Review of Hard Rock Cafe World Burger Tour 2016
Price: £15.25 each.
We were invited to visit the Hard Rock Cafe in Manchester for this year’s World Burger Tour, a selection of LTO burgers ostensibly inspired by different global locations. I should point out two things – firstly, there are so many burgers on this “tour” that they were split into two groups – four burgers in May and four burgers in June. Secondly, that this visit was organised for us and we were not asked to pay. It goes without saying that this doesn’t affect our opinion and those long-term readers of BurgerLad.com will know that we value honesty and integrity – and with that in mind I’ll tell you right now I won’t be gushing about all four burgers – this is the real world folks.
So, sitting down at lunchtime, the place wasn’t busy and we were attended to by George, a happy and helpful waiter from Greece, who sat us down at his favourite table right under Kurt Cobain’s guitar. I wondered if any of the burgers would smell like teen spirit.
We arranged for the four burgers to be staggered rather than all brought out at once, and this worked rather well. Even for two people there was too much food, especially as they insisted on us sampling all four types of fries and every possible dip. I’ll say now that the fries were all good. The standard ones are included in the burger price, while “artisan” fries are available for an extra £1. I did like the garlic-seasoned ones but to be honest I think most people will be very content with the standard ones.
The beef is from a local supplier, fresh and 100% British and all three beef options were cooked medium-well done with a hint of remaining juice. On the face of it, sounds great and as a general comment about all the burgers I can confirm it was fine. Not a top ten taste, but perfectly serviceable and fit for purpose.
My dining partner noticed that the buns, especially the crowns, were quite thick, giving a rather high bread to meat ratio. You can judge for yourselves in the photos, but these buns were also pretty good at holding everything so they seem to have been selected well.
Finally the last general point to make is that these special burgers are listed as £15.25 (£1 more than the HRC Legendary burger). It’s not bank-breakingly expensive but over the years I have found HRC to be quite pricey for its offerings, and these burgers remain very much in that category. So, for value, it doesn’t score above average, but let’s get stuck into the individual burgers and see how they fare on taste and quality.
JAVA LAVA Burger, Seattle
Perked up with an espresso rub and topped with melted cheddar, bacon, jalapeño lava sauce, java onions, iceberg and sliced tomato. Topped with a deep fried jalapeño and perfected with seasoned fries and jalapeño lava dipping sauce (1,155 kcal).
Seattle is best known for rain, Frasier, Grunge and of course coffee. So the HRC development kitchen has decided to represent Seattle through coffee, and specifically an espresso rub to the patty. Now that certainly got my attention – coffee on a burger – I’ve definitely not had that before. Will it work?
It also has a deep fried jalapeño which I initially thought might make a very interesting alternative to your more standard onion ring. However, I made the mistake of conflating deep fried with battered, and while this jalapeño was the former, it wasn’t the latter – i.e. no batter. Aesthetically that resulted in a plasticky-looking thing stuck on the top of the bun and to me, looked no more appetising than a Christmas tree decoration. I didn’t eat it.
That aside, what’s left is a bacon cheeseburger with a few spicy nods, including that fantastically-named Lava Onions. Whether or not it actually means anything, sticking the word Lava in front of any foodstuff immediately makes it sound interesting.
But interesting wasn’t really a label I could apply to anything other than the description, for ultimately this really did end up being a normal bacon cheeseburger with a hint of heat. It was decent enough, tasted fine. The bacon itself was hard and crispy, American style, and there was a pleasant residual heat on the tongue.
However, the key hook to this burger, the espresso rub, just didn’t come through at all so I can’t say if that would have made it better or worse. I cannot understand why this particular burger takes a more prominent place on the menu than any of the other three.
That said, before I move on, when we ended up ranking the four burgers at the end, this one came bottom, so I can promise you that the other three are all better, which bodes well.
GIARDINIERA Burger, Chicago
Made with love and a generous amount of sliced roast beef, roasted red pepper, giardiniera pepper, melted provolone cheese. Paired with crispy fries with Sriracha mayo and that’s amore (1,098 kcal).
No, it’s not an Italian policeman, it’s Chicago’s entry in this Hard Rock Cafe World Burger Tour. At this point in did wonder about the poetic licence, calling it a world tour, when two of the four burgers come from the same country, but cynicism aside, the description of this again was genuinely appealing.
Reading it before even getting to the restaurant, I imagined it as a roast beef sandwich in a burger. Is a roast beef and pepper sandwich a Chicago thing? You tell me.
So, again, the same patty covered in cheese. Only this time, the cheese was provolone – stuff the Americans do seem to use a lot but is rare here. I have to say, that while it is rather too mild for me, it’s a very photogenic cheese, and the combination of its glistening cloak and the soft roast beef made this a rather attractive (and tall) burger to look at.
But not just looks, the roast beef was a bit of a revelation and I probably enjoyed it more than the beef patty itself. So much so, that you could remove the patty and bun, put everything else in a boomer and you’d have a pretty great sandwich. If Joey Tribbiani were from Chicago, he’d probably have something like this.
It also had a few tricks up its sleeve – ingredients not mentioned in the menu – namely cauliflower, carrot and celery. That’s right – cauliflower on a burger, another first for me. Two burgers, two firsts so far – I’m giving pretty high points for originality.
