it was time to buck the trend.

Ten years on, and a further four ‘female-friendly’ venues later, Haché has become one of the most coveted restaurant chains in London.

“Our very first review simply said, ‘Haché is a real restaurant that just happens to serve great burgers’ – and that still encapsulates what we are all about,” explains Berry Casey.

Central to the offer is a range of Scotch beefsteak burgers with an international flavour. Steak Louisiana, for example, is topped with American crunchy peanut butter and mature Cheddar cheese (£8.95), while the steak Milano comes with buffalo mozzarella and Parmesan shavings on a sun-dried tomato tapenade (£9.95).

In addition to lamb and chicken burgers, there is also a goat’s cheese burger, with portobello mushroom, grilled aubergine, avocado, chive oil, garlic mayonnaise and red pesto sauce (£8.50), and two falafel burgers.

“Our most popular single item remains the steak Canadian, with sweet cure bacon and melted mature Cheddar cheese,” says Casey. “However, our St Patrick’s Day burger, delivered to the table under a smoke-filled glass dome – and the flambé burger, with Grand Marnier set alight in front of the customer, have both proved exceptionally popular.”

Offer alternatives​ 

Over at the four-site Salt Yard Group, chef director Ben Tish has been conjuring up twists to the traditional burger for a number of years.

The company’s Opera Tavern, in Covent Garden, picked up the 2013 Slider Decider title for its ibérico pork and foie gras slider with crispy pig’s head, salted liver, courgette relish, lettuce, aiola and guindilla. It is available at the pub for £7.50.

Tish says he uses ibérico pork as a burger substitute due to its likeness to wagu beef and the fact its fine to be cooked medium rare.

“The ibérico pork burger has been on for four years and was an instant hit from day one – we couldn’t take it off the menu if we wanted to,” he explains.

“More generally, I’d say beef remains the most popular burger, but increasingly with more unusual cuts. Brioche buns seem to be on-trend – and the more obscure fillings you are able to offer, the better. Watch out for growing Asian influences as well,” Tish adds.

Follow the word on the street​ 

Anyone who knows anything about the London street food scene would have more than likely heard of Bleecker Burger.

Set up in 2011 by former New York corporate lawyer Zan Kaufman, Bleecker’s black burger truck has been a regular fixture at food markets throughout the capital. In February, it opened its first shop at Old Spitalfields Market.

Business partner Liam O’Keefe says the approach is to keep things simple, but with “zero compromise” over the ingredients.

“We use rare-breed, pasture-fed beef supplied to us from the Butchery in Bermondsey, where it is dry-aged for about 40 to 50 days – giving it an intense flavour,” he explains.

“For us, it's all about the beef. You can have the best bun and toppings in the world, but if you're serving up beef patty that resembles an old boot, it's never going to work.”

It’s an ethos that paid off last April, when Bleecker won the annual London Burger Bash, held at Borough Market.

The winning burger, Bleecker Black, consists of two beef patties cooked medium rare divided by a Clonakilty​ beef black pudding​. It is on the menu for £10.

“We had no intention of adding the Bleecker Black as a permanent fixture, but the demand was so high, it's now here to stay,” says O’Keefe.

Go gourmet​ 

When the team behind Manchester gastropub the Parlour were asked to set up a summer pop-up food offer at neighbouring pub the Beech, they were told ‘no burgers please’.

So Jamie Langrish, Jonny Booth and former Coronation Street actor Rupert Hill put their brains together and came up with the next-best thing.

“We opted for hot dogs, but with a gourmet approach,” explains Langrish. “We wanted to get away from the typical US-style Frankfurter, so we hooked up a local butcher and went through tonnes of traditional sausage recipes before finding the right one.”

The resulting concept, Parlour Dogs, has now been implemented at the team’s latest pub, the Bakers Vaults in Stockport.

Priced around £7 each, hot dogs on the menu include a bacon and blue cheese variety, a Welsh rarebit, a Balti-flavoured option, and a ploughman’s.

“It took a while for the regulars to get their heads around that fact that the menu consists entirely of hot dogs, but now they love it,” enthuses Langrish. “It’s the perfect food to turnaround quickly with a small kitchen and relatively inexperienced kitchen staff, such as we have.”

Do the simple things well​ 

According to co-founder Tom Barton, Honest Burgers aspires to live up to its name.

“A lot of people appreciate our openness and transparency – we’re not trying to do anything too revolutionary, we’re just trying to put together good quality ingredients, simple robust British flavours and casual, friendly-service, at a reasonable price,” he explains.

And with just five permanent burgers and one ever-changing special on the menu, it’s this simple approach that has made Honest one of hottest casual dining restaurants in town.

Having already opened nine sites in London in just four years, there are plans to open a further four in the next 12 months.

Barton says the Honest burger, with red onion relish, smoked bacon, mature cheddar, pickled cucumber and lettuce (£10), remains the best-seller – but all of the menu items are popular.

“While we are all about the British-style, we’re not too proud to deny the popularity of US flavours as well,” he says. “For example, we currently have a tribute burger as a special. It comes with bacon, American cheese, burger sauce, French’s mustard, pickles, onion and lettuce, and is available for £10.”

Make fast food, fine food​ 

When gourmet hot dogs started becoming all the rage, food-friendly pub operator Peach decided it wanted a piece of the action.

Its opportunity came when Corin Earland, chef director of the company, decided to enter a hot dog into the 2014 BPEX Foodservice Sausage of the Year Awards on behalf of the Almanack pub in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, where it went on to pick up second place.

“We just couldn’t resist showing that this classic fast food could also be a fine one,” says a spokesperson for the company. “Our secret recipe uses a range of ingredients such as maple-cured Gammon, maple syrup, chipotle chilli, smoked paprika and fennel – with remouladeand in a brioche roll.

“The hot dog was available at the Almanack last summer, where it proved to be extremely popular. As a result, it is likely to make a return this year.”

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