Many burgers later… As you may have guessed if you read part one of this enterprise, setting out to find Dubai's best burger is no easy task. You have to agree on a standard, define what a burger is (and isn't), what qualities you are looking for, what to include and what should never have been allowed into, never mind out of, the kitchen. Pineapple, anyone? Ground up nachos?
And so it was that Dubai's most meteoric chefs Scott Price and Nick Alvis of Table 9 cooked up what the alpha. panel had determined was the ideal burger. And it was good. Very good indeed. So good, in fact, that topping it was going to be a monumental task. The search was on!
Fairly early on it became apparent that we had to rule out the factory-produced identikit burgers from the international megacorps - the alpha. Burger Standard (ABS) was a much more personal choice. Despite the unquestionable success of the chains in shifting produce, the panel hankered after something more artisan, made by real chefs with care, skill and impeccable ingredients.
By the same token, our panel ruled out the biggest, brightest, most-expensive-of-anything-type creations from some of our most OTT hotels. No gold-plated toothpicks, truffle-infused foie gras toppings or gigantic aberrations here. Just good, honest, beefy burgers made from cows. With a bit of cheese, if you must.
To score each burger we compared it to the ABS, which we all agreed set the bar with a perfect ten. We also concentrated mainly on the beef, the bun and, if it played a significant part in making the burger truly special, the cheese. No extra marks were given for extra portions of lettuce or tomato, and the chips played no part in each burger's rating, whether they were free with the burger or not.
So, after scouring the city high and low, and ingesting a depressingly large and disproportionate number of lows and a few starry highs, here are some of our findings.
Rivington Grill (Soul Al Bahar, Downtown Dubai)
Rivington Burger, south Australian ground beef, with Welsh rarebit or Montgomery cheddar. Served with fries. Dh110
My request for a medium-to-well-done burger was immediately brushed aside by the apologetic waiter. I could have it medium or well done, but not something in between. I opted for well done but then got medium anyway. Eventually I got my well-done version - a vertiginous giant of a burger with a patty that was as thick as the bun itself. It came with a hefty dollop of Welsh rarebit (melted cheddar cheese mixed with what seemed like fine breadcrumbs and a hint of Worcester sauce) and a thick layer of tomato, lettuce and onion.
The white-bread bun was a little nondescript and lacked the chewiness and taste of the ABS' focaccia, but the Australian beef was very good: full of flavour and with a hint of charring for that slightly barbecued taste. Large hunks of it fell off onto the plate as I attempted to grasp it with both hands. I ended up eating them separately later on, smearing them with the relish that was served in a separate bowl. The Rivington Burger was definitely one of the largest burgers on our shortlist and came with a generous bowl of French fries, which perhaps explained a price tag that broke the Dh100 barrier. But I'd say it was just about worth it.
RATING Seven out of ten
Burger Fuel (JBR The Walk)
C N Cheese, 1/3 pound pure New Zealand beef, melted cheddar, parmesan, salad, relish, beef strip and fresh BF aioli. Dh29. Chips extra.
"Eight minutes." It was said pleasantly enough, but there was no opportunity to ask for or debate the degree of done-ness that would be achieved. Eight minutes I was going to get, eight minutes from order to burger. And so it was.
Interestingly, one of the accoutrements included with my burger was a ‘Doofer', a natty little cardboard cutout that assembles into a burger-holding device to keep your fingers clean. Neat idea.
There were lots more neat things about the Burger Fuel burger. For a start, the bun was wholemeal, toasted slightly on the outside (but not grill-marked), yet soft and chewy inside. Good effort.
The beef was cooked to medium (I assume regulations apply) and decently thick. Pickles and mustard underneath, aioli on top. Bite into it and despite the mass-produced origins, it had real flavour. Burger Fuel is a New Zealand-based chain, but their local expression is fun and funky.
Definitely an above-average take on the humble burger. They reckon they were the first gourmet burger, and there may be some truth in that. A worthy contender.
RATING Six out of ten
Organic Foods and Cafe (EMAAR Business Park)
Organic Cheese Burger, 100% ground organic beef with melted cheddar, lettuce, pickles and relish. Dh42. Chips included
This one was a surprise. The bun was lovely; chewy and textural bread totally covered in sesame seeds and toasted on top. It was generously filled with lettuce, sliced tomato, onion and a substantial beef patty topped with melted cheese. Again, ordered medium rare, arrived medium.