That’s quite a lot of vegetables on this, and apart from the looks, and the taste, their primary function appeared to be to balance out the textures. With the beef patty fairly neutral, you’ve got the soft cheese and roast beef on one hand, and all these crunchy vegetables up top on the other. A fine balance if you actually manage to get it all in one mouthful, but as I said, there’s a lot going on in here, and it’s quite tall, so not all that easy an undertaking.
And the roast peppers, one of the key ingredients, really looked the part too, keeping it colourful and delicious. They added a lot to the feel of freshness and you’d be forgiven (for a brief second) if your mind wandered to thoughts of salads while eating this.
The sandwich aspect and in particular the roast beef and provolone made this one genuinely feel quite unique and for that reason we placed it second out of the four. Eating four burgers in one sitting makes it impossible not to compare and in this case, it was considerably less salty and less dry than the Seattle entry.
JAMAICAN JERK Burger, Jamaica
A smooth and spicy fusion of mango cream cheese and jerk mayo, banana peppers and arugula, chillin’ on an all-beef patty between a toasted bun. Served with seasoned French fries and jerk mayo dipping sauce (915 kcal).
Right, first things first. Jerk isn’t stupid, it doesn’t mess around, it’s pretty spicy. Secondly, I’ve been to Boom Burger in Notting Hill. It’s amongst my top London burgers ever and pretty much the benchmark in the relatively niche category of Jamaica-inspired burgers.
So my first thought was that I was going to be disappointed when the inevitable Boom comparison was made in my mind. But folks, I’ll tell you now, there was no disappointment and in fact this burger ended up being the best of the four.
It was also the smallest of the three beef burgers, as well as having the lowest calorie count, AND one of these rare burgers that isn’t afraid of packing considerable heat, so it’s a winner all round.
My dining partner, Louise, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of restaurants and food, more or less said after her first bite that it was something special. As for me, I didn’t get that immediately – my first bite was bizarrely sour, something not replicated in any other bite of this burger, so a bit further in I concurred.
There are exotic sounding things in here – banana pepper, aragula (no, me neither – we think it’s fancy rocket), mango flavours and so on. Even the cheese is a little different. They’ve opted for cream cheese which does wonders for the texture, and I suspect is chosen (as mayo often is) to dampen the heat a little. Either it didn’t work, or this thing would’ve been on fire without it though, because I kid you not, this is hot stuff.
The sourness of the first bite – perhaps the cheese, I really don’t know – vanished when that jerk heat kicked in. I said the roast beef in the previous burger was a revelation, but compared to this, it was pedestrian. I really enjoyed it, and out of the four, was by far the one I’d have enjoyed most on its own.
These banana peppers that created a bed for the patty, these had a fantastic texture and a fantastic crunch to end the bite before mount closure. As for the mango, I must say I didn’t get it at all. Whether it wasn’t prominent enough to begin with, or the sheer heat masked it, I don’t know, but I don’t think the burger suffered too much for it.
Some people might find this too hot. Some people doesn’t include me. Or Louise. We loved this.
TANDOORI CHICKEN Burger, Mumbai
The fresh and light flavours of mint yoghurt, Monterey jack cheese and crisp cucumber planks cover a seasoned chicken breast. Topped with iceberg lettuce and complemented with hot, seasoned fries and mint yoghurt dipping sauce (731 kcal).
If I’m very honest, the first thing I thought of when reading this was when did Bombay become Mumbai, and are we supposed to refer to Mumbai Mix when we have 80s dinner parties?
But, you’ll be glad to know, more relevant thoughts came to mind too. Such as – there’s no way they have a tandoor in here just for one burger – and of course, this final one is the token chicken offering that most special burger ranges include.
Now this burger was brought out by a different waiter, not George (do they have separate waiters for beef and chicken) who explained that firstly, no they don’t have a tandoor and the tandoori label comes from the seasoning on the chicken, and secondly that unlike in India (do they actually have this in India???) they’ve used a chicken breast instead of a chicken patty. It certainly looked like a round chicken patty in the promo pic, so I suppose there is an issue of different stock in the Manchester branch and the HRC UK development kitchen (which I’m assuming is in London but may be wrong).
That suited me, I was frankly becoming quite full by this point and grilled chicken breast sounded good. In fact, unsurprisingly, this was the lowest calorie burger of the lot and definitely felt the lightest.
So it’s not a curry burger as you might expect, in fact overall it has more of a shawarma feel to it, with the chicken, cucumber and mint yogurt adding to that effect. Not at all unpleasant.
In the base there’s lots of tomato. That’s absolutely wonderful if you like it, and while I don’t hate tomato, it’s not amongst my favourites, so I felt that could have been toned down a touch. It did add to the overall freshness of this whole burger, from cucumber and yogurt in the top, through grilled chicken and down into tomato in the bottom. It was practically palate-cleansing stuff.
You’d expect an India-inspired dish to have strong, robust flavours but there was none of that here. Everything from the seasoning, to the mint and the cucumber – all noticeable, but all very subtle. The chicken was cooked nicely, with proper grill marks and overall very inoffensive.
We ended up placing this in third place because, although the impressions of it were very similar to the Chicago burger, the latter had the edge on interest and originality.
So, to round things up, the Jamaica offering was the clear winner, followed by Chicago. India took third place while the only one to verge on dull was the Seattle burger.
Thanks again to Hard Rock Cafe’s PR and floor staff for having us in. You’ve got until the end of June to enjoy this World Burger Tour, and unless you dislike spicy food, go for the Jamaica one.