Saturday, 10 August 2013

Burger wars: Five Guys versus...Five Guys?

Five Guys USA
OK, so you were probably expecting a comparison of the different offerings from the new US burger interlopers in London, Five Guys Burger & Fries and Shake Shack. Well, sorry to disappoint, but I thought it might be more interesting to see how the UK version of one of the burgers compares to its US namesake. First up is Five Guys. So, where can you find the guilty pleasure and where is the burger that should have buyer's regret stamped all over it?

I have to admit, I'm quite partial to Five Guys, but my experience is from regular trips to the US. Over there, I get my fix from the outlet in a pretty small town about an hour outside Boston, so it doesn't quite compare to the hustle and bustle of the site on the corner of Long Acre in Covent Garden. The set up is practically the same though, with the somewhat sterile but gaudy red and white tiling, sacks of peanuts delineating the queues and the not-too-subtle critical praise staring at you from all angles.
Five Guys USA menu
The ordering schtick is the same too - it's a double patty (naked, or with cheese, bacon or both) which you can customise with a number of toppings, all of which are free. There are free refills on the drinks via the crazy Coke system with flavours I've never heard of, let alone contemplated. As for the food, I typically go for a cheeseburger with ketchup, mustard, grilled onions, lettuce and jalapeƱos. On both sides of the pond, the burger is wrapped in foil and served up, somewhat coyly, in a brown paper bag.

What I like about the US burger is that it's always been juicy despite being cooked to well done on the flat grill. The meat has a nice char flavour to it, with a slight sweetness, but that might be from the combination of my toppings.  The bun is grilled, but very soft and yielding. The CSI crew could probably take fingerprints from it if you happened to keel over mid bite. I tend to only order the "Little Fries" since the portion size is still massive. The Idaho potatoes are chipped with the skin on and served hot and salty meaning you have to puff and blow on each mouthful. The lot is served with a fistful of napkins because they know this is a burger that's just a little bit dirty and likes to be man-handled.

It definitely falls into the "Guilty Pleasures" camp of food.
Five Guys London - cheeseburger and sad fries
The London version of the Five Guys burger couldn't be more different and I've lumped it into my "Buyer's Regret" food column. I ordered my usual combination, although added pickles this time too. The foil-wrapped burger came out in the same brown bag with a generous portion of "Little Fries". But when biting into the burger, I was let down. The patty simply had no flavour. The meat was dry and crumbly, lacking any sort of juiciness. There was no seasoning to speak of. It was like all the fun had been sucked out of it. The fries also lacked seasoning and could have been cooked longer since they were way too floury making each mouthful an effort to swallow. It was like gumming cotton wool. The few things that remained the same were the soft grilled bun and the punchy hot peppers.
Five Guys London - hamburger with sad fries
Aside from the taste, there's also a huge difference in price. Five Guys in the UK is expensive! I get that they have taken the pricing cue from the established London burger trendsetters like MEATLiquor. But at £8, a cheeseburger in London (yeah the toppings are free) costs more than my entire meal in the US (burger, fries and drink), which comes in at an equivalent of £7.50! In London, the Little Fries are £2.75 and a drink is £2.50 pushing the whole meal towards double the cost in the US.
Five Guys London menu - can you spot the difference?
There's a few factors that could be at play here. As I mentioned, the Five Guys in the US that I frequent is in a small town in New Hampshire and not central London, so rents are not comparable. It will be interesting to see if Five Guys adjust the pricing for the different locations it plans to roll out in the UK to test that theory.  There's also the possibility that the premium London pricing is somewhat of a tourist tax. I heard a lot of American accents in the store when I visited. As it is, I don't think the burger is worth the money compared to what you can get at Byron, which stands a cow's head above the Five Guy's effort.

So what should you do? Maybe try it out for the sake of curiosity, but you'd be better to trust your instincts and stick with what you know. Now that Tommi's Burger Joint has re-opened, I know where I'll be getting my burger fix.

Five Guys Burgers & Fries on Urbanspoon Square Meal

2 comments:

  1. I also tried Five Guys in a small town location near Boston - Framingham/Natick area for me. I loved it.

    Good to have warning that the UK offering doesn't live up to it. I've not been because I don't do queueing.

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    1. I avoided it for a while because of the queue too, but at midday yesterday I walked right in Kavey. I'll be saving my Five Guys cravings for when I'm in the US I think. Better home-grown burgers in London than this.

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