Review of Solita Manchester Franc le Boeuf Burger
What they say:
7oz minced chuck steak patty, Crispy fried onions, Melted Gruyere cheese, French onion reduction, Brioche crouton, Dijon mustard, Garlic butter.
Solita doesn’t have any bad burgers. Nor any boring ones. Some are better than others of course. Some are ridiculous, others are restrained. All of them are innovative.
This latest special is described by Franco as “grown up”, and I think I can see what he means. Using some ingredients that might be found on your plate in a French (or pseudo-French) fine dining establishment, this burger has all the hallmarks of refinement. Grown-up, if you will.
A cheeseburger with onion reduction, garlic butter, crispy onions, mustard and a large patty-sized crouton made of brioche. It’s going to be noticeably oniony and before I sit down, I’m wondering about the point of the giant crouton. Is it for texture-adding crunch to otherwise soft ingredients, or is it to give the thing extra height, to attain Solita-esque stature? Both, perhaps.
And speaking of sitting down, I’m doing that in Solita’s third venue, in Prestwich. Not busy at lunchtime but three very friendly FOH brought the typical Solita welcome from the Northern Quarter and Didsbury to this northerly suburb.
Other than different faces and a different view out the window, the experience is much the same as the others. The sedate quiet feeling indoors was off-set by the tiring onslaught of traffic (the main A56) right out the window.
Anyway, enough of the venue, I want to get this “grown up” burger down my throat. So it arrived, looking all kinds of wonderful and two things struck me. Firstly it was leaning and if not for the bowl of fries it would have fallen over. And secondly, that brioche crouton gave it a rather Big Manc type look.
Well, three things – a third occurred to me as I was writing the previous paragraph. The smell – if I hadn’t read the description beforehand, I’d have known right away there was a lot of onion on this.
It may be grown-up but I can tell you it’s about as messy as the best dirty burgers out there. But you need to like mustard. It was applied liberally at the bottom of the stack, such that a number of mouthfuls included mustard and not much else.
And in the Solita style, the size of it meant it was difficult to eat. Plus of course the giant crouton wasn’t squashable so my usual tactic wasn’t working and it was a case of taking a bite from either the top or the bottom half each time, increasing the messiness.
But taste-wise this was something else. Virtually none of the smells and flavours normally associated with a burger, replaced by utterly unique ingredients. I’m not going to pretend it was mild, because it wasn’t. The onion and mustard onslaught took a bit of getting used to.
There was a lot of onion reduction on here so it wasn’t dry, but also these crispy fried onions on the top. The crispness was so ruled by the big crouton, that the texture of these crispy onions wasn’t noticeable unless I took them out and ate them on their own.
I wasn’t sure about that giant crouton to begin with, but apart from making the burger difficult to eat, I think it added quite a lot to the experience – especially texture-wise. Surrounded by mostly softness, it was the counterbalance and made the bites more interesting.
Whilst the onion reduction came blasting through, I didn’t get the cheese or garlic butter much. The cheese here is Gruyere and was very visible, but it certainly isn’t strong. I really didn’t get the taste of garlic butter coming through at all.
And finally the beef, that classic Inka-grilled chuck steak is always good, even well-done as it is here. But not as good as it was when it was done medium or medium-rare. A brief conversation with the waiter included the fact that “government regulations” dictate that, since two months ago, minced meat has to be cooked through, rendering tasty pink centres a thing of the past. It’s a crying shame, because it risks destroying the best flavours of our favourite type of comfort food.
Or does it?
I’ve definitely had medium patties in the last two months so it would appear that top burger joints choose to interpret and apply the regulations differently. I’m certainly no expert, but all I can find from the FSA is “advice” rather than “regulation” which may explain the difference. If there is any way, any way at all, for Solita to return to these glorious medium chuck patties, well, we can always hope.
So there you have it, the Franco le Boeuf (I refuse to believe I’m the first person to add the extra vowel just for fun), is Solita innovation at its very best. This is a totally unique burger that you really really must try before it’s gone.