Thomas Chalk samples the new school of old school veggie burger at North Street’s The Brunswick, and along the way eats the best chips he has ever had.
A brief history of vegetarian burgers: for a long time, takeway veggieburgers were discs of somewhat soggy mashed potato studded with diced carrot, peas, sweetcorn and chopped green beans, barely held together with a breadcrumb coating. Vegetarians who chose to ignore the absence of a separate deep fat fryer could eat something that was burger-shaped and in a bun with wilting iceberg, flavourless tomato, and inadvisable quantities of mayonnaise. Spicy beanburgers came along and improved the situation slightly, though they were often as overly dry as their potato cousins were overly wet, and had a similar tendency to lack structural integrity, collapsing into so much mayo-laden shirt-staining culinary rubble. Portobello mushrooms were grilled whole and arguably did a better job of things, though the watery juices are still responsible for a couple of my favourite t-shirts being downgraded to ‘for wearing when doing the decorating’ status. Meat substitutes, whether pre-formed by labs and rock stars or constructed from a mix, were harder to come by outside of the home, and in the home they were of decidedly variable quality.
I mention all this not because I am reviewing a takeaway veggie burger, but rather as the context for the recent explosion of interest in creating meat-like plant-based products that are said to mimic the ‘real’ thing, some complete with ‘bleeding’. Having been vegetarian for more than thirty years, I can’t say how realistic they actually are (though I’m told by meat-eating friends that they aren’t). To me they taste okay enough, but I can take or leave them. So when I was asked to go and sample the veggie burger at the Brunswick, I found myself drafting the start of an article that made passing reference to arguments such as “Why can’t you have vegetables that just taste of vegetables” and the division between those vegetarians and vegans who want something indistinguishable from meat versus those who find the notion abhorrent. Instead, I find myself writing about a vegetarian burger that is undeniably, unashamedly made of vegetables.
The Brunswick’s veggie burger patty is made of diced carrots, swede, onion, and a gentle hint of spices (I only suspected the swede, but the staff confirmed this). It neither looks nor tastes like meat, and does not bleed. I’d suggest that the best reference point would be bubble and squeak, if made from the leftovers of an entirely orange-coloured Sunday lunch. The burger was nicely charred in places, adding some depth to the flavour. As a direct descendant of the potato and diced vegetable burger, this is a very welcome evolution. While not packing the biggest savoury punch, it worked pretty well, and as with all burgers, was enhanced by the other contents of the sandwich. Spiced celeriac and apple slaw provided crunch, though could for me have had a kick more of the spice – which of course could be added care of the mustard or ketchup on offer. Crispy fried onions brought more charred depth, and a cider apple puree brought a subtle tang and was not overpoweringly sweet. I would have gladly given up some of the rather thick bread bun in return for another of the vegetable patties, for texture as much as flavour: the pillowy bread was fine enough but a bit dominating in scale; the patty’s moderately delicate flavour and relative lack of chew worked with the other accompaniments but was a fraction lost against what for me should be more a handle than a major ingredient of a burger.
With the burger I ordered the Brunswick chips with pepper aioli (the burger and the chips are vegan, but the aioli isn’t, for the record). Long story short: these are I think the best chips I have ever eaten. Skin-on, neither thick-cut nor fries-skinny, they came as a mass of golden chunks of fried heaven. The various chefs who have investigated the secret to amazing chips promote the importance of double- or triple-cooking. I suspect the Brunswick do this, and it is to their credit that the menu doesn’t feel the need to shout about it. The chips’ crisp exteriors were thick enough to stay crunchy to the end (and oh my what a crunch), the middles light and fluffy, the skins add further texture and help enhance the potato taste. The very definition of simple food done well. The aioli, which didn’t have a huge kick of pepper (nor any garlic), didn’t add much to the dish for me: the occasional peppercorn (preserved green, and pink) added tasty pops to a few mouthfuls, and this worked well, but on the whole it was a touch too close to the slatherings of mayo on a takeaway burger, albeit in a far more sensible quantity. Better would have been to just have the chips in all their glassy-exteriored glory.
The short menu features burgers, fried chicken and chips. On Wednesdays from 4pm to 9pm there is a £10 deal for a burger, chips and a pint, a good value way to add one of the beers, mostly locally-brewed, to your meal. They do Sunday roasts too, and given what they do with chips I will be down there one Sunday very soon to see how that translates to the roast potatoes…
Please note that if you do want to try the Sunday roast (vegetarian and vegan included) then you are advised to book: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brunch is available from Tuesday until Saturday between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Dinner is served between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 4 p.m. until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
0113 247 0546
All photographs by Thomas Chalk.