Our decision to visit Dirty Burger was mainly motivated by the fact that we’d been to the most disappointing “barbecue” earlier that day. The promise of chargrilled, marinated meat to be consumed in the sun was swiftly broken on arrival with the announcement that we’d be having pan-fried halloumi with raw carrot and courgette strips in an Asian dressing instead. Indoors. It was all very pleasant, and the stuff of weekday lunches, but this was the weekend, the weather was on our side and we didn’t want healthy; this is how Chef Savla and I found ourselves in the Kentish Town branch, one of 5 London locations.
Ambiance and decor
Kentish Town is the original site, and is basically a small corrugated iron shed behind Pizza East. A large table dominates the centre, with seating for approximately 10, and there are some extra stools along the back walls overlooking the car park. Going in was a little like stepping back in time to our fun uni days in Manchester when we’d grab some naughty grub outside the student union after a night out. Having said that, I don’t remember there being any on-site sinks to wash your greasy hands, and with Cowshed products at that; a discreet nod to the chain’s Soho House owners.
Service and food
Staff waited patiently while we pondered our order, distracted by the nicely-named vegetarian option, “Dirty Cop-Out”. After being told that burgers can’t be cooked rare, an unfortunate situation for the Savlas, we settled on a double cheeseburger, cheeseburger, crinkle-cut fries and pickle fries with tarragon mayo, the latter being from the specials menu, which also featured a halloumi burger; no getting away from it that day it seemed. The shakes were tempting, but we just wanted to get our hands on the burgers. Chef Savla’s cravings were too strong for him to wait around while I took photos of his tray, so here’s one of mine in all its glory:
The cheeseburger had dirty visual appeal in spades: slapdash presentation; mayonnaise and grease threatening to splodge all over your hands and mouth; served on an intentionally worn-looking iron tray. This certainly wasn’t anywhere near as Instagram-friendly as the beefy beauty I’d recently devoured at Bar Boulud. Aesthetic issues aside, what about the taste? Well, while it’s not in the same league as the aforementioned burger, or even the many other laid-back gourmet chains sprouting up around the capital, it wasn’t too bad. The meat had a nice flavour and the bun didn’t disintegrate after a few bites like so many tend to do, leaving you with a frustratingly deconstructed mess.
That’s where the compliments end, because the patty loses its battle with the mayonnaise and cheese, which then launches a full-scale attack on you. I don’t recall being asked if I wanted mayonnaise and would’ve politely declined since I feel it just gets in the way. Salad has its place in burgers, but not when it becomes limp and bland. As for the fries, the crinkle-cut ones were the winners; crispy, chunky and not overly salty. I enjoyed the pickle fries while they were piping hot, then they quickly became oily and heavy as they cooled; removing the batter simultaneously solves this problem and defeats the point of ordering them. Despite my earlier view on mayonnaise, it worked on the side, with a tiny hint of tarragon to improve the flavour. For his part, Chef Savla didn’t share my opinion on the salad or mayonnaise, but conceded that he’d expected better.
The brief was meaty and unhealthy, and Dirty Burger passed the test with flying colours. It appears to attract a varied clientele, from groups of teens making a pit stop before heading into town to couples in their 20s and 30s having a quick bite ahead of drinks in the area. Personally, I’d rather head to neighbouring Pizza East or Chicken Shop than return here, but different strokes for different folks as the saying goes. In any case, the chain’s name is very apt: I ate dirty, I got dirty then I felt dirty, especially when my stomach protested a few hours later.
Budget: £11 pp (excluding service).