To bite into the bun was to crunch through an explosion of seeds, a flavour experience you either enjoy or you don't. How much does it add to a burger? Not sure. In fact, there were a lot of flavours going on here, smokiness from the grill, herb flavours, maybe even cloves. Turned out that most of those came from the pickles, but once they were set aside, the beef was lovely - rich, deep and chewy, not as juicy as some, but very satisfying.
I would like to have tasted this burger as I asked for it, because the degree of cooking had taken away some of the tenderness you might expect, which is a shame, because the flavours of the beef were beyond reproach.
The chips aren't part of the review, but it is worth noting that, though they were factory cut and cooked from frozen, they were cooked well, darkly golden and properly crunchy.
RATING Seven out of ten
Baker & Spice (Souk Al Bahar, Downtown Dubai)
The B&S Burger Grass-fed Black Angus topside/brisket with horseradish cream, home pickled cabbage and tomato, served with chunky chips AED 85
A glorious, dome-topped glossy bun, studded with sesame seeds and toasted crispy. In the middle is a big, fat patty, cooked medium, with cabbage above and pickles below. Salad leaves and relish served separately (hurrah!), and a wooden fork and spoon to eat it with.
One bite tells you all you need to know. This burger sings beef! Wow! Why can't all burgers taste like this? - rich and juicy and tender and moreish and savoury. The fact that the menu tells you which cuts were used is significant, as both Scott and Nick follow the same principle, combining different elements for flavour, texture and a degree of fat to aid the cooking process and add more richness and depth. It worked.
In the end, the bun, good though it was, became incidental. The supplied relish was unnecessary, and rendered redundant by being overpoweringly spicy. The salad garnish went unnoticed. All that mattered was the beef, and it was very good indeed.
Remember those chips? Again, not relevant to the review, but there were only six in number. Six. In fairness, they were probably six of the best chips I have ever eaten, more like deep fried slices of baked potato, and all the more wonderful for it. But six?!
RATING Eight out of ten
The Gaucho Burger, Argentinian grass-fed beef with Coolea cheese and chipotle relish. Dh110.Served without chips or fries.
As a restaurant that claims to have the city's most natural-tasting beef (it's all grass-fed and comes from Argentina), Gaucho was surely going to produce one of the more memorable burgers in our line-up. Allowing the meat to be the star of the show, it came in a lightly toasted, round white sesame-seed bun and was lightly topped with a subtle Gouda-like Irish-made cheese called Coolea. This complemented the gently spicy chipotle chutney, which despite my reservations turned out to be a tasty surprise that edged this burger towards Scott and Nick's gold-standard effort. The burger itself (cooked medium to well done) was of a size that made it manageable to eat without getting messy (just as well as the upmarket Gaucho is not really a lick-your-fingers kind of environment) and was of a rich, distinctive flavour and juiciness that left you in no doubt that you were eating a superior product cooked with consummate skill. An excellent burger.
RATING 8.5 out of 10
OK, so now you know which are the best gourmet burgers in Dubai, but here are a few more that we felt were tasty enough to warrant an honourable mention
A perennial favourite in Dubai, Johnny Rockets provides classic American burgers known for their consistency and value for money.
The More burger is a Dubai classic. You can build your own 220 gram beef burger, served on corn-rye burger bread and plenty of condiments
including a cinnamon-spiked mango chutney.
Gourmet Burger Kitchen
A popular venue with quality burgers but our testers decided they weren’t quite good enough to make our top five.
As its names suggests, you get a corpulent patty that will sate your hunger for hours.
Ribs & Rumps
This Australian company’s standard burger, ‘The Original’ is made with their ‘secret spices and is good value for money.
Did we miss one? Sadly, the revered Burger House in JBR is no more, but what of Frankies? Or the hotels? Should we include the Grand Grill, Seafire or The Rib Room? Tell us about your favourite burger here and your response may get you and four friends the chance to sample the alpha. burger at Links, The Address Montgomerie. Contest closes on February 9.