In recent years there has undoubtedly been an explosion of 'burger joints' in Dublin, offering a wide variety of ingredients and prices. But what are the best burgers on offer, and what makes a burger special?
The Dublin Burger Club, www.dublinburgerclub.com, is a blog that started out in 2016 rating city burger offerings. Ryan Simpson, one of the founders of the club, explained that one of the main reasons for starting the blog came from a group of friends simply trying to find good burgers in Dublin. "I'd been a vegetarian for a few years and had recently started eating meat again, and I really wanted a good burger but I kept being disappointed with every one I tried". From there the guys decided to meet up every Sunday in a different place to try the burgers, and the idea of a blog was the sort of natural follow on from that.
The burger market has significantly changed over the years, not just in terms of quality but also as an individual marketable product. "Burgers were the first thing you'd think of when someone said junk food. More and more we're seeing burgers being served up as a gourmet item with top-notch ingredients and with delicious combinations that have actually had some thought put into them," said Ryan.
Now there is also a push for locally sourced ingredients and high-quality meat, making the cheap frozen burger with a thin slice of rubbery cheese a bit more of a thing of the past. "It seems to have happened gradually over the past few years with more and more stand alone speciality burger restaurants popping up, which really changed the game," continued Ryan.
This is also having a knock-on effect for other places that serve burgers, like bars and cafés, where Ryan feels that there is now more of an effort being made and a move away from frozen and processed ingredients.
So what actually makes a good burger? According to Ryan, "You have to get the basics right: freshly cooked meat, not frozen, and well seasoned - so many places don't season the meat, which makes a terribly bland burger. It should be cooked just enough to cook it in the all the way through, but no more. A lot of places make these huge thick burgers that need to be fried forever to cook all the way through, and by that time it's overcooked and dry. A good bun is essential. There's no point creating a great burger then sticking it in a cheap pasty sesame seed bun that falls apart."
As for toppings, Ryan feels that this is more subjective, but they should be flavours that compliment each other without overpowering the taste of the burger as "The burger is the star!"
At the moment Ryan believes that there seems to be a gradual shift away from the huge thick burgers with more thin, sensible sized creations where quality is being prioritised over quantity. "Bunsen, WowBurger and Five Guys are stripping it right back to basics with just plain cheeseburgers and bacon cheeseburgers that taste fantastic, and are always thin and freshly made."
Ryan also thinks that there are new and interesting combinations of toppings currently coming to Irish burger restaurants "Like siracha, harrisa and fruity salsas. I had a burger today with beetroot and pineapple salsa, Parma ham, provolone cheese and harissa Marie Rose sauce - it was incredible!"
Menus are also clearly becoming more and more experimental with burgers made with baked beans, kimchi, sauerkraut, pastrami and pineapple featuring in several establishments. "I had a side of poutine in Glasgow recently and I'd love to see that catch on in Dublin," said Ryan.
Token in Dublin also has a wild boar and apple burger featured on its menu which Ryan thinks is worth trying. He also feels that there has been a lot more effort being put into vegetarian burger offerings as seitan is popping up quite a bit.
When asked who he believed to be the best at making burgers, Ryan said that Box Burger are the leaders in terms of their high quality burgers, quirkiness and their self-promotion, with 'burger bashes', burgers of the month and 'burger showcases' giving them a heavy online presence. Bunsen and Wow Burgers are also another of his favourites, "They seem to be springing up everywhere". New additions that he believes are doing well are Token in Smithfield who are '"Doing really exceptional food" and Yeah Burger in Navan. He also hopes that BuJo, which opened near the end of last year, will be on their list for a visit as they "Are making waves".
Future plans for the blog, or at least considerations, are extending its reach outside of Dublin. "There are some great places outside Dublin to get burgers," Ryan explained. The club is also thinking about reviewing other types of restaurants other than burger establishments. Finally, they are also trying to organise fundraising for a few charities that the blog members support.
It's clear that the burger has moved on from the grey floppy offering from the chippers of old and that it can be revamped and developed into a tastier option for consumers. This also has had a massive impact on food servers offering burgers at all levels, improving the quality across the board. With this amount of innovation, it will only be a matter of time before zebra and ostrich burgers are the norm on Irish menus.