Review: Honest Burgers
by Jess Carter
03 August 2018
As another London restaurant lands in Bristol, we visit to see if it has local staying power...
Bristol is often spoken about as having the best food scene outside of London. That’s pretty flattering – London’s restaurant game is off the chain, after all – and really positive for the local industry. But it doesn’t mean the two cities are similar. Bristol has its own character and way of doing things – it doesn’t jump on trends or replicate what’s going well elsewhere. And all of that goes for its punters, too.
Honest Burgers seems to have grasped that, though, and – although a London-born group, with more than 20 branches in the Big Smoke alone – it’s taken some time to get to know us before moving in. As such, it’s got several Bristol producers on its books; gin comes from Psychopomp (which make the guys a bespoke spirit called Honest Gin), and beers from Good Chemistry and Moor. Pilton Cider and Westcombe Dairy’s famous Cheddar also make an appearance. Far from plopping a London restaurant into the middle of Bristol and expecting it to thrive, then, it looks like these guys have been a bit savvier.
Seeing as the sun was pelting down when I went for lunch, the Botanic Garden cocktail (gin, iced tea, apple and lemon) was a no-brainer of a refreshment, and at £6 (that’s for a small; a large is £9), it was easily cheaper than the eye-watering parking fee I incurred while I was enjoying it. (I’m over it, though. What? I am.)
Over to the food menu: it’s all about the beef, save for one chicken and one veggie burger (a good-sounding spiced fritter). Indeed, so into their beef are these guys, that Honest now has its own butchery outfit. It uses chuck and rib cap cuts in its burgers, and the meat is hand chopped as opposed to minced – which you can notice pretty clearly when you’re chewing on it. The patties, which are flat (hurrah – just how I like ’em) and served pink, unless you want otherwise, hold together really well, and have a chunkier, coarser texture – none of that crumbling business.
Prices start at £8.75 (or £7.95 for the veg option), and everything comes with chips as standard. There are a whole load o’ sides too, though, if you think you can take on more. Chicken wings (£4.75) come crisp-skinned and slathered with generous amounts of barbecue sauce (there wasn’t an awful amount of meat on ours, but that’s most wings for you, really); onion rings (£3.95) are large, sans excessive grease, and coated with a very decent golden batter; and a coleslaw (£3.50) of red cabbage, apple and beetroot is light and crunchy, promising mouthfuls of relief from the meat and carb fest happening on your main plate.
Never afraid of a cliché, I chose the Bristol burger, while my mate, who had dashed out of the office to spend his lunch hour filling face with me, went for the special Korea number (both £12.95).
My poutine-inspired stack starred smoked Cheddar and cheese curds from Westcombe Dairy, a Pilton cider and bacon gravy, and crunchy shoestring fries – as well as onion and pickles. It was a well-balanced burger with a good amount of filling, and could fit in my gob with ease (’cause if you’re forced to use the deconstruction technique, it kind of defeats the object, right?).
Special mention for that gravy. It was layered with rich, meaty flavour for a pretty addictive result, and I could empathise with anyone who got themselves into a bit of a gravy habit because of it.
Across the table, another patty was loaded with bulgogi barbecued bacon, American cheese, gohujang sauce and black sesame seeds. Kimchi also brought some great contrast in its tang and crunch.
The chips were really good. Thick enough to be substantial, but skinny enough that you get a good outside-to-inside potatio (that’s potato ratio, duh), they came wearing golden, crisp jackets, and hid soft fluffiness inside. The real dealmaker was the seasoning, though; that rosemary salt will see you continue to pile them into your gob well after declaring yourself full.
Despite this being the first week of service, staff seemed clued up and on it (although the restaurant was quite quiet, so they weren’t exactly rushed off their feet). Confident in their offering and armed with all the information their diners could ask for, they were also noticeably proud of the joint’s strong Bristolian edge.
It looks like Honest Burgers has paid real attention to the peripheral details: initiating local collaborations, tailoring the offering and taking the time to train staff really well are all characteristics of a company that’s not about to take the appetites of Bristol punters for granted. Oh, and the burgers are good too, mind.
Honest Burgers, 21 Clare Street, Bristol BS1 1XA; 0117 203 3648